Krakow in the Box (Historical Museum of the City of Krakow (MHK), Hipolit House, October 2016/ February 2017)

Krakow in the Box (Historical Museum of the City of Krakow (MHK), Hipolit House, October 2016/ February 2017) Within the framework of the project “Krakow in the Box”, I took up the responsibility for the co- curatorship and arranging the exhibition.

For the purposes of description, I will quote a critic’s opinion that appeared in the media following the opening of the exhibition:

For the Krakow’s artistic society, it is a phantom display – held in the museum which is bypassed by denizens of Bunkier or MOCAK,located in the Main Market Square, with the promotional poster depicting a V-formation of migratory birds flying over the Wawel Castle. Judging it by the title “Krakow in the Box” and the site, I would also expect something different. Maybe a black cabin for browsing meticulously digitalised collections, or boxes with miniatures of Krakow’s monuments made by local artists, or simply a display presenting nativity cribs. A few decades earlier, performances of Tadeusz Kantor’s theatre were held in the cellars of Krzysztofory Palace, a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, while the members of Druga Grupa could pour a few tons of sand into the depths of the dungeon and instruct the visitors to look for gemstones covered in this aggregate mass. Well, those times are well over, and if MHK managing the Hipolit House and Krzysztofory Palace chooses to display some kind of contemporary art, it will almost certainly be works of art created a few decades ago, e.g. recently presented illustrator Daniel Mróz or a reconstruction of Alfred Lenica’s exhibition. At these premises, an exhibition prepared by graduates and students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow is like a nice breath of fresh air.

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Boite-en-valise (Box in a Suitcase) by Marcel Duchamp, a unique presentation of this avant garde artist’s art, prepared by himself. Miniature reproductions of the artist’s own works, including, e.g. Large Glass, assembled one next to another, contained a complete overview of his artistic achievements in the form which was easy for transportation. The suitcase guaranteed Duchamp independence. This is also what young artists require from a museum, and their efforts are particularly pronounced not so much in their displayed works as in the arrangement and graphic design of their artistic activities, which were inspired by Duchamp. The arrangement prepared by the artist Natalia Wiernik (her works are also included in the exhibition) is strikingly different from those that MHK usually displays in this room. Instead of presenting brilliantly illuminated information screens, Wiernik decided to maximally darken the space – the partition walls are dark, not every showcase is lit, captions cannot be read with the naked eye. That is why, each viewer is given a torch on entering the gallery – just like at the famous Exposition Internationale du Surrealisme, arranged by Duchamp in 1938 in collaboration with other classics of this artistic movement. Nowicka, M. (2017)

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In connection with the exhibition, I also created an installation related to the photographic archives of the museum:

(..) the vast digitalised archives of MHC, which are abundant in photographs of the city, were to be the starting point of a contemporary photographic exhibition. They include indoor photographs, taken by the pioneers of Krakow’s photography Ignacy Kriger and Wacław Rzewuski, documentary photographs by whole generations of photojournalists, and much later photographs by Henryk Hermanowicz. There are also photographs of historical events and thousands of others- photographs documenting museum exhibitions, portraits of townspeople and fishwives, kayaks on the Vistula River, municipal events and pigeons. As the curator Joanna Strzyżewska points out, original blueprints of photographs or glass plates are rare in museum archives these days. Today, photographs which have been donated to the MHK by generations of photographers function only in the digital form. The young artists, who were invited to collaborate with the museum, gained access to the binary data records of these pictures, and not to the originals.

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In the darkness, with Agnieszka Kryjomska’s video in the background, showing slowly falling dust particles magnified multiple times, there is an old wooden showcase which could contain a collection of a provincial museum. Its contour is can be clearly seen in the dark – the showcase is not closed shut. Inside, instead of a velvet pillow with exhibits elegantly pinned to it, there is a heap of randomly placed photographs. Natalia Wiernik’s archive is her answer to the question about working with a digitalised collection, flooding the curious observers with images. Nowicka, M. (2017)

I ventured to print out the museum archives in connection with the installation, and this gesture was commented on in the following way: “In the collection of the National Digital Archives, there are 15 million photographs, and the process of digitalising historical archives is constantly complementing this collection with new items, causing it to grow. The challenge of digitalising and making this digital heritage easily accessible is paired up with making its online commercial representation available online so that today’s Internet users are provided with as easy access to museum collections as to the other Internet content.”

(selected works)