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02.10.2015

The village on banners and billboards

We’re halfway through another edition of the Grolsch ArtBoom Festival. Contemporary art is appearing in the most varied forms and in the least expected places. Given the subject of this year’s festival – “The transformation of the village into the city” – things can get a little surprising…

In the square at the intersection of Czarnowiejska and Kijowska Streets stands a shrine, made by Piotr Lutyński. The abstract installation is a reference to the past. The Living Lantern is a call-back to the tradition of Polish shrines, which have become a part of the rural landscape. Erected at roadside, they were places of worship and community experiences of the residents, through group prayers or traditional parish pilgrimages. They were a visible sign of faith and belief, but also local identity. Lutyński’s work also recalls the tradition of the so-called Lanterns of the Dead. They existed in Krakow since the 14th century and were a kind of illuminated orientation points on the map of the city, allowing people to find their way. They were also a clear warning. One of the oldest was the Lantern of the Dead by St Nicholas’ church at Kopernika 9, which warned passers-by away from crossing the border of the hospital for lepers. Over the years, the lanterns changed their function and became ordinary shrines, often decorated with figures of the saints. Lutyński shows how some important elements of the landscape, essential to identity, become almost invisible with the passage of time and the change of customs. His abstract work, with its shouting forms, demands that we pay attention to it. It is impossible to pass by it with indifference.

Mykola Ridnyi in turn refers to a John Steinbeck novel. In Grapes of Wrath, the writer tells the story of a family of American farmers, who are forced to leave their home in Oklahoma because of their problems with the bank and the changes occurring in the American countryside. In one of the episodes, Steinbeck describes the process of selling the farmers’ goods, including the livestock that the family has to sell for next to nothing. It was this story that was the starting point for the Ukrainian artist’s work, In Pieces. On one side of the banners located at Królowej Jadwigi Street are descriptions of the objects sold by the farmers’ family, taken from the novel, and on the other side are representations of the objects, such as tools or weapons. Everything resembles modern hypermarket advertisements. Because everything can be bought.

Oliver Ressler decided to speak with urban activists, as well as curators and artists, about the problems of urban space. The results of the conversations and visits to districts that were once villages incorporated into the city were used in the design of billboards. All of them describe the uncontrolled growth of housing estates, the ravenous appetite of the developers and taking over more and more lots and spaces to be used for investments – great housing estates, fenced in, constricted, oversized and devoid of greenery and air. The Failed Investments billboards, one of which can be seen at Kałuży Street, are intended to call the attention of the city residents and authorities to the way urban spaces are ruined.

The festival, which runs from 25 September to 9 October, is organised by the Krakow Festival Office.