On Board – Brief analysis of art and politics in Poland

julian Kontent 2016

On Board
Brief analysis of art and politics in Poland

About the authors

Katarzyna Borelowska studies Intermedia Art at the University of Arts in Poznan and works as a costume designer and video artist for the Polish Theatre of Wrocław.

Adam Łuczak is a Poznan-based artist working mostly in video art, installations and performances. This summer, he finished his studies in Intermedia Art at the Poznan University of the Arts.

Das Gefecht • Essay 09.08.2016

Big and important issues are usually born from some kind of explosion. It can be a small fire in the brain cells (what fires together, wires together, as cognitive scientists say) or a big plane crash. In this case it was definitely a plane crash, and unfortunately in this case it was a plane with quite important people on board (the president of Poland and so on). The hard feelings started there and apparently no brain was involved. The mind that follows fear and hatred looks back into the past to bring some historical frame which could contain the emotions. This historical frame has nothing to do with understanding, it only serves as a pattern to re-enact the aggression.

This is why so many Poles believe that it was Russians who shot the plane.


This is why so many Poles believe the enemy is out there, ready to take away their freedom. Of course, the economical factor is also essential to understand the bipolar situation in the Polish society. The twenty-seven years of transformation from the slavery-based communism into the aggressive reality of capitalism left many lost and hopeless. Especially those who could not keep up with the capitalistic race and whose children decided to leave Poland to look for jobs all around the EU are the ones who keep their banners up with a German slogan: “Die Europäische Union ist ein deutsches Arbeitslager.” Germany and Russia against Poland? You can easily see what is happening here and what kind of deeply rooted historical patterns are brought to light to ensure a majority of Poles about their rights to suffer and fight for what they call freedom. And this freedom means no rights for the minority which dares to disagree.

And here we are now in 2016, on another plane which has taken off recently, and has somehow turned far too right.


This new ideological plane might not crash like the other one, as the political support for the conservative party that rules in Poland is getting higher and higher with every month, fueling the plane’s engines. It is clear (and the history of humankind has shown it many times before) that when such a huge loss is being experienced, values drop to the very archaic level which splits the world in two: The absolute good and the absolute evil. Right now, the ideological plane is flying on the level of the GREAT WHITE & PATRIOTIC & CHRISTIAN POLAND, the altitude that changes freedom into the reign of the closed minds. Everything that is below, is the absolute evil.

The future is now and the government puts a lot of effort into ensuring that artists express it properly.

Zbigniew M. Dowgiałło,
Smoleńsk, 2014


There are obviously politically „good“ artists and politically „bad“ artists. The painting below metaphorically representing martyrdom of Poles may serve as an example of what is considered „good“ since it is appraised by those who rule the country. Well, no further comment needed, as its figurative imagery speaks for itself. Yes, a figure indeed, as only a figure can speak to the masses. The Poles are desperately looking for the idealistic figures which can contain, represent and fulfil their desires to become a significant, strong, proud and independent nation.

But still, we, the (probably) naïve authors of this story believe in balance. Right or left, both wings are essential for the plane to fly. Let us meditate on this for a while. Let’s follow the facts and, with the lovely ‘Namaste’ on our lips, we shall analyze the situation of artists in Poland.

SOMEBODY: Is it really that bad?

Katarzyna: Oh well sweetie darling, let’s go back to the case of Golgota Picnic right in 2014. It is a theatre play by Rodrigo García which was supposed to be performed during Malta Festival in Poznań. However, its name apparently must have been extremely evil or even deadly as the strongly conservative knights decided to ban the show without even having seen a single second of it. So it was cancelled even though no one knew what the whole show was about. We can’t say whether it was really that provocative because the possibility to determine it was taken away from us… Although one monk who has seen it somewhere in South America claims that it was pretty good, so Jesus would totally accept it himself. At the same time some other priest in Poland, quite shocked with the whole thing, said that all the left-wing artists who had supported that festival should be sent away by train right to Brussels as a form of exile. It sounds pretty mean, and why Brussels for God’s sake?

Adam: But don’t worry, this kind of scandals won’t happen again as Mr. Dowigiałło, the author of the painting above is now the highly respected expert of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage who decides who will be given grants for the cultural and artistic projects. When the new conservative government waselected in November 2015 by the martyrly part of the Polish society, its young generation, including artists and intellectuals, was probably getting high somewhere in clubs or eating lovely pastries in small cafes which remind them of Berliners’ lifestyle so much.

K: Freedom, baby, freedom all the way. Not like we, the authors, haven’t done that ourselves by the way.

A: Yes, Polish young artists live in a bubble created around us by the new capitalistic Poland that our parents dreamed about.

K: Yet our parents, in the times of their youth (around ’60s to the ’80s) could much more easily express themselves without having any fears, that a group of fanatic old ladies would come to their exhibition and destroy every single piece of their works. In some weird way, which we really don’t get, the art appears to have had more freedom during communist period than now.

A: Maybe because back then the whole nation fought together against the dictatorship instead of fightingeach other.

K: Obviously, for some of you a group of the fanatic old ladies might not sound like a threat at all, but, oh boy, these ladies are pretty armed with all kinds of weapons, such as sticks, rocks, knives, and prayers and are ready to sue you for whatever they believe is right. But suing is not as bad as the group of their nationalistic “grandsons” that only wait to interrupt any artistic or cultural event that, in their opinion, insults Polishness.

A: Being born gay is already an offense as it is ultimate anti-Polish.

K: And no, our parents are not artists. But then how come a famous Polish artist, Mirosław Bałka, is scared to exhibit his sculpture Black pope and black sheep from 1987 because he just knows that it will be destroyed right after the opening of the exhibition. But have no fear sweet wildlings…

A: …as Poland is a very cultural country and our Ministry of Culture takes great care to diversify the national funds program for artists, proposing many different grants, such as:

– Patriotism of Tomorrow
– Independent Poland of 2018
– Baptized into Existence: The 1050th Anniversary of the Baptism of Poland
– Open call for National Movie Script for Hollywood Movie about Polish History

K: We bet your imagination is going crazy now that the possibilities have overwhelmed you.

A: We have been overwhelmed for so many months now.

K: And yes, in fact we are both taking the piss as we share a little laugh here and there. Some could assume that only the bad guys laugh nasty and following this idea that we might even belong to a Polish Artistic Mafia!

A: Yes, you got it right – Polish Artistic Mafia! Our Minister of Culture, Mr. Zbigniew Gliński, has spread the fact in the media that in Poland most of the museums of contemporary art and national galleries of modern art are run by an Artistic Mafia as they block the opportunity for more right-wing artists to show their work.

K: So from now on, also the artists who were not shown in the national galleries of modern art can do it. Here are some examples:


A: It may all sound like a joke…

K: …but as our grandparents would say even during the hardest times back then there were people who could laugh and cheer up the crowd.

A: But let’s not forget the very old psychoanalytical motto that says: “a joke is no joke but the truth itself… “

K: …and apparently the situation is simple, and what we really need is a mirror that could reflect our deepest fears.

A: And what is happening now is that this mirror is being painted all black and the fears cosplaying the old time enemies emerge from the void of the unconscious.

K: It sounds a little bit like a collective paranoia. And maybe it is. The paranoia of one plane. Instead of simply pulling through it, we as a society are divided into two, those who are still on board of the plane and those who are watching it from below, wondering whether it’s going to crash again or not.