Artistic disciplines love to commingle metaphors. Actors paint scenes, writers sculpt dialogue, and dancers translate the "language" of movement.
Artist Pawel Kruk, who arrived in San Francisco seven years ago from Poland, isn't satisfied with metaphors. He wants to inhabit other disciplines, peel back the skin of his heroes, crawl inside their heads, and mouth their words — all in an effort to understand art. Kruk has put together a body of video work based around the words of luminaries like Michael Jordan, Bruce Lee, and, in his current show, the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. In 2009's The Lost Interview, he dubbed the soundtrack of an interview with Lee onto video of himself lip-synching the words. Kruk's edits make Lee's quotes about martial arts and acting sound like koans about art — the discipline and distance needed to create it.
Kruk's latest exhibit centers on a video titled What's So Good About Feeling Bad? In it, Kruk uses his own voice, but the words belong to Murakami, except where Kruk has altered them to refer to art instead of writing. Static black-and-white images of a desk, a chair, and lamps alternate with close-ups of Kruk, while the narration runs as a moody voiceover. The text comes from an early Murakami novel published in English in Japan as part of a language-learning series. The narrator discusses the paramount importance of honesty in art, and looks wryly at its inherent self-indulgence. "In order for there to be true art, there necessarily has to be slavery," he declares at one point. "That's how it was with the ancient Greeks: While the slaves worked the fields, prepared the meals, and rowed the ships, the citizens would bask beneath the Mediterranean sun, rapt in poetical composition or engaged in their mathematics."
It's a provocative statement. Does Kruk agree? Yes, he says. "I live in the presence of slavery," he explains, "because I am the property of another me — my artist being — and I'm forced to obey his will." His "everyday" self has to work to support his artist self. This duality is what "Talking to Yourself" is mainly about.
Both of Kruk's selves are an integral part of the installation. He sits at a desk — the same one as in the video — in the middle of the gallery floor, awaiting visitors. The day I stopped by, he was meticulously handcrafting business cards that read "Pawel Kruk, Young Artist" in a penciled script neat as typeset, and selling them for $10 apiece. He abandoned his work to tell me about the show.
Intense, introspective, and articulate, Kruk comes off as a lanky Hamlet, passionately preoccupied by the artistic process. Like Murakami — like all his heroes — Kruk is a seeker who understands the power of story. His explanation of a photograph of dead sheep featured in the show, for example, is a tale of time and coincidence. The sheep — more than 300 of them — were discovered dead in a field, killed by a lightning strike, on the very day World War II began. The image links back to Murakami's literary creation, the Sheep Man, and also illustrates what artists are up against: Reality is weirder than anything we can think up.
Without Kruk in person, the installation can dim a little for want of connection, although the video stands on its own. Call ahead to see whether he'll be there. This is his exhibit; it's evolving with him; he inhabits it. He's essentially, as the title implies, talking to himself. The rest of get to play the role of audience members, composing our notes.