Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow
Faculty of Painting
Record book 9058
Magical theatre – document of time
Prof. zw. dr hab. Zbigniew Bajek
Thesis appendix supervisors:
dr hab. Agata Pankiewicz Prof. ASP
dr hab. Zbigniew Sałaj Prof. ASP
dr hab. Grzegorz Sztwiertnia Prof. ASP
Only within yourself exists that other reality for which you long. I can give you nothing that has not already its being within yourself. I can throw open to you no picture gallery but your own soul. All I can give you is the opportunity, the impulse, the key. I can help you to make your own world visible. That is all.
While preparing the master’s thesis entitled „Magical theatre – document of time,” both in its written, and the more artistic form, I would like to direct special attention to the area of document art. I am referring to Hermann Hesse’s novel “Steppenwolf,” but I try to move away from the theory of surrealism which is found directly in this work. I wish to underline the importance of the first stage of building imaginary images in “Magical theatre.” I am interested in the issue of memory and the skilful transfer thereof into the sphere of projection, defined by Tatarkiewicz as “the mind’s contribution to the perceived.” I treat theatre as a private, intimate room for memories. I relate my artistic activity to my own experiences and emotions.
When I began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow at the Faculty of Painting, I was convinced that every single day of my life would be marked by the presence of paint, brushes, linseed oil, the smell of turpentine – and my area of exploration would be represented by white canvas of different sizes… Every following month brought to me new forms of expressing myself along with appropriate tools. Over time I began working with different, so-called new media. What I feel now is awareness of the great possibilities they offer: possibilities that stem not only from the nature of workshops, but especially from the way of communing, observing, experiencing and interpreting nature, interpersonal relations, and social conditionings.
I am often inspired by a specific item of keepsake value. The contact with said item builds a context stemming from personal experience. Form as a setting is treated by me with significance. I make sure that every element (item) transfers personal meaning.
The main goal of creative work is evoking emotions and provoking reflection in the viewer. It does not mean that I go out of my way to make every viewer happy. On the contrary – I prefer a situation in which at least one member of the audience feels moved, when a symbolic thread of understanding is created.
Content, inspiration, form
In art, I understand content as a collection of the creator’s experiences, emotions and knowledge. Regardless of the attempt to express a problem in a more objective (knowledge) or subjective (experience, emotions) way, in the end a work offers features characteristic of the author, which makes for the authenticity of the message.
Inspiration. What becomes significant now is the process of reception – becoming sensitive to the surrounding, which includes objects – a reflection of the artistic activity, which I would like to focus on. As a viewer-recipient, I face the challenge of getting to know a piece of art, colliding with it. Inspiration is the result of a meeting in which there appears understanding between the artist and the recipient. In this moment, the process of asking questions begins. Why were those thoughts and emotions not intriguing enough for me to take action? Perhaps this is the time to make an attempt to transfer personal content onto a materialized object?
I am mostly interested in literature, which is why my dissertation contains so many references, even quotations from works by Mann or Hesse. It is different with visual works – with them, I only try to set up my own activity. I do not want to stubbornly repeat that they do not affect me and that I am able to escape their influence in my works. I am probably not. However, it is certain that my decision making concerning future projects is influenced not by the form of other works, but rather emotions and my private here-and-now, with all references to the past.
Form. In my works I refer to the past. I do not limit myself to experiences, sensations, emotions – I work directly with items, recordings, mementoes. I draw from what is close to me – I do not go further than the gate to my backyard. I use space, phenomena, relations of those around me, at the same time trying to present a general thought that everybody can, but does not have to, identify with or understand. The basis of creative works, I think, is being honest with the viewer, but, what is more important – being honest with oneself. Honesty is here understood as truth, sourcing from one’s inside.
A situation in which the process of life is parallel to the process of creation, those two complementing each other, allows for the element of cognition. The confrontation with common reality makes it so that the artist, through his experience, sensitivity to past stories and transferring them into art, lets the audience use his own reflections.
„Magical theatre” – document of time
The moment of receiving the diploma, the defence of my master’s thesis under the supervision of prof. Zbigniew Bajek, the director of The First Interdisciplinary Workshop, is for me a summary of 5 years of studying, 5 years of life. It was a wonderful time for me: time of searching, time of reflections, and – I believe – time of making conscious decisions, as well as confirming that those decisions were right. When preparing the first summary of the work entitled “Magical theatre – document of time,” I refer my work to the situation of Harry Haller from Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”. In the Magical Theatre, Harry could choose a specific theatre box, guided only by the title shown above the entrance. Upon entering a chosen room, he experienced a projection of experiences from the past.
The artistic part of the project assumes creation of three theatre boxes (separately built rooms with dimensions of 1.4×1.4×2.2 metres each) with lightboxes displaying the title for each room above the entrances. Every room will shelter artistic installations inspired by my private experience.
The performative activity in the box entitled „Tonio Kröger” involves building (or rather presenting) a special interpersonal interaction – real, strong, asexual. Tonio Kröger is a young man who for different reasons (including setbacks in life) pins great hopes in a close relationship with another person, a friend. His exceptional sensitivity, which made peers perceive him as different, leads Tonio – the protagonist of Tomasz Mann’s story – to notice the beauty of honest and true communication with another person.
When it comes to Marina Abramović’s performance entitled “Imponderabilia”, I place great concern on the possibility of transfer and the experience of the non-material, elusive state of emotions.
Listening to the music of Abel Korzeniowski, I watch Mateusz running into the sea. It’s late, in several days the beach will be gone, replaced by sea breakers.
A glass display case with dimensions of 70×70×70 cm. The Box of Memory – this is how I used to call various performances involving this cube. I locked items inside, isolating them from the changeability of passing days. I found shelter in this space myself, escaping from the new and staying with the underrated.
Today, placing the Box on sand, I decided to leave only a track. Show visual emptiness. Lock the smell and the warmth inside. Leave the depth in imagination. Recalling the looped sound of holiday recordings and combining it with the light of an old projector, I attempt to arrange a situation of continuance, provoke to build private images from the most frequently viewed film, which is the image of experienced situations.
Only for the Mad
He was somehow taking everything in, not by consciously focusing on objects, but just by standing there, passive. He felt a new layer of sensations settling over the experiences of the past few days, a geology of memory taking shape, a sunken lower stratum made of dreams, and an upper stratum, more fluid, susceptible to the influences of the outside world.
Why do I like antiques? Do I like antiques?
Playing cards, ringo, worry beads, a signature notebook, a Game Boy, a t-shirt with a motif from a movie. Everyone has such items – ones that they would love to lock in a glass display. Items that exist deep within us, linked to specific situations or emotions.
I moved out of my family home and I rented a flat with a long history of life of the eighty-year-old owner: a flat full of history and memory of its inhabitants.
The first confrontation with the excess of items calls to mind an impression of a flea market, a meaningless wallpaper covering the space. A shelter of filth and collecting absurd. Over time, it turned into a feeling of closeness and attachment to items; consent to their presence, changing their meaning, readiness to take care of them, mutual dependence. Once useless, they became useful.
An item remains, but the people change. And the people give it a new meaning.
In my work I decided to use items which allowed me to become aware of my own story. I realised I carry with me signs of the past that, remembered and often spoken by the people closest to me, became trapped in my subconsciousness.
When looking for answers to the question of why I like antiques, I decided to go back to my creative activity of the last several years and use the experience of communing with something different from items. The Box of Memory, the Brand of Memory, the Trace of Memory, Old Cinema are another projects in which I try to face the idea of “antiques”. With every subsequent work I feel like I am winning the battle with the present in the context of the past, the battle with the glass from the display in Wanda cinema, with a teddy bear from a friend, with a small chain from Turkey. I try to tame and accept history, experiences and items connected to them.
The idea of interdisciplinarity and intermediality in the plastic arts poses questions about the boundaries in the choice of the medium used to present the author’s thoughts. One of such media, more and more frequently chosen by visual artists, is the language of film. Creators feel the need to define the surrounding world and to show relations with loved ones, family, friends. One of those examples is the artistic work of Zbigniew Libera, especially his 1984 movie entitled “Intimate rituals”. It presents the issue of body objectification in relation to limitless love towards one’s neighbours.
Libera recorded the process of taking care of his dying grandmother who had lost contact with reality. He took upon himself the basic activities, fed her, washed her, changed her, put her to sleep. Another example of a work stemming from the collision with the surrounding reality is Marcin Koszałka’s movie “What a wonderful son I have”, his directing debut from 1999. The movie presents the relationship between a son, the author, and his parents. In Marta Sikorska’s interview from 2011, Marcin Koszałka says: There was a scandal in Poland after the movie aired (…). The first movie was made with the home video method, at my own home. The main character was my mother (…). I was exposed to accusations that I sold my own mother in order to achieve success. I heard that I was selling my family and that it is a simple, cheap trick.
The movie received honourable mentions at festivals in Berlin, Nyon and Kazimierz Dolny. As an acknowledgement of the courage in exposing the duplicity of family life and the intelligent exploitation of cinema verite… For the document, Koszałka received an honorable mention of the jury during Krakow Film Festival. Documentation of the closest surrounding of a creator appears to be a basis for their work, which allows us to gain experience, confront our own story and problems, and meet the main character. On 10-14th September, 2014 I had a chance to attend the 7th edition of the International Documentary Film Festival “Okiem Młodych” in Świdnica. It is an event during which short documentaries (up to 30 minutes) are presented.
The authors are young movie creators. During the festival, 16 movies were presented, having been selected by the organisers. Among the chosen titles, the audiences could watch movies made by students and graduates of Lodz Film School, but also students of Polish art schools (Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Art Academy of Szczecin). After the festival, Maciel Drygas, a representative of the Jury and a lecturer of Lodz Film School, stated the following: I feel somewhat unsatisfied, because I am constantly working with students in Poland and abroad and I try to set them free, so that they attempt to leave their homes. It is very important for a director to leave their mothers and grandmothers, to stop pestering them with cameras, and if they do, there should be a higher meaning to it – it shouldn’t be nothing more than a home movie.
I think that, contrary to the opinion of the conservative jury, and because of the fact that the majority of the movies at the Festival tackled the problem of family and loved ones, there still exists a true and real need for this kind of documentation, not only in the environment of young creators of plastic arts, but also film directors.
In conclusion, owing to the accessibility of recording equipment (mobile phones, digital cameras), it happens increasingly often that young creators, students – not only in Film Schools – reach for this medium, creating documentaries motivated by the need of confronting the stereotype of a conservative family.
I would like to quote Ms Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, the deputy dean of the Direction Faculty at Lodz Film School, as she answers a question asked by Marta Sikorska during the 50th Film Festival in Krakow: What advice could you offer to someone starting their journey with documentaries? M. Zmarz-Koczanowicz: I believe they should present themselves, their homes, their loved ones, write a movie journal. The author’s point of view is very important in movies and I find it worth it to begin with oneself.
The first element of the thesis appendix, Home movie, is a video entitled ”Family cinema” (4’51”), created in the First Photography Workshop at the Faculty of Graphic Arts under the supervision of dr hab. Agata Pankiewicz. After originally working with my grandma Misia (which resulted in a documentary étude entitled “Movie for Credit”) I decided to start working with archival materials from my childhood. The archive of family recordings, a collection of VHS videotapes, became the grounds for the realization of “Family cinema”.
Having watched 30 hours of recordings made by my parents, I remembered the times when we would travel on holidays together. In fact, one of the only memories I had from this time was the obligation of constant posing for pictures: “quick, the waves will disappear, the Popemobile will be gone, stand there Mateusz, turn around Mateusz, look at me Matuś, go, stand straight, wait…” The videos show the necessity of recording every moment, every place. At a certain stage, a child becomes an object to put in the picture, a meaningless element of passing moments.
The second element is a video entitled “Tonio Kröger” (2’18”). This work is a compilation of pictures saved on my telephone. During one month, I collected personally made photographs, as well as those sent to me. The chronological setting of the material assumes unhindered image of a relation with another person.
Another element of the thesis appendix, Home movie, is a production entitled „No title”, prepared under the supervision of dr hab. Zbigniew Sałaj and dr hab. Grzegorz Sztwiertnia. The process of creating this work was underway throughout nearly the entire course of studies, since the second year. The recordings of various situations from everyday life are an effect of working with Izabela Liżewska. A time of constant cooperation, coordination of subsequent exhibitions and projects resulted in the deepening of our relations and the strengthening of a friendship. We decided to start documenting moments of relaxation and escape from exhausting activities, resulting from our life experiences. Over time, we began combining specific moments and situations into new film études of several minutes each. Every video was entitled with accordance to the recorded situation. The effect of a three year long documentation is a collection of short videos that we decided to combine into one project. Naturally, the collection received a narrative structure, on one hand in accordance with the chronology of the recordings, on the other – revealing more and more private, intimate moments from everyday life step by step. Disregarding the clear „reset“ in the form of the quantity of alcohol consumed, the production portrays specific moments authentically, even breaching the boundaries of intimacy, and thus closes the sequence of other productions of the „Magical Theatre“.
Hesse H., Steppenwolf, Kraków 2005
Lem, S., Hospital of the Transfiguration, San Diego, 1988 (translated by William Brand)
http://www.pisf.pl/pl/kinematografia/news/masterclass-m-koszalki-w-jihlavie (accessed on: 4.05.2016).
http://www.filmpolski.pl/fp/index.php?film=4212108 (accessed on: 4.05.2016).
https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=762161763840449HYPERLINK (accessed on: 4.05.2016)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Kj2mkf_8F8 (accessed on: 4.05.2016).