Begun in 2018, the series Tomorrow Belongs to Me is a reference to a key scene in Bob Fosse’s classic 1972 musical Cabaret, set in the Weimar Republic in the 1930s. Between vaudeville scenes in a second-rate nightclub and Berlin’s decadent parties and amusements, more ominous events take place: people are beaten for their political views, malicious slogans are painted on walls, and the Jewish minority begins to feel frightened. In the background of a flourishing love affair and a cabaret variety show, the rise of Nazism was portrayed.
The painting’s title is also the title of a song sung passionately by a golden-haired youth in the film. It starts innocently, with paeans in honour of nature. Gentleness soon turns into fierceness as the song gets louder and more engaging while its words begin to express the promise of national glory. The camera’s slow movement reveals a swastika on the boy’s arm: he is a member of Hitlerjugend. The whole crowd joins him in song. The gender, age or social status of the singers no longer matters. Youths, entrepreneurs and workers, and even a small child subconsciously trying to imitate what happens around it, contribute to the ghastly polyphony. The song does not include words which would explicitly express the future policies of the Third Reich, but it gives a clear outline of a mentality shared by an increasingly larger part of society. The telling scene laid bare the psychological and social roots of Nazism in under three minutes. From an innocent song, it transforms into a hymn which glorifies a brutal expansion and reveals a national complex accumulated since the German defeat in the First World War. Tomorrow Belongs to Me was written by American composers John Kander and Fred Ebb. Its similarity to German patriotic songs resulted its use by groups of Neo-Nazis all over the world as a sort of hymn. Ironically, the authors were of Jewish descent and openly homosexual. This did not prevent such bands as Saga or Skrewdriver from performing the song while emphasizing anti-democratic and racist views.
Osiowski’s collage includes the faces of both the young Nazi and Cabaret’s Master of Ceremonies, who seems to embody the worst human vices. The smile appearing on his made-up face in especially disturbing and worrying moments of Cabaret makes him a demonic observer of the events, aware of their final result. Like in another song from that film, the cabaret becomes a miniature of life, especially its dark side, governed by the human desire for power, greed for material things, pride and shamelessness.
Osiowski’s works bring to mind the output of Dadaists, both formally and because of their relationship with socially engaged art, openly criticizing current political situations. German artists of the interwar period were equally inclined to apply the techniques of collage and photomontage, stressing that traditional values and solutions proclaimed in culture and social life had been compromised post-1914. Works by Dadaists are devoid of aesthetic claims in favour of unmasking uncomfortable absurdities and paradoxes deeply rooted in society as well as mocking the authorities and their war propaganda. Such pieces were created by Hannah Höch and Raoul Hausmann, soon joined by George Grosz, Hans Richter, John Heartfield and Max Ernst, among others. A key point in their manifesto was to connect products of high culture with popular culture, which – in all of its kitschy expression – was a vehicle for values shared by the vast majority of society. The use of ready- made images facilitated the creation of mental shortcuts. The art critic and curator Stephen Foster considered Dadaists to be a resistance movement which constantly aimed at transgressing the accepted norms of judging the work of art and interpreting it, and thus at revealing hidden power structures. What Osiowski’s works have in common with those created one hundred years ago, and with Cabaret, is the need for finding the truth. Through surprising associations and the use of grotesque, they unmask the mechanisms which control citizens and the audience of art. However, this tangle of motifs, this cabaret party, offers as much innocent excitement as it does ominous threats.