Wednesday, 29 May 2013


In the late Communist period artist Zbigniew Libera was imprisoned for drawing cartoons the regime judged "pornographic" (and probably queer).

Somebody Else, 1988, Autoportrait

But once the system collapsed, his divisive creativity was in no way halted: His creepy Lego concentration camp (1996) made him notorious overnight and sent childhood shivers down my spine when I stumbled upon it in Warsaw's National Museum.

Lego Concentration Camp, 1996, Set of 7 different boxes

Asked about the work, he declared: "I am from Poland; I've been poisoned." True? Libera's other work shows the artist as an iconoclast of almost everything who exists through dark parody. And maybe there is something idiosyncratically Polish about his defiance, the mistrust of authorities.

Body image: Ken's Aunt (1994)

From the cycle Positives, 2002-2003

Calculation or artistic cojones? In any case an artist who isn't scared to rattle the cage, whatever the regime. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Cast Me Away

It is the end of May and hale is hammering onto the streets of London. Meanwhile, the upcoming issue of Vogue Paris shows Anja Rubik frolicking on a sunny island as a stranded pussycat. I know where I'd rather be (collecting shells and doing naked yoga with my Polish friend).

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Poetic Trumpet

I never thought of jazz and poetry as related. But apparently Polish trumpetist Tomasz Stańko does: His new album Wisława is dedicated to and inspired by the country's most prominent poet Wisława Szymborska.

This week I went to see Stańko play at the Barbican with the New York Quartet. It was intense. And overwhelming. His trumpet meshed with the base, piano and drums into a mass of infinite sound ideas, which you could either try to decipher (and fail) or open yourself up to.

Tomasz Stańko and the New York Jazz Quartet, "Faces" (plus cheesy graphics)

Oni (Them)

I closed my eyes and did the latter. 

Thoughts That Visit Me on Busy Streets

Billions of faces on the earth's surface.
Each different, so we're told,
from those that have been and will be.
But Nature - since who really understands her? -
may grow tired of her ceaseless labors
and so repeats earlier ideas
by supplying us
with preworn faces.

Those passerby might be Archimedesin jeans,
Catherine the Great draped in resale,
some pharaoh with briefcase and glasses.

An unshod shoemaker's widow
from a still pint-sized Warsaw,
the master from the cave at Altamira
taking his grandkids to the zoo,
a shaggy Vandal en route to the museum
to gasp at past masters.

The fallen from hundred centuries ago,
five centuries ago,
half a century ago.

One brought here in a golden carriage,
Another conveyed by extermination transport,

Montezuma, Confucius, Nebuchadnezzar,
their nannies, their laundresses, and Semiramida,
who only speaks English.

Billions of faces on the earth's surface.
My face, yours, whose -
you'll never know.
Maybe Nature has to shortchange us,
and to keep up, meet demand,
she fishes up what's been sunk
in the mirror of oblivion.

From Szymborska's last ever collection of poems, Tutaj/Here, translated by Clare Cavanagh. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Just Don't Watch the Whole Thing

Pretty much every German of my generation has read Christiane F's "Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo" (We children from Bahnhof Zoo), an autobiographical account of heroin addiction and child prostitution in West Berlin, which scandalised Germany in the 1980s. I stayed away from it. I remember my sister reading it when she was 14 and I was 12 and being scared by the book's ominous cover.

Until this week. I reckoned I was old enough now to succumb to the cult and travel to the '80s, and so I watched the Ulrich Eidel film adaptation.

Turns out, my instinct as a 12-year-old was correct. I couldn't really handle seeing the demise of beautiful Christiane (above, with her first taste of drugs) and her boyfriend Detlef (below with a client). 

And the story is basically plotless: It all goes from not-so-good to bad to much much worse. We never see them coming out of their mess, and the ending is an awkward "then-I-became-clean-thanks-to-my- mum" epilogue. Christiane F's account should have never been fictionalised. A documentary would have gone deeper without ultimately glamorizing pretty thin teenagers (with her spindly legs actress Natja Brunckhorst looks shockingly like a heroin-chic model). 

But then, of course, David Bowie would have never appeared in the film to condone the whole thing.

Christiane F. - Scene with David Bowie's "Heroes"

David Bowie "Station to Station" film appearance

David Bowie & Brian Eno, "Warszawa" (inspired by the apparent desolation of 1973 Warsaw which Bowie visited for about two hours when his train stopped from Moscow to Berlin)

The Children from Bahnhof Zoo (1981) - Part 2 (English subtitles)
The full thing here

Thursday, 9 May 2013

A Fast from Fashion

I'm bored by fashion magazines. Even at airports or train stations I have stopped engaging in my once favourite visual consumption: I feel like I've seen it all before.

Luckily ODDA Magazine is restoring some of my faith in the church of editorial creativity. It's camp, it's arty, and sometimes it misses the mark. But they're experimenting. And that totally works in this collage-happy editorial in its current fourth edition, created by artist Amadeo Orellana: simple, surprising, with a whiff of Magritte. 

Let the others follow suit. 

Monday, 6 May 2013

Avantgarde Queerness

A couple of months ago I walked through Warsaw's National Museum and stopped at this painting.

Ceremonia (Ceremony), 1978

It was huge, at least 2 metres wide, and I wasn't sure whether that smoking dude was a man or a woman. I liked that ambiguity, on top of the work's sharp photo quality. I wrote down the painter's name: Łukasz Korolkiewicz.

Miłość (Love), 1977

Today I dug a little deeper, and of course it turns out that Mr. K was both a precursor of hyper-realism and of overt homoeroticism in Polish art back in the 1970s. I salute both. It feels like I've found the hazy photos of some cool uncle I never had, sharing insights into the seedy mix of Catholicism, greyness and desperate debauchery unique to those times.

Maria (Mary), 1984

Dr Rybicki and Mr Jarłumowicz, 1979

13 December 1981, Morning (1982)

Znużenie (Weariness), 1979
Na zdrowie!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

A Secret Place

On a semester break in 1884 an art student by the name of Fritz Mackensen accepted an invitation to visit the remote home village of a university friend. There, he fell in love.

Fritz Overbeck, Buckwheatfield on the Weyerberg (1897)

Worpswede - tiny and lost in the ice-age Teufelsmoor (Devil's Swamp) of North Germany - was as wild and untouched as can be: it had only been inhabitable for a hundred years through the draining of the swamps, and most inhabitants lived in straw huts and harvested peat. Mackensen was enchanted. Inspired by the light, the power and simplicity of the region's nature and its people, he decided to stay.

Fritz Mackensen

Otto Modersohn, Swamp Landscape

Soon enough his friends from art school in Düsseldorf started to join him: Hans am Ende, Otto Modersohn, Fritz Overbeck, and Heinrich Vogeler (a sort of German William Morris). More people descended on the province, and by the dawn of the 20th century a proper artists' colony was forming, like those in Poland's Zakopane and all across Europe and the USA.

Fritz Overbeck

The Parade of the Daisies: Heinrich Vogeler, Fritz Overbeck, Hans Müller-Brauel, Fritz Mackensen, Otto Modersohn und Hermann Allmers
Heinrich Vogeler, The Concert, (1905)

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke came too. He met his wife - wearing Empire dresses - at the gatherings in Heinrich Vogeler's villa and wrote a book, "Worpswede". 
Inevitably, institutions followed suit: cafes, hotels, galleries. Today the peat farmers have disappeared and tourists outnumber the artists. Even if the place has kept some of its charm, I often wonder what it must have been like to arrive here and feel like the first.