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Let’s Talk

17.05-23.06.2019 Let’s Talk

We are pleased to invite you to the exhibition "Let’s Talk" at the Józef Czapski Pavilion.

According to an encyclopaedic definition, a dialogue is a conversation of two people, or a series of talks, negotiations and other activities aimed at leading to a consensus between the parties of conflict.

“Let’s Talk” exhibition, presented at the Józef Czapski Pavilion, accompanies the „2. Krakow Artistic Meetings 2019 – DIALOGUES. Painting. Sculpture. Drawing”. Their leitmotif is a dialogue.

This year’s event is dedicated to the delicate matter of communication between people – illustrated with an example of several works selected from the collection of the National Museum in Krakow. The act of communication does not come down to intimate, individual conversations only, but it also includes a social dimension. This is what this exhibition is about: different attitudes and forms of a dialogue with the society, authority or God. Sometimes, these are the conversations that we have with ourselves, often in the context of transformations of our civic awareness. The exhibition tries to capture the “dialogue” of the 1970s and early-1980s in Poland. It was an extraordinary time in our history, full of extreme, gradually released emotions, whose consequences are still felt by our society today. In this period, artists were vividly responsive to the reality that surrounded them and commented upon it in their own individual artistic way. This is the source of the diversity, ambiguity, or even nonobviousness of depicting the reality visible at the exhibition. The title of the exhibition – “Let’s Talk” was taken from one of the featured works – a painting by Ryszard Woźniak from the Warsaw GRUPPA, whose hard-hitting art commented on the Polish reality of the 1980s in a strong, uncompromising way.

The exhibition comprises several works by Polish artists, whose art was most expressive at a similar time – during the turbulent decades of the 1970s and 1980s. These works define different forms of the broad concept of conversation. Often, it is a voiceless discussion with oneself, the need to understand and listen to one’s inner self and thoughts, like in Łukasz Korolkiewicz’s painting Fragile Privacy (1981/1982), where you strongly feel the need to hide behind the door of intimacy and protect it from the outside world. Another time, as in Paweł Taranczewski’s Spiritual Conversation (1980), we witness a silent and pensive contemplation of the closeness of the highest Being. It is a special moment of turning to God and of spiritual discourse. Zbysław Maciejewski’s work Don’t Be Afraid of Me (1977), is enigmatic, both with regard to its content and form. It shows two unreal figures facing each other, whose behaviour is intriguing. The “older” figure seems to be reaching out its dwarfish arms to the “younger” one – a child (?), frightened or embarrassed… It feels as if the older figure wanted to tame or conciliate it. But can we be sure? There are also works in which you can see anger – it is not a conversation anymore – it is not a dialogue, but a scream, as in Woźniak’s Let’s Talk (1983), eponymous to the title of the exhibition. In the foreground you can see two men facing each other – one is yelling and the other is looking down. They seem to be deaf to what the other wants to say. There is no place for a compromise here. It is not a conversation, it is an attempt to shout out one’s arguments, ignoring the interlocutor’s cause. In this context, the consoling “let’s talk” seems only an ironic wink of the artist. Is this what the majority of conversations we have, also in public life, look like?

Józef Tischner wrote: “Dialogue means that people have come out from their undergrounds, have come closer to each other, have started exchanging words. The beginning of the dialogue, emerging from a hiding place, is already a significant event. One needs to reach out, cross the threshold, offer one’s hand, find a common place for conversation”[1]. The dialogue begins where one person stands opposite another and they want to hear and listen to each other. They are willing to understand each other, comprehend who they are, what they want and what they do not want. Dialogue is the beginning. Thus, are artists even listened to, are they heard at all? Do we (recipients of their art) even hear what they say to us? What kind of dialogue do they have with us? What is the nature of the conversation they have with the country they live in and with the people they create their art for? Other works shown at the exhibition prove that it is a difficult conversation and its result is not clear. Controlled Conversations (1982) by Maciej Bieńkowski shows bluntly how people can “talk”… The whole grotesqueness of the then-reality is shown here – how can you talk, knowing that what you say is monitored, that the conversation is tapped and you cannot speak openly, but have to encrypt the message, so that the eavesdropper does not make it out. The figures in the painting are aggressive, rude and sinister. Caricatured. It shows pointedly how the authorities “listen” to the citizens. They want to know what people talk, think and dream about, but they do not want to talk to them. They only want to control what is said. Another painting shows even more brutally and bluntly the way in which authorities come into contact with society. There is no place for a dispute here. Instead of a dialogue, agreement, there is terror, bullying and death resulting from disobedience (Massacre in Lubin, 1982). This composition, similarly to Controlled Conversations, is part of Martial Law cycle, inspired by true events that took place during the martial law in Lubin, Lower Silesia, where between 31 August and 2 November of 1982, while suppressing manifestations against the martial law, SB (Security Service) officers shot three people and wounded many more. The painting was created on the basis of a photograph published in a newspaper. A scene full of tension and emotion, grotesque and surreal at first glance, yet as real as it gets. It is a depiction of a tragic fight for freedom and dignity, as well as an attempt to nip this longing in the bud. This is also what Łukasz Korolkiewicz’s work Cross in Winter (1983) is about. Epitaph 1 (1981) by Andrzej Okińczyc is as dramatic. In the dark background of this installation, we see a male back with hands tight behind with a rope and three bullets in place of a head. Such is the conversation with an executioner, shooting a person in the back of the head. Wielki Mur Dynastii Ts´in, czyli nasz dom jednorodzinny (Great Wall of the Ts´in Dynasty, or our Single-Family Home,1982) – a perverse and ironic painting, of agreement and openness – our home – the place of meeting, understanding and looking for common ground to reach an agreement, to “somehow” function with each other in our “home”.

The wall that we build between us, that divides us, gives no chance of dialogue. What are other ways in which artists show their talks with the state? How do they depict the conversation between the authorities and a citizen? Antoni Fałat derisively describes this relation in two works shown at the exhibition, whose tell-tale titles are: Calm (1983) and You Live Worthily, We – Comfortably (1984). Firstly, calm is the most important and let no one dare disturb it. In the painting we see an animal figure in a uniform, maintaining order. It is to be quiet and calm. Hands have stopped writing for a minute, the figure is intensively looking sideways, as if it suddenly heard (?), or saw (?) something. There will be calm, even if paid with blood! The title of the other painting sounds like an offer (you cannot refuse). Satirical. Disillusioning as to the authorities’ attitude towards us and the expectations they have of the society. What is important for different people? Dignity? Striving for comfort is becoming more important, satisfactory for a contemporary person. Conformist attitude, pure opportunism.

Well, and Who’s Afraid of the Little Red Mouse (1978)? What is Ewa Kuryluk asking about in the title of her work? It is amusing, ambiguous and grotesque. Frivolous and mysterious. Who is this red mouse, ubiquitous, curious and difficult to ignore? Yet, it seems to be inconspicuous and the figures in the painting, busy with their trivial matters, let it run freely. 

And where in all this is an ordinary individual – everyman? This figure is running errands devoid of an individualised face, ordinary, detached from politics, dwelling on their commonplaceness, like in Jan Świtka’s painting Crowd. Introductory Painting (1974). Nobody is stopping here to talk for a moment, to stand facing and listening to each other. There is also a common man cut out of this nameless crowd. Grey, against the grey background, abstracted from everyday life, yet nearly melting into this colourless background, as in Jacek Sienicki’s painting Head (1890–1981). It is like a portrait of every one of us, taken out from our commonness. It is silent here – there is no conversation or a dialogue. We can stand before this character and melt into the background. Stay anonymous. Voiceless.

It is also quiet and empty in front of the door in Marek Sappett’s painting. In the subtitle, we have a suggestion, an opportunity to make a choice. Keys at the caretaker’s (1980). Which door to choose: 1980 or 1981? It is a difficult choice and neither of them seems to be good in hindsight if we take the numbers to mean certain years.

We finish philosophically. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1983 ) The questions are often repeated in Ryszard Grzyb’s works. Perhaps it is worth starting with oneself, talk to ourselves and ask these basic questions. First, in relation to ourselves, to our lives and needs, then look in another person’s eyes and ask, listen, talk to each other. Present these questions to us as the citizens, finally ask those who wield the highest power in our country on our behalf.


Curator of the exhibition: Anna Budzałek
Coordinator of the exhibition: Agnieszka Kosińska

[1] J. Tischner, The Ethics of Solidarity, 41, www.tischner.org.pl/Content/Images/tischner_3_ ethics.pdf (accessed 26.05.2019).

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