Not To Be Stuck In One Day Or Place… About SURVIVAL 7

> Michał Bieniek, Anna Kołodziejczyk
general curators


SURVIVAL Young Art in Extreme Conditions Review has taken place in Wrocław for seven years. Its basic tenet is to present art in urban space, outside the traditional exhibition institutions – i.e. in a clash of a multitude of contexts, contents and the dynamism of the public sphere. SURVIVAL travels, changes its surroundings in search of stimulation and materials to work out. Clearly-defined mottos or keywords are formulated by the organisers and curators of the Review only in those cases when they stem from the venue, its contexts, layers and memories in an obvious and natural way. The seventh edition of the Review which took place inside the Four Domes Pavilion in Wrocław was defined by keywords such as palimpsest, glory, forgetting, decline.

Max Berg, an outstanding architect and the creator of the Centennial Hall in Wrocław, said just after World War I, ‘As democracy develops, there will be buildings where ideas and works of art will be available to everyone – in order to educate the masses’. The Four Domes Pavilion, apart from the abovementioned hall, was an exemplary incarnation of this thought. There are several important dates that became part of the Pavilion which are connected with the uneasy merging of Polish and German traditions and, even more difficult, inheriting of the cultural heritage of a defeated nation.

It was here that in 1913 a historic exhibition was organised to illustrate the Prussian Wars and to commemorate the growing importance of Prussia in Europe. After World War II, in 1948, during a propaganda Regained Territories Exhibition, the Four Domes Pavilion housed the triumphant Polish Vestibule of Victory. In 1953 the Wrocław Feature Films Studio opened in this unique place. In the decades to come, the spatial arrangement was gradually losing its representative character – ceremonial squares vanished, monuments fell down, extensions and other pragmatic spaces connected with the activities of the Studio were built.

This year’s SURVIVAL avoided the spectacular. Instead, it rediscovered this unique place in a nostalgic way and yet again created a temporary area for presenting art. But it was not a demonstration of strength or a challenge to the edifice. Rather, a remembrance of a symbolic meaning of the building.

The artistic projects placed outside the building wove the narration which led the audience from the open spaces of Wróblewskiego and Wystawowa streets (Marta Gruzd’s citylights and Mira Boczniowicz and Andrzej Urbański’s Blog. Properties), through the former representative entrance to the Feature Films Studio (Kinga Nowak and Bogna Pobielska’s Starway and Tomasz Opania’s Document, which counterbalanced with its humour the fairly pompous low reliefs of Xawery Dunikowski), to the varied, complicated rooms of the Pavilion.

Marta Gruzd’s citylight, which was situated at a nearby tram stop, acted as a gate to or a bridgehead of the festival. For common, unacquainted users of the stop it was just a somewhat peculiar advertising poster. Austere composition showing the remains of an unknown but solemn architecture was the key to a sequence of events within the Review. The work of Mira Boczniowicz and Andrzej Urbański, i.e. a blog implanted in the city tissue via a LED screen, stressed other threads: a textual dimension of cinema, its sequentiality, but also critical and propaganda dimensions. Tomasz Opania in turn winked at the audience by turning the monumental stone figures of Xawery Dunikowski into cartoon characters.

Other installations, video-realisations and sound projects revealed a multidimensional, mysterious and complex character of the venue. Layers, stratification, extension – this theme dominated the majority of works.

Matti Havens gave the audience an insight into a crystal structure, which was expanding in all directions and dominating its surroundings irreversibly. Likewise, Monika Konieczna in her project No Time changed a normal herringbone parquet into another growing layer, which appropriated and devoured all the previous ones. No time! – the new has arrived… Marek Grzyb, in an interactive work Elevator, invited the audience to take part in a journey in a virtual lift in order to penetrate the building / memory / mind / history. Monika Aleksandrowicz in her conceptual project 35 Poems on Transformation, i.e. the Author’s ALTER EGO in points presented the audience with a peculiar analysis: she divided a creative personality into levels / stages / layers. And a picturesque flow of water from the floor to the ceiling in Maja Wolińska’s projection reminded of the inevitable blurring of all forms and contents. In contrast, all that escapes stagnation and gives a pleasant thrill was present in the installation of Patrycja Orzechowska. Situated in semi-darkness of a Pavilion’s corner, skeletons of lampshades glowed every few minutes with a cascade of warm light. This sensual spectacle acted like a splendid design, permeating the dilapidated interior with colour and enclosing a surprised audience in a soothing ring of shining.

Some of the artists let themselves make subtle social-political comments embedded in the context of the venue. Two oblong, plastic glow tubes saying ‘Eastern’ (light off) and ‘West’ (light on) made up Filip Laskowski’s ironic work. Eastern West evoked the illuminated marking of a ticket window in a railway station and stylistically referred to the times of the Polish People’s Republic. Grzegorz Łoznikow in turn presented a work entitled Polishing. On the floor of one of the domes of the Pavilion he painted a simplified map of Great Britain. Inside a geometrised shape of the United Kingdom he put the word ‘Polish’, painted many times with white emulsion paint. The poor quality of the paint meant that passers-by erased gradually the inscriptions, emphasising symbolically the temporariness of all solutions and social, political and economic situations. Polishing had another, more concrete dimension: while the Regained Territories Exhibition 60 years ago highlighted (in its propaganda way) the ‘Polishness’ of the Western Borderland, Łoznikow’s work focused on changeability, volatility and the economic conditioning of the sense of national affiliation – a factor independent of national mythology but equally powerful.

Many artists referred directly to the history of the place, brought back the spirit of the place. Thanks to Kama Sokolnicka’s project About Hans Poelzig [The Spectres of Max], the apparitions of Hans Poelzig and Max Berg walked freely at the venue and carried on conversations in German. We could peep at both famous architects sitting comfortably on a bench in a park through a hole (a lens?) placed in one of the walls inside the Pavilion. Tomasz Bajer and Jola Bielańska, on the other hand, put an insciption saying Zeitgeist on the elevation of the building, which, especially at night, when it was illuminated with two identical beams of light, resembled the aesthetics of Nazi rallies, the solemn and bizarre architecture (understood literally, but also metaphorically: as architecture of thoughts, an ideological skeleton of a society and state) of the Third Reich.

Michał Gdak and Krzysztof Żuchowski enabled the visitors to interfere symbolically with the architectural tissue of the venue. Their interactive idea was to project inside one of the domes a geometric object consisting of 15 maps (projections) of individual parts of the Four Domes Pavilion and the nearby Centennial Hall. The festiwal audience could change the shape of the monumental object which floated above them by moving pictograms located on the floor which represented given fragments of the projection. Pascale Heliot as well as Paweł Stasiewicz, Paweł Owczarczyk and Kinga Hecel treated the architectural object as an infinite organism which reveals to us subsequent layers of its internal and external structure – the structure of a fractal. Heliot showed a series of paintings which contained and brought to the Pavilion the places where they had been previously exhibited in order to conquer the Pavilion and take it on a further journey – on canvas. Stasiewicz, Owczarczyk and Hecel assembled in Poelzig’s building a fragment of a destroyed floor, which had been moved from a closed factory near Żyrardów. Their next project will be to present – somewhere else in Poland, at another festival, review, exhibition – a fragment of the floor of the Four Domes Pavilion in Wrocław.

An absurd afterimage of solemn architecture is shown in Dominika Łabądź’s concept of a careless carton model of the Centennial Hall – which is actually undergoing a major renovation at the moment. Her untitled installation, abandoned and deteriorating in the neglected corridors of the Pavilion, accentuated clearly the bitter contrast between the condition of both buildings. Monika Drożyńska also tempted the audience with a sentimental walk in the ruins by putting sound in a niche where a monument of Athena Pallas used to stand. The author’s sarcastic giggle coming from the centre of the courtyard became a commentary to two phenomena: artistic indolence and the fall of former glory, represented proudly by the divine Athena.

These were not the only works that had to be found between heaps of debris. The interior of the Pavilion triggered the collective imagination in a peculiar way, the impact of art merged with the influence of the venue, its decline, touching the history. Agnieszka Stochaj and Agnieszka Krupieńczyk’s It’s Falling Down! was a truly pop-art game. But a sophisticated, painted geometry was marked by a building tape which usually means catastrophe. Vast areas marked with a warning black-and-yellow pattern had the same function as Paweł Jarodzki’s handssignposts. The artist’s intervention, entitled Trying to Show the Right Direction, was yet another ironic gesture – ‘throwing down the arms’ at all the decay.

In 1946 the Spire was built – the only reason for its existence being the need to visually dominate the monumental Centennial Hall (then People’s Hall) and therefore accentuate the ancient Polishness of the Western Borderland. This peculiar demonstration of power was reflected in one of the most interesting works of Jerzy Kosałka, whose installation The Germans Have Arrived had already been presented in the BWA gallery in Wrocław several years ago. The refreshed work, which was a smaller version of the original famous construction, revealed its new incarnation in once the most representative column hall of the Four Domes Pavilion.   Sitting on a pseudo-marble plinth and protected by alert guards, it was located on an invisible axis of its prototype. The model was surrounded by a circle of tiny plastic soldiers in German uniforms – as if they were about to disassemble the construction. The fear that ‘the Germans will arrive’ is being fulfilled.

In this year’s edition there were also less uncompromising works, so that the balance between engaged artistic thought and the elaborate mix of natural entropy and human interference, which had coexisted in this place since its beginnings, could be maintained. Some of such works were the installations of Michał Smandek (Reconstructions) and Hubert Bujak (Accumulations), but also Agnieszka Grodzińska’s neon. Smandek’s unusual forms, which fitted the marks of stucco decorations, where both a tribute to the past and a subtle statement within object art. Agnieszka Grodzińska based her idea on a simple observation. In a claustrophobic room with a column, which used to be monumental, but presently is cut through by a ceiling, she put an English inscription glaring with weak light: ‘The column which props up nothing seems to be the sense of this all’. The meaning of these words referred admittedly to the bravado of past decisions concerning the alteration of the Pavilion, but also emphasised the extraordinary aesthetics of an interior divided in that way. Hubert Bujak’s Accumulations were equally restrained – a composition of pipes and radiators, together with a sensation of warm air, became a tale of past energy of a place where people used to busy themselves.

In the former Feature Films Studio there must have been works referring to cinematography, film, the film industry. On one of the elevations Piotr Bujak’s Shining was presented. This geometric composition, which imitated tuning a TV set in the ‘light/dark’ mode, became unexpectedly the slogan for all the projects which took up the topic of film.

Honza Zamojski’s projection was made up of a fragment of Roman Polański’s film Knife in the Water – the famous scene of ‘walking’ on the water (Knife in the Water was partially filmed in the Feature Films Studio in Wrocław). Przemysław Paliwoda’s work Film Dialogue was an ambiguous play with film, screen and text, whereas Piotr Kmita’s What the Heart Craves Not – an intelligent joke about film icons, legendary scenes, the changing morality (also because of films), and also the excitation which accompanies what remains unsaid. Maks Cieślak (Humour and Humanity) showed a video recording of the ceremony of awarding Charlie Chaplin with an honorary Academy Award. This beautiful work, a natural extension of the tradition of the venue, moved many visitors to the festival. Bogna Podbielska and Kinga Nowak’s already mentioned work Starway also referred to the film industry: a red carpet, resembling those in Cannes or Venice on which film stars are photographed. But this time it led people straight to… closed doors, a former main entrance to the Studio.

Tomasz Zalejski-Smoleń intended his installation Horror Vacui to be kept in a similar spirit: a fake film projector standing in a corner, ‘projecting’ soap bubbles straight onto a wall covered by mould. This hypnotising spectacle was not just a pragmatic commentary about the volatility of fame. It also reminded us how easy it is to shatter dreams.

When we take into consideration the original function of the Four Domes Pavilion, erected in order to house ‘artefacts of culture’, organising an exhibition here might have taken on the form of updating the past. For the duration of the Review, the former Exhibition Pavilions became another, art-gallery-like venue for presenting art, being at the same time a counterpoint to a classical gallery of modern art. The cosiness of the majority of works included in the Review was aimed at emphasising the exceptional beauty of the vast spaces of the Pavilion which, banality aside, had become aesthetic themselves. Magdalena Marciniec’s meaningful ART MUST BE CLEAN, a spatial inscription placed in a bathroom and illuminated by a disinfecting hospital lamp, could have opened the procession of these realisations in a cunning way.

Marcin Mierzicki’s installation under the title Mausoleum, which matched perfectly the aesthetics of one of the halls, stood out against all the film and historical associations. A throne made of ceramic tiles, filled with virtual boiling water, added to the peculiar atmosphere of the place. Or maybe – in spite of its monumental scale – it naturally merged with it, giving an impression of something that had always been there, though its function was forgotten. Sławek Czajkowski’s energetic mural, squeezed in in a stuffy and devastated room, counterbalanced the atmosphere of melancholy which permeated, in an otherwise justified way, the works in adjoining rooms. Skilfully painted, entwined in the cascades of plants growing on the ceiling, it shattered humour with its foreboding It’s (not) Good in Wrocław.

Thanks to the work of Krzysztof Kazimierz Pańtak and Radosław Janicki, the audience could satisfy their need of ‘discovering’ places which are usually unavailable. Both intriguing and depressing, their video Surveillance-Free Zone, which showed overscaled and multiplied human eyes, as if staring at the visitor, paradoxically provoked to explore the nooks and crannies within the projection area. These penetrating eyes, looking at Michał Wasiak’s object: a box or an aquarium built from old windows, filled with a collection of unintelligible souvenirs, constituted a kind of mysterious case at this stage of the festival route.

Tomasz Drewicz’s Know-body turned out not to be devoid of gallerylike addictions. His monumental, module painting tricked the perception in an obvious way, arranging itself in a more or less clearly visible portrait of an everyman. The author raised the motif of image multiplying, layering and copying, which was starkly visible against the vast surface of naked walls which had been decaying for decades.  

Buff [Clean, Paint Over], a realisation created by Piotr Łakomy, was probably the most encoded, and also the most disinterested in other works. In order to come across it, it was necessary to reach the outer walls of the Pavilion – from this perspective the entire complex looks like a stylish palace covered by ivy. The artist made a painting application which hid an anonymous predecessor’s gesture – street tags. The new layer functioned as a top-quality ornament which accompanied the expansive flora.

On the elevation of the building as seen from the courtyard, above all the others, Daria Milecka’s work was hung. A poetic quote from Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński’s poem, which would later become a popular song performed by Ewa Demarczyk, ‘Out of things I’ll lead shadows’, might have been the motto of the seventh edition of SURVIVAL. An edition that was dominated by apparitions, shadows, blurred shapes… An edition which functioned as a scribe who erases old texts from a parchment in order to write down another one – his own. During the memorable Regained Territories Exhibition, it was referred to using the metaphor of a book: ‘To visit the exhibition is like to read quickly a huge book about Poland’. Sixty years after this one-hundred- day long demonstration of the strength of the new regime, we can refer again to this metaphor – this time, treating the Exhibition Grounds themselves as a map of a dormant culture.

SURVIVAL travels, changes. ‘… it is not stuck in one day or place’, as Olga Tokarczuk wrote (Bieguni). Like the Four Domes Pavilion – not a place, but many places. Or maybe just a fragment of a place – a segment, fractal – whose subsequent elements are revealed by bits of time that follow one another: minutes, hours, days. Days that would pass, taking away what they made visible for a moment. Leaving just an aftersight.

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