Posted on July 21, 2012
This is Bartek.
Bartek is a Polish visual artist who lives and works in Warsaw. We were connected by a friend of his (who I met while standing in line at the University of Minnesota’s commencement ceremony) seven weeks ago. Our emailed exchange went something like this:
“When will you and Doomtree be in Europe again? Maybe we could work together on a project in Poland.”
“Um, we don’t really get to Europe too often. But I’ll be there in a month, which I imagine is way too soon.”
“That’s impossible. Not enough time.”
“Give me a few days to try.”
“It’s not possible.”
“I know. Well, maybe ne–”
“Buy your tickets. I have an idea.”
Bartek and I met for the first time when I stepped off the plane. Both of us later admitted we weren’t sure the other would show up. At the airport, Bartek’s mom (who had volunteered to drive me) held a little paper sign with my name on it.
In downtown Warsaw, there is a quasi-abandoned hospital called Jerozolima. The Nazis used it during the war to treat their wounded soldiers. Post-war, it became a children’s hospital. Now it’s mostly empty, many of the dark rooms crumbling with exposed pipes and swirling plaster dust. There are a handful of artist studios where people like Bartek paint. There are a handful of squatters.
Bartek’s idea was to stage a show at Jerozolima, to transform the whole structure into an enormous art project. This is me, with Bartek’s mom, moments after arriving to see his plan.
In Jerozolima’s walled courtyard, Bartek and his team of friends built a wooden stage 12 feet high. Standing on it, I could smell the fresh-cut lumber.
A dozen people, talking in fast Polish, ran wires around me. Fearing rain, they strung a tarp above my head.
When darkness fell, Bartek and his team flipped a dozen switches. Suddenly, Jerozolima became an installation of colored light, with storeys of glowing windows.
A little overwhelmed, I sound checked. A little frantic, Bartek adjusted his lights. Doors opened. People came. Bartek and I drank sweet Polish liquor from the bottle, blinked at each other, and said something like, “Shit. This is actually going to happen now.”
photo by Piotr Olkowski.
I performed, backed by only my laptop. It was imperfect show–I stumbled a few lines–but I haven’t been as moved by one night of in a long time.
Photo by Michał Ossowski
The evening ended in a wash of Bartek’s colored lights and a wash of honey flavored shots. We took the tram home and I remember almost all of the ride.
The next day Bartek, his girlfriend Maria, and their friends Mat and Paul showed me the city. Marmalade-filled almond pastries, courtyards designed for communist rallies, ice cold thimbles of vodka, a rooftop garden of oxidized copper, a working class snack of raw meat and eggs. Even through the hangover, I felt a feeling I hadn’t had since camp–I wanted to write home to say, I’m making friends.
I’m still a little jet lagged, which may be dulling my native skepticism, but for the moment a bunch of platitudes are ringing pretty damn true. Art is universal. We are more alike than we are different. Where this a will, there’s a fucking rap show in Warsaw.
Thanks to Paul, Mat, Maria and Bartek. If you guys ever make it to Minneapolis, I owe you one.
(Additional photographs by Mateusz Kaźmierczak. To check out some of Bartek’s other projects, visit www.kielbowicz.com.)