Commotion, hustle and bustle, traffic, surfeit. The present and the past, history interlaced with today. The city increasingly filled to the brim, houses and vehicles, crowds. Entertainments, trade, riots, hazards. Power and people. Entrenched routines of the civilization whose various epochs have been so vividly portrayed in a PIW book series on daily life in the times of old. Let us also don the cap of an everydayness scholar to explore Wrocław as it was in the not so remote age of the democratic transition.
For starters this week, there is an episode of Kormorany, a documentary filmed by Mirosław Koch, at the turn of the 1980s. The Kormorany (English: Cormorants), a Wrocław-based band, is a veritable legend of Poland’s alternative music scene. Their concert were often put on in impromptu re-purposed urban spaces: bunkers, the train station, the water tower. The Smoke Episode begins with the final chords of a concert played in the legendary club Index, enveloped in the billows of smoke rampantly produced by an unattended machine. The camera sneaks away from the basement, together with the audience flocking out into the street.
In 2015, the interiors of the WRO Art Center were taken over by skateboarders who used the ramps they had brought to the gallery to do ollies, kickflips, and other tricks of their repertoire. As part of the Skate Concrete show, a multi-channel interactive installation showing acrobatics performed by skaters in Sao Paulo helped reproduce in the gallery an environment known from urban explorations: before skateparks were established (where space is subject to control, first by architects and then by the police), skateboarding aficionados appropriated often deserted and invariably concrete-lined places across cities and turned them into their own urban habitat, where they could freely express themselves and pursue self-realization.
In May 1998, Wrocław’s Market Place was seized by ballerinas. The dancers’ costumes were fitted with devices for recording and emitting processed ambient sounds. Benoit Maubrey’s Audio Ballerinas was a variation on The Swan Lake, an all-time ballet classic, unfolding in the robust and lively city street. The dancers were recording Ms. Ludmiła, one of Wrocław’s first street singers, as she was belting out opera arias, no less, in the urban space, whereby her randomly registered voice samples were immediately being remixed. The electronically processed ambient sounds drove the choreography of the ballerina’s steps, figures, and gestures, as they were dancingly traversing the Market Place and the Cloth Market Street.
Touchy has been in touch since 2013, and in its earlier incarnation of Eeyyee even since 2009. While touching is an item on the world’s “don’t do” list at the moment, it has actually been pivotal to Eric Siu’s performances. In Touchy, touch made it possible for Siu’s camera and Siu himself to perceive the surrounding reality, which basically involved the transformation of the artist into a human camera, with his body integrated with the machine. This intervention alone was not enough though, as in order to work Touchy also needed the warmth of other bodies. Such a collaboration enabled Siu to see the world and return the favor by offering a souvenir photo – a snapshot straight from Eric’s eyes.
During the WRO Biennale in 2015, a trio of performers would roam along from the University Library via the National Museum to the Renoma Department Store. Their strolls would have had nothing suspicious about them, had it not been for the fact that the trio were image snatchers. In YamadaTaroProject (Yamada Taro is the Japanese John Smith), anonymous faces obtained an opportunity to become temporarily relevant and replicated. The iPads worn by the performers over their faces showed the images of passers-by they encountered on their way. As one unique face was for a moment used by four people, Katsuki Nogami’s project explored changes which digital reproduction made to our own images. Even something as intimately personal as one’s face is no longer easily describable as singular and original.
Władysław Kaźmierczak’s Crash was a groundbreaking venture marking the first live broadcast of a performance in the history of Polish television. Kaźmierczak’s historical performance blends two narratives. One of them relates events that took place on the first day of spring, which is known as the truants’ day in Poland. The other revolves around the artist himself, as he wobbles sideways on a makeshift pedestal mounted of some cubes, several glass panes beneath his feet, a lit-up bulb swinging on a rope he is holding in his hand. He gestures at risks which the media amplify as news, and himself conveys the precarious position of the individual. As oppression, including that exercised by the media, calls for more and more attention, the absorption of mindfulness will become one of the major aims of the post-media world. Interestingly, it was as early as in 1994 that Kaźmierczak anticipated the symptoms of our contemporary problems with the attention economy.
With the Sunday documentation, we draw the full circle and return to the Kormorany. This time, they are playing at the Central Station. In November 1989, the band performed in the buzzing station hall, inside the building we inherited from Breslau. Koch’s camera registers another shift, one that suddenly confers visibility onto people who linger outside the official circuit. People relegated beyond social visibility – the homeless, the punkers, etc. – make their way into the space which was meticulously controlled until recently. The camera eye captures the mutable hues of the venue, which tends to be underlit or overlit. The frames render the social landscape at the threshold of the 1990s, a decade readily associated with garish colors, excess, ubiquitous ads, and overexcitement with the hyperreal West. The Central Station anticipates all these developments, and the Kormorany’s disturbing, piercing music becomes a prelude to the post-transition times. Koch’s footage of the concert shows Wojtek Wójcik’s computer as one of the instruments in what may be the first Polish recording of a computer being played as a musical instrument, and certainly of it being used in this way in public space.
Mirosław Emil Koch (PL)
Kormorany: The Smoke Episode
performed by: Kormorany
WROcenter Group (Piotr Krajewski, Paweł Janicki)
documentation of an exhibition at the WRO Art Center
February 27 – March 15, 2015
Eric Siu (HK)
May 9, 11-12, 2013
Market Square and Świdnicka Str. (underpass), Lower-Silesian Film Center (DCF)
15th WRO Media Art Biennale Pioneering Values , 2013
Katsuki Nogami (JP)
participatory performance in public space
May 13-16, 2015
16th WRO Media Art Biennale Test Exposure, 2015
Benoît Maubrey (US)
Market Square and Cloth Market Street in Wrocław
May 24, 1998
Media Expression WRO’98
Władysław Kaźmierczak (PL)
documentation of a performance broadcast live
Polish TV Studio in Wrocław
Polish Monitor WRO’94
May 5-8, 1994
Mirosław Emil Koch (PL)
Kormorany: The Central Station Episode
performed by: Kormorany