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Goshka Macuga: The way I see it

Artists on politics
Goshka Macuga on Chomsky, Guernica – and her cat

Does art make a difference?

I am currently working on an exhibition that looks back at the history and significance of Picasso’s Guernica. This iconic painting is important in art history, but even more so in a social context. It symbolises war, destruction and the human strength to survive.

Should politics and art mix?

Guernica is the ultimate connection between art and politics. The tapestry of it that I have borrowed for my exhibition from the United Nations in New York hung outside the Security Council’s chamber for more than 20 years. It was used as a backdrop for many important press announcements but was covered up at the time of Colin Powell’s speech that launched the Iraq War in 2003. More than anything else, that is an indication of the power of the image and its ability to shape ideology.

I was born and educated in Poland. There, under communism, socialist realism was a tool in the transformation and education of the masses in the spirit of socialism. Artists were considered “engineers of the soul”.

Is your work for the many or for the few?

Man Ray once said: “I live my life, I have few friends who support me, and that’s enough. I am not a politician, who needs a majority of votes.”

Does money corrupt an artist?

Money can corrupt anyone, regardless of his or her profession. Artists are expected to be pure and not concerned with material needs. Maybe this is why artists are sometimes treated like gods and sometimes like beggars.

Which artist do you most admire?

Postman Cheval. I admire his commitment to his work and his vision.

What inspires you?

Everything can be an inspiration. Usually one inspiring thing takes me on a journey to find another. It has become my way of living.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?

I would work with animals, whose nature I sometimes value beyond human nature.

If you were world leader, what would be your first law?


Who would be your top advisers?

A group of old wise men like Noam Chomsky.

Who would you banish?

Health & Safety, from gallery environments!

What would you censor?

The film industry, in order to improve the level of education through entertainment.

What are the rules that you live by?

Commitment and hard work.

What couldn’t you live without?

My cat.

What would you like your legacy to be?

Have you ever had an experience of going to an exhibition and loving the work so much that the only thing you wanted to do was to go back home or to your studio and make art? I would like my work to provoke this kind of reaction in people.

Do you love your country?

My love for my country is not unconditional.

Are we all doomed?

Sometimes I feel that we are, but I believe that bad can be transformed into good.

“The Bloomberg Commission: Goshka Macuga” is on display at the Whitechapel Gallery, London E1, from 5 April 2009 to 18 April 2010.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Campbell guest edit