Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.

You ain’t going nowhere. Survival 19. Art Review In Conversation with the curators and organisers

Survival Art Review aims to confront its audiences with art outside of the usual gallery setting. As the event takes place beyond institutionalised structures, its curators invite us to question how we perceive our surroundings. This year, Survival addresses the pandemic transformations that happened in our here and now, exploring the topics of mobility and locality. Right before the grand opening of its 19th edition, I have met with Survival’s curators and organisers – Karolina Bieniek, Małgorzata Miśniakiewicz, and Michał Bieniek – to ask them about the festival, their reflections on our post-pandemic reality, and how the pandemic has transformed the arts.

Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.
Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.

Maria Markiewicz: I would like to start our conversation with the main theme of this year’s Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. How did you arrive at such a prophetic statement?

Karolina Bieniek: You ain’t going nowhere is a theme that we had on our minds for a while now. It was born in March 2020, during the first lockdown. I think we were already able to sense that something unprecedented is happening. Although we were still working on the previous edition of Survival and its Wasteland theme, we knew that we couldn’t just simply walk by from what was going on and all the mobility questions. The world we knew suddenly stopped. The borders were closed. We were stuck in our homes…

MM: How did the artists react to this slogan?

KB: They reacted very enthusiastically! (laughs) The artists, but not only them. We also got a lot of applications for our open call from people working in broadly understood culture, with whom this slogan has also greatly resonated. I think that we all felt that this sense of closure, isolation, the world turning upside down, were important topics to be urgently discussed. That’s why artists from all over the world responded to our open call.

MM: What can we expect to see during the festival?

Michał Bieniek: Our programme is very broad, because we show a total of 37 different artistic projects that have been scattered throughout the building and beyond. They range from paintings and sculptures to more experimental performances and sound installations. The entire exhibition comprises of the main exhibit, the Video Scene, and the Sound Scene, which by now has probably attained a cult status.

When it comes to the programmed performances, they all stick to a strict schedule. You have to follow it carefully in order not to miss anything! Especially since some of these performative actions will be really subtle. But, of course, not all of them.

Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.
Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.

MM: What about the space itself? How did the artists deal with the challenge of showing their works in a former factory?

MB: Most of the artworks on view were made specifically for this space. It is a bit tricky and resembles the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. It is also heavily darkened – there are practically no windows – so with each new artwork that we hang, it gains a totally new dimension. It’s very impressive!

The space in which the 19th edition of Survival Art Review takes place, Pafawag, is a unique place in Wrocław. In the years of the factory’s greatest prosperity, it was one of the biggest locomotive manufactories in Europe. Many people from Wrocław were at some point associated with the factory – either they have worked there or someone whom they knew has, so this place has always existed in their collective consciousness. Now, with our help, everyone can experience the former factory site themselves, entering its fabric. For example, this year’s Festival Club is located in the pools where coal was once stored. The pools were partially cut open for the needs of the festival, and this is where the Club’s gatherings will take place.

MM: Survival Art Review takes place in a different, unique space on Wrocław’s map each year. What do you want to achieve by choosing such quirky locations?

MB: Through this strategy, we want to invite viewers who are usually not interested in contemporary art or the arts in general. Hence what we do, i.e., promoting the event in close correlation with describing the chosen space and presenting its history. We also carry out historical walks and this is again very conscious. We have a deep conviction, which then translates into the high number of visitors, that people, by being interested in an unobvious place, a forgotten place, or the one they have heard about before, but to which they had no access, will also become interested in what is shown there. It is a kind of a positive viewer trap.

Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.
Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.

MM: Apart from the artistic activities, the Social Scene Debates are an indispensable part of the Review. What will we be debating about this year?

Małgorzata Miśniakiewicz: One of the elements of the Social Scene Debates is the Forum for Dialogue, which consists of four discussions and one info-session. This year, we focus primarily on the issues of artistic mobility. We observe it from the perspective of artistic residencies and international artistic exchange, but we also do not forget about economic and infrastructural issues. The pandemic revalued the myth that the better an artist, the more residences they have in interesting places. But this has recently become a kind of an evaluation mechanism for artistic careers. We want to take a closer look at it all and think about what the last year has changed, what it has brought about and what it has taught us. How much of what there was do we want to keep? What was valuable and what needs to be reformulated?

The Forum for Dialogue is largely aimed at an audience working in the creative sector. Most of the invited panellists are related to culture in some way, but we tried to look at these issues very broadly. That is why we invited not only people who write grants and artists who are their beneficiaries, but also curators and host institutions. The info-session we have planned will conclude the Forum for Dialogue. We highly recommend it to artists, because it is a unique opportunity to hear about the Creative Europe and the Visegrad Fund programmes: how to get them, how to apply.

KB: The info-session is a rare opportunity to meet the managers of these programmes. Since so much has changed recently in the subject of mobility, each grantor will share their thoughts on the changes that have occurred in the application process within the recent months.

Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.
Mateusz Kowalczyk, Herba Polonica, performance. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.
Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.
Survival Art Review – You ain’t going nowhere. Photo by Małgorzata Kujda.

MM: I wonder if we can talk a little bit more about the works on view… Can you give us a brief sneak peek?

MM: Can we reveal some secrets? I think so! As we have already mentioned, the exhibition consists of several scenes. The Video Scene is a bit separate from the main exhibition – it has its own logic – but it is thematically connected with it. We have quite well-known artists there, but also some who are just starting out. One of the works that we show as part of the Video Scene is the work of Joroen Jongeleen from his Running in Circles series. 

It’s a series of works based on running. Jongeleen chooses a certain urban space and runs around it in a way that creates a circle. Such interventions into the urban fabric have always been an important element of his work – it is a kind of gesture of reclaiming the city space to oneself. Jongeleen believes that civil disobedience is the moment of regaining responsibility for democracy. Taking over the city, the deserted streets of Rotterdam, in order to run out a circle, is not a gesture of frustrated imprisonment, but, above all, a gesture of opposition.

We then have a video by Jan Kowal, which shows him standing on a border post in the village where he comes from. These two works create a kind of framing story, showing the tension between active movement and passive continuance. They ask questions about the identity of the place in which we are situated at a particular moment in time. About how we shape it and how it shapes us.

SURVIVAL 19. Art Review| Nigdzie stąd nie pojedziecie / You ain’t going nowhere
ul. Fabryczna 14H, 53-609 Wrocław

Curators: Michał Bieniek, Anna Kołodziejczyk, Małgorzata Miśniakiewicz, Ewa Pluta
Sound Art Forum curator: Daniel Brożek
Organizer: Art Transparent Foundation /
Co-Organizer: The Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design in Wroclaw /
Survival Art Review id co-financed by the Municipality of Wrocław /
Partner: Pracownia Projektowa Macków / 


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About The Author


Freelance art writer and curator with an interest in gender and queer theory. Having completed her BA at Central Saint Martins and her MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, she now collaborates with different art organisations worldwide. As a cultural theorist and a researcher, she has published a number of essays on art that is socially and politically engaged, analysing it in regards to sexuality studies and psychoanalysis.

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