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AWAKENING

AWAKENING

AWAKENING

AWAKENING

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Justyna Koeke, 2014-08-03

Karina Dzieweczyńska invited me to participate in a project entitled Awakening in Świecie. I didn’t know anything about Świecie at that time. It’s a small town somewhere in North-Central Poland, in which no one expects to be confronted with contemporary art. This aspect of artistic activity can be great.

For my “awakening” of Świecie I suggested to the curator that I will produce a collection of outfits which I had been planning to make for a long while, but there was never enough time nor a good moment, until I received the invitation to participate in Awakening. Awakening is a series of art events designed to happen over time and which in their agenda, have the participation of the local communities. For my artworks and performances I need people, so I used that opportunity to complete my new collection. The collection that I prepared for Awakening was entitled Princesses and Saints – a reference to the figures of saints and princesses which I drew together with my sisters when we were children. The drawings strangely survived through all these years and I found them accidentally a couple of years ago.

As we were raised in a peculiar mixture of Catholicism, folk culture, opera and operetta, even though we were young, we were in touch with certain aesthetic codes and also manifested a huge talent in devising the most beautiful princesses and saints: Holy Mary, Joseph, patron saints and Jesus in various situations. We drew a lot at that time, because in our family house there was no TV. For the Świecie collection I chose the drawings which were good for the catwalk, those which could be transformed into “haute couture” outfits. I tried to transfer the drawings into 3D reality as faithfully as possible. This way I created complicated dresses with rich hats, each stemming from children’s private dreams and I confronted the costumes with special models – older women from Świecie.

I wanted to confront the dreams of girls raised according to the very conservative values of Poland in the seventies, with the reality of elderly people who are on the other side of life. I did this in order to evoke reflections and question the model of raising women to be beautiful and saintly. I was interested in topics such as the role of women in society, conservative upbringing, and so on. These were my intentions and plans.

But a project of such kind, in which many individuals participate, evolves during the process and gains its own dynamic, often changing primary assumptions. It turned out that in practice I did something else! My action as part of Awakening became a project about the body which naturally becomes older and older and the youth of the soul. A project about the never-ending vanity of women, about a clash of high art with a fair market, about embarrassment, the body in a public space and the privacy of the body. I think these are super interesting topics. The pleasure of working with the senior citizens from Świecie laid entirely in the fact that there wasn’t any need to discuss the meaning of contemporary art or my idea. There was no need to discuss an understanding of the art message, as usually happens with unprepared groups of people who are not a specifically educated contemporary art audience and which often provokes conflicts resulting from misunderstanding and lack of trust. We didn’t have to (myself and Karina) deal with that at all!

Although the costumes were not easy to wear at all, the seniors undertook the unique challenge with enthusiasm – first to participate in a professional fashion photo session and then to become models for a public fashion show on the Main Market Square in their town, during which they were watched by their family and friends. I think that the reason why the seniors so willingly engaged in the project was the fact that the collection of outfits were simply very pretty! I feel awkward when I write myself about my own collection with reference to contemporary art – the words “very pretty” sounds completely frivolous and “prettiness” is rather a curse than a blessing in the context of “important contemporary art”. However, because I don’t try to become a mainstream artist, I stand by this aspect to make something really pretty, joyful and to do it shamelessly and uncompromisingly. I did it just like I wanted it, in order to appreciate the term “very pretty” as our drawings were indeed very pretty!

Aesthetics, beauty and vanity, the need to be attractive and beautiful for others independent of one’s age, date and place of birth - these were my fascinating observations when I worked with the seniors on the project Princesses and Saints. In addition, the specific atmosphere – the mixture of the bazaar and the artistic, made this event exceptional also for me. Through the participation of the organisers and the cooperation with the local community, the project gained a specific dynamic. Monika Gerke prepared a choreography for the show of two collections, the show was presented during an ecological picnic and the senior females who participated were excellent and very brave. All of that contributed to the creation of a special atmosphere which wouldn’t have been possible to create in any art gallery or a different art space. It was a risky, courageous clash, especially for the “very pretty” collection.

The presentation of flowery outfits just like from a fairy tale, together with a large tent advertising Tyskie beer in the background from which just 5 minutes previously “feast music” was played, was the risk factor but also the entire charm of this kind of action. This is the moment in which we ask ourselves questions about the border between low and high art, about the real position of art in a public space and about how it adapts to the surroundings and places itself in a local context, questions about the border between a well thought over artistic work and a fairground attraction. This unclear context caused questions to arise, because indeed the two worlds were confronted ( with all my respect to small town festivals) and that’s why this activity was so very inspiring and intriguing for me. There was also an authentic engagement with the local community and this is the aim of Karina Dzieweczyńska, the curator of the entire project.

To summarise, I am very happy with the results of the first presentation of my newest collection Princesses and Saints. I made this work thinking about the project Awakening – and it is one step towards making contemporary art less elite!

The main part of "Awakening" took part in Świecie followed by workshops for children “My Mum is a Princess” organised by the City Gallery of Kalisz.

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