"Walk With Me" exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków
review

Where does the “Krocz ze mną/Walk with Me” exhibition lead us? Let’s check to what extent the idea of the exhibition is consistent with the motto of the festival.

Walk with me, follow the footsteps of my impressions, thoughts, and glances. What will you find? Surely not what you’re expecting.”

This quote is one of the first things we see as we visit the website of the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. It is the venue of the exhibition entitled “Krocz ze mną/Walk with me” I have recently had a chance to explore.

The Open Eyes Art Festival, as part of which the exhibition was organised, is part of the Open Eyes Economy Movement. It is an initiative that conveys the idea of the economy open to people who seemingly have nothing in common with the world of finance. Art and business? A lot of us still treat these words as completely contradictory notions. The Open Eyes Economy is not afraid of such unconventional connections and allows contemporary creators to become a part of modernity. 

The Open Eyes Art Festival was initiated in 2021 by Krakow-based institutions: the Economy & Public Administration Foundation, the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, the Nowa Huta Culture Centre, and Przedsiębiorstwo Społeczne Agencja Artystyczna GAP (Art Agency Social Enterprise); that is why the event strongly promotes artists who have ties with this city. The founders of the Open Eyes Art Festival place emphasis on interdisciplinarity and responding to recipients’ needs – values that are also necessary in the contemporary art world. The festival allows us to encounter art in the urban space and to commune with it on a daily basis. 

Let’s check to what extent the idea of the exhibition is consistent with the motto of the festival. Where will it lead us?

"Walk With Me" exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków
“Walk With Me” exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków

Our journey starts on a quite mysterious note. Preparing for the visit, I read that I would experience “the polyphony of artists’ voices.” “Following the voices, we will encounter nostalgic notes, dreams and memories, creatures and monsters, magical objects and rituals, nature and bodies that blend and join with nature and are merged with it. Flames, stones, interiors, and intestines.” This aura of terror intensifies my curiosity. This contributes to the aura of terror.

To reach the space where the works are showcased, I first need to find my way through a “foggy” exhibition entitled “Zadymy” (Blizzards), where Karol Palczak presents his “misty” Subcarpathian landscapes, which evoke the state of foggy autumn melancholy in viewers. 

In the next hall, I am greeted by a large-sized banner that reads “Krocz ze mną/Walk with me” and even more paintings of nocturnal scenes. There is a winter landscape here with a figure escaping in a reflective vest by Karol Palczak, a night field with a nude figure in the foreground, painted by Fryderyka Kądziela, and a painting by Michał Zawada, which I know from the posters of the exhibition. It shows the rounded back of a monster, or perhaps a monkey, or a yeti? All works are characterised by a dark colour pattern. The figures depicted there are defenceless, self-contained, and full of fear. They look lonely and lost in a world that can only offer darkness.

The aura of the painting brings to mind the “Twin Peaks” series, and it is no accident that the title of the exhibition refers to one of the subtitles of the series: “Fire walk with me.” It is dark, but I keep on going. I feel like watching a horror film or a thriller. The next paintings, though scary, are appealing in their own peculiar way, just like in a horror film, and it is not about space arrangement, but about the mood of the works themselves. If you are one of those who equate art with beauty, I recommend that you stop reading.

The paintings at the entrance are just a prelude. What can we expect as we go on further? How much do artists show us? What do they reveal to us, and what awaits us in their company? The exhibition is actually a “polyphony,” but it is difficult to treat it as a whole. Each creator speaks his own language of art here, exploring various issues. To be able to answer the above questions honestly, I focused on artists who have made the greatest impression on me. For me, their voices are the most powerful there.

Bogumil Ksiazek nd Katarzyna Wyszkowska, "Walk With Me" exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków
Bogumil Ksiazek nd Katarzyna Wyszkowska, “Walk With Me” exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków

Katarzyna Wyszkowska

A student at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts. She creates paintings, installations, and video art.

In 2020, she was a finalist of the 19th edition of Hestia Artistic Journey, where she showcased an installation entitled “g. Ideology.” The work refers to the construct of “LGBT+Q ideology,” which is today widely used by Polish right-wing circles. The artist’s works showcased at “Krocz ze mną/Walk with me” also address these and other social issues. It is the voice of a young woman. It is the voice of the generation of women who have the courage to speak about their right to freedom. Katarzyna Wyszkowska’s works invite me on a journey to a world that is embellished, seemingly sweet, and pastel. I don’t get fooled. I know that pink and pastel colours, so popular in feminist art trends, have nothing in common with sweetness. Soft and delicate fabrics, lace, and furs are intertwined with barbed wire. It is true that the wire is golden, yet still sharp and cold. It brings associations with the Crown of Thorns. I enter a world where minorities and women are being deprived of freedom, which the artist opposes by shouting out a resounding “No.” through her creative work.

Katarzyna Wyszkowska, "Walk With Me" exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków
Katarzyna Wyszkowska, “Walk With Me” exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków

Krzysztof Maniak 

A graduate of the Faculty of Intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. He creates video installations in which he refers to conceptual art and land art. 

The exhibition features a video presentation of his activities as an artist in the world of nature. Kissing tree branches, squeezing through burrows and haystacks, Krzysztof Maniak reminds us that we are not the masters of the world, but an inherent part of nature. While walking with the artist, I reach “the Earth’s stomach.” By plunging into the hey, I symbolically return to the bosom of nature. I remember now where I came from and who I am. The artist draws my attention to the problem of today’s hectic world, which turns away from nature. He takes me to a forest to show me how beautiful a tree branch and a grass blade can be. He takes me by the hand and seems to say, “Stop. Why are you in such a hurry? Walk with me.”

Alicja Pakosz

A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Painter and author of installations. 

At the exhibition we can see her work entitled “Kałuża” (Puddle), which shows a “table”, cut in half, with a substance imitating water on it, in which a wooden Pinocchio was sunk. As Alicja Pakosz states herself, it is a work referring to the perception of history. The artist asks whether there is anything like “an objective historical truth.” Pinocchio becomes a symbol of the hypocritical image of history. An image that looks totally different on the surface than it does underneath. Cutting the table in half is a reference to a magical trick and reminds us that historians often charm reality by manipulating it as they cut it into pieces and make reality disappear. With Alicja Pakosz, we enter the world of illusion and magic, immersed in the dirty puddles of historic lies.

Where have we come to by following the footsteps of artists and their works? All the problems of which we are reminded on a daily basis in the news returned to me like a boomerang in the gallery. Entering the art gallery from the grey reality of the city, I was taken back to the world I am in all the time. The world was demonstrated to me through the lens of art.

In this world, artists are our lodestars. I watch it from a different perspective because art places emphasis on the things that are valuable and worth our attention. For a long time, I have been saying that the main task of art is to comment on reality. Ecology, the return to nature, the situation of women and the LGBT+Q community, falsifying history and creating a narrative based on the “only correct” vision of the past – all this affects us, and it is good that we are discussing the issues. 

"Walk With Me" exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków
“Walk With Me” exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków

At the beginning of my visit, I asked myself if the “Krocz za mną/Walk with me” exhibition is consistent with the idea behind the Open Eyes Art Festival. I watched the artists’ works. They are creators representing the younger generation who have the chance to get their voice heard in a wider discussion and to become known. It is all adding up. 

The gallery is, after all, a meeting place for artists and their viewers. Does the exhibition cater to the recipients’ needs? It is a particularly important question when we go back to the idea of openness and active participation mentioned at the beginning of this article (see the idea of an open economy) and the engagement of not only internal stakeholders (in this case, people associated with the Academy of Fine Arts) but also external actors and participants. 

Looking from this perspective, the exhibition is not accompanied by any texts, and even the works have not been signed. The only inscriptions we can find in the exhibition are the authors’ names, written on the floor next to their works. It is perhaps an intentional measure. Intentional mysteriousness, which makes us reach for our emotions, not our minds, follows the artists and feels their message. Perhaps the intention is for the artists to become the only guides to the world? Sure, it’s possible, but not everyone will understand. I am not in favour of providing ready-made interpretations, but I am all in for smart guidance. In the spirit of openness, I would wish that this quite hermetic art world had a greater awareness of the need to educate. The average Polish recipient of contemporary art is not an informed viewer. It is a sad fact, but it’s true. Creating exhibitions that are not accompanied by any commentary can drive away an audience. A person who knows little about contemporary art trends, or knows nothing about them, will feel lost at the exhibition. Assuming that a text for an exhibition is not necessary, we exclude a fairly large social group from the circles of the art audience, and we do not want to do that. It is an issue worth in-depth consideration.

Michał Zawada, "Walk With Me" exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków
Michał Zawada, “Walk With Me” exhibition, photo: Vira Kosina-Polańska, courtesy The Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków

I hope that the art world will become increasingly open to recipients from outside artistic circles, characterised by a lower degree of awareness. It is great that multiple educational events have been organised as part of the Open Eyes Art Festival, and even children and teenagers are invited to cooperate. These activities are a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot to do.

In addition to the artists mentioned above, the exhibition also features Justyna Barzowska, Marlena Biczak, Rafał Borcz, Veronika Hapchenko, Justyna Janikowska-Radosz, Bogumił Książek, Michał Maliński, Adam Nehring, Edyta Olszewska, Paweł Olszewski, Bartłomiej Radosz, Weronika Świętek, Anna Tajak, Jan Eustachy Wolski, and Anna Maria Zuzela.

Written by Sara Dąbrowska

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