Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Urban Nostalgia

"Warszawa, Warsze" is the new exhibition at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and it is a stunner. By reconstructing pre-War Jewish Warsaw with the help of maps, photos and video, it brings home how different a creature the city used to be. Apart from entire neighbourhoods that have disappeared - such as the legendary Nalewki shopping street - there is a plethora of buildings which I could only but wish were still here.

Like the Egyptian themed Kino Splendid.

Imagine seeing Cleopatra in there? The cinema was part of the Galeria Luxembourg, a glass-topped shopping arcade constructed in 1909 on Senatorska street. The whole thing burnt down in 1944.

Which is sad not because there is lack of shopping malls in Warsaw, but because there is lack of old and beautiful ones. The new Koszyki market hall project does not count, and I will begrudge them forever for closing probably Warsaw's best bar ever for it. 

The now-closed Koszyki club (2013-2014, R.I.P.)

But not everything is going downhill. Did you know the 17th-century Saxon palace might be rebuilt? 

The Saxon Palace and the Nevsky Cathedral, early 1920s

Formerly one of Warsaw's most iconic buildings, it too was destroyed in 1944. Since then, Piłsudski square has been an eye-sore: a massive, overwhelmigly empty lot in the middle of the city centre (click here if you can face it). After plans for a reconstruction were frozen due to the global financial crisis, they are back on the table; and construction might just begin in a couple of years. 

See. There is stuff to look forward to. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Polish Mafia

Walking into Warsaw's Zachęta Gallery today I was dumbstruck to find a Comme des Garçons fashion show playing on TV, instead of Henryk Tomaszewski's poster exhibit. Curatorial fuck-up, I thought. Just when I was beginning to love the place! Or had all that eBay time finally caused a fashion-brain-hemorrhage?

Luckily, neither nor. Fact: Rei Kawakubo used Tomaszewski's poster designs from the 60's, 70's and 80's in her Homme Plus A/W 2006 show.

notice kid on lap 

As Tomaszewski's son, Filip Pagowski, remembers:

"[The] Polish graphic/printing industry was poor...but these conditions forced designers/graphic artists to develop a different, independent and often more creative vocabulary still pertinent today.

Proof: Lanvin used the whole colourful-hands idea in their show for next season. So behold when you see those fun fingers fondling every guy's chest on the High Street in 5 months.

Lanvin A/W 2014

And as if this wasn't enough, know the ubiquitous smiling-heart logo of Comme des Garçons PLAY, the brand's diffusion line? Tomaszewski's son Filip Pagowski happens to be responsible for that.

Which makes me proud, in a lame way. And brings to mind Salman Rushdie's rumination: "[W]hat was it with all these Poles who kept cropping up in various positions?"

Monday, 21 April 2014

Paradise (Lost)

Somehow this week was about perfection.

First, environmentalist supermodel Angela Lindvall travelled to Marrakesh for brand new Porter magazine and delivered instagrammy utopia. The shoot may be less fashion forward than French Vogue's incredible Morocco editorial in 2010, but it is also more dreamy (and like everything perfect, doesn't take itself too seriously).

Full Story here

Next, Fucking Young magazine's editorial "Inflorescence" put me into the mood for Spring. Far too long have we waited for flowers to bloom. And now I just want to run through fields with my arms in the air. Who wouldn't want a backpack made of hortensias while doing that?

Full editorial here

Ending on a melancholic note - because Paradise only ever exists in retrospect - Russian queer exile-artist Slava Mogutin remembers the Crimea of his childhood. It includes naked boys, Stalinist monuments and the sub-tropical beaches of Koktebel. And there we were thinking Putin had no taste. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Dreaming of Warmth

1 - Masses Magazine F/W 2013, Comme des Garçons Archive shoot
2 - Vintage Comme des Garçons Shirt ad
3 - unknown
4 - Viviane Sassen
5 - Mt. Nakadake lake, Aso, Japan

Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Very Fassbinder Day

From somewhere deep down came the need this week to revisit Rainer Werner Fassbinder's world. It's been a year since a friend sat me down in front of the close-to-the-bone Fox and his Friends (where Fassbinder stars as a working class gay who wins the lottery), and my thirst for the director's caustic eye had been building up ever since. 

Fassbinder himself in Fox and His Friends (1975)

Which is why I went ahead and swallowed three of his films in 24 hours.

First, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1971). This three-woman drama about possessiveness and class shows the very thin Margit Carstensen as Petra, a Bremen-based fashion designer, who falls for commoner Karin Thimm (the very stunning Hanna Schygula).

Hanna Schygula (20 years before Jean-Paul Gaultier's cone-bra dress for Madonna, anyone?) and Margit Carstensen

The entire film unfolds in Petra's room. There is no music, and the atmosphere is tense and fabulously ritualistic, like a Greek drama. Of course the Petra-Karin liaison goes tits up and Petra ends up crying very bitter, gin-fuelled tears. In Fassbinder's world, someone always gets exploited. But you can't help but feeling they deserve it a little.

Next I stumbled upon Bremer Freiheit, a play Fassbinder wrote and directed just a year before he made Petra von Kant. And there are some hints at that: Margit Castensen plays Gesche Gottfried, the 19th century serial killer from Bremen (I had no idea Fassbinder was so smitten with my city of birth).

Scene from Bremer Freiheit, a play written and directed by Fassbinder

Over a period of 15 years, the working-class Gottfried (whose maiden name was Thimm - like Karin in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant), poisoned her entire family, including mother, father, her children and two husbands. As a child I remember spitting on the official Gesche Gottfried spit stone on the market square where she was finally executed, but Fassbinder flips the story around. He makes it about repression, about a woman's desire for emancipation. You end up rooting for the poor murderer.

Bremer Freiheit (1972), in German

Finally and after much female drama, someone very dear recommended me Querelle. Which, really, should be called Queerelle: Based on a novel by Jean Genet, featuring art by Andy Warhol and starring Brad Davis as a sailor being sodomized by Fassbinder's ex-lover Günther Kaufmann, this is arguably the gayest film ever. It is also bold, strange, fantastic and unpredictable, a bit like walking on deck of a rocking (queer) boat.

A scene from Querelle

Fassbinder, Brad Davis, Andy Warhol

Sadly, Fassbinder did not live to see Querelle in its final version. He died three months before its premiere, from a drug cocktail, aged 37. In a career that lasted fewer than 15 years, he completed 40 feature films, two television film series, three short films, and 24 stage plays. And there I was, worrying that watching three films in one day was excessive. There is still so much to do.