Marcin Dudek was just ten years old and living in a housing block outside Krakow when the Berlin Wall finally toppled. It was followed by Poland’s freefall into capitalism as the country reeled from severe shortages, skyrocketing inflation, and now-defunct industry. An economic policy nicknamed “shock therapy” fueled wild speculation that sprouted a new wealthy class but left little for the rest. In Dudek’s words, families like his were reduced to “living off the offal of society.” A frayed social fabric lacking civic associations left children vulnerable to new allegiances. It was not long before Dudek was swept up by Cracovia, one of Krakow’s two viciously sparring soccer fan clubs, whose uniform (shared by other clubs across Eastern Europe) was a black flyer jacket with bright orange lining. Members would collectively turn their jackets inside out in the stadium to signal they were ready to brawl. Like the strike of a match, the blazing orange lining would be revealed, and all hell would break loose.

Many of Dudek’s earlier works are situated in just such stadiums. From the Pompeii amphitheater in 59AD to Bradford City stadium in 1985, they revisit sites of social conditioning and mass tragedy. For young boys like Dudek, sports stadiums roused both the euphoria of shared intimacy and the unarticulated rage of the dispossessed. His performances, sculptures, and collages delve into the inner magnetism of crowds and examine the scaffolding of places and events that shape human behavior. Dudek’s latest series whittles memory down to the singular. Three new collages titled Passage (2020), Passage II (2020), and Passage III (2021) reflect on what it was like to be that matchstick, to feed the flame that came roaring out of post-communism’s concrete ruins. Against a backdrop of white primer and acrylic paint on wood and aluminum, Dudek builds limbs and impossible architectures from meticulously laid strips of medical tape. Emulsified photo rubbings layered throughout create a historical archive of selfhood and nationhood. Many of these images are worn away or effaced by the force of Dudek’s hands or the blade of a grinder dragged across their surfaces. With controlled burns he renders each work into a cauterized wound.”

Date: April 29 — July 312021
Photography: Damon De Backer