OPEN CITY 2019:
THE NEW LUBLIN RENAISSANCE IS HERE!
The Open City Lublin Festival is an event taking place in the urban space. During the event the city becomes a venue of debates, art is reaching out to the viewers, asking questions and inspiring. Hospitality is the topic of this year’s 9th edition of the festival which is due to begin on 13th September.
In our interview with Paweł Leszkowicz and Tomasz Kitliński, the curators responsible for the 11th edition of the festival, talk about whether art has the power to save the world, about the difficulties in organising the festival, and breaking barriers.
Anna Dziuba: The leitmotif of this year’s edition is hospitality-to-the-other. The theme of acceptance and openness to other people is a topical and vital issue, and it is being discussed multiple times in today’s world. What message does Lublin want to send to the world through its activities?
Paweł Leszkowicz: Not only the theme of this festival and the idea of hospitality-to-the-other (taken from the philosophy of politics by Cezary Wodziński and Tomasz Kitliński), but the very general name of the festival, OPEN CITY, clearly demonstrate our vision of Lublin as a friendly, democratic and multicultural space. It is our goal, as this year’s curators, to show this vision in cooperation with the “Crossroads” Centre for Intercultural Creative Initiatives which has been organising the festival for years.
Tomasz Kitliński: We had an opportunity to cooperate together several times in the past, and we have been thinking about Lublin as a city of love, and through our work as curators we wish to open all Polish cities and unlock their multicultural potential, directing them towards a truly versatile and democratic future. We are interested in the future of open Poland, devoid of xenophobic violence. It is partly a utopia, but culture is excellent at creating utopian visions, and art, though materialising and visualising, makes utopia a real place for a while.
In this edition of the festival, we want to give a true account of the history of Lublin, of the city’s highlights and dark side, on the struggle and cooperation between different social, cultural and ethnic groups taking place here, on the clash of various forms of otherness and identities which should be peaceful, despite the differences. Art is the space for intermingling communities and cultures, without violence which is a noticeable problem in contemporary Poland.
P.L.: We want Lublin residents to take a look at themselves through some of the works just like they look at their reflections in the mirror. Their reaction to this art will show us the condition of hospitality-to-the-other we are dealing with here and now. We do no want to make any assumptions beforehand, but those works are expected to be a laboratory of democracy in this town. In this sense, art is hospitable, because it will have to endure everything to give testimony to the level of our civilisation, oscillating between hospitality and hostility. We can say that a pyre, a wooden sculpture by Dorota Nieznalska, will be placed in the city centre, and we are very much interested if this pyre burns.
A.D.: Which of the initiatives undertaken as part of this edition of the festival is most consistent with its assumptions: Let’s practice hospitality-to-the-other: let’s open the city?
P.L.: It is enough to say that this is the 11th edition of this festival in Lublin. This is an art festival in the public space with the longest traditions and best funding in Poland. The fact that Lublin has been hospitable for such a long time for this experimental creative practice proves that culture in this city is treated very seriously. Lublin is a city of summer festivals, those popular and those which are niche, and OPEN CITY is somewhere in between, intriguing and irritating residents since 2009. We broke a record.
T.K.: As far as specific this year’s projects are concerned, this edition is due to be not only intellectual, as it is built around political philosophy, but also a very tangible and material one. A lot of solid sculptures made of wood, brick or metal will be placed in the centre of Lublin. These very tangible and monumental sculptures in the public space will be a compilation of various complex ideas related to open and participatory democracy. For example, two artists are working around a very simple concept of a table, which is a fundamental concept in hospitality, but we all know that spending time at one table and debating can both unite and divide. The first of the artists is Dariusz Sitek who prepared an exceptionally large table which overwhelms with its massive size, and which will be placed in the centre of the Old Town in Lublin. The second one is Adrien Sina, a French architect, who will build a special temporary wooden Democracy Pavilion. It is an openwork structure with a round table in the middle, which is a reference to the birth of Polish contemporary democracy. Everyone can go inside and take a seat at the table. We only wonder if this architectural structure, a venue for dialogue, will survive a meeting with Lublin street, for example at night.
A.D.: The topic of hospitality and acceptance seems a very difficult issue. Have you experienced any obstacles while organising the festival?
P.L.: Yes, there were such situations. The first situation was about a project by Paulina Piórkowska who prepared posters with slogans concerning LGBT rights in cooperation with the young organisers of Equality March in Lublin. This was a joint action of the artist and local activists who are about her age, and the outcome of their efforts was to be presented on billboards in the city centre. Here, the basic Lublin hospitality, not even hospitality-to-the-other, failed. After the representatives of the advertising agency, owner of most of billboards in the city centre (where most of festival events will be held), read the equality slogans on the poster, they used all legal remedies to withdraw from the agreement, although the advertising space was booked six months in advance, and the Crossroads Centre was to pay for it according to the agency’s regular commercial price list. It is sad that advertising space on billboards is being sold to politicians during an election campaign taking place concurrently with the festival, and a lot of the politicians are not from around here, and they propagate hostility towards all minorities living here in Lublin now, while funds from a municipal institution of culture are rejected because of a message expressed in basic slogans calling for equality. This is not the best publicity the city can get.
An even worse situation occurred with a projection entitled War Veterans (2010) by Krzysztof Wodliczko. It is an installation demonstrating the traumatic experience of Polish war veterans and their families. Their words and voices are screened on public buildings. You can’t see their faces, but you can hear their words and see the transcript. They are, of course, very painful but true confessions, showing the human costs of war. They challenge the ideological fiction of nationalist victory. The installation was to be screened on Litewski Square, on a state institution’s building – the Polish Post. Unfortunately, Polish Post withdrew its previous consent this week. So now, only a few days before the festival begins, we are looking for a new location in the Litewski Square area. It is ironic that in front of the same post office building other groups are collecting signatures against the Equality March which is to take place on 28 September.
T.K.: This shows that this year’s festival is a diagnosis of both hospitality and its contradiction. As we said the forces of light and darkness are continuously fighting a battle in front of our very eyes, just like in the past times. That’s why we feel that we are participating in a truly mythical event.
A.D.: In your curatorial text, you mention multiple times that art has the power to repair the world and ourselves. How has this premise influenced / is visible in this edition of the festival?
T.K.: Art is also a form of psychotherapy, not so much for artists, but most of all to society in which it is created. A good psychotherapy, which must include the awareness of trauma, helps us create a better future, and get rid of unnecessary negative emotions and hostility. It helps us become hospitable to ourselves, accept our internal otherness. This is how our road to openness begins. During this year’s edition we want to direct viewers through such psychotherapy, for a better future of Lublin. It is a process addressed to those residents who need it in today’s world which is full of phobias. Art has the power to repair, similarly to many other phenomena, but it only works for those who want to change. We should not force things; it is a road we are opening up for those who are ready to follow.
A.D.: The festival’s assumptions often refer to the past, the Golden Age of the city, when Lublin was a certain type of symbol of diversity, intermingling of cultures. What significance does tradition have to the festival?
P.L.: It is not only about multiculturalism, but about interculturalism which, according to Zygmunt Bauman, entails cooperation between cultures. With the festival we want to go back to the 16th century, when the city was famous for tolerance, cooperation between cultures, nations and religions. Shaping the future, we announce the new Lublin Renaissance! During that period, the city was a centre of Polish and Jewish culture. Reformation movements were also thriving here. The so called debates of two pulpits, the sessions of the Sejm, and conventions of the Jewish self-government were held here. We want to return to this diversity. Also, it has always been a city of various types of love, since the etymology of the name of the city, Lublin, comes from Eastern European words meaning love. Józef Czechowicz, a gay poet, had strong ties with Lublin. Together with a Jewish poet, Franciszka Arnsztajnowa, he wrote a volume of verse on Lublin. This friendship is commemorated in an installation by Izabela Gustowska. It is located in one of the gates in the Old Town, and is based on a joint portrait of the poets, and their hypothetical catastrophic conversation on the eve of the War, recreated and recorded by this artist from Poznań.
A.D.: What advice would you give to the viewers? What should they see, and which of the events cannot be omitted? What route should they follow?
P.L: As far as world-famous artists are concerned, the most notable creators are the masters of public art, Jeremy Deller and Krzysztof Wodliczko. Deller, a British artist who is famous for participatory art in the urban space, designed T-shirts with anti-Fascist quote from an essay by Primo Levi, reminding us that 2019 is anti-Fascist year. T-shirts with Jeremy Deller’s design will be given to everyone who will take part in a joint performance during the opening of the festival.
My advice to the viewers is to attend the procession opening the Festival during which they will be able to see all the installations, and listen to curators and artists talking about their works. The Open City festival will be open on 13 September at 6:00 p.m. This year we are starting from the stairs leading to the Castle, where the Lublin Museum is situated, and where a metal sculpture taking up the topic of emigration by Dawid Marszewski will be placed. After that, we will discover the history of the well system in the former Jewish District thanks to installations by two artists from LA – Louise Steinman and Doris Cypis. It is a work of art located on the only well which survived until today. Then we move to the so called common land, where the Dorota Nieznalska will put up her pyre inspired by the history of pogroms in the Lublin region, where a Kabbalah neon by Rafał Jakubowicz shining on the Grodzka Gate will lead us to the streets of the Old Town. In the centre of the Old Town, at Po Farze Square we will find the monumental table by Dariusz Sitek we have mentioned before, and a bit further at Rybny Square we will find a wall covered with drawings (colouring sheets) by Mariusz Tarkawian. They depict two sides of a conflict – participants of Equality Marches, and those who want to fight them. In the area of Rybna Gate we will be able to see Iza Gustowska’s work which brings back to life Czechowicz and Arnsztajnowa. On the Crown Tribunal building, where generations of Lublin residents have had their wedding ceremonies, Grzegorz Bibro will place his neon with the title of the festival “hospitality.” Then we will leave the Old Town through the Krakowska Gate, which will be decorated by another neon by Krystyna Piotrowska, with a quotation from the New Testament, saying “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hbr 13,2). Adrian Sina’s Democracy Pavilion will be located in Łokietka Square, in front of the City Hall. Moving further along Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, in Witkowskiego Square, a Lithuanian artistic duo, Svajone and Paulius Stanikas will build a flower composition, a fanciful garden referring to the Union of Lublin of 1569, as this year we are celebrating the 450th anniversary of this event.
We intentionally located a lot of progressive works at Kaczyńskiego Square, around the Lublin Centre for Culture, where the “Crossroads” Centre is based. These will include stork nests full of exotic birds by Anna and Irena Nawrot, and a special structure which will display the posters by Paulina Piórkowska, which were rejected in a shameful way. Another young artist from Poznań, Tytus Szabelski designed a strip of land shaped as Polish and Ukrainian border, partly with the use of ground from the places where Ukrainian immigrants living and working in Lublin come from. The highlight of the evening will be a screening on the post office building at the central Litewski Square prepared by the star of public art, Krzysztof Wodliczka, an artist of Polish and American origin. The artist will come to Lublin to launch his anti-war projection devoted to contemporary Polish war veterans from a specially arranged army vehicle.
T.K.: Before the festival begins, the exhibition is nearly as mysterious to us as to the viewers. We know the works at their design stage, and they will not be completed earlier than 13 September. We are planning to build everything in 2 days. The artists are preparing their works exclusively for this exhibition. Nothing is ready yet. Only after the festival begins will we be able to answer the question which design is the best, and which one the residents will welcome or reject. What will Lublin’s hospitality and hospitality-to-the-other be like? This is always a surprise. If we have the chance to talk a few days after opening, we will be able to learn the whole truth about the city. At the moment we only have our hopes and illusions.
A.D.: Thank you very much for talking to me.
Interviewed by Anna Dziuba
Translated by Monika Mokrosz