Group exhibition curated by Ania Batko & Aleksander Celusta at Henryk Gallery in Krakow.
Artists: Bogusław Bachorczyk, Marcin Janusz, Paweł Olszczyński
Curated by Ania Batko, Aleksander Celusta
17 November – 20 December
Henryk Gallery, Krakow
Awdotia (tragically): “I did not expect this from you, comrade husband. Is this why we had the revolution in 1917, to cruise around in cars? To own bloody fridges? What else do you require? Toothbrushes, maybe? Is it beneath you to clean your teeth with your fingers? Think about what you’re doing! Do you no longer wish to toil for the revolution? Don’t you care about the production quotas anymore, our joy, our blood and sweat...?”
Psichow: “Blood and sweat, to be sure, but why shouldn’t I have a fridge?”
Awdotia: “Husband, reject this at the root, these filthy roots creeping and grovelling to the Western civilization. What do you need a fridge for? What are you going to keep in it, your pants? Stop it or I will go to comrade Tegonieradze, he will knock some sense into you and make you forget all about the fridge.” (She makes the sign of the cross)
“Korzenie. Drrama wielorakie” [“(Creeping) Roots. Multiple Drrama”] is a short piece for puppet theatre, overflowing with grotesque and black humour, which Stanisław Lem was supposed to have written (admittedly, there are two versions of the same story) together with Roman Husarski – sculptor, ceramist and one of the creators of an innovative technique of wall painting, called “piropiktura” [“pyro-painting”].
“(Creeping) Roots” were written in the early 1950s as a mocking satire on the times of Stalinism, on consumerism and imperialist tendencies of the Soviet comrades. Besides, the two also wrote another play in which they criticized imperialism, for a change. The latter bore a palatable title “Yacht Paradise”. And while the latter was published and staged against the background of luxury furnishings, Lem put away the first, in a folder between two crime novels, and he forgot where he had hidden it, forever.
Pottery, glass, furniture, and mosaic murals from the times of the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL). Design produced in cooperatives and workshops, whose tradition suddenly came to a standstill at the end of the 1980s, recently has experienced something of a second honeymoon. Following the years dedicated to assembling IKEA furniture, these vintage objects again captivated us: with their colours, compositions, and shapes. With their formalism, spiced up with a hint of nostalgia, in which you can feel the breeze of Western modernism and organic abstraction. Pikasiaki – “Picassoes” – and New Look exude a beauty that is slightly old-fashioned and yet still modern, paradoxically. It enchants us. Even if we sense that there is something strange, slightly sinister about it. A peculiar aura of curiosity – rather like glassworks operating at night, illegally, tarnishing the glass in the windows of houses across the street. Crumbs, which – as in the play by Lem and Husarski – accidentally fall into the soda recovery boiler, and although someone’s head will roll, the production quota is met. And the fridge – in the same play – heating its contents, instead of cooling them.
We are drawn to bizarre and non-linear stories. Stories, which it might be convenient to forget about. Stories, which are easy to overlook and hide away. Like the one about a mosaic of ceramic tiles that originally depicted a Pegasus but after being dismantled and reassembled by construction workers, it turned into a geometric abstraction. Or another story, about the pitchers with phallic handles, cast on the occasion of Barbórka (miners’ holiday), or weird glass shoes and grotesque genitals that glassworks worker cast for fun – often together with glass designers – from the leftover material, and after hours; they were either slightly tipsy, or they did it as a warm-up exercise, to lighten their grip. Or another story, about poisonous reagents or health-hazard-posing technologies used by the ceramists who were often gamblers and scientists, in equal parts. Husarski himself, and his wife Helena were such crazy ceramicists who, by trial and error, fired the pottery white-hot and blended liquid glaze into it with burners. Like pictures painted with fire.
We are fascinated by selenium, cobalt and manganese. By fluorite, which precipitates like sugar. By toxic lead oxides and copper oxides that produce six different colours, ranging from red to blue. Even by the Minister’s regulation stating that any given glass object must not contain more than six to eight bubbles of air. And by the “ixi” washing powder added to the glass in response to the same regulation, following the advice of a cleaning lady – it ended up producing excess of foam. Experiments and mistakes, of which the latter often brought more interesting results.
The case of Łysa Góra, a place with no previous traditions, which – thanks to the phenomenon of Franciszek Mleczko, incidentally, in his “quest for the roots” – becomes a model village, a magnet to the Krakow milieu. A model village with a kindergarten, a factory, and a school. The famous “Kamionka” (stoneware manufacturing cooperative), with fields and meadows around it scattered with crumbs and splinters of ceramic dishes. Even though – to begin with – the pots leaked, the tiles fell apart, and the employees went to work in the field instead the factory.
Perhaps the most interesting revolutions are those that have been dreamt and slept through. The utopias, and the dystopias. Unique artworks fired at night, and authorless pieces made in the light of day. The designs – including those drawn on paper napkins – which nobody counted, recorded, or inventoried. The technology that has never been properly described or set down in writing – and why should it be, when everyone knew it by heart? The artist’s cooperation with the technician, and the craftsman’s cooperation with the artist. Cooperatives that appear as oases of freedom. Madeira vase, named so because when inverted, it reminded someone of a glass of the luxury liquor. The overly expensive furniture by “Ład” cooperative, and the pressed glass – poor man’s “crystals”. Democratic, mass, egalitarian design – preferably, for export. To the west, which – as per usual – turns out to be a measure of success. The theme for one more newspaper headline: “Polish ceramics in the USA!”
Because even a tea glass, says Horbowy, is a political topic. One day, Gomułka stopped at the “Goliath” glass that Horbowy had designed, seeing in it a proof of corrupting the working class with alcohol. Someone from his entourage explained to the First Secretary that this was, fortunately, an export commodity.
In this sense, the roots are not just something nurturing, something you go back to, but also something that’s creeping and grovelling. The inheritance of our ancestors; but also the grovelling, bowing a little to the East, a little to the West. On either side of the same sun. Bowing before the familiar history, but also the one that needs unearthing, digging out of the rubble. Also the one that has been hidden – like many mosaics were – behind plasterboard or fibreboard, on top of which fresh glaze was applied. The roots: both nurturing and creeping.
Warfałamotwiej: “What do you mean, creeping? That I creep and grovel? Ah, but it’s so pleasant... you can breathe... you can do whatever you want...”
The exhibition is a kind of an open salon. It is a place where the past meets the future; product meets waste; whole meets the leftovers. It is evoking history, unawares. It is dreaming, over and over again, of one and the same story. But it is also pretending – that nothing has changed. As Hansen wanted it: there are no curtains in the windows, and the table is pushed against the wall. This set, as in the movie “Marriage of Convenience”, is not for sale. Everything here is ex-display.
Photo: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Henryk Gallery, Krakow (Poland)