If you happen to find yourself in Krakow this weekend, I recommend you go see an exhibition I was very sad to miss on my last trip. “A Woman’s Work is Never Done” (“Praca kobiety nigdy się nie kończy“) is at the International Cultural Centre (Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury) in Krakow, which is a great exhibition space located right on the Rynek and, in my experience, whose exhibitions have yet to disappoint.
“A Woman’s Work is Never Done” pairs 16th-19th century prints with contemporary art; the works included are united in the common project of engaging female gender roles within both society and art itself. Included among the prints are names like Dürer, Rembrandt, and Rubens. Among the contemporary artworks is one of my favorite works by Alina Szapocznikow, Ponytail/Portrait of a Mexican Woman. The exhibition sounds ambitious and hopefully excellent, and I’d love to hear how it is in person. Go here: A Woman’s Work is Never Done, though August 11, 2013 International Cultural Centre, Rynek Głowny 25, Kraków, Poland
Open 11am-7pm (closed Mondays)
Tours in English at 4pm on Sundays.
I’m in the throes of writing my MA dissertation, but in the midst of it decided to take the train up from London to Scotland for a few days to work in the company of one of my oldest friends, Chera, who happens to be finishing up her PhD in medieval literature. I arrived yesterday, just in time to join Chera’s walking tour of medieval St Andrews. Though we stopped at some of the more obvious places, like the Cathedral (above and last photo), but she also highlighted some of the less-well-known examples of medieval history visible on the landscape.
St Andrews Castle overlooks the sea. Last time I was here was the dead of winter, so it was quite different this time!
Chera wore a bright red undergraduate’s robe so she could be more easily spotted in the crowd, even though she’s working on her PhD.
One of the sites whose history Chera told us about was St Mary on the Rock, a Pictish house of worship that dates to the 12th century and predates the Cathedral.
If you ever had a Disney Viewmaster as a kid, you know what a stereoscope is: a simple device that lets you see photographs in 3-D. The effect is created via optical illusion, placing two versions of a single photograph in front of the viewer’s eyes; as our brain resolves both images together, it makes the combination seem to pop. (If you want to try it for yourself, inquire at your local museum’s prints room, or go hunting in an antique shop– they’re not hard to find.)
The Warsaw Fotoplastikon is one of the last remaining examples of the stereoscope as a public attraction that’s still in its original location. Today it operates like a museum, presenting exhibits of archival photographs of both Warsaw and the world over, much as a viewer would have seen back in its heyday. Visiting the Fotoplastikon is a double stepping back in time, encountering historical images in a historic way.
The current exhibition, which I saw on my recent trip to Warsaw, is comprised of images of the Warsaw Ghetto, originally taken as propaganda photographs. During my visit I was nearly alone in the Fotoplastikon; it afforded a quiet place to slowly contemplate these heartbreaking images, in a format that necessitates your full attention. (Exhibition continues until 16.5.2013.)
On a lighter note, I can’t resist sharing a little more Paula i Karol, in the form of this lovely music video they filmed inside the Fotoplastikon itself:
Go Here: The Fotoplastikon in Warsaw, Poland
Al. Jerozolimskie 51 (walking distance from the main train station and the Palace of Culture)
Open 10 am – 6pm; closed Mondays.
In the future, I hope to post a weekly gallery review on Fridays. But I can’t resist sharing two more last-call exhibitions I think you should see, on both sides of the pond:
London: Light Show at the Hayward Gallery
Olafur Eliasson – Model for a Timeless Garden
I went to see this yesterday, hooked by the buzz and feeling like I’d regret it if I missed it. I expected a one-trick pony, but light, it turns out, is far more complex than I gave it credit for.
There is little about it that is overly provocative or takes itself too seriously (with the exception, perhaps, of Jenny Holzer’s Monument), but there’s nothing detrimental about that statement; sometimes it’s okay for an exhibition can be about discovery, fascination, and tricks of the light.
See this: Light Show at the Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre, London
Through May 6, 2013
Advance tickets are sold out, and the queue for day-of tickets is gathering starting around 9am, so be there early!
New York City: Gutai: Splendid Playground at the Guggenheim
For all the great exhibitions on view in London, there’s a few I know I’ll regret missing in New York, and Gutai might be at the top of the list. This exhibition of post-war avant-garde artwork from Japan is landmark, and part of a sudden proliferation of shows in the US dedicated to non-Western (and particularly Japanese) artwork– something that I hope is not a trend but a new standard.
One work I would love to see in person, and perhaps one of the most well-known Gutai works, welcomes a comparison to Light Show: Atsuko Tanaka’s Light Dress makes modernity seem dangerous, and the light itself heavily material, quite unlike the refracted and reflected light on view in London.
See this: Gutai: Splendid Playground at the Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Avenue, New York, New York
Through May 8, 2013
If you’re in New York City, you have a couple days left to see Yael Bartana’s And Europe Will be Stunned at Petzel Gallery, and I suggest you take advantage. Bartana’s work is powerful, though flawed; regardless, I believe the conversation surrounding the films is one worth having.
Bartana’s trilogy of films centers on a fictional activist group, the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP), and their call for 3,300,000 Jews to return to Poland. The call is heeded in the second film, and a kibbutz is built in Warsaw. In the final film of the cycle, the group’s leader (Sławomir Sierakowski, the real-life editor of the left-wing Krytyka Polityczna) is assassinated, and the group mourns.
I saw And Europe Will be Stunned at Jewish Book Week in London, which included an appearance by Sierakowski himself. During the following Q&A, I realized that few people in the audience had the same grasp of both Polish history and geography that I did, making Bartana’s use of fact and fiction difficult to untangle. That Bartana’s film cycle is not documentary dawned on some of the audience when they realized Sierakowski, dead in the third film, was present on stage. ”So what is the Jewish Renaissance Movement doing now?” was one of the first questions asked during the Q&A. If you happen to Google JRMiP, you will find real information on the movement; is this performance, and if so, where is the line between performance and activism?
In this way, Bartana’s blurry line between fact and fiction is fully intentional. I don’t think this kind of narrative is inherently problematic, but her commitment to the farce means that the reality of Jewish life in Poland is obscured. Symbolic of this, for me, is that the exact location where the kibbutz is built is where the new Museum of the History of the Polish Jews stands now. In reality, there are Jews returning to Poland, even if in smaller numbers.
I remain puzzled as to whom Bartana intended as her primary audience. There are some wonderfully wry details that few people outside Poland would catch, such as that Sierakowski is assassinated at Zachęta, both the gallery that manages the Polish Pavilion at the Biennale and a place with a history of assassinations and conservative political protest. But these are the same people who can immediately deconstruct the fact and fiction of her narrative, which she seems intent on preserving as much as possible; even in descriptions of the narrative, such as on Pezel’s website, little is clarified.
In the end, this is the only problem I have with Bartana’s films. (Other reviews have deconstructed her use of Holocaust imagery; I will leave that discussion to them, though I don’t find it particularly problematic.) Had Bartana’s films fully unraveled itself through its own absurdity by the end, the mission of the JRMiP might be better served. But instead the absurdity seems to remain within the idea of Jews returning to Poland at all, which is a disservice both to Bartana’s films and to the Jewish community in Poland.
See this: Yael Bartana, And Europe will be Stunned at Petzel Gallery
456 West 18th Street, New York, New York
Through May 4, 2013
The new Museum of the History of the Polish Jews is now a completed but empty building, still awaiting the completion of its exhibition design. Still, it opened to the public in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and has further tours and events scheduled into May.
Throughout the weekend, the line curved all the way around the building, and thousands of people visited both Saturday and Sunday.
I’ll admit I had some skepticism as I saw the building under construction. The exterior has grown on me over time, but it is the experience of the interior that is truly spectacular. The building was designed with the core exhibition in mind, and this is immediately clear from walking through the empty galleries. This exhibition will cover an incredibly long history of Jewish life in Poland, and the museum’s building evokes that flow of time and history. The large rift in the center seems a mark of trauma from the outside, but within, it becomes a cavernous space that is feels at once both welcoming and slightly dangerous, as history is wont to be.
At the heart of the museum is a reconstructed of the breathtaking Gwoździec Synagogue, completed in collaboration with Massachusetts-based Handshouse Studio. Completely by chance, on my way back from Lublin I sat in a train compartment with a man who has a summer home in Kazimierz Dolny, one location where the synagogue project took place. He told me about his astonishment at stumbling across the studio and the group of Americans gathered there, in the midst of a small Polish town, helping with this unique project. Though the museum is not yet fully open, it is already fulfilling its mission in small ways– teaching Jewish history, and starting conversations about the past, even amongst strangers.
Flying out of Warsaw tonight is bittersweet. I’m more than ready to get back to London, and end nearly a month living out of a carry-on suitcase. But it’ll probably be a year or two before I’m back in this city again. So for now…
Friday morning, April 19th, on the anniversary of the beginning of the Uprising, I went with fellow Fulbrighter Denise to the commemoration ceremony. Though we first connected over twitter about a year ago, we hadn’t actually met in person, and ended up chatting for a bit too long over breakfast because we ended up running late. A very patient older Polish lady on our bus realized we were all heading to the same place, and kindly offered to show us the way from our bus stop to the memorial. At 10am, a siren sounded to mark the anniversary, and we stood still for a moment, observing the silence away from the gathered crowd, on a tree-lined street in Warsaw.
At the ceremony, we stood behind the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial, which now faces the new Museum of the History of the Polish Jews (more about that in the next post). A jumbotron allowed us to see the faces of those speaking, but mostly I just listened.
It started to rain at the tail end of the ceremony, so we left before the traditional walk from this memorial to the memorial at the Umschlagplatz. But on Sunday I joined another Fulbrighter friend, Julia, for a multifaith commemoration that began at the Warsaw Uprising Memorial and went through the site of the former ghetto to the Umschlagplatz. Marking a trail through the former ghetto is a string of memorials, some smaller stone markers and some more elaborate. The group we walked with stopped at each, and prayers and other texts (including a passage by Janusz Korczak) were read.
The memorial at Miła 18, once the headquarters of the resistance, is a large mound built upon the remains of the building. The group was so large not everyone was able to stand on the mound itself, spilling into the garden around it.
Flowers at the Umschlagplatz, the departure point for Jews from the ghetto to Treblinka and the end of the memory trail.
The walk between each memorial on the trail allowed for moments for Julia and I to talk about what it meant to be participating in the walk, to have lived or be living in Poland, and how we assimilated these experiences with the rest of our lives and selves. Although my academic life revolves around critical examination of memory, when these moments spill into my personal life I find myself shockingly unable to do an adequate job of articulating what it means for me– not Jewish, not Polish– to be here. At the moment I can only convey gratitude, for the stories and histories shared with me, and a sincere hope that my perspective has something to offer.
Dara, my friend and fellow Fulbrighter in Poland, posted this on Facebook last night, and I wanted to share it because she so eloquently captures this experience that I so often try, and fail, to explain. This afternoon I’m making a quick trip to Krakow for a reading of Dara’s interview-based play, W Tym Mieście/In this City, about contemporary Jewish life in Poland. You can read more about it on her blog.
I’ve been in Poland the past few weeks doing research for my MA dissertation, and when I first arrived I planned (terrifyingly, exhilaratingly) to play most of it by ear. The only thing I knew for sure is that I would be in Warsaw by the evening of April 18, in order to return for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the opening of the new Museum of the History of the Polish Jews.
There were events happening all over the city in recognition of the anniversary, much (though not all) sponsored by the new museum. It was impossible to see and do everything I’d hoped. Even so, the weekend was overwhelming and it’s taken me a full week (slowed by bad hotel wi-fi and a hectic research schedule) to figure out what I want to say. Finding it impossible to distill into a single blog post, I’ll instead be posting a short series about the weekend over the next few days.
The daffodil, a flower traditionally left at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial, was the symbol of this anniversary; he stylized logo used to promote the events of the weekend evoked both the flower itself and the yellow Jewish star that has come to symbolize the Holocaust. Volunteers took to the streets and handed out thousands small paper daffodils, which people wore on their coats. Near the metro, women sold daffodils from small buckets. On the buses and streets near the memorial, it seemed that nearly everyone came bearing an armful of daffodils.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial was the focal point for the commemoration ceremonies, and it also serves as a focal point of my memories of Warsaw. When I first visited, the new museum had not yet broken ground, and the area looked quite different than it does now. The monument itself underwent restoration last year, and the difference is immediately evident as I look back through my old photographs.
For far more extensive coverage of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising anniversary and the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, go take a look at Tablet‘s coverage of the events.