KONTEKSTY 2018 – A PLACE, FOREIGN BODIES AND THE IN SITU PRINCIPLE
By Andrea Pagnes (VestAndPage)
“Ah, I have such a deep, grateful, unutterable sense of being out of it all.”— Mark Twain
Sokołowsko is a small village situated amidst the Sudetes mountain range of the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, and located 15 km from Wałbrzych.
During the 19 century until the Second World War Sokołowsko was renowned as a most important and fashionable climatic health resort in Europe, the first treating tuberculosis. The primary medical activities took place in the former Dr Hermann Brehmer’s Sanatorium (after the war known as Grunwald). Pioneering methods of treatment in tuberculosis and chronic respiratory complaints were at the forefront. Over the years illustrious people came here to try to recover and heal. For instance, because of his father Roman suffered pulmonary tuberculosis, filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski spent part of his youth in Sokołowsko, later realising, in 1974, his short film “X-Ray” to scan the world of patients affected by lung diseases.
In 2007, Fundacja In Situ — established by artist Bożenna Biskupska and the late master Zygmunt Rytka in 2004 (both cultural activists) — acquired the premises of the former Dr Brehmer’s Sanatorium, with the primary objective to rebuild it and protect its overall structure after that a fire destroyed the historical monument in 2005.
Thanks to Biskupska’s and Rytka’s vision, continuous labour and tireless dedication, the Sanatorium now houses Sokołowsko Laboratorium Kultury (International Cultural Laboratory) and the Krzysztof Kieślowski Archive. It is also the venue of several international exhibitions and three major international festivals: SANATORIUM OF SOUND (experimental contemporary music and broadly understood sound art), HOMMAGE À KIEŚLOWSKI (cinema), CONTEXTS (ephemeral art), the latter curated by Małgorzata Sady since its first international edition in 2012.
Today Sokołowsko is a mecca for artists coming from all over the world, a place devoted to contemporary art, ephemeral art, filmmaking and experimental music.
“Full of merit, but poetically, man dwells on this earth.”— Friedrich Hölderlin
“In situ” means “in (the) place (of origin)” in Latin, a term which responds to Biskupska’s and Rytka’s philosophy, and, more extensively, to the concept of permeation of time and space as developed by Kant, whereas “space and time are the frameworks within which the mind operates to construct its experience of reality.” With respect to Kant’s argumentation, the creativity of artists, scientists, poets, philosophers, and musicians wanders to explore unknown territories to set itself “in situ” (even though momentarily)— that place where it belongs — therefore recognizing itself for once by being on the lookout for that jolt of unexpected familiarity in what was apparently foreign before or forgotten.
Through the acquisition of the Sanatorium, Fundacja In Situ initiated an operation to organize a free zone for free artistic processes and scientific research, where a fervid permutation of solutions and explorations may happen to inspire conditions for actions, ultimately to shape alternatives to the present reality by spreading innovative artistic approaches and supporting diverse forms of cultural activity. With its clear mission to establish a space for diverse interdisciplinary art projects and creative experiences while promoting activities in the field of protection of national cultural heritage, Fundacja In Situ has made of the Sanatorium an ideal spatial/residential situation for artists and cultural operators to meet and explore, confront viewpoints, exchange thoughts and ideas. Eventually, a place to host creative people who come here and share the pearls that they found in the rivers of human civilisation.
“Our body is not primarily ‘in’ space: it belongs to it.”— Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Former Dr Brehmer’s Sanatorium entered in the Polish national register of monuments in 1966. It is a grand neo-gothic architecture that presents delicate oriental style influences, walls and facade of lime mortar stones and red clinker bricks. The building is vast and has numerous rooms, towers, domes, bay windows and window openings with sharp or delicate arches, as well as balconies with enamelled finishing. The roofs are in wood, plywood with slate and ceramic tiles. Staircases, stone steps, cross vaults where once were inscribed quotes referred to Dr Brehmer’s philosophy, pillars, pilasters, columns with equally elaborate bases and interiors also richly decorated, contributed to permeate the whole architectural structure with a sophisticated charm.
Curling up among low green mountains, the Sanatorium looks like a wing of a dragonfly preserved between the pages of a book, to assume, in a clear summer night, the feature of a fallen satellite bejewelled by twinkling lights of the Milky Way.
At present, the condition of the building still requires an ongoing structural intervention of renovation toward making the architectural gem that it was, and implement its new intended use. However, already today one can experiences a serene, satisfying romantic fascination while watching its towers craning above the renovated roofs or its still scarred red bricks walls, agonising relics waiting to resurrect looming high on the hillside, as well as meandering for some of its still abandoned halls with their centuries-old floor tiles mosaics caulked with moss.
It is also for this reason that the Sanatorium, together with its natural park chiselled by trees and a large Jugendstil fountain now occupied by emerald grass, turf and tiny plants instead of springing water, is indeed one of the most inspiring, fascinating and engaging places where to perform and show ephemeral works. Here, the various meanings of performance are wielded by this space that influences them with its history and mutilated beauty, and so the artists’ expressions.
“Different people in different parts of the world can be thinking the same thoughts at the same time. It’s an obsession of mine: that different people in different places are thinking the same thing but for different reasons. I try to make films, which connect people.”— Krzysztof Kieslowski
Already with a tradition, KONTEKSTY has improved its reputation in the national and international art scene by giving strong emphasis to art movie making; experimental sound pieces; outdoor installations; exhibitions; interventions in public space; projects involving local community; talks; discussions; workshops; and a nurtured program of experimental live performances that each year contribute to making the event unique in its kind.
The eight edition of KONTEKSTY took place from the 26th to 30th of July 2018.
This year theme revolved around the concept of Foreign Body assumed in its various acceptations and the problem of the status of art in the contemporary world: whether art is a foreign body in today society, or whether it is still one of its integral element.
Over forty worldwide-established artists, performers, experimental musicians and filmmakers from five continents, plus eighteen young, emerging performers have been invited to participate at this festival eight edition.
Presenting an original set of his films and a multimedia installation, KONTEKSTY 2018 paid tribute to Józef Robakowski, tireless visionary experimenter and author of pioneering art actions rooted in the tradition of the Polish avant-garde. Robakowski is fairly regarded among the legendary fathers of video art worldwide. The subtraction of alien elements such as anecdotes, literary forms, narration and rhetorical tropes, aiming to find a more straightforward striking language however capable of providing denser information to the viewer, characterised his approach to filmmaking.
The large part of each KONTEKSTY edition film-screening program usually takes place in the historical Kinoteatr “Zdrowie” (the local movie theatre nearby the Sanatorium), which also hosts the above mentioned film festival dedicated to the life and work of Krzysztof Kieślowski since 2010. Kieślowski himself had fond recollections of this cinema, among others, in his autobiography.
Alongside a movie on Robakowski, at Kinoteatr “Zdrowie” the audience had the opportunity to experience film works by worldwide renowned artist William Kentridge (South Africa), Marek Serafiński’s studio (Poland), VestAndPage (Germany/Italy), Tanja Brüggemann (Austria), Horacy Muszyński (Poland), and Małgorzata Potocka (Poland). The cinema also hosted a series of panels, discussion, books and films presentations. Dorota Masłowska (Poland) presented her book “Other people” in conversation with writer Stanisław Łubieński (Poland). Łukasz Guzek (Poland) introduced his book “Reconstruction of Action Art in Poland” published in 2017. Małgorzata Bosek (Poland) spoke of Marek Serafinski Studio. Susanne Weins lectured about the human voice as an invisible foreign body. Andrea Pagnes (VestAndPage) read excerpts from his essay “Antarctic Dream – Ice as Architecture of the Human Spirit, VestAndPage performative works in Antarctica” to introduce the making of the third chapter of VestAndPage movie trilogy “sin∞fin The Movie”, and explain how to perform in extreme weather conditions and in places where humans do not belong to. Teatr Cinema (Poland) talked about the elaboration of new visual values in the language of theatre. Zbigniew Benedyktowicz (Poland) introduced the last issue of “Konteksty” quarterly magazine devoted to 7 editions of KONTEKSTY festival.
Also, Kinoteatr “Zdrowie” hosted the experimental participatory sound performance concert by Przepraszam (Ola Kozioł and Suavas Lewy, Poland), a multidisciplinary sound artist duo from Łódź. Playing and singing on chosen fragments of manifestos and texts by Józef Robakowski, they created a joyful, engaging post-punk romantic atmosphere.
In the renovated wing and a tower of the Sanatorium, the exhibition section consisted of several notable works. Alas due to Józef Robakowski’s sudden health deterioration his multimedia installation “Blood of Facebook” had to be postponed. In his exhibition the artist proposes a critical entrance into the deceitful labyrinth of the social media giant to try and start living intensively in a slightly imaginary world of culture and art. Of course, Robakowski’s installation is not a mere apology to Facebook, rather a call to not cease to be creatively active. The exhibition will be shown in 2019 and was replaced by simultaneous screenings of his major films The Market Square, Attention LIGHT!, Energetic Manifesto.
The video installation “appleT” (2009/10) by one of the most prominent contemporary sculptors, Mirosław Bałka (Poland), questioned our human attitude towards nature, where nature is ultimately identified as a place for silence.
Krzysztof Zarębski (Poland) displayed the documentation of his performances “Direct contact” (2007). Painter and photographer Sebastián Burgos (Chile) exhibited a selection of drawings and photographs documenting his cooperation with Chilean performance artist ALPERoA in harsh environmental condition. Marcel Sparmann (Germany) presented a series of performative writings and moving poetic texts titled “The lizard and the deer” remembering his recent physical break down due to a cancer removal.
In the heavenly natural park that surrounds the Sanatorium, Zweintopf Künstlerkollektiv (Austria) play with the expectations of the public enacting an itinerant intervention of imperfection. Installing and uninstalling pop-up tents, they moved an explicit criticism to the results of global mass production. Simple, lightweight low-cost-low-quality shelters, the tents appeared like precarious temporary nests fallen casually from the tree branches, fragile mushrooms blossoming out of the wet vegetation after a misty night, to then quickly disappear in the merciless light of the day soon after as they appeared.
The “Dynamic cube” by Małgorzata Wasilek and Maciej Połynko (Poland), a 3D analogue empty solid profiled by mountable, interchangeable bars, offered the viewer the effect of a moving projection for the sunbeams passing through it. This movable kinetic sculpture made of geometrical elements captured the synthesis of mathematics and nature as well as the lightness of abstract, rarefied thoughts.
Wykwitex (an art collective specialised in the newest technologies in the art world), presented their activities and also created Wykwitex TV reporting the festival events on the internet.
As every year, also the eight edition of KONTEKSTY devoted a great deal of attention to performance.
a.w. (Anna Włodarska, Poland), with her “Art or non-art?” inquired what people perceive while facing artistic creations, deciding, rejecting or classifying a work of art too often by relying on individual paradigms of judgment superficially structured on the banal binary notion of what is good and what is bad.
Legendary performance artist Alastair MacLennan (Scotland/Northern Ireland) with his outdoor time-based installation action “Wave By Waive”, demonstrated that art is still the noblest tool through which man can draw wish and will to resolve inner and outer conflicts, be they spiritual, religious, political, personal, social, cultural or any interfusion of these.
Eminent professor Ewa Zarzycka (Poland) with her spoken words performance “Wobec” (Towards) delighted the audience with her truthful and wise, sharp irony.
Zbigniew Szumski (Poland) explored the themes of addiction and temptation with his “The temptation of the holy body,” which also consisted of a video projection and an interior set arrangement.
Singer Anna Clare Hauf (Austria) performed “AMA” by Tanja Brüggemann, a work inspired by the ancient Japanese women pearl divers wearing nothing but a loincloth to free dive in the cold water. Her voice echoed the lonely and often dark search into one’s existence as the only place where to foresee the human future to come.
During some evenings, right after dusk, Małgorzata Markiewicz (Poland) invited the audience to participate in her “Combustion” offering burning resins, incense and herbs to inhale with the therapeutic purpose of healing the body and senses, tuning her ritual to the historical function of the Sanatorium itself.
Christian Blandhoel (Norway) created a post-noise soundtrack “IJIN” centred on the issue of alienation in Western people mundane experiences and every day life.
Sofi Żezmer (Germany/Poland) “Word Portraits”, a participatory performance project consisting of several stages, invited the people to sit down with her, respond to her questions and generate their portraits through their words. Subsequently she expanded semantically the words into a thought-map, which was displayed on exhibition.
A remarkable poetic performance investigation of the relationship between voice and memory was by Josef Sprinzak (Israel) with his “What my grandmother said to Franz Josef”. Story-telling fragments of his family life, Sprinzak meshed and broke up language to sounds, created multiple vocal personas as if the voice itself was always looking for of a ghostly body, invisible, non-present, while the body that was present (his) appeared as if it were foreign to the narration.
The itinerant site-specific performance “Piano Bloom” by Australian Bloom Collective (a multidisciplinary artistic group formed by a dancer, two musicians, a poet and video maker) focused on ideas of decay and regrowth. Every evening at sunset or later, the old out-of-tune piano recovered from the cinema was positioned outdoors in different spots of the adjacent park. The instrument was explored by the collective through music, dance, poetry and video, becoming a revivified ageing sculpture now connected to nature awaiting future destination and possibilities.
Nikola Benčová (Czech Republic) with her participatory performance “A forest that became all eyes or Abuela. Boka. Xibalba” inquired if education should be based on books and written texts or by tradition going back to one’s ancestors’ knowledge. Transforming a dark space into a place for words, whispered memories became phantom-wise.
Emerging Ukrainian performance artists Igor Stahniv, Mariya Hoyin, Mykhajlo Barabash, Oleksandr Maksymov, Marianna Maksymov, Petro Ryaska, Taras Pastushchuk, Volodymyr Topiy based their solo or collaborative performances confronting themselves and the audience with ways of knowing one’s past, feelings and emotions. Dialoguing with space through ideas of silence and loudness, obstacles, efforts, quietness, lightness, difficulty, time refraction and absence of time, their live works exuded broader philosophical and poetic meanings.
VestAndPage (Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes, Germany / Italy) invited as co-curators, nominated seven international performers.
Márcio Carvalho (Portugal) performed “Demythologize That History and Put it to Rest” to make the audience reflect on the fact that the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their understanding of their history. History is a narrative introduced from the outside in such a way that people assume and embody it uncritically. Thus history itself is a foreign body, one version of the past that largely distracts us and sets us afar from considering the bigger picture of all that has been over and done.
Susanne Weins (Germany) transformed two main still abandoned halls of the Sanatorium into a library of echoing sounds and vocalisms by re-adapting her piece “Melancholic Body.” Through her voice, it was as if the dilapidated walls of the Sanatorium were abandoned creatures still preserving the thoughts of all those who knew but hadn’t realised yet; those who grasped but could not imagine that the postmodern promise, the freedom from fear, now lies in ruins. The dark empty halls of the Sanatorium infused of a melancholic résumé because of Weins’s voice, seemed to confirm the need for holding-up the Self and contrast the today craving selfishness and spurious logic, which are detrimental to human existence.
“Feel the Paper” by Gim Gwang Cheol (South Korea) clustered the main ideologies of the XX century: socialism, nationalism and capitalism as causes of brutal violence, in order to reflect from which perspective we should face the violence of today. Is violence just what it is? Is there a kind of cynicism that permeates our civilisation, because of the selfishness of knowledge?
Park Kyeong Hwa (South Korea), with her performance “Fishbowl” pushed the concept of fragility to the limits of the perturbing, placing the life and existence of a small redfish in a tense situation for we all love and live while inhaling and exhaling anger, sympathy, and sadness swinging between life and death.
Gim Gwang Cheol and Park Kyeong Hwa performed also as a duo in “Logic Alchemy #4, #5, #6.” The subject matter of their collaborative performance developed in three different chapters was all about coexistence, the sometimes harmonious and other times hateful relationships that affect a constructed society of people, which inevitably diverge in ideas and opinions of all kinds. “Logic Alchemy” provided a controversial metaphor of the individual differences that exist between man and woman, male and female.
ALPERoA (Chile) performed “M.T. III” (Minutos de Tension III / Minutes of Tensions III) in collaboration with Andrea Pagnes (VestAndPage). This corporal conversation between the two performers had several meta-level of readings.
On the one hand, it was a performance intimately linked to nature, which is suffering irreversible changes caused by humankind and that directly or indirectly affect the evolution of life. On the other hand, through the improvised stream of consciousness dialogue between the two performers, it recalled the manipulation of culture alongside the atrocities perpetrated by dictatorship (specifically in Latin America) as well as the dramatic earthquake post events that struck the city of Concepción in 2010 where Alperoa was born. Based on endurance, effort, exhaustion and mutual support, the performance addressed the necessity of care among human beings.
Art is a tool to reduce the distance, for it allows us not to be foreign to one another but grow spiritually strong through mutual sharing, sustaining and aid. If in art all is symbols and analogies, the wind on the move, the night that will freeze, are something other than merely the night and the wind. Everything we see has something besides. In “Das Rote Tuch” (The Red Cloth), Gisela Hochuli (Switzerland) interacted with a huge red piece of fabric creating a composition of live images and a transformative flowing dialogue based on an equal relationship. Hochuli did not impose her intention nor will onto the object, but found ways to float and dance together with a red cloth, ultimately symbolising political implication, passionate love, violence, seduction and danger, fire and poured blood, eventually energy and primal life forces. Also worthy to mention is the collective performance held by VestAndPage’s nominated performance artists, performed in memory of beloved Zygmunt Rytka, and accompanied with readings and spoken words by Malgorzata Sady and Andrea Pagnes.
This year, for the second time, KONTEKSTY organised the “Open Platform,” a section exclusively dedicated to young Polish artists and performers. Mariola Albinowska’s performance “The stranger,” Piotr Kędzierski’s audio-visual experiment, Konrad Trzeszczkowski’s performance installation “Ice meat,” Natalia Kopytko and Marcin Sipiora’s installation “Sól (nie) tej ziemi (Salt (not) of this earth)” Bartłomiej Chmara, Karolina Karnacewicz, Kinga Maluga’s performative audio-visual installation “Promień (Ray),” offered a spectrum of interesting proposals of the young emerging, cutting-edge art scene in Poland today.
Also to note is a book comprehensive of essays and documentation of the KONTEKSTY previous editions presented by Fundacja in Situ and Malgorzata Sady, as well as the capillary work made by video artists Jakub Gryzowski and Lukas Byczynski, and photographer Kazimierz Ździebło to extensively document the festival in all its parts.
“The more of your experiences you transfer to art, the stronger its meaning becomes.”— Józef Robakowski
At KONTEKSTY, since its 2nd edition in 2012 curator in chief Malgorzata Sady has always accurately presented art proposals aiming to capture the pulse of experimental art to integrate it within the local community, at the same time establishing fruitful moments of encounter and exchange between avant-garde artists representing different countries and cultures. Her polymorphous curatorial talent castled an exciting new terrain in Sokolowsko, with regards to the ephemera. Dedicating herself to consolidate the relationships between KONTEKSTY and the numerous and diverse public that follow the festival, in the last years, she started to pay increasing attention to the young generations of artists, providing an educational platform for the emerging ones.
This year’s festival took up the call by becoming a space for artistic interventions and hot-button conversations addressing the complexity and future of our contemporary societies, focusing on the artists as conscious actors in a matrix of creation which is by nature, sensual, binding, and multidimensional.
Displaying artworks in whatever medium, from sound to performance, from dance to filmmaking and visuals, during the years KONTEKSTY has become organic: a situational energetic ebb flow of creative visions and proactive union.
Because of the unique environment of Sokolowsko, artworks that seem apparently to discord from one another, instead offer tethers connecting an invisible order to the visible order, letting the false idols of art crumble to dust.
Sady’s perspective is that the multiplicity of points of view that are the quintessence of ephemeral art favours an individual understanding of complex phenomena to overcome societal impasses and inspire the constructive creation of higher values in society.
To respond to a question that always lingers — if ephemeral art, which refers to the intrinsic nature of real-time life, is still capable of providing a universal healing message — Sady focused her curatorial choices privileging the role of artists in the contemporary world. If one of the main tasks of contemporary art is to revisit past meanings to try and add new ones to them, how artists can have a positive impact on the flattening of globalised, often superficial cultural trends through their work?
The problems of the artist’s identity, sense of strangeness, alienation, separateness, difference, lack of understanding in the era of virtual reality and multiplication of fictitious entities, are not always because the environment does not accept contemporary artists, but because contemporary artists hardly accept the environment in which they operate. Drawing on art history with rare competence and care, presenting pioneers, visionaries and precursors often underestimated or unknown by contemporaries, Sady makes us understand that the many answers we are looking for to decipher our present are already carved in the past.
What might it mean to speak about “the foreign” concerning performing bodies? How do long-standing ideas about “the foreign” inflect past and present practices? What opportunities might performance, filmmaking or moving images and their concomitant registers of the embodied exchange offer to bodies on the margins of or outside “the foreign”? What does it happen when “foreign bodies” gather and meet “in situ,” in an original recognisable place? Moreover, what is this place? Home or elsewhere?
KONTEKSTY consolidates its reputation as an experience to discuss and pinpoint differences of art disciplines and their necessary intersectionality concerning the urgency to deal with the fact that technology is suppressing culture, and knowledge overcomes wisdom. For instance, although someone could object that the Sanatorium’s actual status could appear a temporary transit hub metaphorically marred by our broken world, it is, however, a place with a unique potential that offers possibilities and opportunities to understand a better way of being in reality through actions rising from art-making processes which happen rightly there.
This year, many participant artists disrupted their different experiences and understandings of “the foreign.” Through their live works and installations they produced alternative spaces for thinking, sometimes collaborating together with no limits of institutional belonging, ethics of difference, solidarity, and alliance. Eventually, they activated the social gathering in a same space and reconfigured futurities.
Sady’s dialogical approach to share and convey thinking is also a brilliant strategy for art survival: a pondered way to decolonise art from the pressure of time and free it from the waiting room of the future too often occupied by crises obsession. In this sense, the more crucial challenge she had to face was to help the viewers to look more openly at art as a mediator of tolerance and poiesis. Focusing on the transmission of values ingrained in each artwork rather than on the mere aesthetic proposition, Sady organised a spatial lieu of communication through the ephemeral, where traditions, cliché and innovation are deciphered in real time and are therefore comprehensible to everyone who cares of what is witnessing.
KONTEKSTY is not a traditional festival, where an artist presents a work to be experienced by an audience. It is moreover an interactive environment where the viewer often generates outputs and outcomes, unconsciously offering to art itself the capacity to reset the parameters of cultural production, there where the architecture where everything happens is the site that mirrors experience and shapes the zeitgeist.
Boundary-pushing curatorial concepts outside usual art spaces and working with a variety of disciplines, Sady’s original interdisciplinary curatorial method as transformed KONTEKSTY into a provider for lively debate, building a narrative within exhibition, screenings and performances of different nature to navigate beyond art itself while keeping intact all its potential.