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the open call

July 21, 2012

It’s my last full day here in Gdansk, and I wanted to reflect a bit on the past couple days and my opportunity to meet with a series of artists from both the city and its surround. For this 4th edition of the Narracje Festival, art thou gone, beloved ghost?, we sent out an open call across the country for proposals related to the theme of the show in the fields of video, sound, film, and installation in the expanded field. As important as congregating an international conversation around this idea of the cathartic trauma; the healing phantasmagoria (there will be artists from Belgium, Canada, England, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, The Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States), is to have a strong local presence in the discussion – and speak they did. We received numerous applications, and even had to extend the deadline a week so that artists could have more time to spread the word and develop their proposals. For me – before reading a single word or seeing one sample video clip – I felt the gratification of touching a nerve; striking a chord; tapping an emotional wellspring that inspired artists to consider this topic, feel inspired by its possibilities, and add their voice.

Unfortunately I don’t have the space to write about all the worthy applications we received, but I did want to highlight just a few that demonstrate the range of approaches and depth of thought swirling around the elusive ghosts I pursue. Agnieszka Baaske’s Mum? is one of the most delicate, fragile, and affecting proposals I considered. Set on the grounds of a former orphanage turned apartment complex, Baaske seeks to conjure the songs, prayers and whispers of children searching for a lost parent through the vehicle of voice. More specifically, small speakers will be embedded in various niches in the interior courtyard of this complex, inviting audiences to wander slowly through the grounds and discover said voices as they near walls, benches and windows. I’ve walked through this courtyard numerous times now, continually struck by its quiet intimacy and vulnerability – almost as if I’m violating a sanctuary through my very steps. Baaske humanizes this hesitancy, and in so doing, creates metaphor for a place and people seeking the familial and  historical roots that remain hauntingly out of reach.

Piotr Wyrzykowski‘s multimedia installation “How to educate a ruler? – discovered fragments from a handbook” also speaks to the notion of children and guidance, if in a more provocatively political fashion. Within a modified reading cubicle, equipped with video camera, monitor and chair, he offers the audience a series of tablets based upon historical “how-to” books related to attaining, securing and exercising power. When one places these tablets under a spotlight on the table, you can can then look to a nearby monitor to see a three-dimensional architecture take shape on these seemingly “flat” platforms – beckoning one to turn, explore, and more closely examine the seductive, yet hidden potential of each lesson. In the process, the smoke and mirrors of historical illusionism meets the modern day misdirection of politics, “spin” and rhetoric as instruction.

Iwona Zajac has achieved mythological status when it comes to her extensive, and committed work in, and on the aforementioned Gdansk Shipyard. She continues to maintain a studio in the artist colony here,  and in 2004 Zajac conducted a series of interviews with workers (and former workers) about their relationship to place, labor and man’s relationship within industry. The recordings lived on scratchy cassettes for years after, until she eventually translated them into stencils for a multi-panel mural that stretched across a shipyard wall on the perimeter of the property. Adjacent to these words was painted an angelic guardian figure, her wings the shape and structure of two cranes. The entire mural thus became a quasi-religious shrine, yet it is now slated for demolition. To mark this passing, Zajac’s ephemeral “Ghosts” audio project invited audiences to rent out wireless headphones and walk the ruins of this wall, guided by the voices of those original 2004 recordings. Out of the spirit they were born – taking on a physical body through the wall – and to the spirit; to the air, will they return.

The air will be equally as thick and loaded around Anna Krolikiewicz‘s “Table” – a decadent still-life table scene come jarringly to life in an Old Town courtyard or alleyway. Anna has organized numerous projects that fuse food and art into compelling social experiments probing our models/expectations of taste, beauty and memory. In past works she tempted audiences to engage in art by putting the questions contemporary art poses, directly into one’s mouth – be it highly un-ordinary cakes, gelatins and sweets made uncertain. For this year’s Narracje festival, Anna proposes to create a tableau vivant around a table set for 12 – piling high the fish, fruits, breads, bouquets and silverware we’ve come to know (and desire?) in Dutch Golden Age vanitas paintings (such as) (Also note: rather than waste good food, she will seek out that which is already past its expiry date). Yet this time around – rather than immortalize the goods and bounty we were meant to savor with caution – they will decay under a bright spotlight and underlying musical score. Left outside for 4 days, grandeur will become grotesque, and the ghosts of past glories will swirl into the nose and mouth…

I got the jump on some authentic Polish food before it went the way of “the undead” – here are a few photos from where me and the team dined for our last group meeting before I was off…

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