“You want to play?” said one young girl to her friend. We were standing in front of Konrad Smolenski’s ping-pong table at the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw. Smolenski’s “Ping Pong Amplified” also featured aural captation by experimental Warsaw-based musicians Mazut, which was set up so that the more people played, the more music was created. The piece was an homage to Smolenski’s time as a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan, where he had challenged the rector to a table tennis duel in the lecture hall. It also played on a joke between Smolenski and Institute curator Ewa Borysiewicz about how pingpong was the most amenable sport for artists. As Smolenski put it, “Tall and slim persons in black from head to toe, wearing glasses do not have to change their image, carefully designed over the years, in order to hit the ball over the table. The possibility to maintain a relatively static posture, and to smoke during the match, makes table tennis the only discipline truly acceptable by artistic communities.” To mix fun, drinks, music, and competition: an art world dream.
The table was the first installation I saw at the 7th Warsaw Gallery Weekend (WGW) in late September, and would come to typify what Warsaw had to offer that weekend. With more than thirty shows and parallel events across town, the event proved to be an intriguing distillation of Warsaw’s spirit, despite the grim weather. Held concurrently with Warsaw Gallery Weekend was the “Not Fair” at the neo-gothic Palace of Culture and Science downtown. “The whole idea was to create something between fair and exhibition”, explained Agnieszka Tkaczyk, the co-founder of Piktogram (who were responsible for organising the event). The 23 participating galleries were asked the propose solo projects exclusively, and to engage with the monumental and eclectic space of the Palace of Culture and Science. With a reasonable exhibition fee on offer, Not Fair allowed the participants to present emerging practitioners and new ideas. Among the finest of what Not Fair had offer was a wooden floor by Kinga Kielcynska from her project Bialowieza named after the last European primeval forest, which remnants now span across Poland and Belarus. The artist acquired the processed timber from existing wood, and the installation (that is not for sale) stands as an anti-monument for the commodification of the forest.
Janek Zamoyski and Zuza Koszuta, respectively artist/owner and director of the foundation and artist-run space Czulosc, were showing visitors around their gallery despite the fire damage that it has incurred two weeks prior. They loaned the space of a neighbour 50 meters down the road to show the works of Johann M.Winkelmann for WGW, while defiantly keeping their previous exhibition (Zamoyski’s) on the blackened walls of the original space. Zamoyski’s work was a series of photos of mundane environments, such as carparks, back alleys, and utility shops — but there was much more to them than met the eye. The photos were the product of a labour-intensive process which involved cropping parts of them, and then having the images painstakingly reconstructed by an art conservator. The soot on the walls lent a certain sense of drama. “I am trying to think of a way to keep it like that”, approved Zamoyski.
Dawid Radziszewski Gallery showed the painting and furniture which Tomasz Kowalski made for Agnieszka Polska’s film “Hura!”. The artist gave a second life to the paintings on-screen we saw on-screen. For the movie, Kowalski created gouache paintings which were then scanned (as apparently, the scans made them look more “cinematographic”). For the exhibition, he recreated these paintings with oil on canvas. Also include in the show were his painted wine labels and cigarette cartons. Expertly mixing reality and fiction, the recreations were shown in the same apartment on Szucha Street where the film was shot this summer.
Another space which was occupied with restagings of the past was the Tchorek-Bentall Foundation. Bentall founded her space as a way to promote the legacy of her deceased partner Mariusz Tchorek, a famed art critic and psychoanalyst, and also the legacy of his father, sculptor Karol Tchorek. Bentall curates the work of the sculptor by continuously moving it around the space. For WGW, Tchorek the elder’s work appeared alongside paintings by a pioneer of the classical avant-garde, Henryk Sta?ewski. “As an installation, I am working with history, my family history, by accident, as a way of life,” Bentall explained. The energetic studio reflected plenty of gusto and historical potency, much like Bentall herself.
Much like the city itself, Warsaw’s art scene seemed to gather and absorb any signs of life within its reach. From something destroyed, to something gained, Warsaw’s artists build their practices between the cracks, through small gestures, often using material what would seem mundane anywhere else.