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Humor, design and people. An exhibition by Jakub Szczęsny at the Gdynia City Museum

24 of July '23
  1. The protagonist of the exhibition in the series Polish Projects Polish Designers at the Gdynia City Museum is Jakub Szczęsny.
  2. The exhibition runs from July 2, 2023 to June 2, 2024.
  3. The curator of the exhibition is Anna Śliwa, the author of the arrangement is Dominika Janicka, and the graphic design is Anita Wasik.
  4. The theme the exhibition explores is the relationship between design and society.


What is hidden in the lemur's head? Where do the footprints of its paws lead? What does humor have to do with design? And finally is design for everyone? We talk about the exhibition in the series Polish Projects Polish Designers at the Gdynia City Museum, whose protagonist is Jakub Szczęsny, with Anna Śliwa, curator of the exhibition.

plakat wystawy

exhibition poster

© Museum of the City of Gdynia

Ola Kloc: The protagonist of the series Polish Designers Polish Designers is Jakub Szczęsny  earlier it was, among others, Barbara Hoff and Oskar Zięta. According to what key do you select artists for this series?

Anna Śliwa: We presented the first exhibition of this series in 2014. We wanted to show Polish designers and Polish designs, because while Scandinavian or Western design was presented, there was a lack of a series that would comprehensively capture Polish themes, and we have a lot to boast about! When selecting artists for this project, we were guided by two principles  we wanted to show designers from different generations, both doyens of Polish design with huge achievements, as well as younger artists who are already making a global career, and also that the exhibition should not only be a presentation of works, but also an attempt to formulate "design-related" questions. For example, we used Oskar Zięta's work to show what is born between design and technology, while with Marek Cecula's exhibition we showed the tension that forms between art and design. When the pandemic began in 2020 and we still didn't know too much about which way the world was heading, what was going to happen to us, how long we would be kept at home and when we will be allowed to enter the forest again, we asked ourselves about the causality of design and whether designers have a real influence on what will be in 20,30 years, how much say we ourselves, as consumers, have.

bohaterem cyklu Polskie Projekty Polscy Projektanci w Muzeum Miasta Gdyni jest Jakub Szczęsny

The protagonist of the series Polish Projects Polish Designers at the Gdynia City Museum is Jakub Szczęsny

© Museum of the City of Gdynia

For many years, as a Museum, we have been turning our attention to people, to society. We promote ourselves with the slogan "The museum is the people", we pay attention to museum workers, but also to our audiences, because we all co-create this institution a museum is not only about relics stored somewhere deep in the warehouses, but it is above all about relationships, people, and that is why  building our narrative in 2023  we wanted to deepen this issue and ask about the relationship between design and society. About whether good design can make the space around us friendlier, whether a designer can in some way help us tame change, integrate groups, whether through activities in public spaces or closer to us, in our neighborhood or neighborhood so that this closest space is no one else's. We want to look at these issues in a different, more responsible way, to show the advantages of sustainable design with an eye to the environment, to relationships, to nature, but above all to people. To address all these issues, we could not have chosen otherwise Jakub Szczęsny knows how to organize public space like no one else. He shows that the result of design is a collective work  the designer meets with the local community, workshops are often held, preparations can last up to a year, a year and a half, and the projects that emerge are not something invented ad hoc, but something worked out, something shared. I really liked Jakub Szczęsny's idea of understanding design as a framework that people fill with their actions, that they shape together.

It took more than two years to work on the exhibition. We wanted it to be comprehensive, retrospective, showing all of the designer's work, but also provoking questions, encouraging the viewer to be active. So that it was not just watching, but also acting in the space.

o kontekście powstania każdego z projektów opowiada autorski, osobisty opis Jakuba Szczęsnego        fragment ekspozycji

The context of the creation of each project is told in the author's personal description by Jakub Szczęsny

© Museum of the City of Gdynia

Ola: Jakub Szczęsny is a versatile designer how did you manage to reconcile this multifaceted nature of his work?

Anna: I'll let you in on the secret and talk about the exhibition itself.
Buildings, architectural projects and installations in public space are generally large, they won't fit in the halls of the museum. So how to tell about them? It was not easy! A lot of answers came from working with Dominika Janicka, who designed the spatial layout of this exhibition, graphic design was provided by Anita Wasik, author of the visual identity. Jakub Szczęsny was also wonderfully involved in the process. As a result, visitors can enter a mock-up of Keret's House in the building of the Gdynia City Museum! The Keret House is located in Warsaw, and is very recognizable as the so-called narrowest house in the world. It has provided Jakub Szczęsny with fame, it is one of the first Polish objects to be included in the collection of MoMA in New York  a huge distinction. We recreated this extremely narrow house almost 1:1, we could not take into account its height, because we were limited by the ceiling, but we managed to get its width. This space less than 100 centimeters wide  can be felt thanks to the cooperation with our partner Paged, which donated the plywood to make this house. This narrowness is not claustrophobic, but cozy, embracing us, enveloping us, being the heart of the exhibition. The place is composed in such a way that we have the impression of entering Jakub Szczęsny's head, looking in, searching for his inspiration, understanding what interests him most in design.

Many readers of "Architektura & Biznes" probably know the sketches, drawings of Jakub Szczęsny from the pages of the magazine, here in Gdynia you can see them live. Some of the original illustrations are shown at the exhibition, thanks to them we just have the feeling that we can look into the depths of his imagination, see how his associations function, how detailed he is in his drawings  all this is waiting behind the Keret House, against the backdrop of a giant lemur figure. And why the lemur? Attentive A&B readers will surely remember the February issue with the lightning bolt cover (February 2021), which was edited by Jakub Szczęsny. In that issue you saw a lot of lemurs  as the designer recounted, during one of his residencies in Australia there was a conversation about totemic animals and, apparently, Jakub's totemic animal is supposed to be a lemur, or at least a small arboreal animal that likes to sometimes be in a group and sometimes separate, going its own ways, as Jakub does. I think this sums him up well.

So we recreated the large lemur figure from his drawings, which is reproduced in the aforementioned February issue. The figure of the lemur, by the way, accompanies the entire educational path for children; wherever the youngest visitors see his feet, there is a task waiting for them placed at child's eye level. We were very keen to make this exhibition interesting to view not only for experts, not only for people who are interested in design and architecture, but also for whole families, including children. That's why the exhibition also features an installation of modular, cubic elements, which  depending on what your imagination prompts  creates a tower, a vehicle or something completely different. Children can climb inside, climb up, in a word: have fun. We also wanted to emphasize the theme of good fun, which is evident in all of Jakub's work; he is a designer full of humor, who creates with the users' smiles in mind, and probably his own as well.

instalacja z modułowych, kubicznych elementów

installation made of modular, cubic elements

© Museum of the City of Gdynia

Keret's Big House and lemur head, places where we get a glimpse into the designer's imagination, are contrasted with the repetitive modular houses created for Simple House, FreeDOM and Moja Stodoła. These were extremely popular during the pandemic, and we often wanted then to put up a house somewhere on a vacant lot near the city relatively quickly, which would allow us to be more in touch with nature. Here we show a variety of house shapes. We are used to the idea that the optimal living space should be 100 square meters. Jakub Szczęsny convinces us that nothing could be further from the truth, that with good organization of the space, 35 square meters is already enough. That's why here at the Museum of the City of Gdynia, we can penetrate into small, narrow spaces, like the Keret House, or small modular houses or hideaways.

The exhibition is complemented by a film that Michal Warda of WhiteSmoke Studio created at our request. It superbly shows the personality of the designer, Jakub Szczęsny as a person. It is worth noting that Jakub let us really deep into his life. In the film we can see his parents, all the contexts from which he grows up. The film is shot with a lot of levity, showing what his design is really about and how design can mesh with society.

© Museum of the City of Gdynia

We also show what interesting things are happening at the intersection of architecture and design. We have a separate section that deals with architecture, which means custom-designed houses for investors. Here, however, we pose rather perverse questions about whether we need architects at all. What is the future of the profession? By any chance, by building more square meters of space for rent or for an investment that is supposed to stand and make a profit, aren't we undercutting the branch on which we are all sitting? After all, an architect gets paid by the square meters, he also cares to build more, to leave a bigger footprint, to be noticed. Do we really need to leave a lasting footprint, do we really need more, is consumerism the answer? Isn't that reaching some kind of wall?

jedna z sekcji wystawy poświęcona jest architekturze projektowanej na indywidualne zamówienie

one section of the exhibition is devoted to custom-designed architecture

© Museum of the City of Gdynia

Ola: To co-create the exhibition you invited people living in the houses designed by Jakub Szczęsny  how do they describe their experiences of living in these spaces?

Anna: In the video I mentioned, there is an opportunity to look inside four interiors, including the Keret House. We were able to do this by working with people who live in the houses designed by Jakub Szczęsny. We also managed to reach out to people who have spent their vacations in houses built by Moja Stodoła. These are very positive responses, some of which appear in the exhibition. We also ask questions about the house to our audience what would be the right house, energy efficient, sustainable, how to take care of it so that we all function better and safer? Answers can be posted on a magnetic board, and with a smile we read the advice that visitors leave.

Next to each project we have included short texts that tell about the context of their creation. They are written from Jakub's perspective, they are personal and sincere. We learn, for example, that while working on the Keret House, his cell phone suffered a bit, as it was bitten repeatedly from the stress and various perturbations associated with the project. Jakub Szczęsny does not hesitate to reveal himself to us.

The spine of the exhibition is the section devoted to Jakub Szczęsny's projects in public space. For me, this section was the most important because of this year's theme, namely design and society. It interestingly shows Jakub's methods of working with the community, and we also have the opportunity to see some of the projects on audiovisual material.

A bonus of the exhibition is the installation that Jakub Szczęsny created on the museum's terrace. We haven't used this space often before, there were sometimes concerts and yoga workshops held. When Jakub and I talked about the museum and the exhibition, we thought of incorporating the terrace as an exhibition space, giving it a second life. It has a beautiful view of the bay, the yacht wharf, the beach and also a bit of Gdynia, but it was lacking life. That's why Jakub Szczęsny designed an installation that we were able to realize thanks to our cooperation with Cosentino  "The Cloud", which is a table and seats in the shape of clouds. I encourage you to taste a bit of heaven in Gdynia!

na tarasie projektant stworzył instalację „Chmura”, czyli stół i siedziska w kształcie obłoków

on the terrace, the designer created the installation "The Cloud", a table and seats in the shape of clouds

© Museum of the City of Gdynia

Ola: The idea you had for the physical preparation of the exhibition was to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible what did that look like in practice?

Anna: In 2019, during the Logroño Festival, Jakub Szczęsny presented his installation Taburete Tower  a tower made of stools. All festivals like it when there is some sort of hallmark of the event, its fetish, something big that makes an impression, attracts people and looks good in photos. When it's over, however, such a festival generates huge heaps of waste. Jakub Szczęsny then came up with the idea to create modules in the shape of stools, which then, layered one on top of the other, became a tower, something noticeable, interesting. During the finissage, there was a dismantling of the tower, and people could take with them a part of the art, design, that is, one of the modules of such a structure. This was the case in Logroño and in India during the Bengaluru By Design festival and later in 2021 in Warsaw, when stools turned into benches in the installation The Benches dedicated to Jewish teachers who lost their lives during the war. Each time, these pieces went to institutions and private people. Thanks to our cooperation with a number of Warsaw organizations and foundations, we were able to recreate a fragment of the Warsaw installation; we lent ten modules, ten benches, which have a second life every day. We also show how these modules now function as benches, bookcases, or prove themselves in other uses.

jako ścianki wykorzystano ścianki z poprzednich ekspozycji

as walls were used constructions from previous exhibitions

© Museum of the City of Gdynia

Together with the arranger, Dominika Janicka, we thought that since we talk about such a circular, sensible approach to things, we also wanted to build this exhibition in a similar way. We used walls from previous exhibitions as walls, which were refreshed and repainted in a different color. As for the other elements, i.e. the displays for the mock-ups or the wall with the reading room, where the next issues of "Architektura & Biznes" with the columns of Jakub Szczęsny are presented, we used silicate blocks. They are quite popular in the construction industry, and after the exhibition we intend to return them to circulation, so we will not generate waste. We're using ordinary shipping pallets repainted in orange, so we are using something that would be a waste or construction part, giving it a second life, and after the exhibition is over we plan to return them to circulation, let them continue to serve the construction industry. With these solutions, the carbon footprint of this exhibition will be as small as possible. It wasn't easy, but I think it's worth taking such steps. The exhibition lasts a year so in some sense it is sustainable anyway.

jako nośniki informacji wykorzystano palety transportowe przemalowane na kolor pomarańczowy

transport pallets repainted orange were used as information carriers

© Museum of the City of Gdynia

The keynote that guided us in creating this exhibition was the slogan posted on the stool tower in India  "Design is for everybody" . Because good design is for everybody, it has the power to unite, the power to return space to specific groups. Design in a social context is really important, no design is not a socially indifferent act, we are part of it and we decide about it.

Ola: Thank you for the interview!

Ola Kloc

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