Contemporary Artists from Poland
Krzysztof Skorczewski - Whirlpool (Vortice) (2015)
Today Poland is the scene of a cultural renaissance, bringing to the liquid modernity of today – to quote the acclaimed work by Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman – the historical legacies, traumas, eradications and reconstructions that over the centuries have shaped Central Europe. In the course of its centuries-long history, the country’s strategic location at the heart of the old continent has led it to be disputed by the great European empires. In the eighteenth century, the Polish territory was subjected to successive partitions by the three great neighbouring empires of Prussia, Austria and Russia, until its division in 1795. Poland only re-emerged as an independent entity in 1918, after the First World War, when in effect it became a buffer state, strategically situated between Germany and Russia. The invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in September 1939 triggered the Second World War, at the end of which the Polish territory – having once more been divided between Berlin and Moscow – took on today’s borders and became a member of the Soviet socialist bloc. In the Eighties it was mainly from Poland that a wave of demonstrations for reform was triggered, led by the “Solidarność” (Solidarity) trade union and supported by the Catholic Church, which led to the mobilization of civil society and, in the following decade, to the implosion of the socialist regime.
Jakub Jernajczyk - Integer Squares (2015)
Today it is hard to perceive the Soviet greyness among the futuristic skyscrapers, new subway lines, museums and art installations in the capital Warsaw. However, the evolution of Polish society is not yet marching entirely abreast with the times, particularly in terms of human rights.
While it argues with the European Union (of which it has been a member since 2004) on migration and on laws concerning freedom of the media and the Constitutional Court, Poland is launching a new development plan.
So even though the country enjoys a sustained level of economic growth (on average by 3,8% per year over the last decade) and an unemployment rate only slightly higher than that of neighbouring Germany, the government is looking to the future. To when, for example, the country will no longer be able count on its highly competitive labour costs.
Overall, the multiannual national development plan, which should involve resources equivalent to over half of the country’s GDP, aims to make development more dynamic by streamlining bureaucratic procedures, investing in research and innovation and supporting exports. It also aims to achieve a more cohesive economic structure, shortening distances between the western regions linked to Germany (now Warsaw’s main trade partner) and the more agricultural eastern regions.
Dobrochna Surajewska - Solidarity Of Dreams (2015)
Of Russia, its large and incommodious neighbour, Poland – despite being a strong consumer of Russian gas and oil, as well as a country of transit for both commodities to Western Europe – does not look kindly on activism in what was once part of the Soviet sphere of influence. This is partly because the government in Warsaw increasingly perceives itself as a natural leader in Central-Eastern Europe.
Izabela Chamczyk - Thought (2015)
This complex geopolitical scenario also includes the animated cultural and ideological debate about removing some five hundred post-war Soviet statues from Polish streets. Warsaw is scrapping them to cries of “out with the old USSR monuments”, while Moscow launches accusations of historical denial, pointing out that without the Red Army, the country would not have survived.
The theme of memory, therefore, is controversial and chronically current. But culture, when interpreted as comparison and dialogue between cultures, understanding and critical awareness, is a good starting point from which to take an honest look at a complicated and tortuous past.
Renata Rychlik - Landscape Of Cracow (2015)
Poland can count, among other things, on a solid educational system – during the socialist era education was a priority, resulting in the country’s high literacy rate – and has always been home to important schools, particularly in the sectors of visual arts, graphic design, film and design.
A good example is the School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź; founded in 1948, it has been an important point of reference for entire generations of filmmakers. Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Krzysztof Zanussi and Krzysztof Kieślowski all studied here and brought to the world, even before the collapse of the regime, the art and culture of the Polish people, expressing its great ideals of freedom and dignity. A Polish school that has given shape to a courageous and innovative imagery that continues today with, for instance, Ida by director Paweł Aleksander Pawlikowski, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015.
Piotr JóZefowicz - Self-Portrait (2015)
In general terms, a positive era of artistic renaissance began with independence in 1989 and continues to the present day. Experimentation in conceptual matrixes by dissident artists during the communist regime resulted, in subsequent years, in a stream of experiences brought together under the aegis of Critical Art, which investigated the concepts of art, aesthetics and beauty in relation to man and contemporary reality, shaping a new consciousness of self and society. Another current, the New Documentalists, assumed the important Polish tradition of the photographic language to represent social changes in relation to the passage of time and the themes of memory.
Teresa Bujnowska - Proportions (2015)
The artist Zuzanna Janin, an icon of Polish pop culture, also elaborates memory to support the right to modernity and the future, especially for women. In 1989 “Solidarność” created an election poster depicting the sheriff Gary Cooper in High Noon, she has reworked it to include two indomitable executioners, a man and a woman. “Because I am for absolute equality”, said Zuzanna in support of the cause of women’s rights in a society that is changing too slowly in this respect.
Grzegorz Witek - Killing Is Prohibited (2015)
But Poland today, despite its contradictions, is a country that knows how to put the renaissance of its contemporary culture at the heart of its general renewal. “What particularly catches the eyes of a foreign curator like me – said Marinella Paderni who curated the Memory at last exhibition in Modena – is the search for an aesthetic of art that is ‘different’ from the rest of the world; that looks to the new, conceptually elaborating the past (and not eradicating it, as has been the case in other countries) and which is able to formalize new aesthetic models away from the neo- pauperism that prevails today.
It is not surprising to see that they are succeeding: during my various study trips to Poland to prepare the show I encountered an energy and a freshness of ideas that are often missing elsewhere“.
Natalia Rybka - United We Stand (2015)
If in the past, the capital Warsaw was in fact almost the exclusive reference point for contemporary art, today, as part of the upgrading of the infrastructure benefitting from EU funds, a shrewd and ambitious cultural policy is establishing a true system of art centres and museums across the whole country. The contemporary art museum MOCAK, designed by the Italian Guido Nardi in the Podgorze industrial district of Krakow is a case in point. The area, symbolically, is that of the former textile mill transformed into an enamel tableware factory during the Third Reich by Oskar Schindler (the story is narrated by Steven Spielberg in Schindler’s List): a place, therefore, profoundly tied to the themes of the Holocaust and of freedom.
Urszula Danielska - Swing (2015)
The Imago Mundi Polish collection – 219 10x12 cm works – moves with ease between a profound re-elaboration of the past and a perceptive ability to look to the future. Amid a re-reading of the historical avant-garde, Polish and non, and the invention of new visual paradigms equally capable of expressing the present and a vision of the near future.
From dismay over the collapse of a world and an ideology, it appears that the levity of art has blossomed, capable of alleviating the oldest and deepest wounds. Of tracing new horizons. And representing, supporting, improving and accelerating the new world that is now being regenerated.
A few years ago, talking about the loneliness of Van Gogh, the filmmaker Roman Polanski said, “this great painter, who is my absolute favourite, lived his life for us, not for himself. I don’t have this ambition; I would like to share my view of the world with others”. The new Polish vision, courageous, inspired, inventive, wants to share its own future with us.
Art Direction, Photography and Production
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd
Editing and Translation
Marco Zanin (artworks)
Liliana Malta (artists)
Krzysztof M. Bednarski,
Karl Marx Prophet
Fondazione Sarenco Oksana Ignatush Ugo Rufino (IIC Director, Krakow) and his staff Paola Ciccolella (IIC Director Warsaw)
Ania Jagiello (Manager of The Contemporary Art Programme of Polish Institute in Rome) Piotr Salwa (Head Manager of Polish Academy of Sciences in Rome) Monika Kwiatosz
(Honorary Consul of Italy) Piotr Kielan (Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław Director) and his staff Marlena Sent (Information and Documentation CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw) Tomasz Kirenczuk (Teatr Nowy Manager, Krakow) Natalia Zarzecka (Manageress Cricoteka, Krakow) Primo Moschella Eleonora Iori Salaroli Sabrina Zorzan Krzysztof M. Bednarski Oktawian Steliga Dorota Grubba-Thiede Katarzyna Popdora Alex Urso Propaganda Gallery, Warsaw WizyTUjaca Gallery, Warsaw Fundacja Artystyczna, Warsaw Artystyczna Podróż Hestii, Warsaw Starter Gallery, Warsaw Le Guern Gallery, Warsaw Foksal Gallery, Warsaw Fundacja Profile, Warsaw Klima Bochenska Gallery, Warsaw Jan Fejkiel Gallery, Krakow Starmach Gallery, Krakow Contemporary Lynx