In Polish artist Mateusz Szczypinski’s eerie collage series Utopia, priests, sportspeople, and children in fancy dress pop out of the folds of domineering, ubiquitous socialist tower blocks against the starry night sky. The combination of eccentric characters wearing matching outfits and the uniformity of the architecture, make this world of collages feel cult-like.
I wanted to present the city as a giant hive that takes control of people, transforming them into puppets awkwardly playing roles imposed onto them
Growing up in a tower block just opposite a coal mine in the southern Polish city of Piekary Śląskie, artist Mateusz Szczypinski says he never really thought about the building while he lived in it; all of his friends lived in similar flats in similar tower blocks. Only after he left for Kraków, where he studied history of art and painting, did Szczypinski start to take an interest in the avant-garde and begin to reflect on the ideas that inspired the construction of socialist modernist architecture. “I was intrigued by the utopias and dystopias [surrounding socialist architecture], and how regulations are made to improve the quality of life, but very often turn into a form of control, surveillance and coercion,” the 34-year-old told The Calvert Journal.
“When confronted with reality, wonderful ideas get distorted and become caricatures of themselves. Modernity and progress here [in these collages] are only the facade behind which tribal mentality, superstitions, and rituals are hidden. I wanted to present the city as a giant hive that takes control of people, transforming them into puppets awkwardly playing roles imposed onto them.”
Trained as a painter, Szczypinski has been an avid collector of vintage magazines, books, postcards, and photographs. Intrigued by the “demolition and building” involved in collage-making, he started working on the Utopia series.
“It is important for me to work with the object itself, which has its history and emotional charge, rather than with reprints,” Szczypinski told The Calvert Journal. “I think the collage technique perfectly captures the eclectic and diverse spirit of the postmodern world.”