Critical wanderer between artistic worlds
She added it all up once. Reduced her artistic work to a simple sum of minutes of film produced. It came to just twenty minutes per year. And she continued to count: “The times, the scenes, the seconds, the individual drawings, which I called keyframes, inbetweens and extremes. From that time on, I proceeded to measure my artistic ventures in amounts, in work phases.”
Perhaps because Mariola Brillowska has over twenty years of filmmaking to look back on, her narrative comes across as slightly laconic when she recalls how protracted each film project always is and how much time she has invested over the years: “One hundred backgrounds, a thousand sketches, ten thousand extremes on paper, on film, colorized, corrected, photographed, copied, mounted, scored, dubbed, mastered, printed, projected, post-produced, by hand, using analogue equipment, by computer.” She describes animation as being “like a beautiful caterpillar that keeps metamorphosing into a butterfly between film and fine art but cannot move any faster.”
To describe her solely as a filmmaker, though, would be an understatement, as her work extends beyond animation, which is simply the vehicle she uses to convey her content. She is a virtuoso able to work in several genres: performance, music, fine art and literature – all of them just as much a part of her as her colourful hair and flashy outfits. She herself has become an artistic figure. She produces her own persona like she produces her works. A total work of art unto herself, she is her own art form. Nothing is left to coincidence: her staging is not merely superficial, but is also anchored deep within her work. As well as drafting the animations in her films, she also writes the texts, songs and poems. She not only gives her films a voice, but engages in role play with her artist-self through her narration. In films such as Morgenröte (1999), Steiniges Kind (2006), I your Nicotine (2009), Tränen rollen (2009) and An das Morgengrauen (2011) she creates little poetic gems of personal and ironic subtext.
So who is Mariola Brillowska? Of course one could quote her biography at this point in order to find out something about her. But there as well, fact is blurred with fiction; her personal history is the material from which the artist weaves her stories. She grew up in the Polish town of Sopot, which is apparently so grey that it led Brillowska to become obsessed with bright, jazzy colours and to escape soon after she graduated from high school. She moved to Hamburg to study at the University of Fine Arts and soon became part of the city’s underground art scene, which she is still involved in today.
Bright colours are not her only trademark; minimalistic figures that many associate with a cyclops also serve to make her work highly recognizable. In this sense she has created her own visual idiom that is a far cry from the widespread tendency on the animation scene to focus on cuteness. Her drawings are distinctive and efficient, which sometimes gives rise to claims that Brillowska is not an animator in the classic sense. Despite the fact that her idiosyncratic style has earned her the reputation of an enfant terrible of animation, or perhaps precisely for that reason, she has been teaching at the Offenbach University of Art and Design as a professor of freehand drawing and illustration since 2007. It’s clear from her students’ work, of which she is extremely proud, how much she inspires them to think freely. Examples can be found at: www.mariolabrillowska.org/academy/html
In terms of themes, Brillowska’s work manifests a clear focus: sexuality and relationships, progress and the economy, especially as criticism of capitalism and criminality, or more precisely, crimes committed against humanity. Her films invariably offer an analysis of society in all its myriad facets. Brillowska showcases what others would rather hide and proves to be an astute observer of the times we live in. In the world of her films, the concept of capitalism brings with it perfidious ramifications – everyone and everything can be bought or sold. She draws on current trends and ideas and takes them to their logical conclusion, for example in The Law of Celly (2011). Her feature films Katharina & Witt (1997) and Kinder des Teufels (2010) are future scenarios of a cold, unfeeling society dehumanized by technology. She packages it all in an animated post-socialist atmosphere made up of colourful cartoon images. And yet, these fantasies are so uncanny that they might well be frightening if it weren’t for the subtle humour and delightful play with words and forms that is a hallmark of all of Mariola Brillowska’s films.
Another theme that runs like a thread through the artist’s oeuvre is sex. Lust is indulged in ecstatically, sometimes even fatally in her films, accompanied of course by detailed commentary. Internal voices and thoughts are verbalized and what happens is not only enacted but also spoken. This sort of candour is unusual for animated films. But sex is just a means to an end for Brillowska. In her first animated film, Grabowski, Haus des Lebens (1990), for example, she draws on the theme of death as well as sexuality and introduces the femme fatale Lola, who is also featured in further films such as Der Mann geht in den Krieg (1992), Eryk im Sexil (1993) and Lola allein zu Haus (2006). The character of Lola represents an emancipated woman who takes what she wants but also allows herself to be used. The Grabowski character is a gravedigger from Poland working in a German cemetery. He has a weakness for Polish cigarettes and is often called upon to offer widows consolation in order to speed along the process of bereavement. When Lola appears, a sexual concupiscence arises within him that is of a completely different nature to what he experiences with the widows, and it seems that this will not bode well for them.
In Grabowski, Haus des Lebens, Brillowska already addresses the problems surrounding immigration, a theme that is also a focus in many of her later films. Her Pole tries to make sense of the ways of the Western world and its consumerist lifestyle, while himself exploiting and enjoying it in a sexual sense, finally leading to his death. This divergence between expectations and reality is a topic that recurrently intrigues Brillowska.
Mariola Brillowska is a wanderer not only between artistic worlds but also between cultures. Despite having spent over thirty years in Germany, her films still reflect a strong, albeit ambivalent, relationship to Poland. The Polish accent she continues to cultivate as well as her Polish syntax and the choice of German words she masterfully puts to use are all aspects that express this ambivalence. Many of her films focus on Polish people or are set in Polish territory. This is especially evident in the film Contr- Contras (1996), set in Danzig, which points up the absurdities of lineage and nationality.
By now, Brillowska’s own family has also become part of the expansive world of her films. Allergietest (2010), for example, centres on a scene where her daughter Bela is playing with her friend Felix Kubin. They are playing doctor and patient, and Dr Brillowska offers a few very strange diagnoses and even more peculiar treatments. Mariola Brillowska documents this episode from her daughter’s childhood world in a fashion far from the typical home video, by representing it as a colourful cartoon about an angel and a devil.
Brillowska is still not short on ideas. Even though sometimes she would rather work at a faster pace than she is able to due to the lengthy production process inherent to the medium of animated film, a single look at her work demonstrates how tremendously productive her use of time has been. She has succeeded in creating films whose imagery and themes have an undying relevance: their timelessness keeps them current.
1990 Grabowski, Haus des Lebens
1992 Der Mann geht in den Krieg
1993 Eryk im Sexil
1994 Visa Víº
1995 Man Comes Home
1995 Man In Action
1996 Flash Fairy
1997 Der falsche Spieler
1997 Die Contr-Contras
2001 Hotel Super Nova
2003 Alle Welt ist Angst
2005 Matki Wandalki
2005 Porno Karaoke International
2006 Schwarze Hand
2006 Steiniges Kind
2007 Hond Aerobic
2007 Das Handygesetz
2008 Ruski Make Up
2008 Unnahbare Liebe
2008 Liebe Stirbt
2008 Du Schläfst
2008 Die Tränen Kullern
2008 Darwin Auferstehe
2009 Ich dein Nikotin
2009 To Be Around
2010 Ruhe Niemals In Frieden
2010 Olympia Club
2010 Mein Gleichgewicht Schwindet
2011 An das Morgengrauen
2011 Der Allergietest
2012 Olympia Contemporary Art Club
2012 Blumen für Van Gogh
feature length films
1992 KATHARINA & WITT, FICTION & REALITY screenplay
1997 KATHARINA & WITT, FICTION & REALITY
1997 CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL screenplay
2009 UNDER CONTROL compilation with cartoons of her and her students
2010 CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL
2011 PARALLELES UNIVERSUM 3.0 compilation with cartoons of her and her students