Agnieszka Polska’s Love Bite Made Me Want to Vote
I went the the Frye Art Museum on their Community Day, but that was accidental. I was only thinking of myself. It was Saturday and I’d stayed the night with a guy I don’t really know on First Hill. He’d slipped his ballot into the outgoing mailbox of his apartment building on the way out. After breakfast at Pierogi Pierogi he wanted to go back to his place and play video games. I wanted to check out the new exhibit Love Bite by Agnieszka Polska, since I was just a few blocks away. If spending an awkward but hopeful night with a guy who’d rather play video games than look at art with you doesn’t remind you that the world is going to end then, well, I don’t think you have my romance addiction, do you?
We’re all different but it is true that the world is going to end, our ridiculously human lives will cease and it won’t matter that my lover didn’t come to the Frye so Polska could remind him in the most poignant ways that indeed, our planet and our way of life is in jeopardy.
It was Saturday, the first cloudy day in a week. I know, at this time of year in Seattle we have to remind ourselves we’re not kidding but all of last week it was unbearably sunny. In February I sat on my back porch in a tank top and barbecued. I’d been incredibly moody, depressed, unmotivated for two weeks but when the sky opened to sun I wondered if I was more connected to the sky than I had ever realized. From the roof of our decaying garage in Beacon Hill I looked down through the clear air at Elliot Bay and across to the mountains. I could see so much and felt motivated. This heat, my sudden change in mood, did it come from above or below? The sun, the water, the earth.
I sat by myself in the dark back gallery of the Frye.
In The New Sun, Polska animates that celestial body into an all-knowing, always-watching and cartoonish figure who doesn’t judge the viewer but also recognizes the inexorable sadness we all hold in 2020. He’s always watching us and how we act. He opens his lips and oversized brown eyes (“Eye contact,” Little Sun says while I am almost brought to tears, “Eye contact.”) while singing at the audience. The only thing left will be my words. The fuzzy corona of his face shivers uncannily and he repeats, “At the end of the world, all that will be left are my words. Words. Words.”
It’s a cliche, but when the sun comes out in Seattle we act differently. Something whispers: anything is possible. Our moods lift. We can’t stay inside. It’s not just a relief from seasonal depression because all of us feel that magic. An energy descends in the air, like the light speaking to us in his gentle voice. We remember everything we are capable of.
As I sat eye to eye with him, Polska’s Little Sun spoke to me. It was the first day in many that the real sun did not shine, yes. “It’s great the weather is always changing, or else what would some of us talk about?” he jokes. The recorded crowd heckles him to get off the stage. It’s insane how out of control we all are, but how much power we have. The Earth appears and her eye opens into unending rain, a bloody band-aid and a rubberized human hand. He watches and even when it’s funny, our inevitable end presents itself.
Our planet is at a breaking point. Our country is at a breaking point. The Presidential Primary ballots are out in Washington State. We can barbecue on our back porches and feel limitless and forget how we feel for a few minutes. We can hook up with strangers and feel bad about the inconsequential, but we all cast our votes. Polska reminds us: what we do matters, even when we feel hopeless. Little Sun reminds us that he’s always watching. What will we do?
In The Happiest Thought Polska’s meditative videoessay is projected onto an inclined screen that leans over the viewers, who are invited to lay together on foam pads. “Mass Extinction, what’s that…how alive are you anyway?” the viewers are asked to confront their inevitable mortality in terms of the planet’s lifespan. What can we do with our hands and our bodies, how can we connect with the Earth and what wrongs can we right? Dragonflies rise towards the sky as Polska demands our bodies to upright an enormous overturned millipede. Even while we fall through endless space, our bodies have potential. In that hopelessness the dark opens into a face, her eyes and mouth revealing a skyscape.
I lay on my back. I wasn’t falling. To break out of my hopelessness I only needed to use my body, get up and move. Community begins with our individual movements and recognition of our power in the face of huge issues. We have individual and collective strength to address them.
I left Love Bite feeling more inspired than I had going in, but not towards love. Towards voice, movement and action. Even as the cloudy day went on, I knew I could connect with the sun above. Even inside our hopeless existential and climate crises, all we have to do is use our bodies and voices together to move forward.