'Steps and Marches' takes the same autobiographical point of departure as Marcin Dudek’s 2013 exhibition 'Too Close for Comfort'. The exhibition’s two chapters – at Edel Assanti (London) and Harlan Levey Projects (Brussels) – respectively begin with the artist retracing his steps as a teenage member of Cracovia football fan club. Framed thumbnail-sized photographs drawn from Dudek’s personal archive depict a sequence of events in the lead-up to a violent stadium riot. The intimate scale of these images signify the artist’s complex relationship with a time in his own past in which he was lost in a violent crowd, narrowly escaping disaster. Over the past four years Dudek has explored the materials, messages and political contexts of the stadium in an ongoing investigation of group behaviour and crowd control. The London chapter of 'Steps and Marches' delves into the march of mass movements; Brussels hones in on the steps of individuals who shaped those events.
Armed with social sciences, spectators seated far from the stadium have long posited that when immersed in the crowd, individuals will submit their autonomy to mass collective will, sidelining their own rationale or morality – a phenomenon referred to by psychologists as “groupthink”. This is an idea brought forward in Charles Mackay’s book “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” the influential social science of Gustav Le Bon during the French Third Republic, and many others. Dudek integrates such scientific testimony into his practice, employing hooliganism, spectacle, architecture and crowd disasters as vehicles to explore the transformation of a mass of individuals into a volatile, singular entity. His own history lends anthropological insight and concerns. Were his friends knowingly acting immorally? What responsibility does he bear, and what responsibility should others share? How will the public view of the crowd differ from the view of those that shaped it?
The main gallery at Edel Assanti is painted orange, the colour of the lining of bomber jackets worn by Dudek’s crew, turned inside out during violent outbreaks. The colour recalls Dudek’s performance 'Saved by an Unseen Crack' at Harlan Levey Projects (2015), which forced visitors into an orchestrated reenactment of the Heysel stadium disaster on its 30th anniversary, as well as the artist’s violent assault on his own effigy in 'We Stumbled as We Clambered' at Edel Assanti later the same year. A central sculpture comprised of police truncheons signposts Dudek’s areas of inquiry within crowd behaviour, guided by theorist Raymond Momboisse’s classifications of crowd dynamics: casual; conventional; expressive; aggressive. The sculpture signals towards other works populating the gallery, comprised of geometric MDF blocks and additional materials – melted rubber bullets, burnt stadium chairs, broken mirrors –evidencing specific crowd disasters and authoritative bodies’ attempts to curtail them. A monitor embedded within one MDF block plays looped black and white footage, alternating between exercises in coordinated demonstrations known as “mass play” and violent eruptions of crowd violence.
At Harlan Levey Projects, the gallery has been transformed into the spectator terraces of a stadium in mid-collapse. Undulating plaster sculptures dominate the tiered steps in primary colours, invoking football scarves and the potency of symbols – whether sporting teams, political movements or nation states – to unite and unify masses. Equally, the scarves recall previous works by Dudek in which the practice of burning the opposing teams' colours in the terraces is enacted as a form of intimidation and incitement. The room is populated by other works referring to specific individuals and histories of the stadium’s fall.
'Steps and Marches' will open at Harlan Levey Projects on 7th September during Brussels Gallery Weekend, and on 21st September at Edel Assanti, remaining open throughout Frieze in London.
Marcin Dudek studied at the University of Art Mozarteum, Salzburg, and Central Saint Martins, London, graduating in 2005 and 2007 respectively. Dudek has exhibited internationally at venues including Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Kunstlerhaus, Salzburg, the Arad Art Museum, the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna and the Goethe Institute, Kiev. His installation The Cathedral of Human Labor, 2013, is on permanent view at the Verbeke Foundation in Antwerp, and his work is currently included in Solstices at the BWA Contemporary Art Gallery in Katowice and will be shown at the Trafo Center for Contemporary Art in December 2017.
— 'Marcin Dudek: Steps and Marches' is generously supported by the Polish Institute, Brussels and Advance Tapes.