Public Space Interventions & Lectures: Postcards from a City

Public Space Interventions & Lectures: Postcards from a City
LAZNIA, Gdańsk, Poland
18 June – 15 October 2016 

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Postcards from a City is part of the international project Heroes We Love. Ideology, Identity and Socialist Art in New Europe, supported by the European program Creative Europe 2014−2020.

What is the city like? Where should we look for answers to this question? In the history of the place, its architecture or narratives about it? Social sciences find it in the image that exists in the consciousness of inhabitants, as history often overlaps with urban myths, promotional postcards of the city and visions shared by people living on a given territory, which function on the border between truth and falsehood.

Our research will be focused on Gdańsk and, more precisely, on the role of myths, ideologies, reconstruction and alternative narratives in creating urban histories. Gdańsk is a city with a 1000-year history, which was “built/rebuilt from scratch” in the 20th century. The war left the city centre destroyed in almost 90%. In the 1950s the decision was made to rebuild it. “We are building Gdańsk more beautiful than it ever was” was the motto of the reconstructors.[1] However, it was not only the architectural tissue of the city that was subjected to reconstruction, but also its memory.  “When the current inhabitants of the city, i.e. Poles from various regions of pre-war Poland, came to Gdańsk in 1945, there was no memory of Gdańsk, because the memory of  Gdańsk that had existed before left and sailed to the West, together with the thousands of Germans that ran away or were expulsed” – recalls Stefan Chwin.[2] The true pre-war Gdańsk was hidden and an ideological construct, socialist in form and nationalist in content, was set up in its place. The city centre was rebuilt in the form of apartment blocks for workers with façades kept in the style of baroque mannerism.

“The authorities supported us because we acted in line with the general social objectives. We adopted the slogan ‘Socialist in content, nationalist in form’ and acknowledged the first part as binding for us. And thus we built modest flats for workers on Długa Street, (…) From the outside, the reconstructed town houses, where rich burghers once resided, regained their previous beauty” – says Stanisław Michel, doyen of the reconstruction of Gdańsk.[3] What has been created? A theatrical stage design? An alternative urban narrative based on a manipulation of historical memory?  A Polish city on the ruins of unwanted Prussian legacy? Or maybe the city was built anew from scratch?

Gdańsk shares its ideological narrative with other localities. In his text “Mit miasta portowego jako atrakcja turystyczna” [The myth of a port town as a tourist attraction] concerning the promotional representation of Szczecin, Maciej Kowalewski draws attention to the mechanism of creating a marketing image. “The image of the city created for tourism and marketing purposes is free from defects – the city depicted on carefully framed and idealised photographs is thus a piece of fiction. The tourist brochure and the postcard become tools for creating ‘must see’ places. Postcards change the way we look at the city by creating its visual aspect and becoming a tool of symbolic violence” – he writes.[4] Kowalewski draws attention to the myth of “Szczecin as a seaside port town” that is ingrained in the consciousness of many Poles. Meanwhile, on kochamszczecin.pl we may read that “The fact is that (…) in order to reach the nearest seaside beaches one has to cover a distance of as much as 100 km.”[5]

This project will attempt to reconstruct the tale of the role of ideology in the city and create an alternative narrative. Contemporary narratives tend to obscure the historic layers.  Miles states that “we have reached the point where the city is in fact a largely rhetorical concept. (…) The symbols that we associate with the city, idealised visions of middle-class consumers sipping cappuccino in café-gardens on quay sides, have become established – giving rise to a city that has nothing in common with the original one.”[6]

The tale will not be an analysis of a specific place, but an attempt to reconstruct and create alternative urban narratives.

“Postcards from a City” is a part of the international project “Heroes We Love. Ideology, Identity and Socialist Art in New Europe”, supported by the European program Creative Europe 2014−2020. In the period 2015−2017, the project will deal with the legacy of socialist art in New Europe and focus on the most important issues, problems and opportunities of this artistic period as well as provide a series of exhibitions, public art interventions, and international conferences and workshops.

“Heroes We Love” bring together nine partners from Central and Southeaster Europe, from Poland to Albania: Maribor Art Gallery (leading partner); BLOK Association (CRO); SCCA Contemporary Art Center Sarajevo (BiH); Tirana Art Lab (Albania); Laznia Center for Contemporary Art, Gdansk (Poland); Museum of Yugoslav History (SRB); University of Primorska (SLO); Cultural Association Center plesa, Maribor (SLO).

[1] This concept was one of the ideas for the reconstruction of Gdańsk. At first it was planned to preserve the ruins and to transform them into an open-air war museum. The second variant considered was to build a socialist workers’ town in place of the Old Town.

[2] See “Mity i prawdy gdańskiej pamięci” [The myths and truths of Gdańsk memory], in Tożsamość Gdańszczan. Budowanie na (nie)pamięci [The identity of Gdańsk inhabitants. Building on (non-)memory], Gdańsk 2010, p. 19.

[3] See interview with Stanisław Michel, http://www.malbork1.pl/artykul/22395/walka-o-gdansk-wciaz-trwa (retrieved: 19.06.2015).

[4] As cited in: M. Kowalewski, “Mit miasta portowego jako atrakcja turystyczna” [The myth of a port town as a tourist attraction], in A. Michalak, A. Sakson, Ż. Stasieniuk, eds., Polskie Ziemie Zachodnie. Studia socjologiczne [Polish western territories. Sociological studies]. Ziemie Zachodnie. Studia socjologiczne, Studia i Materiały [The western territories. Sociological studies. Studies and materials] no. 26, Poznań: Instytut Zachodni, p. 225.

[5] See http://kochamszczecin.pl/index.php/ciekawostki/106-szczecin-nie-lezy-nad-morzem (retrieved: 29.06.2015).

[6] As cited in: J. Krzysztof Lenartowicz, “Partycypacja, kultura, rewitalizacja” [Participation, culture, revitalisation], in Kultura dla rewitalizacji. Rewitalizacja dla kultury [Culture for the benefit of revitalisation. Revitalisation for the benefit of culture], Gdańsk 2010, p. 103.

Spielraum
Deconstruction of nation building strategies in Jasmina Cibic’s work
Lecture by Rona Kopeczky
Screening: Jasminy Cibic
Date: 26.06.2016, 4:00 p.m.
Place: The Baltic Sea Cultural Centre in Gdańsk, 33 Korzenna Street

Jasmina Cibic’s latest project entitled “Spielraum” explores strategies of nation building. The young Slovenian artist delved into the building of cultural identity through architecture and design of public space, as appropriated in the redesign of the city of Belgrade for the occasion of the first conference of the Non-Aligned movement[1] in 1961. This was a time when the city had to re-define and re-design its environment for the presentation of a new political formation to the foreign delegates attending the conference whilst simultaneously re-branding the city to its citizens.

Spielraum’s first chapter, “The Nation Loves It” (2015) presented in Ludwig Museum Budapest and conceived as an immersive environment composed of film, performance, installation and sculpture, dissected and re-assembled the idea of the patriotic spectacle itself. It explored the instrumentalisation of visual language and rhetoric in the construction of the State as spectacle and investigated modes of how art and architecture serve as soft power strategies of every political order. It also confronted the viewer with the contextualization of questions which not only speak about the patterns characteristic of systems of power, but also about the glaring contradictions that are inseparably connected to transformations of national and cultural identities in the past as well as the present.

“Spielraum” is co-produced by Waddington Studios London, the Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade, MGLC Ljubljana, Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art Ljubljana and Ludwig Museum Budapest.
Supported by: The Northern Film School Leeds, Nomad Zagreb
With thanks to: The Administration for Joint Services of the Republic Bodies of Serbia, Museum of Yugoslav History and the Archive of Yugoslavia
Spielraum includes collaborations with Tim Etchells, Simon Fisher Turner, Izzy Charman and Filip Šijanec
Curators of the three chapters of Spielraum: Rona Kopeczky, Anna Gritz and Una Popović

Jasmina Cibic, born in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 1979, studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti, Venice, Italy, before receiving an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London, 2006. She is the recipient of prestigious awards including Bevilacqua la Masa (Venice 2002, 2005), The Trend Award for outstanding achievements in visual art in Slovenia, (2011) and Catlin Commission Award, (London, 2011). W 2013 roku reprezentowała Słowenię na 54 Biennale w Wenecji.

Róna Kopeczky, born 1983 is an art historian and curator based in Budapest. She worked as a curator for international art in Ludwig Museum Budapest between 2006 and 2015. She joined the acb Gallery Budapest in the quality of artistic director in the beginning of 2015, and participated to the first edition of OFF-Biennále Budapest realized in April-May 2015 as a member of its international team.

As a Serbian citizen of Hungarian origins educated in France, Róna has a deep and natural interest in the historical, political and cultural dichotomies between Eastern and Western, Northern and Southern Europe, and how they appears in contemporary art practices. She is the co-founder of Easttopics, a platform dedicated to Eastern European art life.

Róna holds a PhD degree in art history from the Paris IV – Sorbonne University, which she completed in 2013.

Karolina Freino, Blind window
The postcards available in several souvenir shops from 24.06.

Two photographs made in 1946 inspired Karolina Freino to create her project “False Window”. The first one – taken in Gdańsk by Wiesław Gruszkowski, one of the designers of the reconstruction of Główne Miasto – depicts a photographer carrying a roll. He is assisted by helpers, including a person in a polar bear costume. Together, they walk among the ruins of the city. The second photograph – taken by Associated Press photographer Michael Nash – was made in Warsaw. The situation presented there fills in the rest of the story. The photographer has already spread his roll: it shows an idyllic landscape, against which he is taking photographs of inhabitants of the ruined capital. In both pictures, the seemingly normal scene of innocent entertainment is contrasted with a sea of ruins. The photographer’s gesture creates a curtain which covers the post-war reality and – for a moment – creates a new one.

In architecture, false windows were decorative elements that pretended to be something they were not. They were often introduced for the sake of rhythm and maintaining the order and harmony of the building. Karolina Freino’s project “False Window” is a loose reconstruction of the situation. The artist decided to shift the location to the Gdańsk Shipyard, which is currently being transformed into an entirely different entity.

Karolina Freino, born in 1978 in Poland. Studied at The Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław (sculpture), Edinburgh College of Art (School of Sculpture) and The Bauhaus-Universität Weimar (MFA Public Art & New Artistic Strategies). Since 2007 the assistant tutor at The Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław. Since 2014 a PhD candidate at The Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.

Scholar, among others, of the Alfred Töpfer Stiftung (2005/6) and Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (2012). Since 2006 collaborates together with Dušica Dražić (SRB), Sam Hopkins (UK/KEN) and Teresa Luzo (P) as usually4.

Juozas Laivys, Gogin in Gdansk

The postcards available in several souvenir shops from 20.06.

Lithuanian artist Juozas Laivys, who in 2015 has decided to suspend his artistic career for 14 years and opted to live his life like the famous post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin (however, as if Gauguin had abandoned painting), presents a postcard entitled „Gogin in Gdansk“. The picture for the postcard, taken with an old Polaroid camera, depicts the artist standing with his suitcase in one of the streets of Gdansk. It’s not very clear if he is leaving the city or just arrived, whether the pigeon behind his back is an accidental passer-by or has long awaited to pose alongside the renowned person. In any case, Juozas Laivys seems to be living his new life in full blood – travelling and producing new discourses around the practice he has left behind as well as imagining what Gauguin would do now if he suddenly had all the time for himself. I guess he would have loved to pay a visit to Gdansk.

Juozas Laivys (b. 1976) has studied in Vilnius Academy of Arts (MA) and Ecole National des Beaux-Arts de Lyon (postgraduate studies). The work of Juozas Laivys (1976) comprises sculpture, objects, installations, performance art, oral texts, video and photography. He graduated from the Vilnius Academy of Arts with a degree in sculpture in 2001. His work is distinguished by his incisive approach to themes relating to contemporary art that are actively debated, such as authorship, institutional power, the financial value of works of art, and the boundary (or lack of one) between life and art. In raising these issues, he often uses the strategy of appropriation, consciously straightforward rhetoric – characteristic of mass, as well as bureaucratic, culture – and conceptual gesture, combining it with real physical gestures.

Diana Larrea, Myths and Truths
The posters and postcards available in several souvenir shops  from 20.06.2016

As part of the “Myths and Truths” project, Spanish artist Diana Larrea created a series of graphic works whose style is inspired by the Polish School of Posters, in particular those which promoted Poland as a tourist region. The subject of Larrea’s works are four places remote from the tourist routes of Gdańsk. What does Napoleon have to do with Nowy Port? Why do the Soviet hammer and sickle appear in the story of the Shipyard next to the anchor symbol of WWII Polish resistance? In order to find answers to these questions, you have to delve into the history of the given place. Each of Larrea’s works is a visual pun which reveals various layers of memory. Images touch upon stories, enter into the sphere of myths and truths that have often been pushed aside to give way to narratives known from tourist promo posters.

Diana Larrea, born 1972 in Madrid, is a Spanish visual artist who works in various disciplines such as installation, video, photography, and drawing, although she is best known for her interventions and performances in public spaces. Through her urban art projects, Larrea has always focused her interest on the non-initiated public and on the desire to provoke minor disruptions in our everyday lives. Her work raises questions related to the use of public space and the intrusion of certain types of disorder in our day-to-day lives.

Angelina Merenkova, Souvenir Shop
24-26.06.2016
Place: Mariacka street, Gdansk

Anglina Merenkova’s “Souvenir Shop” is a set of gadgets which promote Gdańsk. Nowadays, visitors often see cities from the perspective of souvenir shops. The commercial image of Gdańsk is represented by the town houses, which were rebuilt after the War, the Neptune’s Fountain and other idyllic pictures, which seem to be far from the real life and history of Gdańsk.

The gadgets designed by the Russian artist will be far from the tourist images. Gdańsk will be represented by falowiec, an example of socialist modernism utopia on the one hand, and the photographs of inhabitants with the ruined city as a background on the other. Architecture, of which falowiec is a sample, is often omitted in narratives about cities. However, it can be read as something honest and close to the truth about the lives of its inhabitants. The postcards with the pictures of the inhabitants of the post-war Gdańsk among the ruins will give us a new image of the buildings, which surround us today. Why were the inhabitants of cities devastated during the War so willing to have their pictures taken among ruins? Is it the same kind of appreciation we have for the ancient Greek ruins or is a kind of historic documentation of a sequence of ruins? (Angelina Merenkova)

Angelina Merenkova was born in Moscow, Russia in 1988. Graduated Bauman Moscow State Technical University  Studied art in MMOMA (2011-2012)  and BAZA Institute (2012-2014).

Kamila Szejnoch, Reconstruction, Artistic Action
18-19.06.2016 – artist action
24-26.06.2016 – summary of the action
Place: Main Town Gdansk

Wiesław Gruszkowski’s photograph has also become the starting point for Kamila Szejnoch’s artistic intervention. In cooperation with a historical reenactment group, she is going to recall the post-war situation by recreating the old photograph in the centre of the contemporary city. The post-war curtain of the façades of tenements will be briefly covered with another one. The contemporary tourist face of the city will be replaced with a window recalling the histories and chain of reconstructed narratives of the place.

Kamila Szejnoch, born 1978 in Warsaw. Studied at Dutch Art Institute, Enschede, The Netherlands (DAI public Research & Practice in Art), Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw ( Department of Sculpture, Audio-Visual Space Section, Art in the Public Area Section), Warsaw University (Department of Journalism and Political Science Institute of Social Policy). She lives and works in Warsaw.

Justyna Wencel&Marcin Chomicki, Floating Garden
Intervention in the remains of the bridge on Szopy Street

The remains of the bridge on Szopy Street are going to witness the intervention of Marcin Chomicki and Justyna Wencel. The bridge used to connect the granaries (Spichlerze) with the current Szopy Street. The historical name was  Mattenbudener Brücke, Matmakers’ Bridge – from the weavers of mats used to cover goods on ships, or Rogoźników Bridge – rogózka was another name for such a mat. Although it was destroyed in 1945, it function as the makeshift passage till the beginning of 60s of XX century. The remains of the structure were disassembled in 1962 – the only surviving elements are two bridgeheads on both banks and two piers in the river bed. The ruins of the bridge are a relic of the past, a trace of the authentic architectural tissue. Justyna Wencel and Marcin Chomicki are going to turn them into a monument of sorts. Through their intervention, the deserted ruins are going to take on new meanings and again find themselves in the centre of attention.

Justyna Wencel, born in 1977 in Myślenice. A graduate of painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and English studies at the University of Warsaw. In 2013, she received a PhD at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw Faculty of Media Art.  In her work, she uses video, installations and objects. She also deals with art in public space. Her pieces touch upon the problems of memory and identity. Together with Marcin Chomicki, she forms the Zmiennicy artistic collective, which operates in the field of changes in the city topography. In 2012-2013, a curator at Gallery 2.0. Lives and works in Warsaw.

Marcin Chomicki, born in 1976. Graduated from the the Faculty of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 2005. His diploma project was supervised by Professor Leon Tarasiewicz. He also did an Assyriology programme at the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Warsaw. Since 2004, he has worked at the Faculty of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Since 2013, he has held the position of an assistant professor. His interests are art in public space, painting, photography and 3D animation.

[1] The Non-Aligned movement was founded by Jawaharlal Nehru (first prime minister of India), Sukarno (first president of Indonesia), Gamal Adbel Nasser (second president of Egypt), Kwame Nkrumah (first president of Ghana) and its chief-leader Josip Broz Tito (marshal of Yugoslavia) who were also the attendants of the first conference.

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