Monday, 31 December 2012

Making Audible - Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennial

[based on a text I written for The Wire Nov 12]
Polish Pavilion at Venice Biennale
Katarzyna Krakowiak
Venice, Italy

At this years Biennale, full of clumsy pseudo-socially engaged statements, it was mostly the few art focused installations, that pushed the path of experiment. Perhaps it is impossible to make an exhibition as big as the Biennale something beyond polite mediocrity, to make people come back home happy. With the topic of ‘Common Ground’, the curator David Chipperfield tapped suitably into the contemporary economic crisis, bearing questions of ownership and communality within a capitalism-shaped world, but the outcome was rarely questioning anything beyond nostalgia after the western welfare state and modernism, beside the usual architects’ self-boosterism. Only one pavilion, by artist Katarzyna Krakowiak and curated by Michal Libera of Bołt Records, considered the relation between sound and architecture and took it to a new level, distinguishing itself strongly from its surroundings by an extremely sophisticated, if a little depoliticized installation, that can potentially change the direction of the sound art becoming increasingly conservative in terms of presentation – happening within white gallery walls, exploiting on and on the same subjects, for instance, the one of "the city" or making predictable installations, which think simply by using the sound they are sophisticated - not really adding anything new to the understanding of the sound.

Krakowiak specialises in complex, often inspired by classic texts on sound, borderline explorations, making us realise how our world is visual, optical. In a series of events called Expectative she mixed the F. Murray Schaeffer notion of soundscape with a 17th century scientist’s Athanasius Kirchner. There, Krakowiak embraced ideas derived from the acoustic ecology movement, with the artist looking at how sounds and echoes occur in the noise of a modern city. In Venice she goes further, putting the whole idea of a “pavilion” into question, as her work, entitled elaborately Making the walls quake as if they were dilating with the secret knowledge of great powers (after Dickens' novel Dombey & Son), relies solely on the assimilation of sounds from the mechanical construction of the Polish and the four neighboring pavilions: Romanian, Egyptian, Venetian and Serbia. All are a part of a heavy and sinister Fascist-era style structure on the border of the Giardini side. 

First, she stripped the previous additions to the architectural construction of the interior to the brick walls, to get to the rudiments’ (walls, floors, ventilation) genuine natural vibration – together with the acoustician Andrzej Kłosak, they discovered the building had a 6 second long reverberation. Then the building’s acoustics were examined thoroughly. This way what is subsequently, via filters, amplifiers and speakers, turned into a perceptible sound, is not just simply the sound of the building, but it’s orchestrated – Krakowiak made the resonant frequencies of the space audible, orchestrating them with a sequencing software. She decided which elements generated more interesting sound and augmented them in the final effect.

For instance, she installed sound absorbers behind the building where normally nobody goes, or in the walls of the neighbouring pavilions, which, in effect, are “eavesdropped”, so that we learn about the secret existence of those spaces. The floor hides the speakers, which send powerful shivers to the building and walls, which were newly covered with a layer of concrete to create more interesting echo. In turn, the speakers hung above the entrance to “push” the unaware public inside and make them walk in search of the sound. Suddenly, all the niches, vestibules, apses, bays of this pseudo-classical fascist interior “sing”. And we walk around this fairly sinister space, whose asutere, grey areas make it strangely beautiful. But what we hear is not “music”, not ambient, nor sound art: it’s the unreal, ethereal consequences of the construction of this particular building made audible. The noises were brutal, heavy, even disturbing. Stripped of all architectural elements, they embodied the final point of pivotal situations from the 20th century experimental art: an echo chamber of John Cage or Alvin Lucier's claustrophobic Shelter for amplified vibration pickups and enclosed space. Or in fact, they try to define a space for performing sound as such. Music is usually played in an interior, which is often ignored.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Things I enjoyed this year

the queen is only one

Some things I enjoyed this year, this time without the terror of ordering.



Lana Del Rey, Born To Die (though I wish Lana on the next album stopped her litanies to the bad boyfriends and took to slashing them or summat; and smiled a little)
Gudrun Gut Wildlife (especially T. Turner's cover the Best)
Julia Holter Ekstasis
Pye Corner Audio
Burial EP
Crystal Castles
Carter Tutti Void
Rouge's Foam compilation (incl. eg. Lotic, Mama Testa, Blunt & Copeland)

about which I'm in between:
still trying to convince myself to the new Scott Walker
Jenny Hval, kindof, which I consider an exponent of the so called by me "clitoris kitch"


a lot or Polish Radio Experimental Studio for research
anything, in any form, by Roxy Music, Andrzej Korzyński (especially Possession, and dusting his soundtracks to Andrzej Wajda films)ABBA, Bowie
Philly soul, various dubs & reggaes courtesy of Owen
everything by DAF
Izabela Trojanowska, Kora, Urszula and other Polish punk rock/new wave divas
Harmony & Style Lovers Rock in the UK comp
Kraftwerk Electric Cafe
Krzysztof Komeda
Disco Inferno; This Ain't Chicago UK acid house comp
AR Kane, very much; Grace Jones
Ute Lemper, especially Punishing Kiss & her renditions of Kurt Weill/Brecht & anonymous Berlin interwar cabarets
Goblin & people doing music for Jean Rollins' films.


Most books I've read concerned my topic, that is the cold war, ideologies thereof, communism and postcommunism, eastern Europe, the Thaw, art of the eastern bloc, especially cinema & music, yugoslavian modernism & selfmanagement, popcommunism, consumption in peope's republics, avant-garde vs realism, marxism & modernism. Here a selection.

Marci Shore: two of her books, The Taste of Ashes and collected essays Modernity and its Discontents (only in Polish) concerning the topic of legacy of communism in Europe and so called "Judeo-communism" were my absolute highlights of the year.

reading long essays in LRB & NLR, especially Neal Ascherson, Fredric Jameson, TJ Clark and Tony Wood

Eyal Weizman's The Least of All Possible Evils, for which I interviewed him, full version soon.

Kapuscinski's biography by Artur Domoslawski, first authentically good book on communism & aftermath from a perspective of its flag reporter, from this part of the world.

Jodi Dean, Communist Horizon, which's greatest feature is disenchanting the C-word and making a strong argument for a communist renewal without slipping into the "full communism" idiocy.

Several books from Zero: Daniela Cascella's En Abime, Neil Kulkarni, Architecture of Failure, iCommunism, Art Kettle, Brave New Avantgarde, Folk Opposition, The Sacred and the Profane.

rereading Bruno Jasienski's I Burn Paris in English!

Miron Bialoszewski, Diaries

Stanislaw Czycz, super obscure Polish writer and his experimental legacy.

David Crowley on socialist music, Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius on maps. Piotr Piotrowski on avant-garde.

Looking forward to reading Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain, still looking awry at it.


It was an intense year of watching horror and exploitation films, which I've been avoiding basically most of my life. Since late 2011, I re/watched all of the Argentos, and what was available by: Jean Rollin, Mario Bava or Aldo Lado. The star was Macha Meril and her absolutely astounding performance in Night Train Murders. Lado's Who saw her die, an inspiration to Roeg's Don't Look Now, will remain a somewhat unexpected favorite. I also came back to the cheesy soft porn, enjoying early Emmanuelles and Story of O. similarly with the French neobaroque, with the stress on Jean Jacques Beneix. I also finally watched: Downfall, which I hated, and several Hammer classics, which I loved, especially The Quatermass series. I also spent fair amount of time watching the East German classics form DEFA, from which Konrad Wolf (Solo Sunny, Sunseekers, Divided Heaven, I was 19), The Rabbit is Me and Murderers are Among Us were the best. Trier's Melancholia. A lot of the BFI Flipside, with, finally, Skolimowski's The Deep End as the greatest. I watched and wrote on Christoph Schlingensief. Fassbinder's The Year of 13 Moons was probably the best film I saw this year, category-less.

Among the newbies:

The Young Adult, first truthful film about people living in crap modern towns & thirtysomething single women.
Barbara, quasi-successful take on living in the late GDR
The Consequences, first Polish film on the war-time pogroms on Jews...
also Margaret by Kenneth Lonergan was excellent.

ART (note: some of that may be in, heaven forbid, eastern Europe!)

exhibitions: William Klein and Daido Mariyama in Tate Modern, Tate's perm. collection, esp surrealism & John Heartfield, Sounding the Body Electric in Lódź Museum of Art, astonishing Art Everywhere on the, on the surface, Warsaw's fine arts academy until the 1940, in practice, a great survey on Polish modernism & art deco; Bratislava's National Gallery show on socialist realism; Unfinished Modernisations in Maribor & Belgrade; right wing at in Warsaw MOMA; Harun Farocki in Warsaw CCA, Kaliningrad scene in the same gallery; Patrick Keiller & Picasso's legacy show & in general, random visits in Tate Britain for their permanent modern expositions, especially Vorticists; Bruno Munari: My Futurist Past in Estorick Collection, London; Calvert 22's NSK & Sana Iveković, Soviet Modernism in Vienna's AzW; Ballgowns in V&A.

going to Venice Architecture Biennale for the first time & enjoing especially Kasia Krakowiak's installation.

seeing Laibach live for the first time and in Tate's Turbine Hall, despite giving them a scathing review, was a powerful experience.

disco party at Unsound in Cracow in the old ostalgic hotel Forum, which looked like straight from The Shining: nevermind the music, mind the Eyes Wide Shut feeling.

I feel lucky to have travelled to: Belgrade (and then to Ljubljana on a night train), Amsterdam twice, Rotterdam for its "madness of the new"; Bruxelles for the first time and seeing its Musee de Beaux Arts from Auden's poem, travelling with my beloved to Venice and Naples, and visiting finally its Archeological Museum and Museo di Capodimonte; I was shocked/seduced by Naples and its brusque haggardness, piles of trash and communist symbols sprayed on the walls more than with anything I saw this year. Also, doing the Vienna-Bratislava-Budapest KK of Austria & Hungary tour could've easily turned me into one of those horrific 'Mitteleuropa' nostalgic bores, but luckily, it didn't!

Separate category - Things I still haven't heard a single time, seen or read:

Frank Ocean, Holy Motors, Berberian Sound Studio, new Bond, Azealia Banks, any new Rihanna, Taylor Swift, sea-punk & gifwave (ok, by now I saw some), huge part of the Wire's top 50 (shame, shame), Tabu, Impostor, Two Years at the Sea, Patience by Sebald, Marx's Capital (but I've read Proust and Man Without Qualities and whole Mann & Dostoyevsky!).

Things that I thought were rubbish: The Master, the new Batman, most of the new sleepy music popular in the music press & festivals, the new Badiou 'for the militants', Shame (unlike Hunger), the New Inquiry, blog male bonding, Geoff Dyer's Zona, The new Stedelijk Museum (or rather the unimpressive effect after the 9 years and the money they spent on it), food in the UK, general up-tightness, music festivals, UK columnists, UK press, debates about 'bashing the rich' with the privileged posing as 'victims', and then privileged ppl on the left asking for stopping the debating of the privilege on the left, needless to say, all of the contemporary politics and bashing of the leftwing voices, the Polish misery & homogenisation. The shit we're in.

this year I was regularly jobbed in UK magazines and national broadsheets, which, considering my nationality & short stay in Britain, I dare to call a success.

I also still haven't finished my book, which is the main goal for the beginning of the 2013.

oh, and I've set up a tumblr, out of sheer contempt for being a net-technical idiot.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Portrait of a Woman as a Young Emigrant

Recently I had nothing but work on my mind, and despite the looming Xmas, this is unfortunately not the end for me...Here I'm just listing the recent publications:

- I wrote twice for Guardian's Comment is free, once on the silencing of the left, later, last week, on the reasons for the lack of cultural impact from the enormous Polish emigration, as the latest census revealed. Both have much longer versions, which I will share in here soon. Im still somewhat overwhelmed by this, as writing it in English made me ponder many unanswered questions about what do I do in here, that I preferred perhaps to remain in the dark: who am I, who am I as a journalist living abroad, what can I really say, and finally, am I "happy"?? (sic)

I have mixed feelings after publishing both: both provided me quite a lot of criticism, but also encouragement. I was, among other things, accused of undermining the cultural influence we have by some of the "creative" part of our minority; on the other hand, I had a feeling, that I couldn't really write about perhaps the much more important aspect of our stay in here: how does the Polish presence on the Isles express itself politically, if at all. This 800,000 people seem to have little interest not only in dropping their dayjobs for the sake of "creativity"; moreover, they are, similarly as in Poland, quite passive in gaining a political voice.

Last summer I happened to translate the leaflet for the Ken Livingstone's Mayor of London campaign, from English to Polish, designed especially for the Polish community in London, to encourage them to vote. Leaflet got published a bit late, but this is not to be blamed on the little turnout (and the loss by Ken). It is rather their disilussionment in whether they can make any difference or perhaps, disbelief they will stay here long enough to try to make an impact. Also, if anything, the latest few articles about Poland in the Guardian revealed lack of language: still fresh, we don't (including me) know how to express the meaning of this situation. It revealed an interesting position of a community in flux, whose language is also, by neccessity, shaky, but which, hopefully, will find itself able to express many issues that, no doubt, pervade this group: anxiety, anger, alienation, fear in confrontation with a stronger culture (no doubt, if all of us gained a similar upbringing: God, Honour & Homeland and so on, simmered in a deeply Catholic sauce; patriotism, that can turn into xenophobia) but also we will learn a lesson in tolerance - since the war, Poland, a multicultural country, where Poles, Jews and many other ethnic groups lived, albeit, as time showed, not peacefully, was turned by the USSR into a monolithic, nationalistic country, with no experience of multiculturalism. Stay in Britain can change that, especially, when we'll come back home. It's good some initial effort to discuss our status was done, maybe some wisdom will emerge from those bubbling tensions. Let's not be politically naive, let's be aware of what is going on.

- In this BBC 3 appearance at the Nightwaves programme I'm trying, cursed by the lack of time and suggestions like "aren't you jolly good in integrating??", to address some of those issues.

- I also wrote on one of the most visually rewarding "luxury books" of the year, Neville Brody's & Jon Wozencroft's brainchild, brilliant FUSE 1-20 anthology. It made me ponder many important things: the 90s, when my adolescence took place; beauty as it expresses itself in time; a weird story of punk and postpunk's romance with the avant-garde; contemporary "curatorial approach", that seem to consume many of the even most interesting artistic efforts; effortless beauty of this era, where the style was god and how much I miss it. When one had the style, and not necessarily the money. It's for Blueprint, which seems not to have actualized its website for some time, but is now at least edited by the wonderful Shumi Bose. It's a good 'un, if I may say so immodestly, so go an geddit ( though I may post it some day!).

- also, as every month, you can read me in the Wire. In November issue I wrote on the wonderful Venice Biennial installation by Kasia Krakowiak in the Polish Pavillon; in December issue I recommend equally passionate, delicate yet strong, new, poetic book by Daniela Cascella, En Abime, on how listening helped her to save her existence, briefly (ha!); Daniela also has a blog; I also share a lot of her anxieties/ views/ feelings about being a foreigner in the UK, so reading it was as moving as it was soothing; in the next, January issue I share my end-of-year thoughts and favorite records in the 2012 roundup. Next issue will hopefully have my 3 articles as well. My full list of this year's favorites will be up in here shortly before the end of the year.

- I also wrote for Icon, issue #113, another yet different approach to the legacy of Yugoslavian Modernism, this time on the basis of a good book by Maroje Mrduljas & Vladimir Kuić, with great photos by Wolfgang Thaler, Modernism In-Between; I also answer some quite hilarious questions about, warning, the weather! Longer version on here soon.

- there's as well an essay on the aesthetisation of Chernobyl, the legacy of Tarkovsky and how the current urb-exes have their role in abusing the living population in there, for the Architectural Review Asia and Pacific, issue #128, out Dec 31st, finally.

- moreover, a still unpublished, long review of Jodi Dean's Communist Horizon for The Guardian's Review, which, I'm told, will be finally published in the issue on January, 19th. Here we're in the future, so shall say no more, but reader, there's a lot to wait for.

- there'll be also an essay on Kaliningrad's emerging art scene and the neocolonialism within the former USSR. Are you ready for this gem? It'll be published at the forthcoming Calvert Journal, launched soon by the lovely Calvert 22 gallery, focusing on the art from the Eastern Europe. Can't wait for that.

Barney Bubbles ceratively "stealing"from Polish abstractionist-constructivist Henryk Berlewi, initiating the (unfortunately, ongoing) romance between the punk and early avant-garde esthetics, some good photos in here

- and a short recapitulation of the recent "Sowjetmodernism" trend in the forthcoming issue of Architecture Today.

- if this is not enough, Im also writing 3 other long articles right now (among others, a long essay on Polish "Judeo-communism" for a Polish journal, and and essay on avant-garde...), two book contributions, several translations and also trying to write MY bloody book (sic!!). I am truly reaching the levels of the Stakhanovite comrade Hatherley. I was never looking so much forward to Christmas (= rest) as this year, despite hating it since adolescence. Sorry I've been such a shoddy blogger this year, haven't even properly learnt English or posting pictures, and haven't realised so many of my blogging intentions, so many.... Have a good one, but don't forget: cynicism is a feature of intelligent people. This is all for now, Merry Xmas!!!!

An anthology on the Experiment in Eastern European Art & Science with my contribution

Today i want to recommend to you a new exciting Book with my contribution - thought as an inbtroduction to the practices, history and people involved with the Polish Radio Experimental Studio, an outstanding, today we'd say "collective", or rather, a communist era radio studio devoted to recording new electronic types of music, that, with the allowance of the state, could practice all sorts of new music without the necessary censorship or scrutiny of their actions. I wrote on them before. The book is divided into two parts: anthology and the lexicon, including entries on all sorts of experiments, from all around the world, with a focus on art & (a bit) on science or their mutual ways. In my entries (and a text on the "Warsaw experimentators") I tried first of all to excavate certain views and practices which I consider still unpopular in Poland: influence of socialist economy (and social control) on art, art and the environment, experimental architecture, competition between the Blocs, collectivity, reassesment of the early avantgardes and the social role of an artist under the socialism. You can purchase the book in here and as it contains also some English translations, it won't be wasted on you.

Monday, 3 December 2012

New tumblr devoted to my book

I have a brand new tumblr devoted solely to the book I'm writing, Poor but Sexy. Read it, like it, reblog, share, encourage me! #workinprogress

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Music of Our Time

[I am posting this while listening to a mixtape I got this morning from a friendly Rouges Foam, Heck, You will hit something that looks like Mount Everest. He also become, for this sake, a cut-and-paste collage master - lovely! - but not really sure what to think of this sport imagination (below) - you must've become very americanised, my friend, during your stay in the US! It made me think though I should post this spiked live review for the Wire, which didnt get the editors' approval, making me think what is it, that I'm possibly getting wrong here? Why I find myself unable to appreciate the new music, at least from certain post-hauntological spectrum, find it boring, uneventful, conjunctural, moribund-without-a -reason. Rouge's mix, which encompasses much more than post-hauntology, shows at least certain interesting creative ricketiness, de rigeur moribundity, sure, but at least soundscapes in which something happens; the more 'happens' in music, the better, in my view; too much is just enough. Recently I was giving a lecture at the Krakow's Unsound festival about the end of personality in music: how lack of authorship, from interesting (from ballardian The Normal and such industry-jokes as Silicon Teens to anonymity of techno & house and then hauntology, Burial and so on) becomes today just a pose, just another element of reversed fashionable identikit. Characteristically, also in terms of sound, of things actually happening in the music, post-hauntology is rather uneventful and hollow, so alienated, so bleak (and so depoliticised). How strange, but also how apt, given this generation was born already to neoliberalism, from the beginning saturated in "there's no alternative"...Anyway, here're my thoughts after going to a gig of some of the hottest artists of the season, trying to at teh same time reflect on a style, of which Tri-angle roster seem most obvious exponent]

[wrote sometime betw. June-July 2012]

Holy Other + Vessel + LIE + Haxan Cloak + Evian Christ
Islington Mill, Salford, UK

There must be a method behind the intense, exhausting boringness of contemporary electronica shows: a group of people stand in complete darkness, listening to hisses and breaks coming from nowhere, while a stroboscope glides over their eyes from time to time. On some level it appeals to me: it helps contemplation. It seems to me musicians are trying to demonstrate the identitylessness of music-making in the times of the disappearance of much bigger things. Or indeed they transmit this identitylessness. Hidden under mysterious monikers and all that, in the darkness, amongst strobes and huge amounts of dry ice, Holy Other, Vessel, Haxan Cloak and Evian Christ, new artists on Brooklyn’s Tri-Angle label, presented themselves recently to the Mancunian public.

The evening at this former working mill, now artists’ residences, seems very much of a piece, a homogenously designed environment. Similar murky moods sweep into each other with no irritating changes. The most interesting of the pack is Holy Other, not for their sampling of soul singers, but because their sound seems to have more substance and physicality. Theirs is an airy, spacey music, like an all-encompassing cloud over which beats, samples and clicks occur, strangely deprived of the sensually charged atmosphere of R&B and hiphop. Evian Christ produce a similarly slowed down, foggy take on dance music using hiphop and R&B cut-ups. Vessel finally provides some opportunities for dancing within this stasis, with more readable beats and breaks. Haxan Cloak’s set has a Lynchian (or Badalamentian) moodiness, with violin and cello parts played from computer, but unfortunately this evokes a cheesy soundtrack to an improvised black mass rather than existential shivers. And as I understand this may be the beginnings of some of those very young artists playing live, and how this may differ from the recorded and mixed material, I can still expect from music to grip me, to take me, transport me with it. I see where they're going: Joseph Beuys on the cover, strong fascination with Joy Division, love for GYBE! And nowhere may be a still interesting place to be,  no doubt, but to me, this is still too uneventful even for a limbo. 

Tri-Angle (and not only, cos those artists now transcended their initial label) initially attempted to achieve a contemporary Gothic a la 4AD, but with various forms of urban music as source material. Its output may be juxtaposed with some of the music only a few years earlier, associated with Hauntology – not necessarily through how they sound, but in the mental climate they evoke. Hauntology has been criticised for empty miserabilism, philosophical vacuousness and occultist nonsense, but artists associated with it, like Rolan Vega or Burial, were at least addressing issues such as the decline of social democracy or the death of rave culture. The music of younger generation represented by Tri-Angle doesn’t match the activity of that same generation on the streets, though. but it’s telling, how much it is a music of the cold late capitalist world: with its energy as if from the start stifled, sucked in. Here, mourning has developed into melancholy and can’t really place its reference anymore. Fascinated by darkness, they make music which evokes depression in form, but seems to suffer from the more general malaise - lacking the potentially activating political claims. They add a different set of nostalgic references, sampling hiphop, crunk, triphop (Vessel’s Sebastian Gainsborough is from Bristol), UK garage or r’n’b, but the result seems purely decorative, very much ‘late internet’, where all those elements collide and mix into a nondescript mass.

There’s something Catholic about the show, but without the dramaturgy, leaving pessimism, eschatological thoughts and, finally, misery. There’s no doubt those musicians are adept at putting music together in a lush, Gothic way, but the paralysis they induce is sometimes unbearable. This is not music to bliss out to, like My Bloody Valentine, nor anything holding a hidden menace, like, say, Basic Channel or Tricky: it is a continuous wallow. A live recording from this gig could be added to Dominic Fox’s Cold World, a book on depression and melancholy, but whereas Fox sees a chance to turn passivity into militant negative euphoria, I can’t see much in this music beyond the contemplation of mental paralysis. There is a huge turnout – Salford is now a newly emerging space for indie culture – but while the gig may have taken place in a post-industrial space, its direct surroundings are a mass of recession dereliction, the ruins of new Great Britain, casting a longer and longer shadow.