Some views have already become boring to us, we rush through the city, not noticing the surrounding spaces, details. Sometimes, however, even a slight change of context, even a small intervention in the familiar area allows us to look differently, perhaps not necessarily uncritically, through rose-colored glasses or filters that bend reality, but giving an impulse to discover places anew.
This is the impulse that artist Kinga Nowak and curator Agnieszka Jankowska-Marzec want to give with the "Wyspia" installation, which contrasts contemporary art with the historic buildings of Wawel Hill, colors the Krakow landscape, "dusts off" the work of Stanislaw Wyspianski, and at the same time encourages people to experience the space, touch the art, and also, and perhaps above all, play.
The "Wyspia" installation is located on Wawel Hill
photo: Szymon Sokolowski
We talk about the "Wyspia" installation with its author, Kinga Nowak and curator Agnieszka Jankowska-Marzec
Ola Kloc: What influenced such a form, selection and combination of colors in the installation?
Kinga Nowak: I wanted the form to be open, to invite you in, and not just to be viewed from the outside. In order to create the possibility of entering from all sides, I situated it on a square plan. The installation is composed of eight elements, four of them are offset, turned 90 degrees, so they give the impression of entering through an open door. The other four objects, if you look at them from above, form the form of an open square. So there is some offset there, but actually the projection is straight. I wanted it to be uncluttered, open and inviting to enter and exit. Practical considerations were also important, such as air flow, so that a greenhouse wouldn't form inside and even on hot days you could still enter without feeling suffocated.
The installation is positioned in relation to the sides of the world. This is important, because light plays an important role here, it has to harmonize with the form. So from the beginning we were looking for a place that would be very well exposed in relation to the light, so that the play of light would be constantly present.
The installation changes depending on the time of day and year
photo: Szymon Sokolowski
As for the colors — I was strongly inspired by Wyspianski, these combinations of scale blues, ultramarine, turquoise, they are visible in his stained glass windows — in "Apollo" or "God the Father". He often punctuated them with strong strokes of yellow, orange or pink. These elements were taken from him. But there are also such color arrangements that are very close to me. I tried to combine what I like in colors, juxtapositions that I think work interestingly, with what is characteristic of Wyspianski. I also didn't want there to be too many colors, it seemed to me that there must be some harmony in them, because when they overlap, the number of colors increases — the colors penetrate each other, creating new shades. I figured that a limited range would be enough to make it work, and not be over-colored.
Ola: Why did you decide to refer specifically to Stanislaw Wyspianski?
Agnieszka Jankowska-Marzec: When I was on scholarship in London in 2016, I attended a conference on the presence of contemporary art in historic interiors, spaces, palace complexes and museums. I realized then that contemporary art and contemporary artists can make interventions, updating collections, adding new meanings to them. Also, for a long time, Wyspianski, who, to put it in Gombrowicz's terms, has a made-up face, has been chewing on him a bit, the same thing over and over. I dreamed of dusting him off, bringing him up to date, and I thought Kinga would be perfect for this — I knew her works, which are in MuFo, and I knew she was comfortable with spatial realizations. It turned out to be a happy coincidence, because at Wawel Castle they also had the ambition to introduce contemporary art into the historic spaces. The first attempts at taming the subject were made on the occasion of the exhibition "All the King's Tapestries", when an intervention by Marcin Maciejowski and Miroslaw Balka appeared at Wawel. Wyspianski was also very strongly associated with Wawel — I'm thinking, for example, of the unrealized project Akropolis, a reconstruction of the Wawel hill, on which he worked together witharchitect Władysław Ekielski, the unrealized designs for stained glass windows for Wawel Cathedral, which we know only from a few sketches, and the fact that his father had a studio at the foot of the hill. So this whole Wyspianski-Wawel context inspired me to turn to Kinga, and she had long been interested in working in space, in glass.
The contrast of historic architecture with contemporary art creates new contexts
photo: Szymon Sokolowski
Ola: So how is this dialogue between the contemporary installation and the historic Wawel Royal Castle going?
Agnieszka: We know from Ekielski's texts that Wyspianski dreamed of creating a temple made entirely of glass, but no one knows what it was supposed to look like. The Jagiellonian University Museum preserves his drawing of a glass pavilion for the 1900 World Exposition. Wyspianski, however, abandoned these ideas. Our idea was not to copy his ideas, but to follow in the footsteps of stained-glass windows, not the soft-line Art Nouveau ones, but modernist ones. So in "Wyspia" there are stained glass windows, there is glass, light and a very subtle reference to typography (the letter "W"), which Wyspiański was also involved in. There is also a reference to theater — we have a quasi-stage — a platform and a scenographic setting, which in a sense refers us back to Wyspianski's theatrical passions. We dream that some actor or actress will perform on it with a selected text by Wyspianski. So there's a bit of typography, stained glass windows, an unrealized plan of the cathedral, the development of Akropolis... and so this dialogue builds. Not literally, but in the realm of imagination. It was a difficult task.
The illuminated installation add some colours to the Wawel hill
Photo: Szymon Sokolowski
Kinga: Yes, there were many discussions before we reached the final shape of the installation. What has always attracted me about stained glass windows is that their color depends on the temperature of the light, the weather, but also can be very intense, and can completely enchant an interior. My dream was to realize something in colored glass so when Agnieszka approached me with this proposal, my first thought was to refer specifically to stained glass. From the beginning I wanted to make my own work, which would meet Wyspianski's work, but also not be some kind of compromise. So I have the impression that it meets the Wawel Castle in its simplicity, there is no great dissonance after all. Of course, we are dealing with old architecture, there is a contrast. When contemporary art hits historic sites, it has a chance to relate to a broader context, to become more than just colored glass. This dialogue is perhaps best manifested in practice, in the fact that people walk through the installation, visit and experience it, just as they do in the Wawel chambers. It seems to make it fun for them, causes them to open up to color, to light, to play with it. It makes me happy when I see reels posted on Instagram, videos where people are looking at the Krakow or Wawel landscape through multicolored glass. I get the impression that they're having fun, and that was also a bit of the point, to open the audience to such a direct experience. Art in public space has to be addressed to many people, it has to work on many levels, both for those who are somehow prepared — they have knowledge, recognize certain contexts, as well as for those who, for example, come from a distant country, not knowing our history and see only this visual or aesthetic layer.
Visitors can walk through the installation, experience it, just as they do in the Wawel chambers
photo: Szymon Sokolowski
Ola: Do you observe how people interacting with "Wyspia" behave? Which reactions surprised you the most, and which are the most common?
Agnieszka: The reactions are very positive. Our idea was to strip Wyspiański of its pomposity, of this timpiness, so that people could just enjoy it. We see families with children going crazy delighted with the color, teenagers taking pictures of themselves from behind the colorful glass. So it's more like casual fun, playing with light, color, taking selfies. The juxtaposition of yellow and blue, which is associated with the Ukrainian flag, also appears there.
The installation is located in relation to the sides of the world so new color combinations are constantly being created
Photo: Szymon Sokolowski
Kinga: Although the color combination was taken from Wyspianski, I'm glad that this way Ukrainians can also identify with the installation. As I was working on the project, once I approved the colors I had chosen, war broke out. I thought then that this juxtaposition could give a kind of reference to the Ukrainian flag, and it's a good thing that it did.
I also like the videos where the people recording them are spinning inside — dancing — bringing movement to this work. In both Wyspianski's "Wesele" and Wajda's film, everything is spinning, so these videos where someone is spinning quickly, the colors are changing, and the landscape is spinning along with them, bring to mind just that movement.
Ola: How long will "Wyspia" be on Wawel Hill? Is there already an idea of what will happen to it later? Will it have a chance to work in a different context?
Agnieszka: For now it will be on Wawel Hill until November 30, but there have been unofficial suggestions to extend the exhibition of "Wyspia" until next year's Wyspianski exhibition at Wawel Hill, so that would be a very good context. But for now we don't know what will happen yet, we are waiting. It would be useful to have an interesting development for "Wyspia", because this work has a universal character, it can be read on many levels.
Ola: Thank you.