With the Digital Cultures Conference taking place in Warsaw between 25th and 27th of September, there was one particular thought circulating through the panel talks: interactivity is not so much about technologies, rather it is about how things –digital and not-digital – make you feel or act. In other words: interactivity has not been born in the 21st century. Virtual Reality, 360 videos, etc., are fun toys, but even Jan Matejko’s painting (Polish painter known for paintings of notable historical events) is interactive, because it forces your eyes to navigate through the canvas (see the image here).
In the times of constant culture forecast, it is important to look back, particularly for two reasons. First, to realise how far we have come: in building narratives, in making art and enjoying it. Second, to acknowledge that in the past someone might discover and master things, which today we think are brand new. When it comes to interactivity and audience engagement, digital nerd’s homework is to get familiar with the artist Wojciech Zamecznik and his display- and graphic designs from the 1950s and 1960s. He was responsible for designing museum exhibitions and fair shows abroad that dealt with the topics such as art, history and even industrial objects (altogether over 20 projects).
During post-war times in Europe, exhibitions were an ultimate way of a propaganda. Presenting itself as a powerful and modern country was especially important for those under Soviet dominance. However, display design was free from ideological pressure unlike painting, sculpture or architecture. In a result, Polish scenography and narrative practices were so exceptional that some compare them to the Polish School of Posters. Just like in the case of those famous posters, the informational layer of the exhibitions was less important. The show itself was an artistic statement. For example, for the Palace of Nations at the 1958 Milan International Fair, Zamecznik introduced a concept of an interior as a geometrical collage. Niches, shelves, and platforms broke the space into separate exhibition areas, while arch-shaped walls and spheres, hung here and there, enhanced the room’s plasticity. Because of this structure the scale of objects (for example wooden spoon or a can of ham) was unsettled, they became extracted symbols. Their perception was determined not only by the scenography but also by the speed of the viewers and theirs posture.
Actually, there is a prosaic one, because I strongly believe, the more limits we get, the more creative we become. Zamecznik worked with everyday objects, building the design sets for them during exhibitions.
This kind of imagination was a profound consequence of Zamecznik’s way of life. His two-bedroom apartment at Mokotów district in Warsaw, functioned simultaneously as a family home (wife and two sons), an atelier where he made all of his projects. It was also a place for social meetings and conversations with jazz music in the background (fan fact: there is still a table in that apartment where Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk, made their first animated movie). Zamecznik’s son – Juliusz (who is in a possession of father’s archive) likes to point out “the home was like a living work of art… always changing and surprising us”. He particularly remembers one installation with dots. One day, out of nowhere, the yellow dots appeared on the wall over the kitchen table. They were probably part of the posters which Zamecznik was working on. During the next days the dot-cloud was moving around the flat’s walls.
I could read and listen about Zamecznik’s experiments with time and space for hours (and I am all about not fighting your nature when it comes to guilty pleasures, too). He even incorporated an aspect of interactivity into book layouts, playing with different sizes of pages, cropped photos and colour papers (today this way of thinking is coming back in style on Pinterest). But do not get me wrong: there is no nostalgic punch line to my story. Actually, there is a prosaic one, because I strongly believe, the more limits we get, the more creative we become. Zamecznik worked with everyday objects, building the design sets for them during exhibitions. He also made photomontages at home, he painted his wife’s face with letters and then photographed her and pasted her onto his famous posters. He made movies using his children’s sketches. It was fun and had professional quality. There is some beautiful symmetry to it. The interactivity considered, the “what?” should come before the “how?”. Without that order, one risks of being grotesque. Just like today we tend to smile while looking at rusty pictures of future video conferences illustrated by Villemard’s in the 1910s. But who knows, perhaps, in one hundred years our holograms will laugh at first VR projects. That is of course if Bug The Misanthrope won’t play his revenge on us, first (see below and more of the Bug here)*.
* My sources for this articles were: an essay by Katarzyna Jeżowska under the title “Escape from reality”, oryginally published in an album “Wojciech Zamecznik, Photo-graphics” and a video interview I conducted with Juliusz Zamecznik in march 2016.