Artur Zmijewski

Copyist sent the following message to interested respondents ::: their responses are featured below

Please watch Singing Lesson 1 (0:00-14:00) 


You will see a situation staged by Polish artist Artur Żmijewski. Żmijewski asked alumni of the Deaf-Mute Institute in Warsaw to perform Kyrie from Jan Maklakiewicz’s Polish Mess. 


Żmijewski explains:


One can hear a chaotic tune and deformed words; choristers do not hear themselves, some of them do not even know what sound is. Against all odds, we hear music that carries crumpled words of the Apostle’s Creed: ‘I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth…’


Singing Lesson 1 was treated as a dress rehearsal, Żmijewski later went on to stage Singing Lesson 2, performed in St. Thomas Cathedral in Lipsk, featured young deaf performers alongside the Barockensemble der Fachrichtung Alte Musik orchestra, and a professional cantatrice. Listen to full album here.

Singing Lesson 1 + 2 articulates the presence and acceptance of otherness - dealing specifically with hearing and speech, the concerns of our playlist IDIOGLOSSIA.


In light of what you have just watched and heard, we ask you to answer any or all of the following questions to your comfort, as we ourselves are still collecting our feelings about Żmijewski’s piece.

1. How do you feel after watching/listening to Singing Lesson 1?

(respondent 1) Their performance was really enjoyable.

(respondent 2) I feel pugnacious. I feel mild anger and some confusion. I also feel some things under the surface that are hard to identify.

2. How does your identity as a hearing or non-hearing person affect your experience of the piece?

(respondent 1) As a hearing person, I was focused on factors in the piece that are exclusive to my experience. One of them was that may ear was always keen on paying attention to some sort of cohesive lyricism. In addition, I often imagined my experience as a non-hearing person, and if my experience with music would be felt through my vocal chord vibrations, gestures with my mouth and tongue, etc.

(respondent 2) I watch Singing Lesson 1 under the assumption that I, a hearing person, am its intended audience. While watching I felt uneasiness and at times I felt fear. I think part of my uneasiness lies in my feeling that Żmijewski is pulling me aside to engage with him, another hearing person, in a discussion about my identity relative to non-hearing people. Even though the non-hearing performers are the subject of the video, their thoughts and identities as they would express them are obscured in the discussion that follows.

3. How do you think Żmijewski’s treats otherness in this video?

(respondent 1) I think Zmijewski celebrates otherness throughout a large portion of this piece. However, during the captured monologues, I felt that some of the participants were discouraged to a degree. There were moments I saw people feeling shy, discouraged; this seemed to be equated to being put on the spot to some extent.

(respondent 2) Żmijewski makes the choir's performance foreign to the expected viewer. Their voices interpret melodies in a way that transcends the musical expression possible in the rigid tonal framework of traditional western music. Żmijewski influences the otherness the hearing observer will perceive by selecting ecclesiastical music as the choir's repertoire.

4. How do you think Żmijewski’s identity as a hearing person affects his treatment of deafness?

(respondent 1) He will never be able to truly empathize with a non-hearing person’s experience, which makes me wonder if this piece can be seen as a recording of “otherness” in a hearing person’s experience.

(respondent 2) Żmijewski places deaf subjects in a context that is controlled by hearing people (in this circumstance and historically). I think this decision is informed by his perceptions of power as a hearing person. Żmijewski injects his work with a hearing person's perspective that makes it easy for the hearing observer to use words like "crumpled" to describe deaf performers' pronunciation, or words like "cacophonous" to describe the complex harmonies of the choir layering over the organ's accompaniment.

5. Where do you perceive power in this project?

(respondent 1) As much as I feel that a primary focus of this piece was on the power of deafness, I honestly was led to the conclusion that religion is extremely powerful. A crucifix hovering over this immaculate white space? Community created around religious praise and song? The safety of the space, where judgement is only limited to the evasive, secular camera? If this doesn’t propagate religion, you’ve got me fooled.

(respondent 2) The non-hearing participants in Singing Lesson 1 have the power of performance without the same power of creative choice that Żmijewski has by virtue of his status as a hearing person. The documentary style of the work, however, does make me feel Żmijewski has used a portion of his creative power to express aspects of the performers' identities that exist apart from the scenario he has constructed.

6. Any additional thoughts?

(respondent 1) This piece was really special to watch!!

(respondent 2) Singing Lesson 1 and copyist's questions leave me with my own questions.

Questions about power:

What are my notions about power and the human body? How do I interact with power stemming from bodily privilege? What does it feel like for me to witness the effects of power? Why does it feel that way?

Questions about otherness:

In what ways does sameness leave room for otherness? Where does sameness hide? If otherness stems from one group lacking context or the disposition to understand another group, then how does each party perceive this disconnect? When does this lead to negative consequences? When is there blame and where does it fall? How is that blame justified by each party?

Thank you to our respondents for helping to shape our understanding of Singing Lesson 1.

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