Thanks

Dear all, On behalf of the Mondriaan Fund, BAM – Institute for visual, audiovisual and media art, the Danish Agency for Culture and Prohelvetia, we would like to thank all the  institutions and people that we visisted/met during this orientation trip. You all really made this trip into a unique experience for us all. We surely hope that this trip will lead to future collaborations on both sides.

Haco de Ridder (Mondriaan Fund)

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Day 13 – Budapest day 2 – The final

By Anna Tilroe

Budapest is shining again under an Indian Summer Sun. But the splendor has tarnished since our conversation yesterday with Barnabas Benscik, former director of the Ludwig Museum, and Csaba Nemes, artist and activist.  Sitting in Nemes’ apartment annex studio, Lissa and I heard their shocking stories about the nationalistic  populist government that is using all its power to eliminate every critical voice and ‘adjust’ all public domains to what it calls its ‘unorthodox’ policy. Which seems to be another word for ‘give the people some crumbs while you take all you can get’.  Not even the banks are safe, as prime minister Viktor Orban is planning to nationalize them all, mocking all  European Union’s rules. As for the arts, the government has changed the Constitution overnight by stipulating that from now on only the Hungarian Academy of Art, whose 250 elderly members have been appointed by the government, will determine who is ‘a real Hungarian artist’, making ‘real Hungarian art’. Result: the president of the HAA publicly blamed world famous writer György Konrád for being too internationally focused and by consequence  ‘not Hungarian enough’. By the way, Konrád is jewish, and anti-semitism is a painful issue in Hungary these days.

Barnabas Benscik
Barnabas Benscik

Appartment Csaba Nemes.
In Csaba Nemes’ flat

Csaba Nemes.
Csaba Nemes

So politics is coming in real hard in our trip. And we will hear a lot more about it this day. But first an early breakfast in our hotel Gerlóczy, with its old fashioned grandeur, its spacious ‘rooms de luxe’ and its mini bars with free champagne, cola and cookies. Then to Kisterem Gallery where a.o. Tamás Kaszás (NL exhibitions in W139 and KAAP 2010) comments his interesting work. Then quickly to Erika Deak Gallery where some of us can no longer resist the sharp edged, political works on paper of  Slovakian artist Svatopluk Mikyta (being introduced to his work  already in the Krokus Gallery in Bratislava). Wonder if the customs will believe that ‘we found them at the flee market’! Svatopluk is among those artists who relate to the aesthetics of East European modernism, revitalizing it with a surprisingly new, often sharp edged turn. Not for the first time during this trip I realize how little we know about East European modernism and the book I am reading, ‘Contemporary Art Theory’ by Igor Zabel, tells me in a very clear way why. ‘Western art’, he writes, ‘has presented itself as the “natural” development of genuine art as opposed to the politically suppressed art of socialist realism and its derived forms, which was not regarded as genuine art, but simply as political propaganda. In the light of this understanding, Eastern artists have been seen as a kind of underdeveloped and suppressed Western artists, and it was supposed that they would immediately join the general developments in the West if they were free to do so.’ What proves once more that art has often been used as a political instrument. As it still is these days. Remarkably though: a growing interest from the West in the East, and by consequence a growing awareness in the region of its national art historical and artistic past. In all the countries we have visited, we have seen exhibitions of national art of the 60’s and 70’s, and very often I was astonished and delighted by the authenticity with which  artists in each country have related to the spirit and artistic movements of the time. For Orsolya Hegedüs, the director of the acb Gallery it is clear:  the context of local history is important  for awakening the interest of  Hungarian collectors as well as the Western art world. And all these historic exhibitions help to dig up what was buried as forbidden art during communist time. But times are changing again. As the Hungarian government loathes critical political art, it  is banished from the official institutes and entrenched in commercial galleries. Let’s hope that the Hungarian government will not nationalize them too.

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Introduction by art historian Margit Valkó and artist Kerezsi Nemere at Kisterem Gallery

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Meeting with Erika Deák, Deák Gallery

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acb Gallery

Barnabas Benscik arrives at his motor bike to accompany us to Hungarian National Gallery in the historical Castle District. For years Benscik was director of the local Ludwig Museum till he was fired this year for being too critical of the governmental culture politics. With a bitter laugh he explains that the National Museum, situated in a side building of the former Royal Palace, is nominated to become the new residency of the Prime Minister, while all the surrounding buildings, parks and fountains will have ‘representational functions’ for the government. I look at all the tourists and booths with folkloristic souvenirs, and I try to image that in some years they will be replaced by presidential guards and police.

In the Hungarian National Gallery art historian Mónika Kumin guides us through the exhibition. The show gives a very informative overview of Hungarian art in the 20th century, and at the same time of the different political regimes. As abstract art was forbidden during the Stalinist period, artists and their collectors had to hide their artworks. I can’t keep my eyes from a bright, funny painting by Anna Margit, made in 1948. How is it possible that someone who had survived the concentration camps was able to make such a joyful work, not knowing that soon she would have to hide it? A bit further a huge, intriguing abstract painting, made in 1961 by Lossonczy Tamás. The title, ‘Purifying Storm’, relates tothe 1956 Revolution, a forbidden subject. Also forbidden in these days: to talk about the Holocaust.  So the big figurative painting  Altorjai Sándor made in 1967 about his Jewish identity certainly was a very courageous provocation. Two big rooms now, almost dark. The lamps are broken and there is no money to replace them! Is this the beginning of a sabotage of the museum? We climb the stairs to the dome of the building and gaze with mixed feelings at a radiant Budapest.

Altorjai Sándor
Altorjai Sándor

Anna Margit, 1948.
Anna Margit, 1948

Guarmathy Tihamér 1957.
Guarmathy Tihamér, 1957

Stalinist art.
Stalinist art

Ülo Sooster, 1964 (Estonian painter)
Ülo Sooster, 1964 (Estonian painter)

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The Hungarian National Gallery

In the hall of the Hungarian National Gallery
In the hall of the Hungarian National Gallery

We hurry now to Tranzit, an independent art space with intense connections in Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Here several activist movements present themselves and their social and cultural programs. Appalled we listen to the story of the Gallery 8 – Roma Contemporary Art Space and their struggle against a political program that aims at chasing the Roma population away from the neighbourhood and the city  where they live since many years.  We all are deeply impressed by the vivid engagement and fervour with which all these activist groups take stand in the cultural war that is going on in Hungary.

Presentation Roma Contemporary Art Spac.

The discussion continues that night in the residency of the Dutch embassy, up in the hills, where we meet again the Tranzit people, activist artists  and the gallerists  we have visited these last 2 days. In a moving speech the ambassador pleads for  a continuous dialogue with the adversaries as, in his eyes, entrenchment in your own right leads to nothing. Maybe he is right, but as a diplomat he surely knows too that reaching one’s hand at the adversary may be interpreted as a triumph for the latter. Who dares to take that risk?

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Late at night we return to the hotel to leave all the books and papers we have gathered this day behind and replace them by the champagne from the mini bar. Bottle in hand and arms around each other we walk to a street nearby that turns out to be the longest chain of bars and disco’s that Denis has ever seen (and by now we know he is an expert). While we dance on the music till late, we all are very much aware that this is our last night together and that we all have experienced a trip that has changed our view on art and European politics radically. A fortnight trip as one uninterrupted discussion and reflection, with friends that shortly before were strangers.  As it should be.

Hungarian National Gallery
Great introduction to the exhibition Shifts. Hungarian Art After 1945. Rearranged permanent exhibition by László Százados and Mónika Kumin.

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Meetings at Tranzit
Dóra Hegyi – tranzit.hu
Emese Süvecz – activist, tranzit.hu
Hajnalka Somogyi – curator, editor http://artmagazin.hu/
Áron
 Fenyvesi – Trafó Gallery, http://www.trafo.hu/hu-HU
Bori
 Szalai – Trafó Gallery, http://www.trafo.hu/hu-HU
János
 Szoboszlai – Academy of Fine Art, Curatorial course
Dávid Karas – Studio of Young Artists, http://studio.c3.hu/studio_english/general/spaces.html
Júlia Laki – Studio of Young Artists, http://studio.c3.hu/studio_english/general/spaces.html
Tímea Junghaus – founder of Gallery8 – Roma art gallery http://gallery8.org/
Szabolcs

Csaba
Viltin Gallery, Krisztina Dián gallery director, http://www.viltin.hu/
Deák Erika Gallery, Deák Erika, http://deakgaleria.hu/index.php
Knoll
 Gallery, Erzsébet Pilinger, http://www.knollgalerie.at/

Day 12 – Budapest day 1

By Frank Koolen

On the delayed train from Bratislava. Flat countryside turns into hills. Sudden castles pop up. It’s sunny and the train is warm. People walk beside the tracks. Old industries, yellow leaved trees. I suitably listen to the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of ‘Drive’ thanks to Brigitte. As a present I happily drown in ‘Long Long Slow Slow’ by A Key Is A Key thanks to Denis. I search his music collection and listen to Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed a Girl’ 20 times. I enjoy it a lot. What a song.

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We arrive in sun-flooded Budapest. Taxi. Royal streets. Once beautiful buildings meet heavy traffic. Heaps of strangely ordered trash. Churches. The 19th century grandeur of the city still very much visible. The taxi stops at the hotel (free minibar? is this normal here?) and we leave almost immediately. Our first visit of the day. Vintage Gallery run by Attila Pöcze. Strangely alien like show by Szabo Dezsö. Photographs of model plains overtaken by electricity. Vintage Gallery also publishes a series of books on Hungarian photographers and of gallery artists such as Attalai Gábor and the enigmatic Dora Maurer. Her work was shown, among many other venues at the 12th Istanbul Biennial in 2011. Playful experiments and conceptual observations meet colour theory and educational/curatorial practices. Born in 1937 but with very young and contemporary spirit.

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D N. Dora Maurer

At Vintage Gallery we also meet with Barnabas Benscik. Director of ACAX, artists exchange program and the former director of the Ludwig Museum. Benscik being the reason why the Mondriaanfonds decided on visiting the eastern part of Europe. When Barnabas Benscik visited the Netherlands on the visitors program of the Mondriaanfonds a couple of years ago, it became apparent that few people really knew about the context of the Hungarian and Eastern European art world. After visits to China, Brazil and Mali there seemed a necessity of visiting the direct neighbours. Especially now the political situation is drastically changing the art landscape in a very short period. Benscik, as critical director, being fired at the state run Ludwig Museum as one of the results.

Some other facts among many: A board of 250 people with an average age of 70 years got appointed a life time and well paid job to overview and decide upon the total cultural sector. This organization called MMA openly runs an anti-intellectual agenda. Anti-Christian and anti-Hungarian statements or even slightly critical notes and voices are starting to be banned from public institutions. Censorship and short term policy being there main tools. Check http://nemma.noblogs.org/ for the efforts of the Hungarian art scene to come up with organized protests against these blurred echoes of historically proven mistakes.

Well, next stop. Ludwig Museum. Built along the Donau in a former industrial area. Built when there was no other building yet. Built as a multi-functional cultural palace of marble and if I my say so, bad taste. Built without knowing what kind of art would be shown there. Built to attract more investors for the region because that’s what art is sometimes used for. Creating some cultural context to attract money. But can you blame the museum? In front of the Museum a modern Tower of Babel.

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In the museum: an overview from the Ludwig collection with some extra works from Hungarian contemporary artists such as a great work from Csákány István called ‘Ghost Keeping’. It was shown at the Documenta 13 and can be seen in a big solo-exhibition at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht in January 2014. Rest of collection showed known, but always great, usual suspects as Warhol end Picasso in combination with works of Hungarian artists as Jiri David and St. Auby Tamas. In the basement a fantastic show by Amsterdam based photographer and conceptual artist Gábor Osz. The last exhibition from the program of Benscik.

F (Jiri David)G (Csakany Istvan) H (warhol) I (Picasso)

The group splits up for meetings with different artists. Some visit the artists András Gálik and Bálint Havas who form the artist group Little Warsaw. Some visit Tibor Gáyor who works in various media. Ivo, Haco and me visit the studio of Adám Kokesch. The works of Kokesch are very well made constructions and compositions that sometimes resemble scientific devices and tools. By using many different kinds of materials found in DIY shops (but also things like Petri-dishes, or fixtures for a vacuum cleaner) and glossy paints he creates a new kind of alphabet. It’s an intuitive and free process creating unexpected logical objects. Some have sound, some have light, some should be attached to a window or somewhere hidden high against a wall. Kokesch plays with material space and light and does it in a very personal and intriguing way.

J (Haco and Adam Kokesch) K (Studio Adam Kokesch) L (Studio Kokesch) M (Detail Studio)

The end of the day. It’s still quite warm. Dinner at the hotel with many people we met today. I happen to sit next to Mrs. Dora Maurer. We talk. Sometimes in German, sometimes in English. Sometimes by throwing glasses on the floor. I wish I could have been in her art class. What a nice way to end this day. One day left on this crazy trip…

O. dora-maurer-seven-rotations-1e280936-1979 P. (Dora) Q. the end

Day 10 and 11 – A word or two

By Arnisa Zeqo
I. It started with a night train ride. There were two beds in each tiny room. There was just one bottle of vodka and a school trip atmosphere. It was about to erupt in each’s veins. One glass drunk by everyone on the way from Cracow to Bratislava. A cheer together. The hallway filled with laughter and discussions. One or two people falling asleep or trying to. Then the trees outside got covered by thick thick fog. The moon round and yellow still on the top of the sky as if there had only and always been full moon light. But there had been silence there had been darkness. The image of black milk for a moment and no morning no night no daybreak. Black milk on our train rails. And where are you Margarete and where are you Shulamith? There was silence. Someone took a picture perhaps someone recalled a story or two. There was silence but it had been all around us for while. It had been around in most of our trip and it only took hold of the flesh now. Time passes the landscape changes. The vodka bottle was still not empty so inside a couchette it got consumed.

II. What follows is a series of chronological moments and reflections on artworks and other details we could see on a wall or in books and portfolios for two days in Bratislava. Most of the text was written in another train ride from Bratislava to Budapest based on notes I was taking.

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Petra Feriancova and Julius Koller 1969 (title missing)
Wednesday 23 October around 12.15
AMT project  gallery

First image of the day. Petra Feriancova and her partner and collaborator Julius Koller captured their shadows on the entrance of the building. They are in love love love. The year is 1969 and they have decided to be a bit silly in front of the conceptual mat and its word play on their names and the power of the world. This image is surrounded by more photos of Feriancova and Koller’s silly gestures and their studio archive. Now in the gallery space (which is in fact an apartment) the photographs are unframed and attached by needles on the wall.

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Vladimir Havlik (1978 -1988)

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Vladimir Havlik From the series Public Identity (1977-1988) as reproduced in the publication Vladimir Havlik: actions and intervention 1978 -1988 Sputnik Editions 2012
Wednesday 23 October around 12.45
AMT project (Y) gallery

There are more silly naïve gestures in the adjacent storage room of the gallery/apartment. And I like it. Opening up piled frames on the ground I see this framed dyptich. Matteo Torri (the gallerist) says it is from the Czecholovakian artist Vladimir Havlik who was performing the everyday between the late 70s and 80s. The artists is lying in the grass covered by the grass using the grass like a blanket folding the grass. In its absence the earth awaits for a while. Might he be sleeping like some kind of Holderlin character? I have to think of his lines: ‘But I must still go away and learn. I am an artist and I am unskilled. I fashion in thought but I do not yet know how to direct my hand.’

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Detail from the menu of the café-restaurant Stefanka
Wednesday 23 October around 14:00, Cafe Stefanka

We sit in the basement a long table all for us. The Dutch Ambassador is sitting in the middle wearing a pink shirt and blue tie. He informs us about the `next co presidency of the European Union which will be held by both Slovakia and the Netherlands. An intense discussion about facebook and twitter follows. The photograph of Vladimir Havlik keeps coming back to my mind. I would have loved to take it with me but for sure I could not afford it now. Perhaps for an exhibition in the future.

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Detail from the wall of the old building of the National Gallery Bratislava.
Wednesday 23 October around 16.30
Slovak National Gallery

This geometrical fragment delicate and concise is not often seen by many human eyes. It stands in the large part of the museum awaiting restauration. Empty hallways locked doors and high glass ceilings build in the 60s. Some water dropping. Lucia Gregorova the chief curator cannot find all the keys to open all the doors and the boys try their voices in the echo of the space. A meter away from this fragment stands a wall text from an old exhibition about Baroque Art in Slovakia. A precise tearing a piece missing from the square of the geometry acquires some kind of historical meaning.

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Lorenzo Lippi San Sebastian 1628-1640
Wednesday 23 October around 15:30
Slovak National Gallery and specifically the current exhibition Italian Painting

Of course there is also a functioning part of the gallery. San Sebastian stands with his arrows on his left hand. The right hand touching his chest his heart. His eyes humbly accept his fate. There are no arrows piercing his armpits and the flesh is still desiring and enduring. There is talk about the museum history and the exhibition of another male conceptual artist Lubomir Durcek we just missed. It closed two weeks ago. I know its weird but I look at san Sebastian and I keep thinking of this strange line: Should I drink Coca Cola and make it? Should I drink Coca Cola and make it?

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Winfried Opgenoorth Silent Night Holy Night
Wednesday 23 October around 18:00
The space of the coming Kunstahalle near the old city

I got lost from the group after a meeting and presentations we had with curator Juraj Carny and his team in the space of the future Kunsthalle. In a large room with blue carpets dark brown tables and two flags (Slovakia and Europe) Juraj Carny passionately and quietly spoke about the future of the Slovak Kunsthalle and his dreams of possible exhibitions and public programs. Juraj is friendly and gave us a drink. I got lost afterwards. Everyone was walking to Open Gallery. I ended up on the second floor of the building where a Biennale of illustration was taking place. This particular one caught my attention. There were many visitors around it.

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Wednesday 23 October around 18:45
Location: Open Gallery

A man cleaning the mammoth naked surrounded by bones and vitrines his body looks small. How will he reach the top? What kind of nature is he looking for? What kind of nature is he touching? I was there only for a split second.

Day 2 in Bratislava

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Lucia Nimcova 2013 from the current exhibition Blind Spots
Thursday 24 October around 9.45
Krokus Gallery

The image of this boy with his tongue out is actually quite small. The art historian and gallery manager Gabriela Kisova says that most of the works shown here deal with the theme of animals and the human relationship to nature. Nimkova also made a beautiful conceptual book for children. I want to continue writing about it but the train to Budapest suddenly stopped and I want to look a bit around. Blue trains red stripes wooden houses and the voices of the Talking Heads singing This must be the place on my ear. I love this trip.

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Lucia Nimcova 2013 from the current exhibition Blind Spots
Thursday 24 October around 10.00, Krokus Gallery

Clumsiness is not only human but it can be applied to objects. Clumsiness is a relation. One cannot be clumsy with oneself. Geometrical Clumsiness is in a dialectical relationship with political transformations. Clumsiness makes geometry worth studying. I would like to meet Lucia Nimkova again.

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Svatopluk Mikyta ANTI mixed media on paper

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Svatopluk Mikyta from the series Re – drawings 2004

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In the basement of Krokus Gallery as Zusana Bodnarova was talking about the artist residency at Banska Stanica.
Thursday 24 October around 11.30

Svatoplukk Mikyita collects old books. He lives in Banska Stanica. Together with his partner Zuzana Bodnarova they run a residency in an old train station. They also sell train tickets at the counter although there are not many travelers Zuzana says. In the winter they mainly concentrate on their work. So it is perhaps surrounded by snow that Svatopluk drew over the images of these young man in white wife beaters. The pencil work is pointy and done with extreme precision just enough to make 21st gangers of the boys from before the War.

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Peter Puklus from the publication Handbook to the Stars Stokovec 2012
In the basement of Krokus Gallery as Zusana Bodnarova was talking about the artist residency at Banska Stanica.
Thursday 24 October around 11.30

http://www.ucis.pitt.edu/eehistory/H200Readings/Topic5-R4.html
(a short story by Joseph Roth)

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Detail of the Portfolio cover of Jan Lipdiz (?)
Photoport Gallery and specifically the second room on the left where there is a table with portfolios of local artists.
Thursday 24 October around 18:00

The evening descends into a spacious garden adjacent to an apartment block. Next to it the gallery space and the bar. Tonight Alexandra is the bar tender. She has a Pulp Fiction air around her. Filip who initiated the space is making goulash for us. He reminded many of us of Gabriel Lester. More than a gallery Photoport functions like a parallel academy where artists meet discuss their work with Fillip and make zines. A beer andsome talk on the meaning of art or the courage of being an artist fill the garden and the bar. In less than 10 hours we will be in the train again. So why not stay a bit longer? So some of us have another drink and question the night again.

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Day 9 – Krakow and a dolphin

By Ivo van Werkhoven

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Joanna Zielinska (lady most right in the picture)

Waking up early in Krakow after arriving late at night from Whoodzj we are picked up at the hotel by Joanna Zielinska, curator at Cricoteka. The Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor was founded by Tadeusz Kantor in 1980 as a home and follow up to cricot 2, an avant-garde theatre ensemble he formed in 1955 with a group of visual artists.  Besides theatre director Kantor was a painter, stage designer, poet and an actor. The Dead Class (1975) is widely considered his best work. In the play, Kantor himself plays a teacher who leads a class of apparently dead characters who are confronted by mannequins that represent their younger selves. Future Days by Agnieszka Polska we’ve seen at Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw seems to be inspired by Kantor’s work.

Kantor was very much dedicated to collecting everything that was related to cricot 2, thereby creating a kind of “Living Archives” of his theatre creation. The collection of Cricoteka consists of a several hundred objects and costumes, Kantor’s theoretical papers, drawings and design works, video records, and photographic documentation as well as thousands of reviews, journals and books. Today Cricoteka functions simultaneously as an archive, a “museum”, a gallery and a scientific institution.

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Bogdan Renczyński, actor

We are guided through the former rehearsal studios by one of Kantor’s actors, Bogdan Renczyński. He speaks passionately and emotionally about his old master. He explains Kantor demanded complete openness from his actors, expressing also the vulnerable and dark sides of their minds.

Renczyński describes a suggestive space in which the living and the dead are confronted. “The objects are animated by the actors and the actors are reduced to objects”.

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Paper costumes and other stage design objects made by Tadeusz Kantor

Kantor always joined his actors on the stage while directing. For this reason  his plays are no longer performed since his death in 1990. Only once a year the actors commemorate their director in a joint performance in front of the institution. Cricoteka therefor searches other ways to keep his legacy alive and to open up new ways of interpreting and presenting Kantor’s objects and ideas. One way is to incorporate them in a contemporary art discourse. So does Radical Languages, a programme created together with independent Dutch curator Maaike Gouwenberg including an exhibition, a publication and various performative activities.

“Contemporary art in Poland wouldn’t have looked the same without our activities”, Marta Tarabula puts it confidently. She shows us Wilhelm Sasnal’s first ever catalog. Which she has made. It is nice to see Sasnal in the context of the older generations of artists like Andrzej Wroblewski and Jarosław Modzelewski who clearly inspired him.

As founder of Galeria Zderzak Marta Tarabula took part in the underground movement in the early eighties. Since the martial law prohibited gatherings of more than 7 people, even running a gallery was considered illegal. Despite being a commercial gallery for years her activist nature is still reflected in the galleries program today. Currently Zderzak is showing THE MINISTER DISAPPROVES OF SUCH STATEMENTS or METAPOLITICS, a selection of works from late sixties till 2000 that relate to politics though only by implication.

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Marta Tarabula in front of a work by Jurry Zielinski depicting Helmut Schmidt

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Not so dead class. A bit tired though

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Jarosław Modzelewski, Winston Churchill and a Dolphin, 1981

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Nicola with a obwarzanek (traditional Krakow pretzel)

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK) is situated in the post-industrial district of Zabłocie in the complex of Oskar Schindler’s factory. The original Schindler factory which covers only one third of the museum has a distinctive roof construction which was used as a leitmotif for the new architecture (by Italian architect Claudio Nardi) and for the whole identity of the new museum.

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Director of the three year old museum is Maria Anna Potocka who tells us she started the first Polish private gallery in her bedroom in 1972. The museum collection was born in 2011 with the donation of a few hundred of Potocka’s collected contemporary art works. One year later it had grown to be 2000 works of which an approximate 50 percent from Polish artists. The museum’s main focus seems to be answering the question: What is art for? MOCAK aims at presenting the art of the last two decades in the context of the post-war avant-garde. By relating this to general issues in society such as history, sport, religion or economics MOCAK strives to stress (or perhaps in some cases impose) the arts relationship with everyday reality.

Currently on show at MOCAK: Erwin Wurm, Josef Dabernig and a wonderful exhibition comprising mainly video works from the past 50 years. The Desire for Freedom. Art in Europe Since 1945 includes many Eastern European artists, some of whom we’ve met during the trip.

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View of the permanent collection display of MOCAK, which changes once a year (!!)

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Edward Krasiński, Labyrinth, 1987

Hey, we’ve seen this work before! Another Krasiński! However Starmach Gallery deals much differently with Krasiński’s blue tape. At his former apartment in Warsaw we saw that the tape was left untouched, coming off the walls and objects over time. But at the gallery of private collectors Teresa and Andrzej Starmach the tape is neatly fixed to the walls all across the gallery space. This is one of the largest galleries in Poland. It focuses on paintings, sculptures, photographs, installations of Polish avant-garde. Starmach is so generous to sometimes lend their collection to the nearby National Museum in Krakow.

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One day Krakow was definitely too short

Day 8 – “Economy of Gift”: Solidarnosc and social change

By Birgitte Kirkhoff Eriksen

Learning a whole lot from Warsaw’s vibrant and self-reflective scene, we have not had nearly enough of time here. However, schedule is – as always – tight and on this Sunday morning we depart for Lodz (pronounced more or less like ’wudsch’).

1Arrival

HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Lodz is the third largest city in Poland, located right in the middle. Its history is deeply troubled: from absorption into the Russian Empire in the 18th century, under Prussian administration in 1793, and in 1815 part of the Russian controlled Congress of Poland. The years to follow would witness the making of ‘a promised land’, an all-encompassing development of Lodz, due to a campaign to turn it into a centre of manufacturing. From 1825 and up until World War 1 the city grew into the biggest textile production centre of the Russian Empire and one of the most densely populated cities in the world with Polish, Jewish and German inhabitants as well as workers from England, Portugal and France. After the war, the golden ages came to a close and the textile trade went bankrupt. During World War 2, the city was occupied by Germans and lost 300,000 Jews and 120,000 Poles. It fell under the Soviet, business was nationalized and it somewhat regained its position as center of the textile industry. This position was forever lost after the independence in the 1990s. Today – with a poor population and high unemployment, despite of growing financial investments – Lodz appears to the outsider as a shadow of its former glory.

ARTISTIC SOLIDARITY
So how does this dark history affect the cultural scene? That is indeed a big question. We saw Warsaw’s Palace of Culture casting its shadow in the consciousness of the inhabitants in the sense that the past is always present, monumentally visible and inescapable. Stalin’s gift from hell. What we hear in Lodz is completely different. At Muzeum Sztuki Lodz, we are greeted by curator Maria Morzuch who unfolds the untraditional story of what was to become the second modern art museum in the world (MoMA was the first). Its collection was initiated in 1931 by a group of avant-garde Polish artists, the so-called ‘a.r.’ group. The members Władysław Strzemiński, Katarzyna Kobro, Henryk Stażewski, Julian Przyboś and Jan Brzękowski used their international network and asked re-known artists to donate work. In an act of solidarity, lots of valuable gifts were donated in a generous spirit that continued up until the independence. Today the collection of 20th-21st century art is the biggest in this part of the world.

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The economy of gift and artist solidarity seems to peak in Construction in Process, an exhibition in 1981 to support the trade union ‘Solidarnosc.’ Solidarnosc had just been legalized and offered space for the exhibition in a former factory. In itself, this fulfils the avant-garde dream of teaming up with workers, mixing radical art and politics. The works were donated to Solidarnosc, later stored secretly by the museum for protection and subsequently donated to the museum by Solidarnosc. Solidarnosc played an important role in the collapse of communism and its leader, Lech Walesa became president of the independent Poland in 1990.

STRZEMINSKI’S ROOM
At Muzeum Sztuki Lodz we see much of this history materialized. First of all, the museum is located in the 19th century palace of Jewish industrialist Maurycy Poznanski who went bankrupt after WW1. When the museum first opened here, artist Wldayslaw Strzeminski was invited to design a room that contained the core of the collection, namely the artworks he had gathered along with the rest of the ‘a.r’ group. Painted over in 1950 and now reconstructed, the room and its art works is accompanied with works by e.g. Sosnowska, Buren, Gillick in the show Neoplastic Room. Open Composition. The contemporary works either show the legacy of Strzeminski and like-minded De Stijl members or a similar artistic arrangement. Two other shows are also in this palace: Angelika Markul on demonism and a show on labour.

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TOOLS FOR ALIENS
We meet museum director Jarosław Suchan who explains how the artistic avant-garde that originally formed the museum continues to play a defining role in the museum’s self-understanding today. “We really believe that art can positively influence the life of people. We create space, opportunity and potential for the artists to do that. Contemporary art is not popular but the advantage is that we can introduce something totally strange in people’s lives,” he says.

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Jaroslaw Suchan

Art as a tool for social change. Strzeminski himself believed in art’s autonomy, the artist’s right to experiment and art as tools or ideas that can be used in other parts of society. For Suchan, the museum and the avant-garde movement are not contradictory. He explains how the opening of MS2 (a second (or actually third) venue of the museum, dedicated for experimenting with the collection and hosting temporary exhibitions, screenings and educational activity) has emphasized the role and purpose of the museum in a socio-political context. MS2 is facing one of the most socially troubled and poorest parts of the city one side and a commercial center and entertainment mayhem on the other. Suchan characterizes the museum as an “alien” in this context and poses the question “how does one operate under such circumstances?” There is not a simple answer to this, but several that include projects that engage the locals outside of the museum, public programs, education, and also, I noticed, very cheap entry prices. It costs only half of a cup of tea in the café, whereas it would be at least twice the price back in Denmark.

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CHANGED BY THE MOMENT
Social change is idealistic and also needed, it seems here in Lodz. Social change can be reached on various levels, that is. Dynamic (in)stability or loosing your balance for one moment to encounter the unforeseen or learn something new, can also be an ideal. You come, we’ll show you what we do. On dance improvisation is the title of a temporary exhibition at MS2. We meet curators Sonia Niespialowska-Owczarek and Katarzyna Sloboda who tell us about the reception and conditions of modern dance in Poland.

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“We want performers, dancers and visitors to share the same room”, they explain and have invited Krakow architects BUDCUD to design performative furniture for the space. We witness a rehearsal for a performance and the training of ‘contact improvisation’, an important part of contemporary dance from the 60s and onwards. “Improvisation is not that much a matter of spontaneity and looseness, as of openness and readiness to constant changes”, the exhibition pamphlet states. And the curators emphasize, “it is not about being in the moment, it is about being changed by the moment”. And indeed. The performative furniture has an impact on all of us, initiating a totally different behavior, far from our regular curator poses. Art as a tool for social change.

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Studio Visit – Józef Robakowski  

By Andrea Roca

Today we went to visit the legendary gallery of the Polish artist Józef Robakowski (b. 1939). The gallery is located in Robakowski’s own flat on the 9th floor of a typical  block house  built during the Soviet time.  The gallery is an independent art space ran by the artist himself and was a very important meeting point for the local art  scene from the 70’s to the late 90’s. Robakowski not only  created  a nest for artistic activities but also made it possible for the artists to share and exchange their art works. The space is  a hidden treasure, an art work in itself and a real time installation of Robakowski’s art works. The display of the works, documents and publications resembles a cabinet and  a living archive.

During our visit Robakowski showed us a very interesting and touching video work Video From My Window (1978-1999). From 1978 to 1999 he filmed the building’s parking lot from his window, observing and commenting the daily activities of his friends and neighbors. The viewer follows their daily lives and witnesses the passing of time bringing forward the political changes from Communism to the transformation era.

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Great view from Robakowski’s flat

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Miejska Galeria Sztuki Lodz  

The Miejska Galeria is hosted in a Garden Pavilion dating from 1904. Twenty years later it was converted into an exhibition space, with a specific focus on the local art scene, as well as Lodz cinema academy and art schools. The institution is now completing the restoration of a fourth gallery space in a historical art deco house.

The current exhibition #20LATFOTOGRAFIIWPWSFTVIT was realized with the Department of Photography at the Film School and shows works from over 20 Years of Photography from PWSFTViT in Lodz.

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Lodz Design Festival

Lodz Design Festival was created in 2007 as a review of Polish activities in the field of design. The 7th edition of the design festival is one of the most  important events for Lodz and  attracts about  40.000 to 50.000 visitors form all over Poland and abroad. Lodz has  a great  heritage of industries in cotton and in linen and many workshops and small factories in the region are still functioning. Today the city suffers from a difficult economic situation and migration problems (many young people leave the city for a better life elsewhere). Therefore the  local government is determined in creating new markets for the  region and supports an initiative such as the design festival with the intention to establish a new creative industry.

The design festival is held in one of the many abandoned  industry  buildings in the center of the city. There are three curated exhibitions  DEEP NEED | Empathy and Design, IN-HABITATION. Garden City, Gated City and Food | Design | Humanity. Additionally there is the  Make Me! competition and exhibition, a format for young Polish designers between 25 and 35. For the competition they have to present a  prototype which is reviewed by a jury. The winner is awarded a 4.500 Euro grant. The Must Have exhibition shows a selection of the most interesting industrial products from Polish designers and manufacturers.

The curated exhibitions bring three of the most relevant topics in the design world on display: social design, urbanism and nutrition.  Contemporary design producers are engaged in many social themes of our time. Design thinking and research orientated design have become essential for questioning dynamics in our society and for finding solutions for urgent problematics. Beyond industrial design a new generation of designers deal with substantial issues linked to  consumer society where the search for new values have led to interesting new design approaches. For example, design becomes less product oriented and integrates different domains such as health and education in a research process where the idea of community plays an important role.

The thematic exhibition IN-HABITATION. Garden City is based on research materials and discusses a very delicate and highly actual problematic in Polish society. It raises the question of public space and its use compared to the urge of individualism and the need of private space in Poland today. In this context, the trend of new gated  communities is an example of the paradox Poland is facing today, caught in a fight between social ideals and neoliberal ambitions.

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Design Strategies/Appearances in Fine Art Institutions

By Andrea Roca

As the only person in the group with a design background my focus on the many visits we made in Fine Arts Institutions also often went towards design approaches supporting institutional infrastructures and communication channels. Design does manifests itself strongly in Museums, Kunsthallen and Galleries, creates impact and it is certainly used as an instrument to support institutional communication.

In the last seven days of our trip I have experienced a very strong and vivid design appearance in mostly all of the cities and institutions that we have visited and I made a collection of my personal favorites which I would like to share.

In this sense I point out the Contemporary Art Center CAC in Vilnius for its wonderful so called Reading Room (by Anouk Vogel, Johan Selbing and Bart Guldemond 2009). The table system with about twenty pieces are al asymmetric and if the museum needs a big conference room, you can bring them together to form a giant square table. Here for there is on one of the walls an instruction. And of course a must-visit for every passionate graphic designer the George Maciunas Fluxus Cabinet.

Also in Vilnius at Rupert we found a strong architecture by  Lithuanian Audrius Ambrasas. The in the periphery situated building integrates itself very nicely in the surrounding of nature. Inside the reduced but functional interior design (by Nauris Kalinauskas) is very convincing.

The artist-in-residency program  A-I-R Laboratory in Warsaw and the  The Nordic Artists’ Centre in Norway (NKD) have worked together  for furniture for their facilities and invited Polish and Norwegian designers  to cooperate and create, as they call it, a Rooted Design for Routed Living infrastructure.

At the Museum Sztuki MS1 and MS2 the Polish design collective Wunderteam (Paulina Stępień and Magdalena Koziej) created not only the very innovative Museum Café Infrastructure but they also build the architecture design for the exhibition The Herbsts. Unfinished Stories.

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http://www-design-in-residence.org/
http://www.nkdale.no/Rooted_Design.html
https://www.facebook.com/nauris.kalinauskas
http://www.ambrasas.lt/lt/
http://www.johanselbing.nl/
http://www.bartguldemond.nl/

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Day 7 – Breakfast at Metropol Hotel Warsaw

By Renée Kool

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Lost and Found

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