Born in 1985 in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and now based in Amsterdam, the artist Polina Kanis is fascinated with power structures and how human beings can question and challenge their presence. As she writes, “In order to resist the prevailing structures, resistance itself must be interrogated. Challenging the notion of ‘action’ and ‘resistance’ is prerogative to reorient the definition of dissent. Rather than buying into the dichotomy of ‘to act’ or to remain ‘passive’, a new space must be forged.” Such thinking is reflected in Kanis’ work, which itself aims to create a “new space” that resists expectations and creates conditions for the reorientation of the viewers’ relation to power. Kanis graduated from the Herzen State Pedagogical University, Saint Petersburg (2006) and Rodchenko Art School, Moscow (2011) and won the Young Artist category of the Kandinsky Prize for her video Eggs (2010). The film presents the artist attempting to catch the titular objects with her skirt as they are thrown at her. She misses nearly as many as she catches and ends the video covered in yolk and surrounded by broken shells in a farcical commentary on the impossibilities of traditional gender roles.
Other early notable works feature the artist performing various roles, including a fitness instructor in her seminal video Workout (2011). The work looks at the phenomenon of exercise in public space, specifically aerobics in parks around Moscow. It stars Kanis as a smiling, enthusiastic trainer of retirees. Uniformly clad in western tracksuits, the elder exercisers follow Kanis’ instructions amidst pouring rain. The group falls in line under the spell of their charismatic leader, affirming what the artist has called the “totalitarian sports aesthetic” of popular public fitness programs in and around Moscow.
Kanis’ latest videos have become more cinematic and dreamlike as her focus has delved deeper into how state-sanctioned hierarchies affect social behaviors. Her choreographed situations, symbolic of her time, reinvent everyday rituals while investigating power dynamics of the individual in formed groups. Kanis, a leading video practitioner of the post-soviet generation, exposes broken power structures by using routine, rhythm, and repetition.
In 2016 Kanis received the Sergey Kuryokhin Award in the Media Object category. Her work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, film festivals and screenings, including a solo show in Haus der Kunst Munich (2017), VISIO program in Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (2019), the parallel program of Manifesta 10 in Saint Petersburg (2014), the 3rd Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art (2015), Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (2014, 2018), VI Moscow International Biennial for Young Art (2015), Moscow International Experimental Film Festival (2016, 2018), Hamburg Short Film Festival (2019), and many others.
Kanis’ work can be found in numerous public and private collections, including Fonds régional d'art contemporain Bretagne (Frac Bretagne), Rennes cedex; In Between Art Film S.r.l., Rome; The Foundation Videoinsight, Bologna; Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, the National Center for Contemporary Arts, Aksenov Family Foundation, Gazprom collection, The Foundation of Vladimir Smirnov and Konstantin Sorokin, Stella Art Foundation, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow; and in private collections.