LAZNIA 1 2012 - Unwanted Visitors
Unwanted Visitors
Artists: Yael Bartana, Oskar Hansen, Alicja Karska&Aleksandra Went, Robert Kuśmirowski, Jan Simon, Kama Sokolnicka
Curator: Agnieszka Kulazińska
15 September- 25 November 2012
LJMU Cooperas Hill Building, Liverpool
The exhibition is a part of City States, a project presented by Liverpool Biennial in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University
Organizers: Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art in Gdańsk, Adam Mickiewicz Institute,  Partners: City Culture Institute in Gdańsk, Polish Institute in London.
For us, in Europe, it was the Revolution of 1789 that set its seal upon us, though it was a different seal, that of History, the State, and Ideology.
                                                                           Jean Baudrillard, America
Hospitality is usually associated with something positive, disinterested human kindness shown to another. In Christianity it is understood as a practical way of serving God. Sometimes, however, we are forced to be hospitable. This happens when the guests are uninvited.
The exhibition “Unwanted Visitors” is based on stories told by three sites in Poland: the Old Town of Gdańsk, the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, and the 10th Anniversary Stadium in Warsaw. Their story begins in the same period, the 1950s, and is derived from the ideology of the Stalinera. “Unwanted visitors” aims at investigating their meaning: what do they state?
Gdańsk, a city with a 1000-year history, was rebuilt “from scratch” in the 20th century. World War Two left 90% of the downtown area destroyed. In the 1950s, the decision was made to rebuild the city. “We are building Gdańsk more beautiful than ever” was the motto of those undertaking the task.[1] The project involved not only reconstruction of the architectural fabric of the city, but also of its memory. The true, pre-War Gdańsk was hidden and a new ideological construction appeared in its place, one that was socialist in form and national in content. The Old Town of Gdańsk was replaced by blocks of flats with facades evoking Baroque mannerism. The new entity was more like a theatrical stage set, with Polish repatriates from Vilnius acting as the audience. They were the ones for whom this “Polish city” was created on the ruins of the unwanted  heritage of Prussia.
Robert Kuśmirowski, Malevich Square, fot. Mark McNulty
Robert Kuśmirowski’s works are based on the reconstruction of the material culture of a particular time. He is often called 'the genius of fake'. The artist investigates how memory is created, feelings of nostalgia, and the resulting desire to reconstruct the past. In the installation “Malevich Square”, Kuśmirowski changes the meaning of Malevich’s Suprematism by reconstructing its assumptions. The allusiveness of the avant-garde is transformed into the physical presence of the work itself (a concrete square) and the labour required to create the city square to which the title alludes. In his re-constructions, Kuśmirowski manipulates both history and reality, and ask questions about what it means to be a copy or an original. 
         The 10th Anniversary Stadium was completed in one year, and literally rose from the ruins of Warsaw, with the debris of the destroyed city being in its construction. The stadium was a monument to the 10th anniversary of communist rule in Poland. It was a place for official celebrations but also the site of anti-government protests.[2] Having fallen into disrepair after the political transformations in Poland, the stadium was converted into a bazaar. It soon became the biggest outdoor marketplace in Europe, filled with small stands owned by the city’s growing Asian population. The Stadium’s former meaning was hidden behind a new capitalist face, and recent building of the National Stadium in its place has added new aspects to a series of reconstructions of meaning.
 Yael Bartany, Mary koszmary,  fot. Mark McNulty
         The 10th Anniversary Stadium also provides the background to Yael Bartana’s video “Mary Koszmary”[3]. Employing a language typical of propaganda, the artist evokes the dream of complete union. Mary Koszmary is the first film in a trilogy by Yael Bartana. The film explores the complicated social and political relationships shared by Jews, Poles and other Europeans in the age of globalisation. A young activist, played by Sławomir Sierakowski (founder and chief editor of Krytyka Polityczna magazine), delivers a speech in the abandoned stadium. His speech resembles the official celebrations of communist holidays, during which the stadium was frequently used as a venue. He urges three million Jews to come back to Poland. The voice of the young leader echoes among the seats of the empty stadium, a symbol of the haunting presence of the former system and its nightmares.
         The Palace of Culture and Science, a copy of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, designed by Lev Rudniev, was Josef Stalin's gift to the “brother nation” of Poland. Although the architect made use of Polish architectural traditions, the tower became a symbol of the „prywislanskij kraj” (Vistula Land)[4], of Soviet dreams of Poland becoming one of its republics. It was an intruder in the heart of the capital.
Oskar Hansen, A Dream of Warsaw, fot. Mark McNulty
         “A Dream of Warsaw” exhibition gives material form to Oskar Hansen's architectural utopia. As a kind of futuristic joke, the artist made a sketch of a spatial model of a building resembling a pillar with a ball on top or a TV tower that would counterbalance the mass of the Palace of Culture and Science. During the exhibition, a model of the building was mounted on a tree in front of a window of the Foksal Gallery Foundation. For Hansen, the Palace of Culture and Science was “a trauma and a coffin, a socialist realist pyramid, a gigantic altar which killed the city”. The creator of the concept of the open form in architecture, Hansen has often argued against the treatment in architecture of the building as a closed form, hierarchical and overwhelming to those viewing it. “A Dream of Warsaw” creates an alternative “impossible” space, raising questions about what to do with this unwanted visitor, joining a ongoing discussion that was sparked by the inclusion of the Palace on the List of Polish National Heritage Sites.[5]
         “It will last like the love for a child. It will last like Polish–Soviet friendship”, wrote the Polish poet Jan Brzechwa, describing the palace in 1952. Polish–Soviet friendship has long since ended, however, there are buildings which still remind us about it. Gdańsk’s Old Town and two public buildings that were designed to be calling cards of the new, communist order, became visitors which although unwanted, were firmly integrated into the urban landscape. These buildings tell stories about recent history, when ideology was an uninvited guest imposed on cities. The project aims at revealing meanings hidden in the buildings and using them to raise questions about how politics shape the urban mentality.
         Works by Oskar Hansen, Yael Bartana and Robert Kuśmirowski create a fiction, the possibility of an alternative urban narrative. The work of each artist reflects a different perspective. World War Two, the post-war communist era, and post-1989 capitalism were experiences shared by Oskar Hansen’s generation. Yael Bartana, whose grandparents lived in Poland, represents a view from the outside. All three artists are in search of ghosts, and, following the thinking of Jean Baudrillard, history and politics are their natural environment.  The artists also share the experience of being a guest and a host at the same moment. Works by Janek Simon, Kama Sokolnicka, Alicja Karska and Aleksandra Went continue this narrative.
         Janek Simon’s animated “Take-off” provides an amusing answer to the question of what to do with unwanted visitors. The video “cleanses” the historical panorama of Kraków. The section of the city visible in the frame slowly falls apart. Then, church towers, one by one, begin to take off like rockets. The work is an utopian vision of the “removal” from the city of it history, represented by its buildings. Urban space is approached as a text, with the buildings as fetishes of history, which create ideologies. But, after their removal, the city loses its coherence. It becomes a castrate because its identity is defined by absence. The “cleansed” panorama also invokes the images of terrorist attacks.
Alicja Karska i Aleksandra Went, Cityproject, fot. Mark McNulty
         “Cityproject”, a photographic series by Alicja Karska and Aleksandra Went, depicts an urban agglomeration meticulously built from sugar cubes, bringing to mind urban concepts of modernism. In it, an ideal urban form slowly melts; rationalism is defeated by mud. Neat white cubes gradually transform into ruins. The project shows urban ideologies to be a fiction, despite the utopian claims of “urban architects” to their being durable and eternal, and the ideological structure of the city to be a cycle of destruction and decomposition, of ideals and ruins.
         The collages in Kama Sokolnicka’s “Disappoint of view” are a kind of a visual essay focusing on the question of human disappointment with contemporary reality, including culture, city, myths, and politics. The works refer to notions related to illusions, the loss of which always results in disappointment.
Yael Bartana’s (b. 1970  in Kfar Yehezkel, Israel) artistic activity includes film, photography, video and sound installation. She has had numerous solo exhibitions, participated in prestigious group shows, and received a number of art prizes.  Since 2006, the artist has also been working in Poland, creating projects on the history of Polish-Jewish relations and its influence on contemporary Polish and Israeli identity. Mary Koszmary is the first film in the trilogy that was shown in the Polish Pavilion at the 54. Venice Biennial. Using the structure and sensibility of a World War II propaganda film, Mary Koszmary addresses contemporary anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Poland, the longing for the Jewish past among liberal Polish intellectuals and the Zionist dream of return to Israel.
Oskar Nikolai Hansen (1922-2005) was an outstanding architect, visionary theoretician, painter and sculptor. He died during preparation of “A Dream of Warsaw”. The Open Form was the idea to which he devoted his entire career. He formulated the theory in 1959 and presented it at the CIAM congress in Otterlo.
“A Dream of Warsaw”  was presented in the Foksal Gallery Foundation in February 2005.
The preparations were carried out by, among others, Paweł Althamer and Artur Żmijewski, graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the  studio of Grzegorz Kowalski – a workshop renowned for actively following Hansen’s theory and practice. The documentary film about development of the project was made by Artur Żmijewski. Hansen died before editing work was finished. Due to this situation, Artur Żmijewski added recordings from the funeral.
Alicja Karska  (b. 1978) and Aleksandra Went (b. 1976) have worked together since they were students at the Gdańsk Academy of Fine Arts.  They share an interest in places and public spaces which have become forgotten and pose questions concerning the possible contents of derelict architecture.
Cityproject Courtesy of Profile Foundation, Warsaw
Robert Kuśmirowski (b. 1973) is the author of performances, installations, objects, photographs and drawings. He studied in the Institute of Fine Arts at Marie Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin and in the Metal and Modelling Studio at the University Rennes 2, Beaux Arts Rennes. In 2006, he received a Passport Award from Polityka magazine.
Malevich Square Courtesy Johnen Galerie, Berlin
Jan Simon (b. 1977) works in various media, including interactive installations, objects, video, and performance art. Simon studied sociology and psychology at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University.  In 2007, he received the "Spojrzenia/Views" Deutsche Bank Prize.
Kama Sokolnicka (b. 1978) graduated from the Wrocław Academy of Fine Arts. She uses a wide range of techniques and media strategies, from painting to site-specific and video installations. She focuses mainly on processes connected with place, territory, and image as a function of memory.
Collages Courtesy of BWA Warszawa, Warsaw
Producer Łaźnia, Urząd Miasta Gdańska, Instytut Adama Mickiewicza
Partners Instytut Kultury Miejskiej, Instytut Polski w Londynie

[1] This concept was one of the ideas behind the rebuilding of Gdańsk. Firstly, it was planned to conserve the ruins and make them a war heritage. The second option was to build in the area of the Old Town a socialist city of builders
2 The most dramatic one was an act of self-immolation committed by Ryszard Siwiec in protest against the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.
[3] The words Mary Koszmary can be translated as ‘dreams and nightmares’ where mary has a double meaning – bad dream or ghost.(the personification of a nightmare).
[4]This name was used during the 19th century to describe the lands of the Kingdom of Poland incorporated into Imperial Russia.
[5] In the course of the debate, various ideas were proposed: “hide” the Palace by erecting a group of high-rises around it, pull it down, or transform it into a museum of communism.
Municipal Institution of Culture