„Totems of Lodz”- Socratic Beauty of Shapes.

It is difficult to describe the size of the challenge which was creation of an artistic intervention in the space named as The Ciechocinek of Łódź. It is due to the large wooden supports holding up the building in the courtyard at 20 Jaracza Street. It certainly does not resemble a cleansing spa atmosphere and a relaxed neighbourhood. It is an open, attractive area with various nooks and crannies, however it makes us feel sad and ashamed that it is deteriorating so much, while it is still a place of permanent residence for many families. Because of the above, not many artists would be willing to take on a challenge of working there.

Written by Wioletta Kazimierska-Jerzyk

Czytaj po polsku na „Łódź w kulturze”

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A view of the courtyard from the side of the annex and mural. Photo by Mikołaj Zacharow.

One of the main obstacles is the fact that the damaged, porous elevation, requires a meticulous application of paint to acquire any visible result, let alone intended one. Meanwhile, Kasia Breska (she usually signs with an abbreviated version of her first name), who painted the mural “Totems of Łódź” during the “Festival of Four Cultures”, says that if given the choice between a place with various social, spatial and architectural deficits, and a renovated wall, she will always choose the first, difficult space.

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Kasia Breska, „Totems of Łódź”, 20 Jaracza Street, 2017. Photo by Memory Carousel (Karuzela Wspomnień) Agnieszka Kuraszewska.

More than that, (or one might say, worse than that), she works with a form – as she herself admits – just like Socrates presents the beauty of shapes in Plato’s “Philebus” (trans. J. C. B. Gosling, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1975, section 51c)): “ the beauty of shapes (…) straight lines and curves and the shapes made from them, flat or solid, by the lathe, ruler and square (…) are always by their very nature beautiful, and give pleasure of their own quite free from the itch of desire; and colours of this kind are beautiful, too, and give a similar pleasure.“ Kasia, therefore, creates an abstract art. Art that is geometric and very precise. She measures, counts, and as a result – she constructs her own project – map.

Riccardo Proietti’s interview with Kasia Breska

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Kasia during work,  Totems of Łódź, photo by Mikołaj Zacharow.

When working in the space, she first tries to understand its specifics. She works with topography of the area, urban design and city plans, marks and symbols. She spends time in the space, talks to the residents, takes into consideration their day to day existence, symbolic suggestions and formal preferences. She hopes for the place to be alive, vibrant, like the people who live there. The artist also cleaned and redesigned the area at Jaracza Street, filling in the space previously overgrown with weeds, with a grit; maybe one day, we will even see a flower box…Kasia also refreshed the opposite, smaller wall and redesigned football graffiti and tags. We all know that Łódź loves football, but Kasia also thinks that Łódź Loves Art…(Łódź Kocha Sztukę…).

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Wall in the courtyard of 20 Jaracza Street, photo by Urban Forms.

In Kasia’s art we can see not only an order of forms, but also an order in its literal, spatial and social meaning. Art in the public space plays more than just a decorative function, it also expresses who are the residents who occupy the space, what are their dreams, and what are their aspirations (at least to a certain degree). The symbols that are inspired by people, colours and meanings, are there to help the residents to regain the space for themselves, and possibly to change it. This is the function of totems. The meanings they carry are not there to be translated in a literal way, it is not a catalogue of symbols. The Menorah symbol is tilted by 90 degrees, some symbols are familiar from maps, some of them have been transformed, the others are universal. They allow for finding different meanings, symbolic orders, to speak in different languages, not only in the national and cultural way, but also in a creative way – with a language of art, with various awareness, intellectual levels etc. The symbols create a new context, known better to those who look into them with more depth. Totem stays in a mystic relationship to a human being, it is not a simple, practical tool, you need to believe in it. Totems are ancient icons, that pay protective functions, as apotropaic objects. Kasia Breska’s totems are also coded personifications of the local community. The artist can not reveal the details hidden in the meaning, if the totems are there to help the community. We all need to
invest our own time and our sensitivity to be able to read them.

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Kasia Breska and her totems, photo by Mikołaj Zacharow.

Philosophy, history or sociology of art, that speak so much about (in)efficiency of art, do not leave us with any doubts: art does not make much change, especially art on its own. Why is it then, that Kasia is willing to put so much effort and why she remains so positive? She says, she takes it from people and from a place itself. She graduated from University of Nicolai Copernicus in Toruń where she studied Environmental
Science, and then from Bradford School of Art where she studied Fine Art. She has been a member of East Street Arts group in Leeds for many years and she executed a large scale mural which was part of the City Less Grey project. The 37 meters mural was based on the city plans and maps across the centuries, and 18 different language scripts that Leeds minorities use across the city, some of which took part in the execution of the mural. She also cooperated with with The Favela Academy in the capital city of Curacao- Willemstad (in the district of Ortabanda). It was an intervention led by two Dutch artists known as Haas&Hahn (Jerome Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn), known for the large scale art and social projects in Rio de Janeiro and Philadelphia. They work in a similar way: the challenge is first, then familiarising with the city scape and its community, formal concept based on the research, and as a result – project. The execution of the project has a rigid structure: the drawing, then colour composition and details to finish it off. As we remember: the beauty consists of simplicity, and according to Socrates , is precisely designed, with a use of a lathe. Art that identifies with the space, integrates with people, and brings back the desire to be the part of that space, can not rely on chance. However, it does not imply that the final result is predictable. What is analysed here, is the complex reality of a day to day living, routine and individual activities of each person.

I do not know any other artist that would conduct two research visits before starting execution of the mural, use libraries, photograph an entire historical atlas, ask for a consultation with experts, and ask people if they want her art. It is true, there are artists that do not mind to devote their time to the residents of the space they work in, but it is impossible to compare them to the the level of engagement of Kasia Breska. In terms of the artistic context, this approach resembles the best traditions of neo avant garde.

Author: Wioletta Kazimierska-Jerzyk

Łódź w kulturze




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