The last time I went to Gdańsk, I came into town for a Contemporary Art Festival called Narracje that consists of light installations that are projected on walls of different buildings throughout the city. Narracje [English: narrations] is held in Gdańsk for the fourth time, and its motto is the Shakespearian „Art thou gone, beloved ghost?” The website had me so hot for it that I just had to come and see it, and it has been all over my facebook feed, too. Speaking of ghosts, spirits, unearthly relics of the past in a place like Gdańsk and transforming all of this into art – there is basically not a thing about this that I do not like.
We are a group of six when we make our way to the Gdańsk shipyard where a large portion of the installations is set. I am beyond excited, because I have never actually been on the territory of the shipyard – and when we get there, it is so tangibly laden with history. Walking those grounds is like walking along where the Berlin wall used to be. I sense how the entire place is filled with energy, with spirits, how the area tells both of endurance and revolution, of suffering and victory.
We end up on a tour of the installations in the shipyard that is done by the curator of the entire festival, a Canadian of Polish descent named Steven Matijcio. I find his explanations very inspiring. All of a sudden so many of the installations make sense when at first glance they don’t tell me much, even though some of them are unbearably beautiful. I don’t know squat about contemporary art, but Steven combines theories, ideas and notions that I know from literary studies with a material that is strange to me. For every piece, he explains the installation’s immanent meaning first, only to relate it to the building that it is projected on and the entire space that it fills. In some cases, the work of art would be only half as meaningful, had they projected it onto a different wall. We start talking to him about 10 minutes into the tour. One on one his personal passion for all he artwork he is presenting in this festival comes across even more intensely. The day after I go to his tour of the installations in the Old Town, talk to him more, and enjoy it to bits and pieces that I can get all the questions of my chest that come to mind.
There are many, many, many installations that would be worth mentioning. I will just talk about two that I found most moving, but in very different ways.
The first is by Belgian artists Aline Bouvy and John Gillis and is called Venusia. We see it on the first night, projected against Hall 42a’s outside wall in the shipyard. The name of the installation being inspired by Venus, it is obviously a piece about human interaction and relationships. A collage technique filmic installation with powerful, almost sacral music played to it, it is of eerie beauty and intensity with its sudden images of arms trying to reach and lips meeting each other. Prominent to me in it all are the takes of Eyes of different shape and color, all merging into one as though to create the image of one vision for the world, one love, and one mother goddess of all emotion. It is truly aesthetic and as I stand there, I wish I could see the whole 8 minutes, but we don’t have time. I found the installation on the artists‘ website for you though. Click here and scroll down to the very bottom of the page!
Angels of Revenge shows close-up film clips of people attired with horror movie props talking about what they would like to do to the person who has wronged them most on their lives. They are not actors, but real people talking about other real people and about real events. Having been cheated on. Having been stabbed in the back for a job or money. All of them adress their tormentor directly – they talk to the camera as though it was the person who has done wrong unto them. In effect, an onlooker of the installation feels like they were addressed. The hatred, the thirst for revenge, at times disappointment, but mostly just blind anger – all of it is hard to take and very disturbing. The things they say are just phantasies – but are they? Very, very bad words are used. The installation is in English with Polish subtitles. I finally start to read and try not to listen, because in English, without any notable language barrier, all the emotion hits me with yet greater force. The entire yard is buzzing with accusation. Connected with the history of the place, it is almost too much for me. I am glad that we cannot linger too long because I might cry. But if art is supposed to tear us out of stupor and make us feel and think and re-evaluate, than this has certainly done it.
I have not managed to shoot any decent photos with my iPhone. I recommend Algebraiczny for stunning pictures. And I did put the 5th edition of Narracje in my calendar. I will be sure to come to Gdańsk for it next year.