The essay I wrote in November 2017, ‘A4TERRITORY’, is an analysis of the mind map I created to look closer at the issues and phenomena that grabbed my attention at the time. The result of this journey through emerging connections was to define the concept of the ‘space of fear’. As a result, this concept became the main focus of my doctoral dissertation and further research.
When I can’t sleep at night I’m imagining a white piece of paper in bright, unending space. My gaze is getting closer to the paper. I’m watching it from every angle. It is easy to rotate paper in gravity-free space. Then I’m starting to fold this paper. Every time when I’m folding it I’m getting closer to it. White fractal becomes a remedy for insomnia. Whiteness absorbs me. It seems like the process of dying is quite similar to the process of falling asleep.
A piece of A4 paper is present in my research practice from the beginning. I just like this surface. My studio’s wall is filled with sheets of paper full of notes. My friend named it: A4TERRITORY. I like that. It sounds like AIR FORCE TERRITORY. The fact that my father served at Air Force Training Centre gives it a familiar and powerful resonance. You can feel space and air in it. It is also suggestive of the sky – “only sky's the limit”. An intimidating idea that what is limiting our concepts is only that metaphorically sky.
A white piece of paper in A4 size is more informal than any bigger sheet. Any gesture made in relation to this ordinary sheet of paper is not categorical. A4 has its own mobility, can always be easily replaced or removed. It is an extremely good excuse for testing and experimenting. Normally I would just make notes and spread them on my desk on the surface surrounding my computer. This time I decided to stick them to the wall in a particular way even though I’m not a great fan of diagrams. Probably, because I always had a problem with starting points. My thoughts are just floating so I decided to follow them as they appeared. I became a flaneur of my own thoughts and just forget about the centre. After a few days it became hard not to notice strong connections between elements. Creating this text I knew that the story wouldn’t be a chronological one. Its base will be the emotions and unexpected coincidences between those bits and pieces.
I assumed that having a PhD thesis already clarified would help. I started with the statement “Crowd Crystals. Spectator as a work of art”. Unfortunately, the longer I analyzed the spectrum I was covering the more unsure I become. I had a formal structure that normally appears at the end of the creative process and it was necessary to dig much deeper to find what was actually missing – the content. I decided to take a step back and to start the journey from the beginning. Humility was going to play an important role in this process. I gathered all previous thoughts, ideas, flashbacks and faced them once again with the unrestricted mind.
“Space of fear” appeared in my mind so unexpectedly and with such strength that I knew with absolute certainty that I have to find a material representation for it. I thought about space, which is a pure fear itself, where we are not afraid we just can feel that fear surrounds us. Don’t know how or don’t know where. Don’t know how real or how abstract that space should be. Don’t know what type of relation and reaction between space and spectators it should generate. It is difficult at language level to describe if it is fear of angst, anxiety or of being scared. Some unknown universe became manifest and was crystallized from the chaos that day.
It came to my mind that from a formal, material point of view Bentham’s Panoptykon would serve my needs well. Mostly because it does not allow to perform actions - it is an action itself. Architecture assumed the capability of man. The difference between Panoptykon and any other architecture of power can be found in the auto functionality it has. The “twist” appears once you realize that no one is needed to manage the space. Space is like the Perpetuum mobile of functionality. The structure itself became a watchman, as Bentham said: “I will be the gaoler. You will see that the gaoler will have no salary - will cost nothing to the nation”.
In the 15th century in Versailles, a panopticon shaped menagerie was created upon the orders of Ludvig’s XIV. The concept of panopticon per se didn’t exist in Bentham’s age even though it’s execution already occurred. It is questionable if he ever saw this lithography or other sketches. But it doesn’t matter. Substantially there is nothing special about that menagerie. Its charm resides in its nature as a luxurious version of a zoo. It is less vexing on the conscience to imagine such architecture being used in relation to fury animals than inmates. What drew my attention was, not so obvious, half hexagonal shape. Lithographs from the 17th century were drawn from a descriptive perspective, typical for architecture where it was more important to present as many details as possible over the strict observance of perspective rules. It’s not immediately visible that it’s not a circle. Hexagon is a structure of sweetness, the structure of sugar. It is the structure of crystals and also a structure favored in utopian projects designed by Oskar Hansen in the ’60s.
In 1963 Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia was completely destroyed by an earthquake. In a gesture of support, the Warsaw government offered full design of public utility building of their choice. The Skopje City authorities decided it should be the building of the Museum of Modern Art as a symbol of the progress and “immortality” of the city. In 1966 in open competition, architectural groups submitted plans. One such was that of Oskar Hansen. It was extremely difficult to execute and didn’t win but still the design is worth examination. His “folding” museum consisted of umbrella shape platforms that would fold in areas and submerge underground in others according to their need. Hansen was probably one of the greatest utopian and visionary in the history of architecture. I am uncertain whether he has visited Kale mountain where the final project was supposed to appear before his submission, but for some reason when I went there it seemed like the right city and the right place. Diving up to the top you need to pass groups of homeless gypsy people. They live in tents just next to the street creating something like camp a village. Hansen’s hexagonal umbrella at the top of the mountain could serve as meaningful a symbol of support and protection. That vision led me to my computer archives where I was keeping newspaper cuttings containing information about engineer Carlos Espinosa Arancibila from Chille who in the '60s developed and patented so-called “mist catcher” (atrapanieblas). A sophisticated half-broken, hexagonal construction was designed to collect water at Atacama desert. The scientists were inspired by Namibian Beetles Onymacris unguicularis. The project was donated to UNESCO for free use. Visions of a “protective” aspect of never executed architecture had a special meaning for me and found their unexpected continuation in designs that find hope in hopeless places.
I can’t escape from the fact that as Diamanda Galas said: “I have become a stranger to my own needs and desires. I look and see things that are not here”. That is the first line of lyrics written and performed by her sound work titled “Panopticon”. She has been described as “capable of the most unnerving vocal terror”. She is a rebel, a fighter and unusual to say the least. She is a classically trained singer with a three and a half octave range and a very strict, tough vocabulary. She is angry, primarily about AIDS. She has been an AIDS activist since 1994. Two years before she lost her brother to the disease. It’s worth noting that Amanda’s outrage is often best expressed with a scream. She has become a medium for sounds work with its materiality. A completely new universe of sounds and emotions. At this point, I have to mention Marina’s Abramović performance “The Artist is Present”. An effective show displayed at MOMA New York in 2010 and American style movie production that comes with it, which was a part of a huge promotional campaign. Even it was probably one of the weakest pieces performed by her. Imagine that instead of her we have an opera singer sitting on a chair for 700 hours in silence. Imagine that castrated vocal sphere. Tension. Not cheap tension. Not cheap suffering but almost physical absence of missed potential. Nostalgia, pain, tension, melancholy, sadness utopian devotion.
Why does Dido’s Lament aria “When I am laid in earth” from the opera Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell breaks my heart every single time? Maybe because most of us want to stay immortal these times. This secret wish to be important to at last one person which will give us an illusionary feeling of timelessness. In the past I thought that if one day someone like Gombrich will insert my name in his book I’ll be saved. On the one hand, to be forgotten is one of my biggest fears but at the same time, I feel an irresistible temptation to just drown in oblivion. Maybe that’s why I’m keeping that ephemeral vibe in my projects. Mirosław Bałka once showed me his sculpture. It was a permanent concrete structure at Umedalens Skulpturpark in Umeå in Sweden located in a ground depression. Looking from the top at his work he told me that maybe in centuries to come after huge earth catastrophe someone will discover it and will think these are a trace of some past architecture or urban structure.
“When I am laid, I am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! Forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.”
The same words stay strong, sang four centuries later by Klaus Nomi. Nowadays this message may be perceived even stronger. He died too early, he was suffering from Aids and he’s hard to forget. Luckily.
It seems like we are living in times and in a place that was created somehow by a strange coincidence. I kept in my mind Blake’s representations. He didn’t see the creator as being an all-wise God, but rather as Urizen a “self-deluded and anxious” forger of pre-existent matter. He’s using not only the capabilities of his own body. The calipers become a prosthesis, an extension of the human body. At that point, it indicates a change of category from impossibility even disability in a direction of possibility. Here where the action is indicated by caliper the person itself appears completely dependent and almost disabled without it. They are integral. Nietzsche used to say that he would not believe in a God who can’t dance. It’s hard to disagree with the fact that your state of mind changes while you’re sitting or while you’re dancing. I find it captivating to observe this Individual making perfect circles.
There was a time when I rediscovered circle shape for myself. A Japanese movie from 1972 “Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion” contains a scene where we can see a group of female inmates digging a hole in the ground. One of them showed no sign of remorse when she was left to stay there alone with the order to fill it up. Their bodies of the rest of the inmates created a ring shape circle with a central point in a form of a persistent female prisoner. After a few weeks I realized that holes in the ground created by human hands are never round. Graves, trenches, grounds under buildings, mines, canals - they are never round. I watched that movie again. Everything in that scene is about circles. The round shape of the hole, the women whose cultural symbol is a circle, the prison lights chasing the space, the circular movement of the camera, the endless circle of digging and burying and finally the movement of the camera to the sun.
Because of this particular scene, I was thinking about round holes while my grandfather was telling me a story from the time when he was in professional military service fighting with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the south-eastern mountains in Poland. It was soon after IIWW ended, between 1945-1947. Throughout his life, he never said a word about his activity as a soldier (he was in the service only these 2 years has been only 19 years of age). A historical source says that this particular partisan activity was extremely brutal. At the end of his life, he had advanced Alzheimer and could speak only about the war. There was one story, which was always hurt him and provoking him to cry. A story about horses that were gathered in a hole and shot: “I watched these neglected animals, those military horses down there, in the hole. They plunge them all, those innocent beings, and smashed them with rifles”. No one from my family knows the actual place or the precise facts, not even to which army those horses belonged.
I have thought about this scene many times and can always see the round hole. Some time ago I found pictures full of saddles on the Internet. It’s from a different period and place, Stalingrad 1943. I never realized that these saddles were such a precious and useful item. You can kill a horse, but you would keep the precious leather saddle. Leftover. The picture becomes a formal representation of a tragedy that happened or could happen to my grandpa. Unfortunately, I believe that it wasn’t his sick fantasy, but a historical event, which caused this trauma. I asked him if he killed anyone. He answered that he didn’t target anyone with a barrel even if he had a gun because he looked at these horses, but I can not tell with certainty that he didn’t kill.
Sensory sensitivity affects us strongly. Can you imagine the scent of death? I can only guess that it depends on the personal experience, one I have never had and I’m somehow grateful for that. I might know the smell of other ends, ends of things that are terminating in a certain moment. The scent of some final period closing on a chapter of your life. Like the scent of your first kiss or last meeting with someone. In this context, my London friend told me the story about his actual place of work. He creates intelligent electronic systems which are responsible for controlling a whole skyscraper. There is a place in this type of building in which all accumulators are connected in parallel series. When they are connected in this parallel series system they are strengthening the power. It’s extremely dangerous to enter that space, but he knows how to move there safely. Sometimes he has to install something above these accumulators and at that moment he can physically feel their power. They are exhaling the smell of almonds. Almonds are the scent of death. Not without significance hydrogen cyanide which was widely used as a poison in the Middle Ages and chemical weapon in these times has the same smell. It is an observation from contemporary reality, which I find very precious to my process of gaining knowledge about the space that surrounds us.
In this process of observing, looking around, I was staring at the sun a lot, which brought me to the routine of taping it. Every year since December 2013 I’ve filmed the sun for around 5 min. I use my handheld camera, keeping it in my hand so the movement of my body is somehow visible. It’s just a romantic collection. The way of checking if the sun is changing, if I’m changing or generally if anything changes. Another utopian idea just for my personal, perverted pleasure. Conceptual gestures, which keep my first part of December in discipline, ever since 2013.
When I looked in the opposite direction via the same window that I use to chase the sun I could see a bus depot. It was built in 1964 and it stopped functioning soon after I moved into the apartment (2013). I looked at the roof of that station every single day. The architecture of those post-industrial buildings with all their curves and huge surrounding halls are beautiful. Not many people have had the privilege to look at this property from my angle. I have always dreamed of making a spatial intervention at this property but never had enough spark to do it. Or maybe it was just intimidating. I was observing that place for so long that I became too shy to introduce myself to it. I just recently read that the city council decided to renovate that estate. In 2020 it will be completely rebuilt and shiny new constructions will replace the current ones. Pity. We had such an intimate relation.
I was standing in front of my wall with the same feeling as I had to observe this still, almost dead space of a bus depot, surprised that the central point is still empty. The only thing appeared around the center of my map was a free thought “Rozpierdolić struktury” (fuck the structure, but in polish rozpierdolić has a particular destroying or ruining vibe). But this empty space says a lot about the whole process. The eye of the storm. A central point was full of calm from which it is easy to observe and experience the situation around.
At some point, I was surprised and satisfied with what appeared on my A4TERRITORY. The invisible for me at the beginning connections become visible just because I have looked at it from a different perspective. I faced them and it led me to the next level in a completely different way. I created a spine to which muscles can be attached. It’s difficult to get any distance during this type of process, but it became obvious which factor I missed…
I realized that Samuel Beckett wrote something especially for that occasion in his novel “Molloy”: “But on examining my pocket-book I found it contained no more than fifteen shillings, which led me to the conclusion that my son had not been content with the sum already in his possession, but had gone through my pockets before he left, while I slept. And the human breast is so bizarre that my first feeling was of gratitude for his leaving me this little sum, enough to keep me going until help arrived, and I saw in this a kind of delicacy!”
I’m not escaping from the inevitable process to which people and things subordinates. Breakup and failing is a feature of our (every) civilization. Now, as I look, and think once again about my history, which is a long account of calamities, it occurs to me that I missed a crucial factor. A factor of love. Love and empathy that was brought previously to my projects, mostly because of the generous performer and spectator involvement. Their personal and emotional impact fulfilled my narration. I became the son who had disappeared at the last stage and left this delicate space to be cherished by others. The question is, am I able to change that and take full responsibility for not only showing but also participating in the process of love. I decided to give myself unlimited space to play with the material of my own thoughts. I move out from one point to the other to experience that what I just created is a space of fear. Research has taken a shape of artistic gesture and it will lead me to another one soon.