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To the rescue of the tower in Sokolovsk

18 of December '23

The situation of monuments in Lower Silesia is an exceptionally complex subject - for many years after the war, considered "not their own," today they are an integral part of local identities. The survival of this unique heritage in many places still has to be fought for, as the example of the Sokolow tower shows.

The former Dr. Brehmer's sanatorium in Sokolowsk was settled 11 years ago by the In Situ Foundation, which decided to breathe a new spirit into the unique, historic place with no function, to create a space focused on cultural and social events. In the meantime, the distinctive sanatorium tower began to crumble, and the foundation operating within its walls rushed to the rescue.

największym zmartwieniem opiekunów wieży jest zły stan hełmu

The biggest concern of the tower's caretakers is the poor condition of the helmet

© Courtesy of the Foundation for Contemporary Art - In Situ

We talk about the condition of the tower, the function of the building and ideas for saving the object with Bożenna Biskupska of the In Situ Foundation for Contemporary Art

Wiktor Bochenek
: What is the condition of the towerat the moment ?

Bożenna Biskupska: Currently, the poor condition of the tower's helmet is the biggest concern for our foundation. For years we have been using the part of Dr. Brehmer 's historic complex, which was renovated in 2009-2012, for artistic and educational activities. The foundation' s financial capacity does not allow us to secure the tower, and its detached fragments pierced the roof in part of the building, eliminating from use the recording studio, the exhibition hall, the three exhibition rooms in the tower and the art studios located in the basement.

I feel a great loss at the destruction of the results of our many years of renovation of these spaces and our great commitment to making the interiors of this magnificent monument accessible to the public. The work requires the installation of suspended scaffolding and the use of specialized equipment. On them, an expert team, under the supervision of a conservator, will reposition the tower's ceramic helmet brick by brick and replace damaged fittings with new ones made to resemble the original ones.

The restored building must be protected with special fungicides and consolidating the structure of the clinker. Trees and plants growing in the cracks must also be removed, as well as root remnants. According to experts' estimates, the renovation of the tower will cost more than 280 thousand zlotys. Without funding, sponsorship or grants it will not be possible, so the foundation has announced a drop. Any donation, even a small one, will help us to eliminate the threat and unlock this space for the upcoming cultural season in 2024.

wszystkie działania, nie tylko zbiórka, służą uratowania wieży przed zniszczeniem

all activities, not just the collection, serve to save the tower from destruction

© Courtesy of the Foundation for Contemporary Art - In Situ

: What events have been held in the space so far?

Bożenna: The building has a unique history behind it. In its heyday it was a grand, lavish sanatorium with elaborate interiors and unique architectural solutions. It was run by Dr. Herman Brehmer, using innovative, effective methods of treating tuberculosis. Aristocracy from all over Europe flocked to Sokolovsk in the 19th and 20th centuries in hopes of curing fatal lung diseases.

This fabulous place proved to be a literary inspiration for great writers. The oneiric atmosphere of the spa was immortalized by Thomas Mann in "The Magic Mountain". The contemporary phenomenon of Sokolovsk was described by Olga Tokarczuk in "Empuzjon" and Joanna Bator in "Gorzko, gorzko". The place carries an elusive atmosphere of slowing time and the seamless meeting of culture and nature, mesmerizes with charm and demands literary expression.

kompleks w Sokołowsku to więcej niż zabytek, to również przestrzeń kultury

Sokolowsk complex is more than a monument, it is also a cultural space

© Courtesy of the Foundation for Contemporary Art - In Situ

As the "In Situ" Foundation for Contemporary Art, we are making a great effort to save the sanatorium building from destruction. Prior to the takeover, it had fallen into disrepair, was completely looted, devastated and burned down. Since the foundation's inception, there has been a multi-pronged effort to save the historic complex of Dr. Brehmer's sanatorium, clean up the seven-hectare park from windfalls, care for the system of streams and ponds, in addition, we take care of old and modern plantings.

Since 2007, we have invested a great deal of work and resources in the building to restore its functionality. The place was co-created by Zygmunt Rytka and Zuzanna Fogtt. Since the beginning, festivals have been held here, resulting in new artistic events, installations, objects, concerts, premieres - activities that enrich the artistic history of the foundation. Some of the works form the foundation's collection and are presented to the public in the museum under construction, which opened in 2022. These activities have brought together hundreds ofartists from all over the world, there has been a multicultural exchange of ideas and their confrontation. Over thesecreative years, an interesting, diverse community of people fascinated by the phenomenon of the place and feeling it as an area where it is worth living and working has emerged in Sokolowsk.

For the past 15 years, in the surroundings and spaces of the historic building, numerous events have been held every year, which are among the significant cultural events in Poland. These include the Sanatorium of Sound Festival, exploring avant-garde sounds using the acoustic capabilities of the monument. The event is of international significance and focuses on experimental music and sonic art in the broadest sense. Its main goal is to present the broadest possible spectrum of phenomena related to the development of musical forms in the 20th and 21st centuries. To date, the festival has presented the realizations of more than 500 artists from around the world. Another significant event is the Hommage à Kieslowski Festival, offering screenings of timeless and niche film works. It is an initiative aimed at the philosophy of film dialogue, promoting the patron's idea of an open exchange of human experience within the framework of art.

w ramach działań w Sokołowsku odbywa się Festiwal Hommage à Kieślowsk

Activities in Sokolowsk include the Hommage à Kieslowski Festival

© Courtesy of the Foundation for Contemporary Art - In Situ

In addition, the sanatorium hosts the Contexts International Festival of Ephemeral Art, which presents numerous performance projects and happening art. It provides an environment for world-renowned artists containing their message within artistic activities and spatial installations. The venue also hosts a literary event bringing together prominent authors - theMountains ofLiterature. These unique initiatives took place in and around the sanatorium building, and the halls were also used as exhibition space for paintings, sculptures or installations by well-known and respected artists. The ventures were jeopardized by damage to the tower and its subsidence. The site had to be fenced off and temporarily shut down. This is a big personal loss for me, when so much has already been revitalized. The "In Situ" Foundation is doing its best to restore the monument to its full capacity to handle events, in order to continue creating unique art projects.

: How did the idea to preserve this place come about?

Bożenna: Zygmunt Rytka and I came to Sokolow in 2007, after years of searching for a place for the artistic activities of the "In Situ" Foundation for Contemporary Art. We fell in love with this place "without memory" within one morning. This is perhaps the best confirmation of our love and belief in art and love of historic buildings.

Our foundation has been involved in the restoration and renovation of this complex for 15 years. The choice of this site was determined by its qualities - a large compact complex of neo-Gothic architecture designed by Oppler. We wanted to save it as a valuable cultural heritage, with wonderful fields of opportunity for contemporary artistic activities.

 w ramach działań w Sokołowsku odbywa się Festiwal Hommage à Kieślowsk

As part of the activities, the Hommage à Kieslowski Festival is taking place in Sokolowsk.

© Courtesy of the Foundation for Contemporary Art - In Situ

: How can you support the initiative to rebuild the tower and the artistic activities of the "In Situ" foundation?

Bozenna: We hope that the uniqueness of the historic sanatorium will reach the community of implementers of large construction projects. We are looking for donors, as well as partners and companies that have scaffolding and construction materials like grout and bricks in stock.

We are raising an appeal to companies that create architecture, which can support us with specialized equipment, to which the place and artists will return the image. We are creating this place for culture and all fields of architecture, film and visual arts.

The fundraising campaign is taking place at, where various prizes await donors: souvenirs from Sokolowsk, refreshments at the Health Cinematheque, artistic objects, passes to festivals held in Sokolowsk: Sanatorium of Sound, Hommage a Kieslowski Film Festival, as well as plaques permanently showing the support of donors on benches in the park and on bricks in the Sanatorium's tower under reconstruction.

In parallel, the collection campaign is supported by artists from various cultural fields: actors such as Krystyna Janda and Grazyna Szapolowska have donated autographed books. Designers like Jakub Pionty donated original, unique posters. Architects have also joined the initiative, including the Centrala Design Group - which invites people on climate walks around Warsaw to support the reconstruction of the tower.

More individuals and institutions will be joining the collection, adding valuable items to the auction we have opened on the Allegro Charity page. Our profile is called "Let's save the tower in Sokolowsk." The auctions are available by searching for this keyword under the charity purposes tab.

wieżę można wesprzeć na różne sposoby - między innymi przez portal

You can support the tower in various ways - including through, or directly from the foundation

© Courtesy of the Foundation for Contemporary Art - In Situ

This is where more attractive items for auction are systematically posted. Already here you can see, among others, a unique photograph by Witold and Piotr Sobcinski taken by Piotr Jaxa, elements of the set design for Kinga Debska 's film, or handicrafts by the Lakszmi and Dzika Owca brands.

: What is the idea for further functions at this location?

Bozenna: We plan to realize a unique exhibition space in this place and fill it with art. The sanatorium is to become a research facility, and its halls will be used for cultural development projects. There will be conditions for residencies and art studios, which will unite artists from Lower Silesia, all of Poland, as well as international artists. In addition, festivals that distinguish Sokolowsko could continue to develop in this space. This activity has been developed successively by the foundation from the very beginning, and we plan to continue it. There are already artists working in parts of the historic complex, and every year we try to adapt more spaces for our mission. Since 2008, we have completed more than 2,000 art projects, exhibitions, performances and concerts. Artists are invited to Sokolovsk to work in situ, working in place, in context, also adapting the Sanatorium spaces.

innym wydarzeniem jest też Festiwal Sanatorium Dźwięku, eksplorujący awangardowe brzmienia

Another event is the Sanatorium Sound Festival, exploring avant-garde sounds

© Courtesy of the Foundation for Contemporary Art - In Situ

Another important goal is to relocate the valuable Krzysztof Kieslowski Archive from Różanka's private villa to the sanatorium's properly prepared rooms. The Foundation is storing the extremely valuable legacy of the outstanding director, donated by Maria Kieslowska. It includes original screenplays for films (including those that have not been made), along with handwritten notes and corrections. Numerous photos from film sets by Piotr Jaxa, private correspondence, reflections, poems and many other priceless materials. The building has the potential to become an optimal place for this archive, drawing prominent artists to Lower Silesia, near Walbrzych.

In addition, we plan to develop in these interiors the activities of the museum under construction, which from 2022 makes collections available and presents temporary exhibitions to the public, in the southeastern part of the building. Inside the tower were exhibition spaces, which we want to bring back into use. Adjacent to it is a multimedia room (a venue for concerts, among other things) and a beautiful observation deck.

do działań artystycznych należą też instalacje podczas Międzynarodowego Festiwalu Sztuki Efemerycznej

Artistic activities include installations during the International Festival of Ephemeral Art

© Courtesy of the Foundation for Contemporary Art - In Situ

We are looking for allies for whom saving the historic architectural fabric is a passion and an opportunity to leave their mark on this unique cultural center in Lower Silesia.

Wiktor: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed: Wiktor Bochenek

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