Can You Die of a Broken Heart  2018
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Can You Die of a Broken Heart? is Ania Nowak’s solo exhibition comprising a video performance recorded at the Botanical Garden of the Polish Academy of Sciences, a live performance presented in the exhibition space only once and an installation consisting of a cage with two lovebirds looked after, over the duration of the project, by one of the employees of Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art.
Can You Die of a Broken Heart? is a reflection on the complicated relationships between the body, mind and environment. The artist is interested in disease as a state in which the border between norm and pathology is constantly negotiated and the identity of those affected becomes inflamed. Nowak also investigates the relationship between illness and time in sudden dysfunctions and chronic diseases, as defined by the dynamics of relapse and remission. The video and live performances explore the notion of the psychosomatic, i.e. the connections between physical and mental health; between individual pain and systemic oppression of late capitalism. By referencing Takotsubo syndrome, also known as the broken heart syndrome, medical and love language merge and expose their limitations in capturing acute, undiagnosed, psychosomatic states.
The exhibition was awarded second prize in the Project Room Awards, contest dedicated to young artists in Poland.
Behind one such placard, Ania Nowak’s video Can You Die of a Broken Heart, 2018, shows a girl singing about Takotsubo syndrome, a stress cardiomyopathy caused by broken-heartedness, which manifests in the literal weakening of the heart muscle. The song fits oddly with the image of the young girl on-screen, who is protectively clad in armor, sinking under the weight of decayed male chivalry.
Vanessa Gravenor Artforum
In your work you often incorporate queer strategies – for example, in your series of performances Ohne Titel, you perform in female and male drag. Was a queer perspective on the body and identity also important for Can You Die of a Broken Heart? 
Laura Grudniewska, who collaborated with me on the video performance for the exhibition, pointed out to me that the child and lovebirds suggest a kind of “presence in-between,” in the sense that, from an anthropocentric point of view, a child is a kind of “being on the way to becoming an adult”, with her body in the process of becoming something different; her way of understanding and communicating is particular, but also under the inevitable command of the adult world. The lovebirds belong to a completely non-human order, they have their own ways of living, their own language, and at the same time, when trained, they can copy the human language.


In this project I wanted to emphasize the fact that the ill body is and has always been the absolute Other. I‘m interested in the position of the non-normative body – an insecure body, a body between diagnoses, a body that is often not believed to be ill because its symptoms are non-obvious, irregular, vague, such as is the case with fibromyalgia. In addition to the classifications of gender, sexual orientation, race, and class, there is also the category of efficiency and health that Western medicine arbitrarily separates from disease. There is a similar separation between mental and physical health. All these elements of biology, psychology, and environment are still not treated holistically in mainstream medicine. That‘s why in the project I use unexpected drag strategies; that is, both Jagoda and Julia Plawgo are dressed up in medieval chain mail, which refers to both the ability to defend and attack. These ambiguities and in-between zones, which in a non-obvious way undermine the normative order, are queer per se. By that I mean strange places, often uncomfortable, which destabilize what we consider recognizable, safe, and normal.
From an interview by Mateusz Szyman
ówka Blok Magazine
Idea, text Ania Nowak
Video p
erformance Jagoda Szymkiewicz
Live performance Ania Nowak, Julia Plawgo
Video Laura Grudniewska, Iwo Rachwał
Curator Mateusz Szymanówka
Production Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art
In the frame of Project Room
Photos Bartosz Górka