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"Already a little bit of the world knows what Polish design means".

Ola Kloc
25 of November '21

Dorota Koziara - a versatile designer who creates both artistic, sculptural installations and functional art products, exhibitions, designs and set designs. For years she has been actively promoting Polish design around the world and has collaborated with major brands like Dior and Hermes. Sixteen years after the first self-organized exhibition "Polish Designers", he is co-creating another one - the exhibition "Creative by Nature", presented in the Polish Pavilion at the EXPO in Dubai . How has Polish design and its perception in the world changed over the years?

Ola Kloc: You are often referred to as an ambassador of Polish design in the world, having curated many exhibitions presenting the achievements of native artists. The first of these, by the way, the "Polish Designers" exhibition, you organized on your own in 2005. How do you think Polish design and its perception in the world has changed over the years?

Dorota Koziara: This is a very cool question, especially this year, because quite until recently, even before covid, I kept saying that we are not yet known enough for our design. Every exhibition I curated had the words Polish design in its title. I have been doing this persistently since just 2005, since the exhibition in my studio in Milan, in order to code in the minds of people from abroad that in addition to Italian or Scandinavian design there is also Polish design. During those sixteen years a lot happened, it was a very intensive time in terms of the development of Poland, the development of Polish industry and, consequently, the development of Polish design.

I am now the curator of a very prestigious exhibition in the Polish Pavilion at the EXPO in Dubai, which has the title "Creative by Nature." It was inaugurated on November 18. It's an exhibition where we show Polish products, very innovative, because its main organizer is the Polish Patent Office. So it's not an exhibition that I can compare to the design exhibitions I organized in Milan, for example, where we showed definitely more furniture or home furnishing products. The Dubai exhibition shows not only things related to people's immediate environment, but also inventions, devices in the field of medicine or objects to take care of nature, such as the underwater drone that the company NOA Marine from Krakow, a very interesting startup that studies the cleanliness of the seas and oceans, produces. So this is a very comprehensive exhibition, which in a nutshell shows Poland's situation on the international stage in the fields of design and innovation. This is the first exhibition I'm working on that doesn't have the words Polish design in the title anymore.

Pawilon Poland at EXPO 2020 in DubaiPawilon Poland at EXPO 2020 in DubaiPawilon Poland at EXPO 2020 in Dubai

Poland's pavilion at EXPO 2020 in Dubai

© Tubądzin Ceramics

For many years, foreign journalists, coming to the exhibitions, asked me what this Polish design is, what it entails. There were no publications on this subject at the international level. When in 1998 I was working on the set design and some of the dramaturgy for a play directed by Robert Wilson for the 70th anniversary of the world's oldest design magazine Domus, I looked through the magazine's archives - there was no mention of Poland or other former Pact countries. In Poland, despite the difficult historical and political situation, the fact that we were not on the map of Europe for more than a century, there were partitions, one war, another war, despite the lack of continuity in craftsmanship that countries such as England, Germany, France or Italy, for example, have, we still have craft and industrial traditions, they are simply in our DNA. After the political upheaval and after Poland's accession to the European Union, when large subsidies began to appear for development through design and the latest technologies, Polish companies took advantage of this very well, and today we see the results. Today, indeed, we may not yet be able to talk about the expansion of numerous Polish brands into international markets in many fields, but it is already happening, it is no longer the way it was fifteen or ten years ago. Already a bit of the world knows what Polish design means.

: We will come back to the Dubai exhibition you mentioned, but in the meantime I would like to go back to the beginning of your career. After graduation, thanks to a scholarship, you went to Italy to further your studies, development and creation there. I know that you also considered Scandinavian countries. What was it about Italy that stole your heart?

Dorota: Two things prevailed. One is that when I was in college, I took a trip to Italy. I was enchanted by it! Tuscany, the outskirts of Florence, the richness, the diversity, the beautiful nature, the history, the medieval painting, that mix, that cultural richness.... I thought I would like to live in this beautiful country at least for a year, just to be able to interact with it, to get to know it more, not just on a tour. And the second thing was that when I wrote to the school in Helsinki to ask if I could study there, they replied that as much as possible, they are waiting for me with open arms and added that there is a Pole at the university. It turned out that my friend from Cracow, Kuba Czekaj, was studying there. And he wrote me: "you know what, Dorota, people from the south have discovered other continents, here in the north at 4 pm everyone is already overwhelmed by gloom and end up in the pub". It's just an anecdote, of course, but I've always felt inwardly closer to the south than to the north. These are two distinctly different schools of design.

When I was trying to understand what the Polish design is like, I talk about it with my professional friends. One of them, a well-known designer with Swedish and Italian roots, Duilio Forte said: "you guys are actually in the middle, not just geographically." He is superbly familiar with both the Scandinavian and Italian schools. What happens in Scandinavia is very ascetic, not to say gruff, and of course there is also great elegance in it. In contrast, what is happening in the south is, as I call it, "baroque," but not in the sense of gold, velours and so on, but in the sense of diversity of activities, aesthetics and richness. Poland is indeed in the middle, with a certain hint of Eastern romanticism.

: You are an extremely versatile designer - you create both huge sculptural installations and small designs for ceramics produced in Boleslawiec, and even fashion collections, furniture, stage designs, exhibitions. You also work with major brands, by what key do you select them?

Dorota: The key is one - a designer is a person who is simply supposed to design. There are areas of design that require specialization or working in a team, like designing an airplane, a cell phone, computers or medical equipment. There are also plenty of other things related to interior design or the fashion world, things that people surround themselves with, that serve them, that a designer can design in his studio. When it comes to designing a vase or a chair, you don't need a specialty, you just have to like it, and for me every such topic, every collaboration, is a new challenge. For many years it was thought that a designer should know all the technologies. In my opinion, technologies are developing so fast, there are so many novelties, innovations, often designers work with companies to create new materials, that it is not really possible for a person to know them all.

I myself have always loved factories, ever since I was a child. My grandfather was a carpenter, I often sat in his workshop among the machines and shavings, perhaps this is where my fascination with the design process came from, the fact that from the sketch to the moment when the product will be used by a person, there is a long way and the work of often many people. For me, this process is fascinating, it's to make something for a person, and not for myself. Creating "for oneself a muzom" is a whole field of art, years have taught me that it is very necessary, we need to surround ourselves with beauty, it affects our emotions. Beauty is as much a function for me as ergonomics.

The breadth of my work is that for me every topic, every technology is just a new challenge, I am eager to face it. Before starting work, I always study the situation of the company in question in order to understand their technological line well, but also to offer them a product that would open up new markets, something that can expand their product range. Fortunately, art is all the time involved. Even at the elementary school stage, I couldn't decide whether to choose painting or become a doctor, like many young people who at some point don't know which way to go. Even when I was 13, on the one hand I wanted to serve humanity, and on the other hand to paint and draw, and I didn't really know how to reconcile the two. It seems to me that design just brilliantly combines these two things. In Poland, when I was studying, there was a clear division that architecture at the polytechnic is about the solid itself, and interior architecture and design are taught at academies of fine arts. This was incomprehensible to me, interior architecture and architecture-body should work together, and people should learn these things together, because then they work together on projects. Although art is still connected with design in our country throughout education, not everyone combines this in their professional life. I went to Italy, where this combination is very often practiced by architects. Alessandro Mendini himself, with whom I worked for many years, was both a great architect and artist, art has an important place in many of his designs for public spaces, museums. Maybe I myself have been developing design more in recent years, but I have not completely moved away from art during this time, every year I try to realize some sculptural installation, one or more. It's just natural for me, this mixing of art and design.

: You talked about how fascinating you find the technological process in collaborating with brands. You have been working with Tubądzin since 2015....

Dorota: Yes, the Tubądzin brand, in addition to being a manufacturer of bathroom ceramics, is also the kind of company that has done a lot over the years, not only in the Polish market, but also in the markets of the former SAA countries, where the economy has developed dynamically in recent years. Tubądzin organizes an architectural competition, already international, in which the prizes are impressive. In addition to an internship at my studio in Milan, there are cash prizes and interesting trips abroad. Those who won in the last edition recently returned from Dubai, two years ago the winners were in New York. The brand has also been organizing Tubądzin Design Days for several years, and it was from this event that our cooperation began. In 2015, I was one of four special guests at meetings with architects in a dozen cities in Poland. Later, the brand invited me to be a designer of new collections.

© Tubądzin Management Group

: The fruit of this collaboration is the Cielo e Terra, or Heaven and Earth, collection of dyed tiles. It is dominated by close to nature, subdued colors inspired by the colors of the Polish landscape. What is this collection like? What was the process of its creation like? I imagine that technologically it was a huge challenge, and how was the process of drawing colors from the landscape itself?

Dorota: Drawing colors from the landscape was a beautiful part of this project, but it's the technology itself that is just amazing! When I entered into cooperation with Tubądzin Ceramics, a brand with two large factories at the time (today there are already three, in a moment probably four), I studied what the company was already doing in its field, what the technological possibilities were and what I could therefore offer differently, what would expand their audience and markets, but also how innovative the new product would be compared to what the brand was doing so far. I could then propose another series of decorated tiles for private spaces, which the brand was mainly doing at the time, but given the stage of development that Tubądzin was at, I wanted to propose collections that would also be suitable for public spaces and facades. Such products have completely different technical parameters when it comes to abrasiveness, slip resistance, reaction to light. At the same time, we conducted various experiments in the studio, took a great deal of photos of the Polish landscape, which we enlarged to a single pixel. I wanted this collection to be harmonious, with a color scheme characteristic of Central Europe, mainly inspired by the Polish landscape. Initially, the working name of the collection was just "Colors of Poland." Thus, we selected about thirty colors. The dominant range of colors showed us that in this Polish landscape it is difficult, for example, to have the warm, intense turquoise that is found on the Mediterranean, and it is also difficult to have many other, more saturated colors, that in fact this medium is very subdued. Of course, we have beautiful colors of flowers in May, June and July, but this is not the dominant range of colors throughout the year.

kolekcję Cielo e Terra creates nine colorskolekcję Cielo e Terra creates nine colorskolekcję Cielo e Terra creates nine colors

The Cielo e Terra collection is formed by nine colors

© Tubądzin Ceramics

The color study came out beautifully, we also did tests at Tubądzin Group factories, but we couldn't get the parameters we wanted. I also wanted to color the tiles in the mass - imagine taking a bag of sand, mixing it with pigment and pressing it. And now when we cut such a tile, whichever way we cut it, it will have the same parameters and the same color everywhere, in every cross section. That's the kind of product I wanted, only such a product could achieve maximum abrasion resistance, anti-slip and withstand different weather conditions. We were getting high parameters, but they were not the highest, the kind with which we could conquer the world. Until one day I came to Tubadzin and the owner of the company, Mr. Andrzej Wodzynski, invited me into his office, closed the door, spread a huge roll on a large glass table and said: "with your project you have inspired me to build a new factory, which must meet these parameters, because at our place, as much as we could, we have worked out so much, for this, however, a completely different technological line is needed". It was a very touching moment for me, but he also added: "you still have to wait two years."

kolekcja Cielo e Terrakolekcja Cielo e Terrakolekcja Cielo e Terra

Cielo e Terra collection, color Blu

© Tubądzin Ceramics

And so another Tubądzin factory was built, with the Continua+ technological line designed by outstanding specialists from the Italian company SACMI, who, being at the opening, said, which was also touching, that this is at this moment the most modern factory in the world. That was impressive. We were also very afraid, I was afraid, I think the owners of the company and the managers were afraid, because in those big vats, into which the masses are poured, in which it all has to be mixed, from which later the whole thing flows out to the processing line, all it takes is a single fleck, an unmixed pigment, for something to go wrong. And this then goes in quantity, even such a test in the factory. It's not like you can open the oven, put the cake in and pull it out. When you let go of a process line, those hundreds of meters just go in a string. With this cooperation, also for the first time, when I went to see the prototypes, that is, the 2.4 × 1.2 meter boards that stood in this production hall, I physically jumped for joy, because it had never happened to me to see such a prototype, about which I had absolutely no reservations. It exceeded my expectations in general and the expectations of everyone who worked on it. Both the technologists in those former factories who started working with me on the colors and the people who worked with me from the brand's internal design team or later the technologists who had to learn the lines in the new factory, it was something amazing. What's also symbolic about the new factory is that the lab is located right in the heart of it, right in the middle.

kolekcja Cielo e Terrakolekcja Cielo e Terrakolekcja Cielo e Terra

Cielo e Terra collection, colors Sabbia and Beige

© Ceramika Tubądzin

Today, this product sells in many countries around the world. Since we're talking about the expansion of Polish companies, I have to say that I'm very pleased when I get text messages from some showrooms or places that sell the best Italian brands, or, for example, from southern Africa, from Canada, from the United States, not to mention those countries closest to where the collection is available. The production itself was a tough nut to crack, but there really was no "kucha", already in this new factory everything from the laboratory to the first prototypes came out simply perfect, and I am very happy about that. Now we are developing the collection with mosaics, new decorations, probably new colors as well. Coming back to the color scheme, of course, we couldn't produce all thirty colors, this is always a matter of difficult choices - the factory can't produce everything, this then means costs, storage, assigning codes. As a result, we have four colors of the earth, four colors of the sky, and a color combining these two categories - pink, which I had to fight a bit for, since there were mostly gentlemen on the board. Today we can only smile, but in the end this pink sells very well, and the chief executive himself once told me a great compliment: "Ms. Dorothy, you see further than we do though, I have to admit it". This really gave me wings, and the blush turned out to be probably the most sellable color, both men and women use it, it is a good complement to all the rest of the shades. This is the kind of product that may not be primo violino, it's not flashy, but it will last for years, that's my hope.

kolekcja Cielo e Terrakolekcja Cielo e Terrakolekcja Cielo e Terra

Cielo e Terra collection, color Polvere

© Ceramika Tubądzin

From my point of view, it is worthwhile to design products so that they stand the test of time, so that they survive fashions. Even more so after the covida, when we all realized that our immediate environment is very important, because we spent a lot of time in our homes, in offices maybe less. It is the beauty of the products we surround ourselves with, their quality that is very important. And this is such a product. I also wanted it to be the kind of color range that architects could use on facades as well, so that they wouldn't be afraid to mix these colors. It has been studied in such a way that whether an architect uses one color in a project, or two, or all of them in any configuration, they will harmonize with each other.

The kolory has been selected so that they can be freely juxtaposedkolory has been selected so that they can be freely juxtaposedkolory has been selected so that they can be freely juxtaposed

colors have been selected so that they can be freely combined

© Tubądzin Ceramics

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