WRO Art Center
Wroclaw 21 May 2014
There seems to be so much to Wroclaw that is no longer here – histories and people that have passed and gone. It’s survived a millennium of changing rulers who have swept across this part of central Europe since the end of the old Polish Piast kingdom – Czech Bohemians, Austrian Hapsburgs, Prussians, Russians – Napoleon came through its gates – then the grotesque Nazi occupation followed by communist suppression.
The evidence of such enormous changes is still there, but harder to find. Before the Second World War, Breslau was Germany’s third largest city. As Poles from the east repopulated the evacuated city after 1945 – every vestige of German nomenclature was eradicated. Whole streets reduced to rubble were rebuilt in the new Wroclaw in the years that followed, despite the past, mostly in the Germanic vernacular. Some gaps remain but more recently the familiar retail names of local and global capitalism are rapidly filling them in.
Yet the city seems in good health, youthful and energetic. The Wroclaw Art Academy has a brand new building, with an expanding printmaking department and impressive facilities for glass and ceramics. In 2016 Wroclaw will host the European Capital of Culture.
Difference Screen opened at the WRO Art Center with a moment of inspiration – with Polish artist Daniel Rumiancew’s witty one-minute film Training in which the artist, viewed from behind, head bowed, slaps his forehead with an accompanying puff of smoke as he’s hit by an idea. More of a struggle is suggested, both physically and perhaps in life, in Anna Molska’s Perspective made during an annual workshop in Dłużewo. The artist pulls an unseen load through snow with bungy cords stretching out behind her creating a perspective of tight lines which break as the pressure increases with her exertions – an absurdist comment on visual art’s classical construction.
New additions to the Wroclaw programme included Bruce Checefsky’s photogram film Pharmacy based on Stefan and Francizsk Themerson’s influential 1930 abstract photogram film Apteka. The artist reconstructed this experiment in animation from a drawing made by Stefan Themerson as the original film no longer exists.
The programme ended with Wroclaw based artist Hubert Czerepok’s Reaching the Stars which follows the ascent, literally and chronologically, of Poland’s meteorological rocket programme, made from original black and white footage obtained from an eccentric hoarder, custodian of the only remaining film record. The strange remoteness of the landscape, and DIY nature of the early rocket tests, leaves you wondering whether any of this is real. The programme was closed down in 1970, ostensibly by the Soviet authorities, when the rockets reached 100km altitude, the outer limits of the earth’s atmosphere, and portended a space programme that might have challenged Russia’s interests.
In the discussion that followed, Mariya Gonchar, an artist from Odessa doing a residency at the WRO, asked why is there such an apparent interest in the West of Soviet era monuments in public places which don’t have the same power they used to have, apart from attracting vandalism. Is this the same fascination with ‘exoticism’ that the East aroused during the Age of Discovery?
Exoticism isn’t our motivation of enquiry for Difference Screen, but viewed from the perspective of central Europe, the British Isles seem insignificant and peripheral compared to the enormous sweeps of European history – monuments of significant leaders perhaps remind us in Britain of the power of events in Europe which are of a different magnitude and inspire awe.
Ben Eastop, 7 June 2014