A unique season of photography and events examining Polish visual culture is on at Calvert 22 Space.
Family Values: Polish Photography Now explores the second part of the 20th century and the current creative landscape of a nation with deep historical and emotional links to the UK.
The season is part of Calvert 22 Foundation’s 2018 endeavour to depict the evolution of societal and cultural change in the New East through photography.
Family Values: Polish Photography Now is the UK’s first exhibition devoted to Polish photography.
It amplifies themes of identity, home and family in the context of social and political change.
Coinciding with the centenary of Polish independence, the project looks at the end of the Communist era and the contemporary art scene.
The exhibition is curated by Kate Bush.
A monumental project
A presentation of the work of Zofia Rydet (1911-1997) will be at the heart of Family Values: Polish Photography Now.
In 1978, Rydet embarked on a monumental project that was to consume her until she died – making a portrait of every person in Poland.
Over 20 years, she photographed 20,000 people at home. The pace of Sociological Record was only limited by her increasing frailty.
Record was broken into various subcategories, including TV Sets, Women on Doorsteps, Windows and Disappearing Professions.
She systematically photographed the family in all possible permutations – from men and women, to babies, the elderly and the infirm.
Rydet was fascinated by the way choices made in an interior space express an individual’s psychology and creativity as well as their political and religious affiliations.
Much admired in Poland, her work is now coming to international prominence. Family Values: Polish Photography Now is the first time her work has been shown in the UK.
Images by Rydet will be presented alongside contemporary Polish artists exploring similar topics in their work. These include: Józef Robakowski, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Weronika Gęsicka, Aneta Bartos and Adam Palenta.
Insight into everyday life
Józef Robakowski is an artist, filmmaker and, like Rydet, a leading figure of the late Communist-era avant-garde in Poland.
His work From My Window (1978-2000) commenced in the same year as the Sociological Record.
It was filmed over more than 20 years from the kitchen window of Robakowski’s apartment in Łódź.
Looking down onto the public square, his camera spied on the daily activities of his neighbours and relations and recorded mass gatherings.
This witty pseudo-documentary gives extraordinary insight into everyday life through dramatic political transition.
Darker questions of identity
Rydet and Robakowski’s works celebrate the individual freedoms to be found within the confines of the home.
However, in a present-day Poland marked by increasing conservatism, the domestic serves as a trope for the exploration of different, darker, questions concerning identity.
Aneta Grzeszykowska’s Negative Book consists of a sequence of self-portraits taken in family scenarios.
Using a curious hybrid of painting, performance and photography, the artist asks crucial questions about alienation, or the impossibility of securing one’s identity within private and photographic space.
Weronika Gęsicka’s clever surrealist montages in Traces play with a tension between comfort and disturbance.
Working with American stock photography from the 1950s and 1960s, an era in which family life is unfailingly portrayed as happy and bright, Gęsicka makes comedic manipulations in order to render the normal absurd.
The family unit is revealed as a construct, faces are masks, and people become suddenly overwhelmed by their environments.
Voyeuristic glimpses into family life
Aneta Bartos’s Family Portrait is an unsettling series of photographs of the artist partially clad in underwear posing with her Speedo-wearing, bald, bodybuilder father.
The images are set in pastoral Polish landscapes and interiors.
However, the soft-focus, romantic feel of the photographs belies the disconcerting juxtaposition of father and daughter posing together, near naked and yet each seemingly oblivious to the other.
In another close examination of family, director and cinematographer Adam Palenta has composed House on its Head.
The documentary is a montage of snippets from the home movies celebrated architect, photographer and graphic designer Wojciech Zamecznik started making obsessively in the 1950s and 1960s.
Set against the backdrop of everyday life in the Polish People’s Republic, House on its Head allows us voyeuristic glimpses into Zamecznik’s intense family life.
A particular focus is his devotion and desire for his wife Hala.
The film is also a remarkable tribute to the groundbreaking aesthetics of this radical postwar designer.
Family values: Polish Photography Now
The exhibition will be complemented by a programme of events.
A series of debates will be presented in collaboration with Dr Urszula Chowaniec, UCL School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies.
As part of Impacts of Gender Discourse on Polish Politics, Society & Culture by SSEES, Calvert 22 Foundation will host a discussion on gender in Polish post-war and contemporary art.
The Politics of Art: Does Aesthetics Have a Past? will look at the contemporary artistic discourse in Poland as well as within the Polish diaspora in the UK in the light of Brexit.
Family Values: Polish Photography Now is part of the UCL Festival of Culture 2018 (June 4-8).
The exhibition is on until July 22 at Calvert 22 Space, London.
Spectrum Photographic produced eight frames for the exhibition.