Marcin Różyc, one of the courators
Interview

“Open Departments / Closed Departments” Conversation with Marcin Różyc

The exhibition “Open Departments / Closed Departments” organized at the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź is an event meant to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the institution’s establishment. Three curators, namely Małgorzata Markiewicz, Dominika Krogulska and Marcin Różyc were invited to work on this project. Their work was overseen by the main curator, Marta Kowalewska, and their efforts gave an impressive result, i.e. the exhibition with three distinct topics and narrations. The curators were able to enter the museum’s storage rooms and take a closer look at collections of tapestries, industrial fabrics and garments. Each curator had a different, individual approach to the collections stored at the museum and interpreted them in a unique way.

The starting point for this endeavour was the analysis of history and collection of the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź as well as reflections on the role of museums in today’s world. The exhibition is not about history, so no facts are described and no chronological order of past events is presented to visitors. It is about disclaiming the idea of a museum as a closed institution and emphasizing its being open to various approaches and offering a space for artistic activities. Along with works from the storage rooms contemporary pieces are presented, some of which were created specifically for this exhibition. Dominika Krogulska displayed works prepared by her students, Małgorzata Markiewicz presented double tapestries made by weavers from the Podlasie region as well as her own work, whereas Marcin Różyc invited young artists with no previous experience with tapestries to contribute to the exhibition. I recently had an opportunity to talk to Marcin Różyc who shared with me interesting reflections about personal interpretations and an unconventional approach to museum collections.

Marcin Różyc, one of the courators
Marcin Różyc, one of the courators

Małgorzata Marszałł: Works presented at the exhibition are not arranged in a chronological order. Textiles of different kind – tapestries, industrial fabrics and garments – are mixed and grouped by you in an unconventional way. Please tell us how you selected objects to display and what was the principle you followed in grouping them?

Marcin Różyc: Delight was the key impulse in this process. I was delighted with the collection of the Museum of Textiles, which was not very familiar to me two years ago. Another criterion was the desire to create scientific and creative ‘hot spots’ which would inspire new research hubs and new works of art.

“Telimena. Laboratory” is composed of loosely-linked installations and small expositions or chambers. They are filled with artefacts from the collection of the Museum of Textiles and new works by male and female artists who had a look at what was hidden in the storage rooms at the museum. Artefacts were interpreted not only by people who create works of art on a regular basis, but also by those working in the field of fashion, visual setting and music videos. I intentionally did not indicate which of the works were created specifically for this exhibition and which ones came from the collection. In this way new narratives and stories emerged.

Division and categorisation, which organise and indicate judgments about pieces from the collection, completely disappeared. Sophisticated outfits, a female worker’s gown and folk costumes found their place within installations together with industrial fabrics, tapestries and historic textiles as well as modern art pieces.

Every installation is about a phenomenon which is fundamental for the Polish Culture, such as the national costume, national iconography, fashion houses from the times of communist Poland or the stories of female workers in Łódź. When you look at the topics themselves, you understand that the collected works have political and ideological references.

The title “Telimena. Laboratory” refers to the legacy of the two enterprises that the Museum of Textiles cares about, namely the collection of ‘Telimena’ Fashion House of Clothing Industry and the Central Cotton Industry Laboratory, which was the research institution in Łódź that influenced industry development and industrial design.

M.M.: Works which are part of the collection are historical. Is there anything in them that refers to the present time?

M.R.: Old works of art always tell us something about the present time. Each event has its roots and beginnings. There is no world without legacy. Consequently, there is no modern art without art from the past. This art from the past does not function unless contemporary curators, artists, museologists and politicians bring it to light.

M.M.: Works from the museum’s collection are displayed alongside pieces by contemporary artists. Why have you chosen these particular artists and how did they interpret works from the collection?

M.R.: I provoked apparent conflicts. The work by Krzysztof Gil entitled “Mama said that her eyes were the colour of the sky” is a self-portrait of him wearing a typical garment of Polish noblemen of the 16th-18th centuries, called żupan. Kontusz (a long robe worn over żupan), żupan and kontusz belt used to indicate the fact that the person wearing them came from a specific country, felt a member of certain nation and social class. Inspired by Persian and Turkish garments, this outfit used to be worn by the Polish nobility who, in fact, were of different nationalities. Kontusz and żupan became symbols of a unified nation. Krzysztof Gil, who is a Pole and a Romani, repeated what Maurycy Gottlieb, who was a Pole and a Jew, did earlier on. In his self-portrait of 1874 entitled “A Pole” he is depicted wearing accessories characteristic for the Polish national costume. Such gesture required courage. With this portrait he created a scandal both in the Polish and Jewish communities. The statue by Przemysław Branas Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Nike, Adidas, Acne, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Miu Miu, Dior, Hermès Paris… makes us think of sovereigns, ancient heroes and warriors from ancient Rome, Etruria and modern Italy. It is made of paper boxes which served as packaging for luxury goods. The artist found these boxes in the streets of Florence and in dustbins. People who purchased this exclusive merchandise had such a strong desire to own it that they put it on right after they left the shops. Przemysław Branas deconstructs and reinterprets works of art of Western Europe, i.e. symbols of patriarchal culture. He emphasizes their futility, power and eroticism. He also emphasizes pointlessness of fashion.

The statue stands in the middle of a maze of textiles which recreate iconography and scenery of Interwar Poland and the Polish People’s Republic, i.e. two Polish states which came into existence after two bloody world wars. A state and a nation need curtains to hide the empty spots, just as the case is with fashion. Wiktoria Walendzik thoroughly browsed through DIGITEX, which is a digital collection of the Museum of Textiles in Łódź. Among others she found wall hangings depicting naive scenes with girls and adult women. The wall hanging presenting a woman feeding sheep includes a sentence: “There is no better refreshment than fresh water”. Another one depicts a dwarf or an elderly pauper watering birds, yet another one is with the “Little Red Riding Hood” and a wolf. Wiktoria also analysed folk tapestries by Eleonora Plutyńska. She highlighted the eroticism, perversion and bestiality of these pieces. She created a sculpture of a young woman watering two big horrifying creatures. The woman is bent at the waist and is mooning provocatively. She wears a pink sweater with a bunny, leggings and platform shoes with hobnails. The object created by Wiktoria makes us think of nightmares which do come true. The surface of this piece is awfully coarse, but slippery and shiny at the same time.

Luke Jascz and Dominik Zwyrtek transformed the space of the Museum of Textiles in Łódź and the Łódź Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture into a crime scene and a game scheme. They were inspired by the detective board game called Cluedo. In this game the players participate in a reception organized in an eerie house. The host is a victim of murder. The guests’ task is to solve the mystery of the crime. There are colourful cards with clues to help them out. The artists relocated the game into the buildings of the museum and the area of the Open Air Museum. The host who was murdered in their version of the game is Telimena, one of the protagonists of “Pan Tadeusz” by Adam Mickiewicz. Ants, which bite her in the famous scene of the poem, help the players solve the mystery here. As it turns out, one of the works from the museum collection was used to commit the crime.

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M.M.: At the exhibition we can see clothes sewed and sold by the ‘Telimena’ Fashion House in Łódź, a female worker’s gown and a photo of textile workers. How important are the stories from the city of Łódź for you? Can they be analysed in the broader context of modern fashion, art or current events?

M.R.: The motifs related to Łódź are crucial. The main piece at the exhibition is a secular altar and a tribute to female textile workers, who were the most underpaid and the hardest working group in Poland and earlier on in the Tsardom of Russia. Unfortunately, they are also the ones who are least valued and appreciated. They were victims of the Tsardom, Interwar Poland, the Polish People’s Republic, and the time of political transformation after the year 1989 when the ruling elites literally sentenced textile workers to extinction from the labour market almost without offering them any support. In the centre of the exhibition, I placed their beating hearts. Female textile workers were the driving force in the development of our country and they influenced history, for example, the course of the revolution in 1905. In 1938 they carried out the longest industrial action in a form of a sit in in the history of Poland. It lasted 108 days. In the 1950s some of them fought for liberalised abortion law and easier access to contraceptives. In 1981 the hunger demonstration took place in Łódź, which was the biggest street demonstration in the history of the Polish People’s Republic. Female textile workers are the mothers and grandmothers of the Women’s Strike (Strajk Kobiet) these days. These are women we must not forget. We must always remember their fight and their suffering. Mara Madejska writes about it in her book entitled “Aleja włókniarek” (“The Avenue of Female Textile Workers”). This amazing book is one of the objects displayed at the exhibition.

The “altar” is complemented with an expressive tapestry entitled “A Burning Flower”, created by Joanna Hasior, who is an artist forgotten by wider audience.

Telimena Fashion House, which shares its name with one of the protagonists in “Pan Tadeusz” poem (which is the reference we analysed when creating the exhibition), was established in Łódź in 1957 and was the leading fashion house in Poland until late 1980s. At the exhibition we can see the phenomenal collection presented in Paris in 1973. Telimena combined trends from Paris, Yves Saint Laurent-inspirations and motives related to Nicolaus Copernicus. Garments made of hand-painted silk from Milanówek were created to commemorate the year of Copernicus. They are decorated with astrological signs: Jupiter, Saturn and Proserpina. Evening and stage robes combined western trends with familiar and patriotic motives.

M.M.: The exhibition also includes references to the ongoing discussion on the role of museums in today’s world. How do you perceive this role? What are the objectives and challenges that the Central Museum of Textiles is to deal with taking the current situation of the pandemic and limited access to cultural institutions into account?

M.R.: As citizens of our country our main objective is social solidarity which will help us through the pandemic and make it possible to improve the challenging political situation.

The role of the museum itself is not related to the pandemic in any way. The pandemic makes us think of other ways to carry out our projects, but it does not change our roles.

The museum’s mission is to protect heritage, create heritage and revive heritage. Our aim is to tell people that Łódź boasts one of the most interesting museums in the world. Our task is also discussing political topics and protecting human rights. We are here to look for new solutions and ways to stimulate development of art in the times of crises and the current pandemic is only one of them. We are meant to support the people who create and who admire art. We have to avoid overbearing virtualization, but at the same time we must use the wide range of opportunities that virtual reality offers us. Our role is also to discuss topics which are crucial in 2020 and 2021. Such topics presented at my exhibition are attempts at mythologization and sanctifying female textile workers who were the true heroines in our city.

“Open Departments / Closed Departments” exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź
“Open Departments / Closed Departments” exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź
“Open Departments / Closed Departments” exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź
“Open Departments / Closed Departments” exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź
“Open Departments / Closed Departments” exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź
“Open Departments / Closed Departments” exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź

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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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