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Stare i Nowe_Old & New
2014.01.30 / Wojciech A. Sobczyński
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Styczniowe słoty i zimowe wiatry są mocno dokuczliwe w tym roku. Wyspiarska aura Wielkiej Brytanii ma jednak to do siebie, że od czasu do czasu zdarza się przepiękny poranek witając nas niebieskim niebem i coraz to cieplejszymi promieniami słońca zwiastuje wczesne przedwiośnie.

Pączki na krzewach rosnących koło mojej pracowni spuchły, brzemienne nowym życiem, gotowe do zielonej eksplozji.

W taki to poranek, kiedy wczesne mgły nadal utulały w białej wacie dachy londyńskich budynków zjeżdżałem z Mount Pleasant w dół Farringdon Road. W oddali widać było dwie ogromne sylwetki symbolizujące esencję tego dynamicznego miasta. Strzelisty i niebotyczny „Shard” i ogromna przysadzista kopuła katedry świętego Pawła dominowały panoramiczny widok. Ich współistnienie stało się faktem i nie są już rywalami we wzajemnej opozycji, a tylko częścią kalejdoskopu metropolii, która pomimo ekonomicznego kryzysu wzbogaca się, przyciąga ludzi i kapitał z całego świata.


Today photography is everywhere. In everyone’s pocket is a camera of sorts, either build-in to a mobile phone or more or less sophisticated miniature devise capable of capturing a moment or often able to record a high definition moving image. How far we have moved in technology from the old days of a box camera with which my great grand father took photographs in the far flung places of the Ukrainian step. To press the shutter button remains the same till today but that is not all. Assuming one had acquired all necessary components, such as film, chemicals, photographic paper and a book of instructions, the adventure of picture taking had begun.

The early pictures of my family albums were tiny. Only professionals in district towns had a chance to enlarge their photographs. The early enthusiasts of the photographic era had to satisfy themselves with so called contact prints only. In the darkened room the exposed film was developed in a range of carefully prepared chemicals. The individual negatives initially on glass and later on celluloid film were placed on top of photosensitive paper and exposed to light. Another set of chemicals were deployed to develop the image on paper. When the technique was finally mastered the fun bordering on black magic had begun.

I mentioned the term photographic era advisably as the onset of photography broadly speaking from mid-nineteenth century had a profound impact on arts and culture. Mostly, as a recording tool of life and customs throughout all strata of society from kings and presidents all the way to humble ploughmen or down-and-out town welders.

The artists took to the camera like a duck to water without exception. Some had used this new tool at their disposal to record the subject matter instead of a sketch book. The others had used it to document the artwork and their milieu. Several artists used the new medium purely as an experiment in their creativity. Most notable example were Man Ray and Lee Miller who have pushed the limits of chemical reactions and development methods achieving the effects known from then on as solarisation. They also used so called camera-less techniques, whereby the image is created without a lens pointing at the subject. Iinstead, the photographic paper is used in a variety of ways such as drawing with the light source, placement of opaque and semi-opaque shapes and a limitless variety of creative measures that artists would choose to exploit. Chemical agents, dyes, bleaches on one hand and mechanical like scratching or burning on the other.

One such an artist, Marek Piasecki is on show right now, in an exhibition that had opened last Thursday in Mummery+Schnelle Gallery in fashionable district of Hoxton. It is a fascinating exhibition. Piasecki’s work is very little known in the West but probably not for very much longer. It was successfully displayed in Paris Photo Show, 2011. The sale of a number of pieces to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, has clinched his reputation on an international art circuit. It is a reasonable assumption that other modern art collections will follow suit.

Marek Piasecki was born in Warsaw in 1935. From 1945 he lived in Kraków where he received his education and established his artistic credentials. Much speculation and print space has been devoted to the analyses of his work and its meaning. The war trauma manifests in the lacerations of photo sensitive paper. Burn marks of flames and acid are there. Dark and brooding soul inhabits his photographs as well as interiors of spaces he lived in. This is all true and I would not wish to contradict the learned specialists but it is also all to easy to fall under a spell of misconceived exoticism. The true player in finding the truth about Piasecki’s work is Kraków, the city itsels as it were in post war years. I know Piasecki’s city where I lived only a few streets away, thought I did not know him personally. We both left Kraków for the West roughly around the same time and probably for a very similar range of reasons, hungry for an experience of a wider world, seeking freedom from watchful eyes 'big brother', who in 1968 had just invaded freedom seeking Czechoslovakia, thus extinguishing any hopes for reforms and liberalisation of the society. Kraków was special, ancient, bypassed by war fronts, proud of its 1,000 years old roots, its Universities and places of learning and arts. Such qualities were its assets a well as liabilities. It was the only city in Poland, in which the communists proposals of constitutional changes of 1946 referendum were flatly rejected. 'Three times yes' was the name of infamous referendum and the Kraków reply was resounding no.

The city had to pay the price. It was starved of funds and left to decay. The population crammed in once opulent houses and apartments had to endure the indignity of sharing one room per family and all in turn had access to kitchen, toilet and bathroom all in one. This has lead broadly to a bizarre and hyper sensitised outlook. In such circumstances the artists, poets, playwrights had flourished. The Academy of Fine Arts was full of eccentrics. They were living a surreal existence pungently veiled in a haze of the cigarette smoke and vodka. It applied to all, starting with the professorial masters and finishing on students. It is against this background of decay, crumbling walls, broken up and redundant splendour that Piasecki’s Dolls photographs ought to be seen. Within the walls of one's private space everyone could counteract the uniformity of day-to-day matters imposed with relentless zeal by the apparatus of control. A desire to be different expressed itself there, in the privacy of one's home. Collecting mania of old curiosities swept throughout population as an expression of individuality. Everyone was collecting something. Roadside effigies, cuckoo clocks, devalued bank notes of pre-revolution monarchs, broken toys and dolls. The flea market at Mateczny district flourished. New plastic dolls replaced the old made of porcelain. Often half broken, eyeless, hairless, they found their way to Piasecki's apartment and later on to the vocabulary of his artistic vision. Other artists too seem to have been digesting the Austro-Hungarian legacy. Marian Kruczek made assemblages from anything mechanical. Clocks, minor machines, utensils, all found their way to a new surreal existence. Even the most famous of Kraków artists, Tadeusz Kantor was part of the same process of absorption of things commonplace impregnated with a new meaning and drama. In common with others for Piasecki the liberation from the cobwebs of his dolls filled den and progress of artistic development depended on contacts with artists on outside of the iron curtain. Scores of artists left Poland looking for opportunities in Paris, London or New York. Piasecki went to Stockholm and made his life in Sweden where he continued experimental work concentrating more on a nature of material and its physical properties. Sweden did not embrace Piasecki's art and the major exhibition of his work occurred after all in Poland with a retrospective show in Zachęta, in 2008. Now the time is right to evaluate his artistic contribution, regretfully posthumously.

W londyńskim POSK-u zaczęły się obchody pięćdziesięciolecia istnienia tej zacnej instytucji, nadal ważnej i istotnej dla Polaków osiadłych w Wielkiej Brytanii. W galerii otwarta została wystawa podsumowująca osiągnięcia wielorakich instytucji POSK-u. Głównym organizatorem w imieniu Zarządu jest dyrektor biblioteki, dr Dobrosława Platt. Współorganizatorem od spraw artystycznych jest znakomity ekspert, autor wielu publikacji, znawca sztuki polskiej stworzonej poza krajem, prof. Jan Wiktor Sienkiewicz. Wystawa pokazuje kilkanaście prac, między innymi Marka Żuławskiego, Feliksa Topolskiego, Stanisława Frenkla, Mariana Bohusza-Szyszki, Janiny Baranowskiej i innych. Jednomyślna opinia, jaka dominowała rozmowy podczas uroczystego wernisażu – kolekcja POSK-u jest znakomita i wymaga większej niż dotychczas uwagi świata kultury. Potrzebne są środki na utrzymanie i zabezpieczenie dzieł przed szkodliwymi konsekwencjami przechowywania kolekcji w nieprzystosowanych do tego warunkach. Mam nadzieję, że w najbliższym czasie Zarząd POSK-u pokaże z dumą parę wystaw autorskich ze swojej kolekcji pod czujnym okiem prof. Sienkiewicza, który w roli jurora weźmie także udział w konkursowej wystawie o nazwie Little Experiment 2014 w galerii POSK. Konkurs otwarty jest dla miejscowych artystów i nie wyłącznie polskich. Więcej informacji na ten temat ukaże się wkrótce na stronach internetowych.

Polish artists, who had dispersed around the world after the onset of the WW2, followed by the dark decades of post war communist rule, had no idea in the wildest dreams that the firm grip of the regime will one day seize. Some of us found ourselves in the West much later like Marek Piasecki or playwright Stanisław Mrożek, philosopher Leszek Kołakowski or poet Czesław Miłosz, to mention but a few. Musicians and performers had greater opportunities to travel beyond the borders of the iron curtain. A category of people enjoying more freedoms than most were jazz musicians. Jazz festivals in Warsaw, Kraków and later in other towns ensured that contact with the musicians from other countries led to exchanges of visits and collaborative projects. One such a musician was recently in London. Michał Urbaniak, known mostly as a saxophonist and a violinist came to Soho’s Pizza Express Jazz Club for one night appearance. Urbaniak, a nestor of Polish jazz found himself in Sweden in the early days of his music making life. New York was his target and lifetime ambition. I rely for facts from a talk he has given during a reception hosted by the Embassy of Polish Republic and Polish Cultural Institute. Not very many European jazzmen make this transition successfully. Joe Zawinul of Wether Report, Alfred Malgensdorf, Tomasz Stańko, Adam Makowicz, Joahim Kuhn, Zbigniew Seifert amongst others are notable exceptions. “I tried everything when I went to New York if it involved music. If they asked me to play morning, lunchtime and midnight I was ready” – said Urbaniak during his Embassy talk. It was a nice appearance, interspersed with video clips of several gigs. Urbaniak cuts a cordial figure and humbly accepts his celebrity status. It was wonderful listening to the story of Urbaniak meeting Miles Davis, the lifelong idol with whom he had recorded for the award winning album “Tutu”. The memories of this encounter remain fresh in his mind. His voice was nearly breaking with emotion recalling Miles, who was not given to lavish expressions of appreciation. He came to him, laid his hands on Michal’s shoulders steadying his nerves. “It felt as laying of hands or meeting one’s guru” after a lifetime of searching. Miles grunted in his rasping voice “My f******g Polish fiddler”.

A few hours later after drafting these lines I went to hear “Urbanator” as Michał likes to call himself. Listening in a club environment to jazz is a right thing to do. In a dark room my eyes took a moment to adjust. The stage crammed with instruments glistened with reflected beams of spotlights.

The evening was sold out and the auditorium buzzed with anticipation. Portraits of stars looking on from the surrounding walls kept a watchful eye on us all. Last minute food was ordered, wine glasses recharged and off they went, right into an opening number throbbing with syncopated rhythms. Urbaniak’s Quintet has been working with him for seven years already. They sound very good together displaying instinctive nderstanding. They play what is called jazz fusion, though that night they played very simply a good rocking jazz and had bags of fun with it. It is best to go to a gig without high xpectations. I have not heared Urbaniak live for more than ten years. Last time when he played at one of Kraków cellars, hot, airless and crammed with people gasping for air. It was not a happy occasion for the performers too. Last night performance could not be more different. Great drummer Troy Miller worked fantastically with the bassist Otto Williams, whose body movements would have sufficed to keep the rhythm going even if his base was switched off. Xantone Blacq on keyboards and array of other trick boxes flanked by Femi Temowo – guitar, produced one remarkable solo after another. The leader was on good form and together, the band and the audience experienced a memorable evening. A recent album ”Miles of Blue” was on sale and I bought it without hesitating to remember the evening.

I wish you, the readers of „Nowy Czas”, were there and enjoyed it with me too.

Pod koniec koncertu poczułem raptem czyjąś rękę na moim ramieniu. To Pani Urbaniak przyniosła mi w prezencie DVD filmu, w którym Michał wystąpił w debiucie aktorskim. Film pod tytułem „Mój rower” (Cała prawda o facetach), w reżyserii Piotra Trzaskowskiego odniósł ogromny sukces wśród publiczności i krytyków, którzy obdarzyli go wieloma nagrodami. Czekam niecierpliwie na projekcję.

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