The idea to organise an exhibition of works by young Polish and Hungarian artists came to my mind during my visit to Budapest last year. I was invited to the University of Fine Arts as a guest lecturer – a participant of the Erasmus+ programme which is aimed at promoting and facilitating the exchange of academic staff, thus allowing them to share their research findings and teaching experience. During my stay in Budapest I had the opportunity to visit art studios at the university, as well as selected exhibitions of works by local artists. What I saw and experienced proved to me that there are numerous similarities and common elements in artistic tendencies between Polish and Hungarian artists. These common elements for the young generation of Polish and Hungarian artists are the emphasis on the value of form in art, a fascination with abstract works, the use of simple, easily-accessible materials in a creative process and a lack of interest in social and political issues. My reflections inspired me to start working on my own project. At the beginning I invited a group of young artists from Kraków to participate. Later on they were joined by artists from Hungary.
Agnieszka Jankowska-Marzec: When I started to think about organising an exhibition of works by young Polish artists in the Latarka Gallery at the Polish Institute in Budapest, and after convincing Tomasz Piars (the gallery curator) to go through with this project, I realised that I would love to present works by all of you in a single venue for the first time. All of you were my students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, which is where I got to know you. Later on I followed your artistic activity and I noticed that all of you have very similar interests, opinions and way of thinking. Nevertheless, the exhibition was an opportunity for you to meet together for the very first time…
Bartłomiej Węgrzyn: It is true that the whole group of us met for the first time when we worked on the exhibition. Although I knew Michalina before, in the past we never got the chance to work together on a joint project. I had the opportunity to see works by Michał and Adrian at the exhibitions organised in Otwarta Pracownia, Henryk and Zbiornik Kultury.
When I was asked to participate in a joint exhibition with my three colleagues, I considered it a very interesting opportunity to present my works in the same space as them and juxtapose samples of our work with one another.
I did not have any specific expectations about the project but I was really curious about what the outcome of our meetings would be and what the visual effect of our common efforts would be.
Michał Sroka: Meeting Michalina, Bartek and Adrian, as well as the Hungarian artists, brought about challenges but, on the other hand, it was an interesting way to go beyond our everyday individual artistic activities. Works by each of my colleagues and their achievements became an interesting point of reference for me.
We watched one another while working and preparing the event and, at that time, we redefined our concepts and verified our initial ideas about the exhibition. I think that this was the most interesting aspect of the whole process. Obviously, our artistic interests have numerous common points. For all of us, form, geometry, composition and colour are crucial. We also attach significance to the space in which (or in reference to which) we create.
Adrian Kolerski: The crucial thing for me was the fact that we basically did not know one another in person before we started working on the exhibition. Therefore, the underlying idea of the project were not our personal relationships but the curator’s intention to invite us following the analysis of our works and creative ideas.
A.J.M.: As you probably remember, we started to work on this exhibition in autumn last year. We decided to take this challenge collectively, which is why we came up with the topic and the title of the exhibition together.
Michalina Bigaj: During our meetings I used to wonder what our works had in common. Afterwards I came to the conclusion that, from a strictly visual point of view, they resemble forms which we know from our everyday surroundings. This is why I proposed to name our exhibition “Forms of Everydayness”. Another important thing was the time of our discussions, which coincided with my works on the disingenous nature series. At that moment I was fascinated with substituting nature with other forms which resemble it.
A.K: As soon as I heard the expression “forms of everydayness” I felt that it was an ideal leitmotif which would perfectly combine our common activities into a coherent whole. For me, the slogan was about testing reality, examining it to learn what it is really about, how much it allows us to interfere and manipulate its elements. I constantly feel the need to question reality.
B.W: I was also of the opinion that through being expressed in this way, the topic of our exhibition emphasised the common elements in works by all four of us accurately, but in a way which does not impose anything on us and our audience. Every one of us uses the elements of the surrounding reality in our own way by “editing” forms and meanings, finding inspiration in certain arrangements of these elements and the relationships between them.
M.B: Another important thing for me was the mode of work we agreed on, which was, in fact, very democratic. It is quite difficult to transfer the usual relationship between an artist and a curator, which is formed while working on an individual exhibition, onto a bigger team.
M.S: Working collectively meant that we had to work out compromises practically all the time. Each of us has our own creative temperament and it is sometimes difficult to resolve differences. The mastery comes when you are able to follow the common concept with respect to other artists but, simultaneously, you do not give up on your own means of expression. Works of art may initiate a dialogue, but they also may contrast with one another. Establishing a relationship while highlighting contrasts between such works is a key to success.
A.K: Artists tend to be really expansive. Luckily, we were able to avoid conflicts. I watched my colleagues working on the pieces to be presented at the exhibition with real interest. I have the impression that we are looking at one another from the perspective of our own interests. From my point of view, “deciphering” reality is very important. I distinctly noticed this phenomenon while watching [Michalina] Bigaj and [Michał] Sroka who both research the relationship between humans and reality. They are on the opposite sides of the spectrum but, at the same time, they work around the same issue. Michalina emphasises the domination of nature over humans, the relationship between us and nature, but also various forms of nature imitation. Michał, on the other hand, presents architectural forms, elements created by humans, and attempts to organise nature (which, in fact, led to various consequences). They are both very sensitive and careful about the material they work on, which, for me, is extremely important. The same can be said about Bartek Węgrzyn, who uses an unusual material, namely plexiglas. The fact of this material being so unique makes his works really modern.
A.J.M. The next step in the process of preparing the exhibition was researching the Hungarian artistic scene by studying the reports from exhibitions and browsing homepages.
A.K.: When we were working on our exhibition we continuously thought about the possibility of artists from Hungary joining our project. After the four of us got used to working together, we started to think of specific Hungarian artists we would like to be presented at our exhibition. We also knew that Tomasz Piars, who co-curated the project, was working on finding proper “artistic partners” for us. We were really happy that his selections and our proposals coincided to a great extent. We were very enthusiastic about the further turn of events.
M.S: I initially considered the Hungarian artistic circles quite hermetic. However, when we started to take a closer look at young representatives of the artistic community in this country, we found several names which caught our interest. Máté Balázs is a renowned photographer whose series of works are minimalist and who concentrates on working with black-and-white photography. It turned out that in his works we could find certain references to our own pieces in terms of their form. Forgó Tóth Árpád is another very interesting artist. He is a painter experimenting with the surface of a canvas. He draws on the rich avant-garde tradition of Hungarian art. The series of works he proposed to be presented at the exhibition seemed to form a harmonious whole with Bartek Węgrzyn’s sculptures. Works by both of them complemented each other so well because their common motif, which is very important in their artistic activity, is a modular arrangement of elements which form entire compositions.
A.J.M: I would like to emphasise that Adrian Kolerski is also experimenting with the surface of a canvas. When it comes to your “philosophy” of art, it seems to have a lot in common with artistic intentions of Baráth Áron who glamorises common things through the artist’s gestures and interventions. All of you will probably agree that we could make a longer list of such analogies…
M.B: We could do so, indeed. The really interesting thing for us was that while preparing the exhibition we discovered these analogies on the spot. We can now confirm that even the most extensive research of online resources cannot serve as a proper replacement for the experience you have when you see works of art in front of you, within arm’s reach. Let me just mention Forgó Tóth Árpád. At the beginning, he wanted to present a totally different set of works at our joint exhibition. After the exhibition was assembled, he looked at his own works as part of the bigger presentation with other works showcased next to his. He gave it all a second thought, changed his mind and brought different objects to the gallery the next day. He considered the works he brought later to be a better match with our pieces.
B.W: I had a similar impression. I discovered that analogies between all of us became most clearly visible when we worked on assembling the exhibition. I was quite surprised when I noticed that a motif of a quasi-grid is present not only in my works, but also in works by Forgó Tóth Árpád and Máté Balázs. As Rosalind Krauss claimed, the function of the grid is “to declare the modernity of modern art”. For contemporary artists, like us, the grid bears also numerous other meanings.
A.K: For me personally the crucial aspect of collaborating with Hungarian artists was not to find a “common denominator”, but rather the opportunity of observing whether our works invoke the same meanings. I was wondering about the cultural differences which often provoke a totally different perception of the same works of art. When it came to the Hungarian artists, I did not notice any significant differences in the approach to art and the topics covered. I noticed that none of us tried to unnecessarily “force the door open”. We were all focused on our perception of the world which was to a great deal influenced by our sensitivity to the forms of artefacts and objects from our surroundings (which I call “a formal picture of reality”), free from political and social determinants.
A.J.M.: In our conversation so far we mentioned one very popular word, namely ‘formalism’. This word is currently very often used to describe works by many Polish artists of the young generation. Formalism is usually associated with the return to abstract art and absolute autonomy, but I have an impression that for you it can mean something totally different.
M.B.: I think that recently in Poland this particular notion has had rather pejorative connotations. In my opinion the word itself is used much too often, especially in relation to young art. It became an easy tool to “format” our generation. What is really important for me is the balance between the narration of our works and interesting form.
B.W: I think that the form of my works matches the new phenomenon really well. However, my understanding of ‘new formalism’ is quite comprehensive. The relevant fact is that my works are made of plastic, which can be found everywhere around us. It brings about context and content. My interests also span other phenomena, such as post internet, internet aware, glitchart. For me, new formalism is not only about the sensual, aesthetic euphoria, but very often it also provides an opportunity to see the “gearwheels” which keep reality going.
A.J.M: We could have a much longer discussion about formalism in art. Our visit to Budapest was also an important experience for me. At that time we could discover this friendly city together…
M.S: Our visit there was very inspiring. I hope that this exhibition will be just the beginning of our common journey and that we would be able to work on other projects together. Our collaboraion with you and the relationships within our group brought about some amazing results. We discovered that our group can also socialise and be happy while spending time together. This is what we really appreciate, so we have to find other inspiring ideas for common projects.
A.J.M.: Thank you for this conversation.
FORMS OF EVERYDAYNESS
Venue: Latarka Gallery of the Polish Institute in Budapest, 26 April – 25 May 2017
PL : Michalina Bigaj, Adrian Kolerski, Michał Sroka, Bartłomiej Węgrzyn
HU: Máté Balázs, Baráth Áron, Forgó Árpád
Curators: Agnieszka Jankowska-Marzec, Tomasz Piars