While I was sitting on a wooden table and rummaging through the small but very interesting library of Calvert 22 Dominik Czechowski showed up. Dominik is one of the curators at Calvert 22 and has co-curated the present exhibition The Forgetting of Proper Names, which in one of the most exciting shows currently on in London. I had the opportunity to discuss with him over coffee the role of Calvert 22 and The Forgetting of Proper Names.
EM What is the specific position that Calvert 22 holds in contrast to other cultural institutions in London?
DC Calvert 22 opened about three years ago and is a not for profit organization that focuses on contemporary art from Russia, the CIS countries, and Eastern Europe. The arts and culture from such countries are still largely overlooked, but from exhibition to exhibition we are gaining a more visible presence in the London art scene. Our aim is to shed light on current trends from these regions. We act as a bridge between the UK and these countries by presenting the bes,ost pioneering and interesting practice coming out of them, thus engaging the public in an open ended dialogue. The British public has generally only been shown a horizontal overview of art from these countries, but what we try and do at Calvert 22 is showcase the arts based on a new interdisciplinary model with a focus on offering a rich educational context for the work being presented.
EM Discussing a little bit more on this, what is the importance of education for Calvert 22?
DC Our exhibitions programme is largely discourse based and we follow the three or four part academic season. Students form an integral part of our core audience at Calvert 22, and we have been collaborating with The Courtauld on a number of art events per year. We are collaborative by nature and are looking forward to forming associations and projects with other institutions. More importantly though we are a creative hub and research space. We look at a diverse group of arts from the visual arts to performance to poetry; we hold film screenings; and hosta book club as well. We have an extensive series of artist’s visits and lectures, that we are also uploading on our own Vimeo channel.
EM The current exhibition, The Forgetting of Proper Names, features the works of three young Polish artists – Anna Molska, Agnieszka Polska, and Wojciech B?kowski. Many of our readers will be unaware of the major developments of Polish contemporary art so I would like you to give us a brief overview of its current state.
DC Polish contemporary art is in a state of renaissance and flux. It holds a much better position than even two or three years ago; it has become much more visible. Major spaces like the Tate, the Barbican and Whitechapel have put up exhibitions of very recognizable names, such as Wilhelm Sasnal and Robert Kusmirowski. There is an obvious shift in the international scene, not only relating to Polish contemporary art, that has allowed for art from the non traditional western countries to thrive. Nevertheless, it is still in the beginnings. This breath of Polish contemporary art couldn’t have happened though without the continuing competitive presence of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Contemporary Polish artists are very well educated – they had to study a lot of theory in Polish art schools – which has allowed them to have a very informed overview of the state of art and be able to enter the international public debate. I find that what is most attractive about contemporary Polish art is the diversified work that these artists present; works that do look at the past but live in the now.
EM The exhibition has been entitled The Forgetting of Proper Names. What is the significance of this title?
DC The title of the exhibition comes straight from one of Agniezka Polska’s works, which in turn is a borrowed term from one of Sigmund Freud’s essays “Psychopathology of the Everyday Life” looking into issues of identity, memory and crossing boundaries. The title provides an international point of departure and is inclusive of all the sub-themes developed in the exhibition. When we try and address someone sometimes we forget their name or we remember it falsely. It is in this way that the three artists approach their past. Although they never forget the work of their predecessors they consciously choose to move away from it.
EM In your catalogue essay you talk extensively about issues of memory and nostalgia. How are these approached in the works presented at Calvert 22?
DC Memory is a very important theme in the exhibition, it essentially provides the context for the works. The works can be considered melancholic, but even if they are looking at the past they live in the present and look out to the future; they examine how history is written and what is lost in translation. Nostalgia is a difficult term and we are quite critical of it in the exhibition. The quest for nostalgia can be dangerous and superficial as it ignores the present. It is prevailing everywhere and one way or another has become a commodity in itself. We need to be highly critical of the term and place ourselves in a massive distance from it as it could be a trap. Anna Molska, Agnieszka Polska and Wojciech B?kowski don’t dwell in the past but rather reassess it in their current work.
EM Video works are dominant in this exhibition. What do you think is the role of video art and film in the contemporary art scene?
DC Video and film have been predominant for quite some time now; its become an art form, it is part of a contemporary vernacular. However, the artists in The Forgetting of Proper Names use these media in a different manner, focusing a lot on issues of performance and live events. From our part it was also a strategic choice as most of the Polish contemporary art we have seen is painting and sculpture. There is let’s say an informal movement of film in Poland and our exhibition responds to it; it’s the new expressionism. What is important is how these artists pick up on a tradition like this; they are not just looking at it but redefining it.
EM Can you pick one or two works from the exhibition and tell us a little bit more about them?
DC I feel a hostage to all the works presented. They speak for themselves and develop their own narrative; their aura can seduce you. Polska conducts her own research in the archaeology of modernism, attempting to identify and analyze the nature of remembering and forgetting, by juxtaposing archival black and white photographs with her own animated videos. In The Sensitization to Colour (2010) she rebuilds a past performance by conceptual artist Wlodzimierz Borowski allowing the viewer to re-interpret a past event. Molska examines how we act and react as individuals and as part of a collective. In The Mourners (2010) she invited a group of professional mourners (still a custom in rural Poland) to occupy the space of the centre for Polish Sculpture. She observes them from a distance as they relax in the cold, tomb-like atmosphere of the former orangery. The women begin to lament over an imaginary figure of a dead man. Strangely, their harmonious requiem seems to be directed at/against the modernist, cold space they inhabit and that of the contemporary art world, which seems to ignore rural traditions, ritual, and folk wisdom, revealing a clash between tradition and modernity.
EM In your opinion what does the future hold for contemporary Polish Art?
DC I believe that contemporary Polish art has gathered real momentum, nationally and internationally, and will probably continue at the same pace. The artists presented in this exhibition, as well as others, are still quite young so we are awaiting to see what they will produce in the years to come.
EM The Forgetting of Proper Names has enjoyed success and has allowed the grater public to come in contact with a fast growing art sector. What does the Calvert 22 exhibitions programme include?
DCI do not want to give away too much away at this stage as I hope people will be intrigued enough to come back and see for themselves, but way of an enticement, the next exhibition presents provocative contemporary art from Slovenia and forms part of a very exciting collaboration which we are shortly going to announce. We are also looking into more site-specific projects and generally working to deliver imaginative, inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural projects in order to reflect different perspectives and establish new creative relationships between UK, Russia, Eastern Europe and CIS
The Forgetting of Proper Names will be on until the 18th of March so if you haven’t seen the exhibition yet it is time to head to the East End. Don’t forget that there is also a very interesting series of workshops you might like to attend.