Published  12/03/2002

Letter from Poland

Letter from Poland

by Richard Demarco

Wednesday 13 February
Depart Edinburgh Airport BA 1435 at 7.40 am arriving Heathrow 09.15 am. Depart Heathrow 10.35 am - arrive Warsaw 2 pm. Flights on time; met at airport by Jerzy Kiciak of Museum Sztuki, Lodz, who drove me to Lodz in unseasonably warm weather under a bright sky to meeting at the Museum with Miroslaw Borusiewicz, the Director, at 4.30 pm. Meeting continued over dinner until 10.30 pm. Our conversations and discussions were wide-ranging and reassured me that a collaboration between the Museum Sztuki and the Demarco Foundation is necessary and possible for this year’s Edinburgh Festival if it is inspired by the exhibition which the Museum has presented honouring the life and work of Ryszard Stanislawski during the twenty-five year period of his directorship, from 1965 to 1990. The Cold War created almost insurmountable difficulties and restrictions during this period. Ryszard Stanislawski, however, managed to make sure the Museum Sztuki’s collection remained essentially an expression of international modernism honouring the work of his predecessor, Marian Minich, who opened the museum in 1930 and remained as its director until 1965.

Thursday 14 February
The day’s programme began with 10 am meeting at the office of Andrzej Sontag, the Director of the Lodz Region for the Department of Culture, Education and Sport. Also present was his colleague and deputy, Marian Labedziv, as well as Miroslaw Borusiewicz who acted as interpreter. Andrzej Sontag had visited Edinburgh recently to attend a conference of civic leaders representing major European cities; he was most impressed by his experience of Edinburgh and the conference. Marian Labedziv represented Poland as an Olympic athlete. They showed willingness to support by plans to celebrate the unique thirty-year-old culture dialogue between Lodz and Edinburgh initiated by Ryszard Stanislawski.

At 11 am, there was the press conference in the Conference Room of the Museum Sztuki. This is a room I know well. I have memories of the many times Ryszard Stanislawski welcomed the expeditions of artists I brought to Lodz in the seventies and eighties. A Polish television crew attended as did ten members of the press as well as senior curators of the Museum Sztuki - Janina Ladnowska and Maria Morzuch and Magdalena Wicherkiewicz. Also present were Elzbieta Stepankiewicz and Alicya Cichowice of the Lodz Museum of Cinema and Photography. I had an opportunity to speak to three members of the press - to Ilana Eljmont of ‘Metropole’, Dominica Larionow, who teaches art history at Lodz University, and Blazej Toranski of the Polish national daily newspaper ‘Rzeczpospolitica’.

At 2 pm, I accompanied Miroslaw Borusiewicz to a one-hour meeting with Jadwiga Kwasniak, the Director of the Department for Culture, Arts and the Protection of Monuments for the City of Lodz and her colleague, Katarzyna Jasinska; again, Miroslaw Boruskiewicz acted as interpreter. We discussed the need for a cultural dialogue between Lodz and Edinburgh and linking the Demarco Foundation’s Edinburgh Festival theatre programme with the Lodz Theatre Festival, and the need to bring up-to-date the cultural dialogue begun in 1972 between Lodz and Edinburgh - through the ‘Atelier 72’ exhibition.

At 3.30 pm, I was conducted around the exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Ryszard Stanislawski as the Director of the Museum Sztuki inspired by the artworks he had collected for the Museum Sztuki and including the outstanding gift of 640 art works donated by Joseph Beuys during the worst period of the Cold War. Many of the artworks were by British artists shown at the Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh, such as Ian Hamilton Finlay and Derek Boshier.

At 5 pm, I gave my lecture inspired by the fact that this year marks the 30th anniversary of the exhibition ‘Atelier 72’ presented by The Demarco Gallery at its premises at Melville Crescent and at the Forresthill ‘Poorhouse’. Attending the lecture were three artists who were represented in the exhibition who were, in 1972, teachers at the Lodz Film School and who were inspired whilst in Edinburgh to meet Sean Connery. It should be noted that Sean Connery gave financial support to the ‘Atelier 72’ exhibition through his ‘Scottish International Education Trust’. The artists were Josef Robakowski, Irenieusz Piersgalski and Wojciech Bruszewski. The artists are now willing and able to present art works which would be at the heart of the exhibition I envisage for this year which could be entitled ‘Atelier 02’. Also present was Janusz Piwecki, member of the Polish Television crew from Lodz which made television documentaries of six consecutive Edinburgh Festivals from 1993 to 1998.

After the lecture, I was interviewed by Anna Bens and Klaudia Kasionski for ‘Zak’, a student radio station.

I had dinner with Janina Ladnowska, as the guest of Wojciech Bruszewski, and later saw three of his video films made by him as artistic director of Info Express - a multi-media film and internet company which he has set up. One of his films showed his contribution to a programme in Berlin which involved the British artist, John Latham. Another was a remarkable video work inspired by the classical structure of ‘The Sonnet’, using random computerised language.

Friday 15 February
8.15 in the morning I departed Lodz in bright sunlight with Miroslaw Borusiewicz. Jerzy Kiciak drove us on the high road to Warsaw, now motorway for half its length which made the journey well under two hours so that, at 10.30 am I was at the British Council in the centre of Warsaw after a short visit to the Ministry of Culture where I introduced myself to Krzystof Smyk, the Director of the Department of International Relations and European Interrelation. He arranged for me to meet his deputy, Janusz Cisek at 3.30 in the afternoon.

The skyline of Warsaw has changed dramatically since I last saw it. Now the landmark building which the Russians left as a Moscow-style Palace of Culture no longer dominates. There are now skyscrapers competing for attention proclaiming Warsaw’s role as a European capital city, well able to compete with the cities which give Europe its cultural identity. The tramway system is impressively modern in the streets and boulevards bustling with fast moving traffic and purposeful pedestrians.

Krzystof Smyk had been posted to Vancouver as Consul during the period that Wojciech Tryzinski, Scotland’s recently appointed Consul General, had been Consul in Toronto. Wojciech Tryzinski had contacted Krzystof Smyk by telephone to notify him of my plans to introduce a Polish dimension to the Edinburgh Festival by celebrating the first full impact of the Polish avant garde led by Ryszard Stanislawski and Tadeusz Kantor at the 1972 Edinburgh Festival.

Ewa Ayton reminded me when she welcomed me to the British Council offices that we had last met in Italy at the 1994 Venice Biennale when she had been an assistant to Milada Slizinska, senior curator at Ujazodwski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art. They had both attended the one-day symposium I had organized to coincide with the exhibition I had presented for the Biennale of the Scottish artist, Ainslie Yule and the Italian artist, Giancarlo Venuto in relation to the exhibition of six Austrian and Hungarian artists chosen by Lorand Hegyi, Director of the Gallery of Modern Art Stiftung Ludwig at the Palais Lichtenstein in Vienna. Ewa Ayton introduced me to Anna Palonka, her assistant, who has special responsibility for literature and the arts. We discussed the British Council symposium they presented on the subject of the promotion and organization of modern museums.

I spoke of the exhibition of Sonia Rolak, the Polish artist now domiciled in Venice, which is to be presented by the Ruskin Museum at Brantwood in the Lake District in April and how I have invited Joanna Stachyra, the recently appointed Director of the Polish Cultural Institute in London, to attend the opening of this exhibition. Ewa Ayton suggested I contacted Leszek Kolakoski, the Polish philosopher who teaches at Christ Church at Oxford University. He would probably know of the influence of Ruskin’s writings on Polish culture, in consideration of Ruskin’s influence on Tolstoy and Proust.

Ewa Ayton also spoke of the Zedyta Gallery and its curator, Magda Kardasz, as the personification of the spirit of a new and youthful generation of Polish artists. She suggested I made contact also with Agnieska Morawinska, Adam Swimczyk, Andrzy Przywara, Wojciech Karkowski and Janusz Marek.

I had two separate meetings at the Polish Ministry of Culture in their palatial offices opposite the British Hotel where I remember I stayed in 1968 on my first visit to Poland as the guest of the Union of Polish artists. Now it is a luxury hotel, Warsaw’s most expensive.

Krzystof Smyk gave me a warm welcome and introduced me to his colleague, Bosena Sawicka, who has special responsibility for Polish theatre.

Immediately afterwards, I enjoyed a meeting with Luiza Drela, who has a special responsibility for the development of Poland’s relations with the countries which constitute the European Union.

At 5 pm, I met Wieslaw Borowski in the Foksal Gallery which he has directed since its foundation in 1966, the year in which the Demarco Gallery came into being and the year I began my work as its Director. Wieslaw Borowski and I have much in common, and most importantly, we have managed to collaborate over the years so that there is a considerable number of artists who have exhibited in both galleries, most significantly, Tadeusz Kantor, Henryk Stazewski, Edward Krasinski, as well as non-Polish artists David Mach, Ian McKeever, Tam MacPhail, Roydon Rabinowitch, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Tom Marioni.

Wieslaw Borowski introduced me to his friend, Mikolaj Smocyniski, one of Poland’s leading artists who lives in Lublin, as well as to Ewa Siemienczuk, a Warsaw-based artist who was visiting the Foksal Gallery to see the current exhibition in the Foksal of an installation by Stanislaw Drozdz, who is the one outstanding Polish artist who can be defined as an exponent of ‘posie-concrete’ par excellence. Naturally, he is in contact with Ian Hamilton Finlay, the most acclaimed artist associated with that area where words and visual art images are in a meaningful embrace.

Wieslaw Borowski suggested the Demarco Foundation could help present the Foksal exhibition planned for next May which would bring together Royden Rabinowitch and Edward Krasinski. Now that is an exhibition which should also be seen in Edinburgh!

Saturday 16 February
The weather continued to be springlike. At midday, I met Wojciech Krukowski, the Polish artist who has, since its foundation in 1990, been the Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in the Ujazdowski Castle, situated in the centre of the Ujazdowski Park on a hill which affords panoramic views of Warsaw. It is a centre for the creation and documentation of contemporary art in all its forms. In its physical appearance, it reminded me of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin; however, its programme is more wide-ranging because of its presentations of visual theatre, concerts of contemporary music and the regular programme of experimental films. Its educational programme reaches out to over one hundred and fifty schools. It now has, as part of its collection, a large room dedicated to the showing of what is called the Foksal Deposit. This consists of major works of many of the artists who have exhibited at the Foksal over many years. I was particularly attracted to the work of Koji Kamoji, the Japanese artist who has lived and worked in Warsaw for most of his life, as well as works by Lawrence Weiner and Christian Boltanski which fitted particularly well with the masterworks by Edward Krasinski and Maria Stangret.

Although Milada Slizinska was suffering from a cold, I was able to speak to her by telephone about her work as the Senior Exhibition Curator at the Ujazdowski Castle.

Sunday 17 February
The dawn was heralding another day of blue skies when I left the Hotel Mercure Frederyk Chopin at 6.30 am and, because of the early hour and it was a Sunday, I found myself at the airport at 6.50 am. Unfortunately, the plan I had made to meet Jeremy Eyres, the Director of the British Council, at London airport was to be foiled by fog at London. This caused the Lot Airlines flight to London not to depart as I had expected at 7.50 am but one hour and forty minutes later. Jeremy Eyres was due to catch his flight to Warsaw at 11.40 am from Heathrow. It, too, was delayed but not enough for us to find time to meet. However, whilst waiting at Warsaw airport, I found myself in conversation with two British schoolchildren returning from their home in Warsaw after a mid-term break. They introduced themselves as Matt and Ellie Griffiths; when they informed me that the school that they were returning to was Oakham, I found myself asking them to make a point of seeing the exhibition I was presenting at their school which would include a significant section devoted to the Polish-Scottish dialogue. An hour before, whilst on the drive to the airport, I had been thinking that I was on a six-day count-down to my exhibition opening at Oakham School.

Of course, in the few days I was in Poland I found it difficult to do as much as I would have liked, and it is inevitable that I am already planning two return visits within the next two months. The first would involve me in more meetings with artists and with all those I met on this preliminary visit. The second, which could be at the end of April, would involve me in leading an expedition of artists from Edinburgh and London to Lodz via Warsaw. They would be those artists that I could rely on who already share my respect for the Polish art world. I would ask them to help me strengthen and bring up to date the cultural dialogue between Poland and Scotland encapsulated in the efforts made by Ryszard Stanislawski and his colleagues in presenting the creative energy of Polish ‘modernism’ at a time when the Edinburgh Festival needed to consider the fact that Poland was far removed physically from Scotland by the Berlin Wall.

I left with a feeling of gratitude to all those who had made my visit possible at impossibly short notice. I am indebted to the British Council for their support and the comfort of the hotel accommodation and, of course, to the Museum Sztuki and the authorities in Lodz for the warmth of their welcome.


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