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“Subjective” Bus Tour of the Gdansk Shipyard

July 17, 2012

As I’ve made my way around the most historic districts of Gdansk, the most gritty and economically-challenged, as well as those re-polished for tourist attention and calendar-friendly consumption, the part that continues to capture both my curiosity and imagination is the Shipyard. For most, the mythology of this famed place precedes it’s physical being – made legendary by a recurring ( and evolving) role in pivotal moments of World War II, the Polish Trade Union Solidarity Uprising, and the Fall of Communism. It has become an unassuming icon; an involuntary institution; and a place I thought I knew before I ever set foot on its grounds. I’m happy to say I didn’t.

If my plans for Narracje go forward as planned, the Shipyard will host 7 video-based installations as well as a satellite exhibition of Gdansk artists related to the ideas of art thou gone, beloved ghost? I have spent a great deal of time walking along this yard’s rusty corridors, between its proud (if timeworn) buildings, and along a waterfront that ripples between ongoing industry and imminent change.

The Shipyard is full of architectures that exude memories and the rich, traumatic legacies of time…and yet, much of that character/complexion is being torn down as developers rebrand/revitalize/remake large swaths of this land into a new section of Gdansk labelled “Young City.” And while I see the merits of adapting with the currents of tomorrow, of re-animating shells of the past with new life and possibility, and of overcoming the thick, soupy sands of nostalgia, part of me can’t help but lament. Lament the ignoble fall/destruction of buildings, cranes and structures that have seen – and been – crucial moments in history.

With all this in mind, I took special note of an artist-initiated project (as part of this year’s Alternativa – a deeply compelling exhibition titled “Materiality” organized by the equally compelling Wyspa Institute of Art) called “A Subjective Bus Line“. Organized by important Polish artist Grzegorz Klaman, this project continues his ongoing socio-cultural archeology of the Shipyard by connecting with those people – those workers – those details – that are so easily bypassed in official, canonical histories.

In this particular project, Klaman creates the platform for a pair of former Shipyard workers to tell their personal, subjective stories of this place in a 90-minute bus tour through the grounds. For those of us not able to speak Polish, Wyspa also provides an English translator – a young, dread-locked guy who had heard and collected all the stories of both workers, and did a masterful job translating them to us with pathos and humor. For as much as I had walked and wondered the grounds, these stories illuminated the Shipyard for me in an entirely new way, and deepened my affection for it that much more. This tour re-established the human part of place, and let voices be the vehicles of our voyage.

Here are some photos below of the bus, the tour guides (young and old), the Shipyard, the gargoyle-like cranes, and the buildings that may/will soon be ghosts.

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