the InProgress festival organised by the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art, 2021, Gdańsk
Interview

InProgress. Music and ActivismInterview with Robert Sęk, the curator of the event, and Radosław Deruba, an artist who works in the field of generative art and visual arts

The latest edition of the InProgress festival organised by the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art took place in Gdańsk on 20th August 2021. The venue of the event was Teatr Leśny, an open-air amphitheatre located at Jaśkowa Dolina Street. The visitors on that day had an opportunity to listen to electronic music for a few hours and to see the artistic installation entitled “ROW” created by the Tundra collective. This year’s edition was visibly different from the previous ones because a much stronger focus was placed on current social issues. I had a great opportunity to talk to Robert Sęk, the curator of the event, and to Radosław Deruba, an artist who works in the field of generative art and visual arts, who created all elements of visual identity for this edition of the festival. We discussed the general message which the performers aimed to communicate to the public, elaborated on what music has in common with social activism and whether machines can communicate with people.

the InProgress festival organised by the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art, 2021, Gdańsk
the InProgress festival organised by the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art, 2021, Gdańsk

Małgorzata Marszałł: To begin with, could you tell us what InProgress is in fact? What is the origin of its name and how many years has the event been organised for? Was the latest edition any different from the previous ones?

Robert Sęk & Radosław Deruba: InProgress means being in progress, in the process of creation, and during processing. In our opinion, this is an accurate description of the modern audiovisual art, new media art, and generative art, which by the way, was the focal point of the previous edition of the festival.

InProgress is a regular event organised by the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art. As the years went on, the form of the event changed a few times – from a short festival to big concerts, club events, etc. Nonetheless, the primary aim was always, and still is, the presentation of interesting phenomena in the field of electronic and experimental music, often combined with audiovisual performances.

In 2020 we changed the form of the event slightly, so that it is no longer a collection of a few smaller events during a given year. We decided to combine all of them and make a single bigger event instead. 

"We will fail"
“We will fail”
"Beniovska"
“Beniovska”

MM: An important aspect of this festival is involvement and social activism. In what way is it visible and present in the work of artists you invited to perform?

RS & RD: It was indeed a very important aspect of this year’s edition and its primary purpose.

We came up with it quite spontaneously after what happened last year with women and gay people, let alone other members of the LGBTQIA+ community, being dehumanised by the government of Poland, the church, and strong right-wing circles.

We decided to focus on presenting female and male artists, people who combine their artistic activities with social activism, often focusing on LGBTQIA+ community and feminists. 

The ways in which these artists try to have an impact are really diverse.

The artists, including Mala Herba and Avtomat, whom we invited for this year’s InProgress, joined their efforts to create the Oramics collective with the aim of supporting and emancipating women and queer artists working with electronic music. They do all of this to promote the underestimated female and male artists and to prove that this field of art can be diversified, safe, and accessible. The collective tries to achieve its goals through their podcasts and events, they also try to create platforms. At present, the collective works on two big projects – “Pro – Abo Cyber Rave” (in cooperation with several other collectives) and “Women’s Sound”. The latter is about artistic exchange with the participation of women from Ukraine.

Among the guests of the festival was the Eternal Engine duo from the Pussymantra collective. We asked them to present their artistic activities (the video is available here, at the Facebook page of the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art), as well as to prepare the visual setting for the concert of Mala Herba, which in fact, was an element as equally important for the show as the sound itself. The Eternal Engine duo of Jagoda Wójtowicz and Marta Nawrot, call themselves digital witches smoothly moving in the xeno/glitch/cyberfeminist discourse. They work around the topics of freedom, dream, and AI, and they often refer to mysticism and the rave stylistics. The collective often collaborates with Oramics, promoting the interests of LGBTQIA+ persons.

Apart from the artists, we also invited the organisers of the Tricity Equality March – the Tolerado Association for LGBTQIA+ Persons from the Tricity. The day when InProgress took place was not chosen by chance, by the way. On the next day, i.e. on 21st August, Equality March was held in Gdańsk. 

We think that Zosia Hołubowska (Mala Herba) perfectly summed up what activism is. During an interview with her we asked what factors influenced her work as an artist. She answered: “The fight for the rights of women and LGBTQIA+ minorities is what my activism and art are all about. Everything I do is with this goal in mind. Demonologia [the title of the latest album by Mala Herba] is about searching for the wild power in the beliefs about demons, which can make us stronger in the current fight for our rights. I am convinced that every utopiec, rusałka, and południca take our side.”

"Mała Herba"
“Mała Herba”

MM: Indeed, one of the artists who performed during the festival was Mala Herba who often refers to mysticism, rituals, and Slavic beliefs in her music. How do these references to the old times combine with the present and with social activism?

RS & RD: Mala Herba indeed refers to pre-Christian beliefs. She looks for the roots and gets inspired with where we really come from. She draws from Slavic beliefs about demons with rites, garlands, and the jumping over a bonfire, which purified souls. Mala Herba wants to heal the bodies which dance to her music because dance can heal not only specific persons and souls, but also entire communities. Dance has been with humans since the very beginning of mankind. Its functions were diverse. Dance was a part of magical rites, it served as a tool when telling stories that happened generations ago, it connected the sacred with the profane, etc. There is nothing more beautiful than dancing together with safety and freedom in mind.

Mala Herba claims that in the field of electronic music she tries to “scrape” the space for things from outside of the social norms that existed in the Polish countryside and in Slavic beliefs. This is why referring to our roots is perfectly correct.

The sonic dimension was added to it all, mostly based on synthesisers from the 1980s, which make us think of post-punk, EDM, or industrial music. This is how Mala Herba, a modern Polish witch, was born. We would use a different expression to describe her however, and call her a modern Polish village healer. 

"Korozja"
“Korozja”

MM: When advertising the event, you asked a question: “Who is a NON-HUMAN?” When creating this notion did you mean an android, a virtual alter ego, or something else?

RS & RD: Nowadays, the rhetoric in Poland often involves NON-HUMANS. What is being said in churches and during political rallies emphasises the borderline between those who can consider themselves human and those who do not have right to do so.

And so, we asked a question: Can any humanoid being be a NON-HUMAN? Where does this category begin and where does it end? Who grants themselves the right to create such a category? 

Maybe when we think about the non-humans we should rather discuss machines, computers, psychedelic dreams, AR (augmented reality), or AI (artificial intelligence)?

If we become so dependent on technology and treat it as a direct extension of our senses and memory or perceive it as a tool to expand our cognitive abilities and physical fitness, can we still describe ourselves as humans? Maybe we are more cyborgs rather than human beings? These are very temporary questions. In contrast, the dilemmas discussed by politicians in Poland are on the level of kids playing in a sandpit.

"Eternal Engine"
“Eternal Engine”
"Avtomat"
“Avtomat”

MM: Apart from the concerts, another attraction of the festival was an installation entitled “ROW” created by the Russian Tundra collective. Can you tell something more about this particular project? 

RS & RD: The Tundra collective caught our interest many years ago with their spatial art pieces.

We chose the “ROW” installation on purpose and located it in front of the entrance to the event, which was a deliberate strategy.

“ROW” was an attempt to create a new language, pictograms available for HUMANS and NON-HUMANS, a dialogue between a human and another human, a human and a machine, an android and a machine and last but not least, between two machines.

The hypnotic and mesmerising installation was aimed to prove that the question of who is a NON-HUMAN most probably cannot be answered in a way we are used to. Maybe the ways in which we convey information in verbal and non-verbal communication are simply not enough? Maybe we lack proper tools? Maybe our languages are too limited? We are personally proponents of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity according to which language affects the way we think. 

Taking all these into account, we should probably develop a new way of communicating. It may be a new language which will give us the means to answer numerous questions of contemporary world.

The work by the Tundra collective communicates these issues in an abstract manner. A row of holographic screens provides us with subsequent parts of messages. The work is about an attempt to translate the digital language into an analogue one and vice versa. In other words, it is trying to deal with the challenge of allowing communication between totally separate worlds. In our opinion, this is a perfect metaphorical representation of the current issues.

Robert Sęk – curator at the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art, curator of InProgress festival

Radosław Deruba – artist, supporting expert and author of visual identity for InProgress festival

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About The Author

Małgorzata
Marszałł

Art historian. Currently, she works in the Education Department at the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, where she creates educational programmes and workshop scenarios. Interested in architecture, artistic fabrics, and issues related to ecology.

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