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Wojciech Prażmowski
In the photographs by Wojciech Prażmowski there are:
monuments, obelisks, puppets, mannequins, totems, sacred paintings and figures, idols, emblems, relics, ruins, pudges, ambalages...
There are also: Stękowizna, Bytom Wirek, Małoszyce, Mokra, Chmielnik...
...and archetypes and symbols,
and fantasms
and ghosts of poets:
like Pablo Neruda. Such Was Spain from the poem Spain in My Heart that was written during the Spanish civil war and contains a catalogue of love spells: Huélamo, Carracosa, Apadrete, Buitrago, Palencia, Arganda, Galve, Galapagar, Villalba...
...Babańce, Rachelany, Burbiszki, Szołtany, Widugiery, Krejwiany, Becejły, Szetojnie, Opitołoki...: that is Miłosz. And Herbert: "My defenseless fatherland will accept you, invader."
Prażmowski's photographic series like White-Red-Black and Polish Gardens document Poland shortly before its capitulation in the civil war (which means that it surrendered to itself? It seems so).
These: monuments, obelisks, puppets, mannequins, totems, sacred paintings and figures, idols, emblems, relics, ruins, pudges, ambalages...
...are like white flags.
Sometimes there are even no white flags; only empty poles have been left (in the fields at Mokra in 1939 white-and-red pennants fluttered on the lances).
Nearly twenty thousand kilometres covered by car and motorbike to places where: monuments, obelisks, puppets, mannequins, totems, sacred paintings and figures, idols, emblems, relics, ruins, pudges, ambalages once stood (and here and there still stand)...
...apotropaions... (from Greek: "a magical object or charm against evil").
That is: a white eagle in the role of a garden dwarf, dwarfs in the gateways of Łódź and Silesian tenements, Kościuszko (everywhere), a cross with a garland of plastic flowers, the Holy Mary of Częstochowa, of course, the Sacred Family, sorrowful Christ, but also: a little airplane on a stick and a Naked Woman from a towel, and a pair of jeans drying and hanging from the window of a Silesian tenement-garden as a sign of hope (the Flag actually does not flutter but "while we're stil alive", as the Polish national anthem says; while we're still here, we'll keep working).
"When will we start winning at last, sir?", a very young man asked during educational historic games in the Malbork castle. Because it is not far from Grunwald to "the Swedish Flood", and then: Dwarfs, Kościuszko, the Holy Mary of Częstochowa, the Sacred Family, Sorrowful Christ, a Naked Woman...
"My defenseless fatherland will accept you, invader."
We raised the barriers. Jurassic Park is right beyond the fence, satellite dishes watch out for Contact. Aliens are already here.
The late Władysław Hasior organized Seances of Acrimony. He filled the projector (his weapon was still an analogue instrument) and shot one series of slides after another, presenting the Polish People's Republic's neo-avant-garde of its great industry and little backyards. Hooray! Monumental cubes, cones, pyramids for the glory of some anniversary of the Polish People's Republic and quasi-advertisements of eggs and margarine flavoured with some rhyming slogan burst before our very eyes.
Who would have thought that almost twenty years later...
Prażmowski made it in time: here we have racks for military uniforms painted in gaudy colours: a paraphrase of Duchamp's Bottle Rack.
Even billboards (I looked it up in Stanisławski's English-Polish dictionary: "bill-board ['bil,bo:d]", "a notice board" and I could not understand why an American music magazine bears such a funny name: Billboard) have entered the Polish language. As have "developers", because at least judging by the name they often behave in the Darwinian spirit.
Let us step out for a ciggy... Outside, of course: we will stand in the doorway, one without dwarfs, in the canyon at the foot of a Corporate Abode. Perhaps the draft won't tear our heads off? Once such stories had their temperature because they circled in the air heated by fire. They had their warmth because they were transmitted at the table from mouth to mouth: legends, fables, fairytales, lores. With a moral. With a Deeper Meaning. Prażmowski made it in time to photograph a bonfire but it was already put out. Though the spirit is still there: someone still takes care of these universal little gardens of tires, gardens that survived partitions! While we're still alive! While we're still here we'll keep on working.
"My defenseless fatherland will accept you, invader."
Why was it so easy for them?
I am wondering while looking at the photograph of a hay-cart on page 42 of William Tucker's book, Language of Sculpture. On subsequent pages we can see masterpieces of Constantin Brancusi: Mademoiselle Pogany, Kiss, Sleeping Muse, Prometheus...
...and on the cover, the Endless Column that rises to the height of 2933 centimetres in the air (I give its height in centimetres so that it appears higher but nevertheless we have the impression that it drills into the sky). It may be a manifesto of minimal art due to its modular structure but it is built of lines and proportions of the country carts that may still be seen here and there in Romania. And this is but the beginning of the story. The king of Romania commissioned the Artist to produce a series of sculptures to commemorate the Heroes (of the battle of 1917 during which the City stoutly resisted the Invaders). Besides the Column (not counting the stone seats standing along the alleys in the park) also the Table of Silence and the Gate of Kiss may be found in Tirgu Jiu. The Column stands far away, on the hill. A table with twelve stone stools standing around it resembles giant mushrooms that symbolize the presence of the Dead. Then there is the Gate of Kiss with a quasi-abstract motif of a couple united by Love that is stronger than Death. The axis on which Brancusi's sculptures stand goes through the altar of the Orthodox Church of the Saint Apostles. The Column would be infinitely beautiful nonetheless. But now it gained power.
The hay-cart: let us look at its lines and proportions! It is this hay-cart that brought us under Brancusi's Column.
Prażmowski also photographs a beautiful roadside little bench on which people put down cans with "contracted" (as we used to say) milk. Or tree-trunks lovingly wrapped with coloured ribbons and tissue-paper. But when one drives across Romania or Lithuania (during the exhibition called Miłosz. A Local Prażmowski explored it whole) it is easy to see that something or someone protected this land.
As far as we are concerned, not even St John Nepomucene, bearing his teeth threateningly, could help us, as he was unable to repel even flood waves or those ambalages into which Christ was transformed. The saints are praying to the wall. Angels have no wings.
A border pole repels demons. But the forest is not far. (the Birnam forest. Or maybe I am exaggerating?) Little coloured balloons "kindly welcome our wedding guests".
A wooden goat is grazing in a meadow.
How is it possible that in a place where there is nothing (a place is by definition something where something is - probably Prażmowski is the only one who could ever photograph something like that!) the great Gombrowicz was born? Do people still come to Jasna Góra in tarpaulin covered trailers? And if so, does anybody still want to decorate them with green twigs (they will surely wither!)? Oh! The flowers are plastic, that is more practical.
And now to make things clear: what connects those monuments, puppets, mannequins, idols...
...not counting the title of the exhibition?
Are Polish Gardens something like the cultivation of the mirabilia?
In Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings live Abtu and Anet, an elephant that proclaimed the birth of Buddha, as well as Haokah, Youwarkee, the Kilkenny cats, Fasitokalón, Hochigan, Kuyata...
In Otia imperialis by Gervase of Tilbury we can find fruits of Pentapolis, baths of Pozzuola, faba inversa, water that never boils, a raven's egg in the nest of a stork, birds born of trees...
And in Isidore's of Seville Etymologies we can find cynodonts (yes, you guessed it: they are "creatures with fangs like dogs and two rows of teeth")...
I selected merely the strangest of curiosities in order to amaze you as much as possible. Prażmowski amazes us more than Borges, more the Gervase of Tilbury, more than Isidore, although he does not take photographs in order to amaze us.
He drives a car or a motorbike, stops and clicks: takes one and only one picture, and then he drives away and we are left speechless.
Where does his sharpness of vision come from?
From cruelty perhaps? A photographer-hunter aims his camera at the victim, the shot hits the target and us: "twofold", as the older generation used to say.
(What for? In order to show that we are like these sterestios that are born headless?)
Or perhaps because we feel responsible as the undertakers of relics, ruins, pudges...?
Or because we feel affection for those who try to cultivate their/our gardens, be it of old tires painted white? Ignorance grows thicker like a dark forest. I split its cloud apart and feel that Prażmowski's vision is mediumic: as if he was taking our portraits or if he photographed our astral bodies.
One of Marek Raczkowski's cartoons shows a little fellow who sits staring at the window. He is waiting for a flying saucer to fly his way: it is a question of time (picture number one). Picture number two: we can hear/see a wife who is starting a row. The bubble says: "Stefan, dinner is ready!". He turns his head and beyond the window there is an invisible... Yes: a flying saucer. "In a minute", he answers with dignity. And waits: it is only a question of time.
Prażmowski does not turn his head. He sees something, so we can see it, too.
He is our medium.
They exist: twofold. He and photography.
A man in his mid-twenties once saw Truman Capote's picture taken in wheatly-beetly Kansas, as we would say in Poland, or in the state of corn, as they would say in America.
Truman Capote landed in Kansas and then nothing was the same any more. In Kansas? No. In Prażmowski's life? Yes. A Martian landed in Kansas and someone photographed him. It was Richard Avedon. (Many years later Prażmowski wrote him a letter that was at the same time grateful, bitter and full of reproach).
No, Prażmowski did not follow Avedon. He does not photograph space aliens who come down from the sky like in Ezechiel's vision. Prażmowski's photograph is chtonic. It lays snares for our fantasms, for our domesticated (Can they be domestic? And can they be other than domestic?) archetypes and symbols. It is as if the earth (Strękowizna, Bytom Wirek, Małoszyce, Mokra, Chmielnik...) was feverish and sweated out monuments, obelisks, puppets, mannequins, totems, sacred paintings and figures, idols, emblems, relics, ruins, pudges, ambalages... It is enough to drive over, pull up, take a look, aim the camera...
Mercilessly and tenderly at the same time.
In other words, with love.
A certain lady from high society who supposedly knew what she was talking about said once: "Wojtuś would make a good medium".
It turned out to be true in two ways: "twofold", as the older generation used to say.
Dariusz Bugalski
Copyright ©2011 Galeria FF ŁDK, Wojciech Prażmowski, Dariusz Bugalski