The Polish city of Szczecin is located a mere 120 kilometres from the Berlin, yet the weight of a most recent political history placed these cities worlds apart. In 1989 with the collapse of the Berlin wall, the situation in the city of Szczecin changed dramatically. From being a socialist-realist hinterland, Szczecin became a boarder opening to a country that had renewed its spirit for participation in international art scene. Szczecin turned to a new page in its history. Positivity around democratic and free market reforms of the 1990 paved the way for the possibility of an international art exhibition that sought to develop on regional context. Marking a point of departure and active transition, the exhibition ‘Horizon Line’ took place in Szczecin in 1995 giving the city the opportunity to appear on the international Baltic art scene. Around the same time Mare Articum, the international art magazine for the Baltic region was founded. Today, the cultural scene has grown in momentum – 2010 saw a bid by the city of Szczecin to be named European capital of culture in 2016.
‘Ar+=Adding 2010’ was an international collaborative project held in Szczecin (17 – 19 Sept 2010) which served to make visible the on-going cultural life of the city. The project was curated by Bartek Nowak, the founding member of the Polish organization TERMINAL08 (1); Seamus O’Donnell of Berlin’s Salon Bruit (2). ‘Ar+=Adding 2010’ had evolved from the networks founded following the event, entitled ‘iD’ held the previous year in the neighbouring city of Gorzow in 2009 (3). Moving on from ‘iD’ and the exploration of identity, the thematic concerns of ‘Ar+=Adding 2010’ were focused on the notion of art itself. The title ‘Ar+=Adding’ referred to art as a transgressive activity – based on creating, discovering and sharing. Fifty artists living and working in different parts of Europe including Denmark, Germany, Holland, Ireland, and Poland came together to present work relating to this broad and open brief.
‘Ar+=Adding’ occupied three separate sites throughout Szczecin. In the city centre, the Galeria Boguslawa hosted the majority of the event’s two-dimensional works. Included in this show were works by polish artist Robert Korzeniowski (b. 1969), which referenced the stylistic freedom and anarchy of Dada. Korzeniowski’s practice encompasses print, painting and text based works; the works on show cast a cynical eye over the surrounding social realities and were imbued with a black humour – one example of the text within Korzeniowski’s work read (in translation) – ‘where there is no life in poison cities there may be love.
’The second site was a primary school playground, set amongst derelict socialist apartment blocks on Slaska Street, adjacent to the Galeria Boguslawa. This site was handed over to a team of polish graffiti artists by the Szczecin city council. The scale, colour and imagery of the resulting graffiti jam, added up to a bold declaration of a new cultural territory. The third site was the Columba 4 Gallery, which served as the central hub of the exhibition. The gallery is located in a reclaimed space on the first floor of a German built nineteenth century factory building. In addition to the gallery, a number of other spaces in the building were reclaimed and re-animated for the purposes of the exhibition. Besides the work on show, the venue itself evoked post-industrial decay. These reclaimed spaces in and around the Columba gallery played host to the more interactive and experimental media-based works and performances presented as part of ‘Ar+=Adding 2010’.
The diversity of the work produced an event of extreme contrasts. Amsterdam-based polish artist Michal Jury’s looped black and white projection titled Tata Walking, 2010, elegantly reflected on the disappearance of the artist’s father’s memory. The film depicted a lonesome walking figure through and environment of wind, sand and waves. The viewer’s expectations were heightened and simultaneously deferred by the fact that the figure is walking, but never seems to advance through this space.
Another quite and subtle work was the video projection searching for Nietzsche 2010 by Irish artist Claire Guerin. During her short residency in Szczecin Guerin produced a work that engaged indirectly with Szczecin’s former citizens. Filmed by night in the central cemetery in Szczecin – the largest cemetery in Poland –the video projection presents the artist’s candle lit search for gravestones commemorating members of Nietzsche’s family who are said to have been buried there.
In vivid contrast, sound artists from Berlin and Ireland utilized evocative acoustics of the factory space. Irish artists Mick O’Shea and Danny McCarthy of The Quiet Club, in collaboration with Irene Murphy, kicked off the night with a presentation of sound art and performance works. Surrounded by their techie tools O’Shea and McCarthy delivered a set of nuanced approaches that amplified and recoded obscurities of sound. Performing a physical response Murphy used her body as a kind of ‘soft architecture’.
Berlin based Irish artist Seamus O’Donnell – and a member of Salon Bruit – presented a sound piece entitled Life loop in knife mode. The performance included knives and other ‘dangerous instrument’s’ which through the use of contact mikes came together as a mixture of live pre-recorded and processed sounds.Working in tandem with O’Donnell, Yoann Trellu a Berlin based French video artist preformed the work titled Keyframed, which translated the sound, sources into a projected video-work. Trellu used self-made software video systems, which incorporated of live web-cam feeds, overlaid with image editing and sampling; along with other digitally randomized effects – all adding up to a flashing and flickering delirium.
Also presented at the venue was The Play Inside, and installation by German artist Dr Nexus. The work incorporated an upside down tent, suspended from the ceiling, from which speakers broadcasted noise and a loud, unsettling monologue spoken in German with a male voice. The work fore grounded the experience of being outside of both language and architecture.
The opening night at the Galeria Boguslawa and Columba 4 Gallery was very well attended, with the audience pouring out onto the surrounding street..The event created a hot bed for art-world related dialogue and networking. However, one slight draw back of ‘Ar+=Adding 2010’, was a lack of general public access. In the days that followed the opening, without the regular presence of invigilators the exhibitions were closed to the cities inhabitants. Thus while this initiative indicated a certain opening up of Polish civic society, in the broader context of a nation still going through a transitional phase of democratization, it highlighted that the project organisers and art scene still had some way to go in terms of incorporating public access and participation. Overall ‘Ar+=Adding’ functioned as an experimental initiative, representing possibilities and potentials for new departures for artistic activities within the city of Szczecin.
On 18 September, Columba 4 Gallery hosted a conference to round up some of the issues addressed by ‘Ar+=Adding 2010’. Artists were given the opportunity to show case further aspects of their individual practices and other initiatives in which they were involved. Paul Prendergast, a Berlin based experimental filmmaker and film lecturer, presented a screening of key experimental and cutting edge film and video shorts. German artist Markus Schwill (aka Ohmnoise) talked about the DIENSTbar initiative, a Berlin-based curatorial platform for noise. Other presentations were by Frank Bartz (Berlin); The Guesthouse, (Cork); Salon Bruit (Berlin) and Michal Jury (Amsterdam).
With the support of Culture Ireland, Kunst Danish Arts Agency, and Szczecinskie Renowacyine, ‘Ar+=Adding 2010’, charged pockets within the city of Szczecin with potential – and the reverberations of the events, has resulted in plans being drawn up for next year’s event. With a palpable need and desire amongst artists for developing transformative spaces of art there seems to be little question that in future, these types of events will proliferate both within the city of Szczecin and throughout Poland.
(1) Terminal08 is non-profit, independent organisation that focuses on supporting and organising creative, experimental, intercultural art exhibitions. Connects properties of artistic platform, nomadic gallery, research project and on-line artist’s network.www.terminal08.org
(2) http://salonbruit.org/ Salon Bruit is a Berlin based non-commercial forum for both audience and artists interested in experimental music and video works, as well as installations and workshops.
(3) iD was an international site-specific project, taking place in Gorzow, Poland, from 5 –12 June 2009. Organised by the then Cork-based artist Bartek Nowak (Terminal08) with SKART (Cork), Salon Bruit (Berlin), and Association Strefa Sztuki (Gorzow), and hosted by the Municipal Centre of Art (MOS) Gorzow. The project brought together over 50 artists from Ireland, England, Germany, Poland, U.S., Switzerland, Netherlands, France and Japan for a week-long series of exhibitions, events, talks, and presentations addressing the issue of artistic identity.
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