Simply doing the impossible. Marcel Andino Velez x Młodszy Brat
I left the world of art to start my own business in the difficult but prospective sector of care economy. Without the ability to cope with challenges posed to me by artists I would not have been brave and creative enough to make such a change in my life.
As a journalist writing about art and then culture manager and vice-director at the newly established Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, I particularly liked the tasks consisting in persuading people who were not familiar with art, who often felt insecure when confronted with it and even were openly reluctant to it, to come to like art. I had it tested that during speeches in front of a large inexpert audience a great first step was to compare artists to scientists, art to science. Of course, if any artists had heard me back then, they would probably have taken offence at reducing art to something not even art-like. Although, by the way, in the 20th century the romance of art and science lasted quite long and today many artists still explore this area. If I consider art a form of science, something familiar to it, it is because art, just like science, colludes closely with the unknown. In fact, art is all about the known. Is all about the future. Only for some erroneous reason it has become customary to look favourably on various crazy research projects in the field of science, while equally crazy research projects in the field of art are too often viewed with the unjustified feeling that our child could do that too. But as soon as we free ourselves from this feeling, and I always encourage everyone to do so, the journey into the unknown with artists will certainly prove more colourful than the one with scientists staring at computer screens. I remember when once I made this statement during a large convention of a consulting company and voices could be heard that science brought measurable benefits to business and society. I replied that apart from the research the results of which were later on actually put into practice, science was a huge area of failure, hypotheses proven wrong, money – seemingly – thrown away. And that those failed experiments were a driving force of civilisation. In contrast to science, in art it is always easier to accept such a mistake or failed experiment because of their lower costs, while these failures allow us to learn something important about the world and about ourselves. But in contradistinction to science, which often comprises team work, in art behind every experiment, successful or failed, there is a lone artist, a single person coping with the ways of the world of art and the world in general. I have always been impressed by this personal courage without which artists would never have started their work.
A few years ago I was personally confronted with the future and the unknown, and that in a brutal and uncompromising way. It turned out that both my parents would need constant care because of particularly demanding diseases, including Alzheimer’s. None of the solutions available in our Polish reality seemed adequate to my situation and my needs. And repeatedly hitting the wall of impossible was very painful as it concerned personal matters: intimate emotions and relations with my loved ones. Although putting it in one sentence simplifies matters too much, this is the truth – art and the experience of communing with artists came to my rescue. It just so happens that all my life I have had one artist particularly important to me – Zbigniew Libera. I think I was still a high school and then university student when I admired his courage to confront the audience with particularly difficult, embarrassing and repressed issues. His video work Intimate Rites from 1985, by many considered appalling while simply showing how young Libera tends to his grandmother who is at the end of her life and suffers from severe dementia, to me has always seemed like an act of heroism by the artist. He was much criticised for this, the film caused outrage, even though it shows the naked truth about human condition – that of the sick and that of their carers. This film gave me courage on two planes. On the one hand, it shows that care activities mean merely the closest contact with the physiological aspect of humanity and one just needs to get used to it, on the other – that care work, like hardly any in the modern world, has a deeply human dimension and is perhaps more important than many activities valued so very highly by all of us. I would call this influence, a bit turgidly, a moral compass of sorts. But what I want to describe below will not be so grandiloquent.
Because the second aspect of working with artists, equally important to me, was simply doing the impossible every day. To provide examples of such actions, I am going to refer to particularly demanding artistic projects in public space, where an artist’s imagination and will are confronted not by the safe context of cultural institutions and exhibition halls, but by the world of bureaucratic procedures, negotiations, approvals, explanations, arrangements and finally – by an unprepared and often hostile audience. Obviously, the best known among such projects is the famous “palm” by Joanna Rajkowska in de Gaulle Roundabout, supervised by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw for several years already. But a model example of how the impossible is done can be an installation by Monika Sosnowska in the Bródno Sculpture Park in Warsaw, Grating from 2009, a huge sphere made of steel rods referring to the aesthetics of anti-theft grills so popular at Polish housing estates at the beginning of the transformation. In order to move it from a studio near Warsaw to its location in the park, various variants were analysed, including helicopter rental (but all potentially available ones were at the time in Spain, extinguishing forest fires), lifting the tramway traction as part of oversized transport, and so on and so forth. Official “legalisation” of an object having an unclear status, OHS assessments, pondering on whether a no entry sign should be provided, or perhaps a fence, a vandalism camera, or maybe not?, and what about fire protection? A cultural institution deals with dozens of such projects annually. Will aluminium elements of Ryan Gander’s installation Really Shiny Things That Don’t Mean Anything, being mounted on the Tribune of Honour in front of the Palace of Culture and Science, temp scrap collectors or not? Or perhaps they will be sharp and people may cut themselves? And won’t any audience member slip on the spilled water during Boris Charmatz’ performance Expo Zero? An institution working both for artists and the audience solves such unusual problems on a regular basis. In large numbers.
I may write about it in a funny way, but behind all of this there are people determined to carry out their projects in accordance with their vision, despite the infinite number of risks, including the risk of failure, miscomprehension and, ultimately, rejection. And also existential risk, because artists have no full-time jobs. They cannot even count on contracts of mandate, only specific-task contracts. So no social insurance, no health insurance contribution. Always on the edge.
My life jigsaw, the pieces of which comprised my hitherto career and work at the Museum while caring for parents at the same time, gave no reasonable picture. To keep it all together, I had to approach the issue like artists do – like someone used to having nothing to lose. You can also call it freedom and a free man’s approach. Another thing artists taught me is that through ourselves it is worth talking about bigger, important matters. Artists give up, let me put it bluntly, their social safety, but in return they mingle with widely discussed values and attitudes. Quid pro quo.
All this gave me courage to name my needs first and then, without any limitations, expectations or thought patterns, look for ways to meet them. I concocted a new profession – Senior Care Coordinator. Because it was exactly what I was doing at home. I managed the care like I did artists’ projects. Budget, logistic issues, problems with “human material” (always crucial), deadlines, risks. As art and artists deal with very diverse topics, I was familiar with the terms “affective labour” and “care economy” – often addressed by feminist circles that are active in art. I determined that my personal needs would be met by the services of a geriatric care manager, but no such services were available in the Polish market. I described those services. I found out that in the field of the said care economy many interesting experiments were taking place and new microservices were being invented. Commercialised care and affection, necessary to professionalise the care services market, are the future of ageing Western societies but also one of taboo spaces that we should fight against like artists do.
The excitement I felt at that stage can probably be compared only to discovering an unknown land – like in science and in art. The additional satisfaction of diving into authentic human needs and relationships gave me a deep sense of meaning and self-realisation. I was more and more getting into the character of an artist who acts and at the same time publicises his actions. Because I decided to become an ambassador of sorts for the huge social problem of caring for dependent, sick seniors. And like in the case of contemporary artists, I followed my research into the unknown. I discovered that my services had been offered in the United States since the 1970s. I went there to learn about their rules and basic operational problems at source. Like an artist working on his project, I entered a new environment, gained new knowledge and mastered new opportunities. At the same time, I tried not to confine myself in my creativity – another lesson learned from art. I devised the name for my business: Młodszy Brat – Younger Brother, as I am one in my family and this describes my responsibilities within the family herd quite well. I had a dream that the name had to include the word “family” because people in Poland identified care with family. So I dared to use it officially: Młodszy Brat – Rodzinna Koordynacja Opieki Geriatrycznej – Younger Brother – Family Geriatric Care Coordination. I owe artists a hunch that these services cannot be impersonal, just as art is not impersonal. That is why together with my collaborators, we have shown our faces and we give our names and profiles to everything we do. Because then and only then people can trust us. And most importantly, I accepted the risk of abandoning a prestigious and rather well-paid job and putting all my eggs in one basket. Like an artist. I have given myself two years to achieve profitability. If after two years my hypothesis that these services are as necessary for other people as they were for me is proven wrong, I will simply get down to something else. That is what artists do and they do not make a fuss about it.