“One of the most beautiful things you can have as an emerging artist is an undisturbed need for experimentation,” says Polish photographer Rafal Milach. “Karolina Wojtas’ works are hypnotising. It’s like diving into a cloud of ideas, humorous and disturbing at the same time. Karolina sculpts, manipulates, reproduces, designs and consequently documents the entire process.”
Wojtas’ Tumblr is just that: a barrage of fluorescent images popping out of a crowded desktop, banners and gifs. “I try to find an interesting form to present works from time to time,” says Wojtas. “The current look reflects the reality of how my office looks. It references what I am working on now – I would call it a sketchbook, an extraordinary mess that I don’t necessarily always control.”
The photographer has been announced as the winner of this year’s ING Unseen Talent Award, with her project We Can’t Live – Without Each Other. Also nominated by Fotofestiwal Łódź, Wojtas was one of British Journal of Photography’s nominations for Futures, a platform for emerging photographers from which the shortlist for the award drawn.
Born in Jarosław, south-east Poland, Wojtas, 22, is currently completing her MA in photography at the Lodz Film School, where she admits that she doesn’t show teachers all her work, as she feels it isn’t always understood. “I think that I am a kid – and want to be as long as possible – who is playing and taking photographs. I don’t reject any ideas that come to my mind, such as constructing a huge slide or covering an exhibition space in glitter. I treat photography as fun.”
At the 2017 Krakow Photomonth festival, Wojtas was one of the winners of the open call, Showoff, where she took over a corridor of a building, transforming it into a chaotic school-like arts space [left], covering the floor with pink glitter and hanging “wheels of fortune” on the wall, papier-mâchéd with images and puzzles, encouraging visitors to interact.
Wojtas’ work addresses topics of childhood, education and love, and she describes her photos as “quite ugly” and “strange”. Train to knowledge, a project attempting to illustrate the education system – “the process of forming children into citizens, and the presentation of a hidden curriculum, seemingly unnoticeable, but with fundamental importance for constancy” – is a “combination of memories, colliding with feelings of visiting these places as an adult,” she explains.
Images of empty classrooms are interspersed with ones of student activities, learning tools and visualisations of discipline and uniformity that as children we were likely not aware of. “Childhood is a time where everything is possible and magic is ubiquitous, but then you go to school and begin to follow the required pattern, and everything gets lost over time.”
The ruling rightwing political party in Poland, PiS, has introduced drastic and controversial structural stages to society in recent years, higher education being one. Teachers continue to strike, disrupting classes and end-of-year exams in protest.
“The situation is extremely urgent and gives me a lot of motives to illustrate,” says Wojtas. Her nominator, Milach, adds: “She is a keen observer who records all aberrations that the so-called ‘real world’ can o er. The scale of visual solutions seems to have no limits to Karolina. But above all she is a storyteller. The playful and contemporary form is just a container for the problems Karolina touches upon.”