LAZNIA 1 2010 - NEIGHBOURS/NACHBARN. German motifs in contemporary Polish art
Opening of the exhibition: 23.04.2010, at 6 p.m.
Artists: Tomasz Bajer, Marcin Berdyszak, Hubert Czerepok, Rafał Jakubowicz, Paweł Jarodzki, Leszek Knaflewski, Jerzy Kosałka, Monika Kowalska, Grzegorz Kowalski, Kamil Kuskowski, Leszek Lewandowski, Zbigniew Libera, Łódź Kaliska, Robert Maciejuk, Laura Pawela, Aleksandra Polisiewicz, Józef Robakowski, Zbigniew Sejwa, Przemysław Truściński, Twożywo, Wunderteam
Curators: Kamil Kuskowski, Jarosław Lubiak
Co-ordination: Jolanta Woszczenko
Neighbours/Nachbarn. German motifs in contemporary Polish art approaches the issue of Polish-German relations, or, more precisely, presents the picture of the neighbourhood as seen through the eyes of contemporary artists. Despite the obviously limited presentation of works including German motifs, the selection reveals the significance of the Western neighbour for contemporary Polish culture. What is even more important, it shows the profoundly paradoxical character of mutual relations. The geographical proximity does not translate itself into cultural proximity or deeper understanding. It is striking that the ignorance and lack of interest prevail, a fact emanating from the majority of presented works. The Germans are the main point of reference in contemporary Polish art, as much as they provide a referential landmark in opposition to which we Poles build our national identity. Yet these are not, obviously, the real, actual German people who reside on the other side of the Oder, and of which we know little and whose present cultural life escapes us.
One could have an impression that everything presented within Neighbours/Nachbarn. German motifs in contemporary Polish art has been retrieved from oblivion or deep coma. As if the hasty reconstruction of consciousness after the trauma has frozen the painful contents and images, shielding the consciousness from them while their power to inflict pain remains intact. Now that the moment of the recollection or reawakening has come, this power comes back and calls for transformation. Through their works, the artists touch scarred wounds, marks impressed by force, subdued memories and images which were introduced into Polish reality and consciousness through the neighbourhood. The transformation which the artists are trying to bring about, is supposed to provide an alternative for the political conflict aroused on the historical ground, which constantly reappears in German-Polish relationships, and for the historical politics apparently aiming at scratching the old wounds. This is not all about building a monument of Polish martyrology, so no false tone of pathos can be heard. Instead, the artists use the “humour method”, which, as Sigmund Freud had once observed, is used to release whatever had been repressed or subdued. We can say, then, that the “joke method”, as used by Bajer, Berdyszak, Jarodzki, Knaflewski, Kosałka, Kuskowski, Libera, Łódź Kaliska, Truściński, Twożywo, or Wunderteam, enables not only the revelation, but also the working out of traumatic contents and images which had been long stored in Polish consciousness. In other works, German motifs, complete with what they sound like, are incorporated into critical works which show the elements of our reality (Jakubowicz, Lewandowski). Other works provide a critical revision of our relationship towards Western neighbours (Kowalska, Kowalski, Sejwa, Robakowski). There are examples of a historical project being examined (Polisiewicz), of use of literary history (Grabowski), or a citation from German art (Pawela) and daily imagery (Maciejuk), not to mention the ambiguous authority of German language (Czerepok).
Neighbours/Nachbarn. German motifs in contemporary Polish art handles two things at a time: it reveals the broad field that had been left unused which is actually characteristic for Polish identity, and, secondly, it points out the attempts of creative transformation of the status quo. The only way to achieve a healthy and beneficial neighbourhood leads through the process of working out the past, carried out on a large scale. 
Jarosław Lubiak
Honorary Patrons of the exhibition:
Professor Władysław Bartoszewski Plenipoteniary for International Dialogue of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland
Paweł Adamowicz President of the City of Gdansk
Neighbours/Nachbarn. Polish motifs in contemporary German art.
Gdańsk City Gallery – The Gallery of Günter Grass
23 April–28 May 2010
Opening – the performance of Michael Kurzwelly: Słubfurt. A town upon the Oder
23 April 2010, at 8 PM
Artists: Anke Beims, Günter Grass, Constantin Hartenstein, Inken Hilgenfeld, Tom Korn, Michael Kurzwelly, Jan Poppenhagen, Dietmar Schmale, Tom Schön, Clemens Wilhelm
Curators: Magdalena Ziomek-Beims, Kamil Kuskowski, Iwona Bigos
The neighbourhood – an unbearable burden?
Two years after the first edition of the exhibition entitled Neighbours/Nachbarn. German motifs in contemporary Polish art, showed in Hamburg in 2007, we have decided to present the other side of the coin. German culture, and also lack thereof, is a recurrent theme related with the World War II in works of Polish artists. The geographical proximity of two countries has brought about a fascination directed to the West. However, there is actually no such thing as mutual interest. When looking for works of German artists interested in Poland, we have at first encountered a kind of a wasteland. Yet in the recent years the interest in the Eastern neighbour has decently increased, providing true insight and something more than stereotypes as a starting point for the works.
We can put the works into two groups: those concerning strictly Polish-German neighbourhood, related issues and opportunities, and those socially critical ones, dealing with the stereotypes or simply illustrating them.
The Polish-German neighbourhood is pictured in Tom Schön’s work The land across/Die Gegend gegenüber by a crude egg suspended in space, smartly rendering the delicate matter of Polish-German issues. Another take, the painterly installation of Inken Hilgenfeld Bitter/Herb, consists of images of single Polish or German words referring to our common history, like: guilt, destiny, protection, or shot, completed with the picture of the Polish eagle [national Polish emblem], apparently a little bit scruffy and patched up after experiences of history.
A totally different idea of the neighbourhood is represented in Michael Kurzwelly’s work Welcome in Beelitz/Willkommen in Beelitz, where the artist is trying to encourage Polish season workers to settle down and polonize the perishing Eastern German province. It is a continuation of his projects from the series Constructions of Reality/Wirklichketkonstruktionen, which aim at re-organizing the status quo. Kurzwelly defines the artistic project as follows: 
“In order to reorganize the space, first you need to redefine it. I am using the notion of applied arts to describe the method of artistic intervention. This strategy focuses the problems of the development of society, interferes with them and transfers them into another construction of reality. I produce tools which enable the emergence of this new reality in the viewer’s mind.”
Kurzwelly’s projects are supposed to work not only in the Polish-German sphere of conflict, but also on the purely social ground. People are the core element capable of constructing a new reality. 
Humans, complete with their weaknesses and power, are the axis of works of the young Berlin-based artist Jan Poppenhagen, who portrays the celebrities of Moabit, the controversial quarter of German capital city. We show two photos out of his series M for Moabit: Donpoleone and Clown. Donpoleone is the proud and potentially dangerous Moabit-resident Pole, his nickname being a crossing between the German word der Pole (a Pole) and the notorious Don Corleone from Coppola’s Godfather. Clown, on the other hand, is nothing more than a hip-hop mascarade in red-and-white, the colours taken from the Polish flag, which gives us a Polish version of Joker, Batman’s sociopathic enemy. Poppenhagen, interviewed by Pro Libris 8 (literary and cultural magazine issued in Zielona Góra, issue 2009), stated briefly: 
“On both sides of the border there are heros who have too little distance towards themselves. Personally, if I can’t see at least 5 percent of irony in a given image, I lose my interest in it.”
This stands in contrast to the picture of Polish protagonist in his film to Box, an insightful analysis of a boxer’s behaviour in the ring: his loneliness, struggle and defeat.
A kind of loneliness, or desolation, is shown in the work of Anke Beims Polish Parents-in-Law/Polnische Schwiegereltern. The artist portrays Polish parents whose children had left abroad. The artist, herself related by marriage with a Polish family, observes her foreign parents-in-law with true interest. The observation, made from half foreign, half familiar perspective, resulted in the images about dreams and desires of Polish parents who wait for the increasingly sparse and short visits of their sons and daughters living in a different, foreign and somewhat incomprehensible reality. A poem about unfulfilled expectations and about farewells, but also about come-backs and love.
The photographs of Beims have been produced especially for our exhibition, as well as the multimedia work of Clemens Wilhelm, Woman looking for Man/Sie sucht ihn, approaching the same topic from a different perspective. It concerns the dreams of Polish women who, in a desperate attempt to change their lives, search for a German partner through the net-based marriage agency. Numerous agency pages are filled with portraits of Polish women: young, mature and elderly. It seems like it is never too late for one’s dreams to come true. Yet, unlike the women, their potential German partners stay invisible.
Clemens Wilhelm states:
“Those emotional portraits are extremely burdened: culturally, socially and politically. On the one hand, they show the desire to be loved, to have someone dear, to be safe, to find a loving husband. On the other hand, those women show their own proper portraits illustrating their lifestyle, their taste, preferences, ambitions, ideals, social status, education, their past and, last but not least, their physicality... Those women, who are they? How do they see themselves, how do they want to be seen, how do we see ourselves when looking at them?”
The work is based on one of the most popular German stereotypes concerning Poles, or rather Polish women, seeing them as a beautiful and promising material for future wives.
There is another stereotype challenged herein, being the Polish chambermaid, as seen by Dietmar Schmale. The conceptual artist paraphrases the ethos of the Polish cleaning lady by impersonating one, doing cleaning in Polish houses and institutions during 10 days, and documenting the specific performance under the title Restitution – cultural exchange/Restitution – kultureller Austausch.
Schmale recalls: “As a child, I was raised by my grandmother. It was during the 1970s and the 1980s. She was an elderly woman by then and she’d always have a cleaning lady at home... They were all Polish, and we used the phrase Polnische Putzfrau. Many of them came to Germany with their husbands who were looking for a job. Those women were usually uneducated and poorly paid, and had no insurance. Recently, I have felt an obligation to give back some of those working hours within a symbolic performance.”
What could be thought of as a ready-made performance is a Polish, pagan originated tradition of Śmigus Dyngus [the Monday after Easter, when boys poured water over girls in the morning, still practiced today]. The custom was used as a theme for a film of Constantin Hartenstein, Smingus Dingus. The filmmaker aimed at grasping the very idea of the traditional Easter play taking place in the streets. He filmed a situation on the “wet Monday” in Tricity, providing the following commentary: “Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot – between Sunday mass and lunch, among the passers-by and people washing their windows, children hide, holding their water pistols, ready to attack in order to fulfill the Easter ritual.” It is a perspective taken to look at the neighbour, an interested view on something new, unknown, and potentially inspiring.
Polish landscape gave as much inspiration to Tom Korn. The artist, using a very particular technique of building a picture from pieces of carpeting, is a kind of an incessant traveler himself, and a frequent guest in Eastern Europe. Fascinated with the constructs of communist architecture, he transforms them into quasi “plush-constructivism”. Choosing material immediately identified as cozy, soft and tactile, he encourages the viewer to literally touch the image. Polish blocks of flats and damaged bus&tram stops turn out less angular and repulsive. 
Tom Korn is not the only artist fascinated with Polish views. The graphic prints of Günter Grass, who could not be missed at the exhibition, present, among other things, a typical Polish alley. The title Across Poland/In Polen unterwegs seems pretty appropriate. There is yet a different key to the etching Polish goose/Polnische Gans: the inspiration was taken not from Poland directly, but from the literary description of the holiday geese in his most famous novel, The Tin Drum.
Iwona Bigos
Gdańsk City Gallery – The Gallery of Günter Grass
Corner of Szeroka Street and Grobla I Street
80-831 Gdańsk
Due to national mourning the opening of the exhibition 'Neighbours' (previously planned on 16th of April 2010) will take place on 23rd of April 2010 at 6 p.m. 
Municipal Institution of Culture