Olaf Brzeski's solid plume of smoke

Poland got a pretty bunk deal as far as the 20th century is concerned: reconstituted as an official country only after the First World War, citizens suffered through Nazi invasions before being jammed behind the Iron Curtain for decades. This summer, an exhibit at Brussels’ Palas des Beaux-Arts showcased work exclusively by Polish artists who grew up under Communism, but only began working after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Entitled “The Power of Fantasy: Modern and Contemporary art from Poland,” the exhibit tried to engage with Poland’s painful history in a new way.

One of the featured artists was Olaf Brzeski, whose installation, “Dream – Spontaneous Combustion,” consists of an enormous black plume of smoke made from resin and soot. At first glance, it really looks like something was set on fire in a big white room. Actually, it reminds me a lot of the Smoke Monster that ate Mr.Eko on LOST.

For Brzeski, who grew up hearing about his grandparents’ experience in the concentration camps, the Second World War and the Cold War serve as constant sources of inspiration for his work (which is, generally speaking, ruled by fire and brimstone). While this latest piece is inherently ominous to behold, I was pleased to learn that its conception was actually kind of comical, inspired by the day Olaf tried to clean a stuffed-up chimney in his apartment only to wind up covered in soot.

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