Opening: Friday, 19 May, at 6 till 9 pm
Exhibition runs: 19.05. — 1.07.2023
Curated by: Katarzyna Krysiak, Przemysław Strożek
The Kill Your Idols exhibition was inspired by a story where hard rock and heavy metal music played a role of quite some consequence. It tells of how the armed forces of the USA seized Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, ‘flushing’ him from his hiding place with a compilation of hard rock and heavy metal music. The exhibition takes its title from the slogan on a T-shirt worn by Guns N’ Roses vocalist Axel Rose, one of the artists who featured on the infamous playlist that forced Noriega to give himself up.
In 1989, the United States launched an invasion of Panama. Code-named ‘Operation Just Cause’, it was intended to depose the Panamanian dictator, Manual Noriega, in order to strengthen the USA’s influence over the strategically located Panama Canal. Counting on diplomatic asylum, Noriega took refuge in the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican’s embassy in Panama, but he was captured after the USA decided to employ a strategy of musical torture. Day and night, hard rock and heavy metal music was played at high volume close to the embassy walls. In the end, it drove the dictator, who was a devotee of opera, to surrender to the American army. The artists whose music was used included Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.
At the same time, in the Poland of the late nineteen eighties, the music of bands like Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC was an extraordinarily important experience for the young generation of the era of transformation. A turning point came with an iconic concert given by Metallica in Katowice in 1987, which heralded a real invasion of heavy metal from the United States. Although the history of hard rock and heavy metal, such as the work of Polish band Kat, dates from the early nineteen eighties, it was in the dying years of the communist People’s Republic of Poland that the Western mainstream became predominant. In this instance, an uncritical fascination with American pop culture was also inextricably bound up with the dramatic and sweeping capitalist reforms instigated directly after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.
In this new series of works, Radek Szlaga captures the absurdity and anecdotal nature of the story. He grew up witnessing the dismantling of the communist regime in Poland. In the nineteen nineties, some of his family moved to the United States and he frequently travelled there. Later, he moved a number of times to different European countries, without ever really settling anywhere for good. At the moment, he lives in Brussels. The fascinations of his childhood, particularly the idealised vision of the USA as a global superpower and the dissonance between that picture and everyday life continue to permeate his work in ever-new constellations.
Szlaga’s Kill Your Idols exhibition visualises both the aforementioned narratives in parallel. He inscribes them in a ‘transatlantic’ concept, which is to say, a geopolitical and cultural space for exchange that he has been consistently developing for years. Interwoven into the expanse of this transatlantic map are universal and individual experiences from the era of the hard rock and heavy metal boom in the early nineteen nineties. Spanning the United States, Latin America, Panama, Eastern Europe and Poland, these experiences build a remarkable tale of the means by which heavy metal and hard rock invaded the geopolitical process and, hand in hand with that, the established normative order of the global map.