"Mindfulness in arranging balancing objects is grounding." Interview with Koka Skowrońska of Totem Studio Warsaw

06 of February '24

Totems created by Koka Skowronska are colorful vertical objects. However, they are not only that. Each of them carries a certain intention.

Totemy autorstwa Koki Skowrońskiej

Photo: Wunderkamera Studio

Koka Skowrońska — visual artist, founder of Totem Studio Warsaw. Author of the concept in which Totem takes the form of a domestic sculpture with a given intention. Propagator of the art of toteming, i.e. building vertical compositions from everyday objects. In her work she explores the theme of play and the relationship between objects, focusing particular attention on form, color and their interaction. In the past, she has been associated with the SHOOTME Visual Artists impresariat, the Polskie Stowarzyszenie Komiksowe and the creative industry. Juror of the KTR competition in the photography category. Co-founder and art director of the boutique photography studio Wunderkamera.

Koka Skowrońska

Koka Skowrońska

Photo: Wunderkamera Studio

Katarzyna Szostak: What is toteming?

Koka Skowrońska: "Toteming" is an artistic game that is subject to only two factors - gravity and fantasy. The toys here are any everyday objects.

Totemy autorstwa Koki Skowrońskiej

Photo: Wunderkamera Studio

I came up with the word "toteming" to name the stacking of objects on top of each other. It turned out that when I was working intensely creatively, my hands spontaneously began to arrange the objects available nearby into vertical compositions. This resulted in a variety of colorful oddities composed of cups, notebooks, duct tape or fruits. At first I did not totem intentionally, everything happened intuitively. I didn't realize I was doing it, much less how it was affecting me. It had a calming, soothing and almost meditative effect, because attentiveness while arranging balancing objects is grounding. Later, observing the relationship between them in the context of forms and colors or absurd combinations gave a solid respite in the creative process when I was working (often late) at an advertising agency and my head needed a little rest from thinking. Interestingly, many people around the world also totem, for example, on the beach or on a mountain trail, when they arrange stones into towers of several centimeters. I hope to popularize the word enough for it to enter the language.

Katarzyna: You have experience in many fields of art. How did your previous career
lead you to create Totem Studio Warsaw?

Koka: I have always dreamed of an artistic profession. Since I was a child, I was interested in art and was eager to participate in cultural events and even co-organized them with my peers, such as festivals of offbeat cinema or comic book culture. However, I was too scared and too hardheaded to boldly follow this path from the beginning.

That's how I ended up in the advertising industry for more than a decade, where I could develop creatively, realize ideas and sometimes even fulfill myself artistically. I watched photographic and film productions up close, took part in radio recordings, watched the creation of sets or costumes. I worked with photographers, directors, producers and clients from different sectors on commercial and artistic projects — from coffee advertising to popular rappers album covers. It was all very diverse and interesting. It also gave me a wide range of experience and confidence that I was ready for an authorial project. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. I asked myself this question every day, most often hearing deafening silence in response. Totems appeared in my life suddenly, when I simply made room for it, leaving my full-time job. At first I thought I would write scripts and continue as a freelance copywriter. I ended up with my own art project, Totem Studio Warsaw, and co-running the boutique photography studio Wunderkamera with Ernest Wińczyk.

Totemy autorstwa Koki Skowrońskiej Totemy autorstwa Koki Skowrońskiej

Photo: Wunderkamera Studio

Katarzyna: How are your totems created?

Koka: In the beginning, each piece was turned manually by an excellent turner, an experienced craftsman, and then hand-painted or oiled by me. As interest in the project grew, I divided the resulting Totems into two collections. The Deco Collection (regularly available for sale) is mass-produced in a proven carpentry shop in southern Poland and consists of repeatable colors, patterns and sizes.

The Art Collection, on the other hand, consists of unique Totems that pass through my hands and are made in short batches. This makes them collector's items. I develop color patterns and collections, which I then take great pleasure in painting using a variety of techniques. There is a lot of room for experimentation. Although technically I sometimes find them frustrating, I enjoy them very much in my creative work.

Totemy autorstwa Koki Skowrońskiej

Photo: Wunderkamera Studio

Initially, the works were created only from wood. Now there are also special editions, such as the Totem made of solid aluminum. Very heavy, expensive and impressive. In the future I also dream of Totems made of more difficult materials such as Venetian glass, for example.

Katarzyna: What does it mean to give intention to a totem?

Koka: Without intentions, my Totems would simply be wooden sculptures. It is the assigned intention on the bottom of each piece that makes it more than a colorful or just a pretty piece of wood. It „attends” to it in a beautiful way. It becomes a gift with a message for yourself or someone close to you. And what does it mean to give intention to a totem? First, the future owner reaches into his imagination and desires, and then he has to formulate them succinctly. The number of characters is limited, so sometimes (as a former copywriter) I help with this. It also happens that I am the one who looks at a particular person and comes up with a matching intention. Then I write the chosen intention on a special holographic sticker and on the object's certificate of authenticity. Most often they concern health and feelings, but there are also very original ones — from touching or funny to surprising in creativity and form.

Totemy autorstwa Koki Skowrońskiej

Photo: Wunderkamera Studio

Katarzyna: You recently created a special totem together with Magdalena Karpińska. Which other artist
would you like to collaborate with?

Koka: The totem with the intention "Nie przestawaj patrzeć" in collaboration with Magdalena Karpińska, an outstanding painter of the younger generation, was created on the occasion of the charity auction "Spragnieni Piękna" for the Stowarzyszenie Przyjaciele Muzeum Narodowego in Warsaw. At the pre-auction exhibition at DESA Unicum, it stood among objects and names of artists such as Zofia Stryjeńska, Joanna Rajkowska, Malwina Konopacka, Jan Tarasin, Edward Dwurnik and Paweł Susid. So the bar has been set high, but I will try to answer this question by going beyond the framework of strictly visual arts. I can imagine working with, for example, Dorota Masłowska or Bolesław Chromry, whom I highly appreciate. I think Totem as much as possible can be a „canvas” for a good text or illustration.

Totemy autorstwa Koki Skowrońskiej Totemy autorstwa Koki Skowrońskiej

Photo: Wunderkamera Studio

Katarzyna: Your totems are an element of interior design. However, I have the impression that they would
also look great outside. Do you plan to create installations as well?

Koka: Definitely! This is my plan for the coming years. From time to time Totem Studio gets commercial inquiries regarding the realization of a totemic outdoor sculpture, but for the time being such a project has not yet been realized for various reasons. Large-scale objects are unfortunately also expensive, so a giant Totem will probably take a while yet. Well, unless someone who will act with the right intention and accelerate this plan is reading us... And for the time being and fortunately, I have a whole bunch of smaller totem ideas, which are lining up in an already quite long queue for realization.

Totemy autorstwa Koki Skowrońskiej

Photo: Wunderkamera Studio

Katarzyna: Thank you for the interview!

Koka: Also thank you for the interview and I'm running off to the studio, Totems are calling.

Interviewed by:KATARZYNA SZOSTAK

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