Originally, the “Latent city” exhibition was to become the reverse of the “Open city” festival. The events were supposed to correlate, to enter into a dispute, add to, complement and comment on each other. The “Open city” exhibition was primarily designed to focus on the very centre of community life, to step forward into the future, anticipate the barely emerging signs of new worlds. The “Latent city” exhibition on the other hand, immersed in a serene park reality, was to explore the long-lasting, the history-induced reflectiveness, consideration, meditation, to evoke images from the past, uncover subsequent layers of our heritage.
Restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to modify and downsize our original plans. Consequently, instead of two large festivals, we are offering the artists and residents a single, less spectacular event: “Latent city/Open city” exhibition. Fears related to the pandemic forced us to rearrange the exhibition and open it in a brand new manner. Instead of conspicuous manifestation of the presence of art in public spaces during an opening tour around the streets of Lublin, this year will be marked by a less spectacular series of openings of individual works. The “Latent city/Open city” exhibition will emerge in a number of incarnations, mysteriously and unexpectedly.
Our idea of a “latent city”, concealing its sins, disguising the already healed wounds, demanding a critical approach, was enriched and strengthened with new threads coming straight from the real life. The disease situation has revealed new traits and experiences. It has inscribed images of a deserted city into a collective memory. It forced us to reflect on the social distancing experience, isolation, concealment, seclusion, mask wearing. The word “latency” has gained a new, socially important meaning.
The scene for this year’s “Latent city/Open city” festival will be the Saski Park, an object of cultural heritage, and selected spaces of the historic centre of Lublin. In the park, we wish to arrange a contemporary art exhibition open to the wide public. In the city, Zbigniew Libera the curator of this year’s festival, will pose questions about the place of an artist in contemporary world, inspired by a lone performance by a Turkish performance artist Erdem Gündüz.
Park space is the product of urban culture. A park slows down city traffic, it makes a break in the urban space, a discontinuity but at the same time its extension. It reflects the longing for the lost simplicity of nature, for unhurried atmosphere of the country, the memory of the Garden of Eden, but most often it offers a stop when we are on the run, a place to get a short rest or to slow down. It may also be a good place to commune with art. This will not be an open air exhibition, but rather a number of artistic interventions in the public space. Art will not get fenced off from the urban life, but it will constitute one of its manifestations.
Our intention is to create a space for reflection on the passing of time, on transformation of real fears and expectations into memories. For some artists, this will be a brand new experience of an unknown city, for others a return after many years and an attempt to redefine the “nostalgic landscapes of memory”. We hope that the presence of art in the park space will prompt the viewers to reflect on the evaluative work of time, to reflect on decline and erosion, but also on maturing and thickening, about “rapid transformations of life into archaeology”, but also about revival of images, hallucinations, ideas, spatial and interpersonal relationships. We want to tell stories about remembering and forgetting, about ghosts of the past and childhood illusions.
Zbigniew Libera, the festival curator, has not imposed any specific topic of artistic explorations. He put his artists out to the sweeping solitude. He made them face the incommensurability of silent expression of the artists and clamorous polyphony of a community, an excessive, multi-layer profligacy of the public space. The curator appears to paraphrase the question posed by Friedrich Hölderlin: – What use are poets in times of need? Asking: – What use are artists in times of need? This question revealed its importance especially in the light of our experiences from the past few months. Artists, just like any other people facing the pandemic, had to rethink the sense of their work and very often make difficult decisions in their lives.
Zbigniew Libera was inspired by the Turkish performance artist Erdem Gündüz, who became for him a role model of silent expression, voiceless scream in the face of the powerful external world. “When the Turkish government in the summer of 2013 banned assemblies in Taxim Square – writes Judith Butler – one man stood alone, clearly obeying the law not to assemble. As he stood there, more individuals stood “alone” in proximity to him, but not exactly as a “crowd”. They were standing as single individuals, but they were all standing, all silent and motionless, evading the standard idea of an assembly yet producing another one in its place. They technically obeyed the law forbidding groups from assembling and moving by standing separately and saying nothing.”
This is how Zbigniew Libera comments on the selection of invited artists: “Each and every one of them is a single individual, yet by standing next to each other, although assembled they will never produce a crowd. Their embodiments in the form of works they create, will stand in the public space “silent and motionless”, not disturbing the common public order. And yet they will inspire an assembly of a different kind. For it should be assumed that parking of one’s work in the middle of another’s action is neither your own nor somebody else’s act; rather, it is something that happens by virtue of the relation, arising from that relation between the author and others, equivocating between the “I” and the “we”. However, as Judy Butler puts it: “seeking at once to preserve and disseminate the generative value of this equivocation, a deliberately sustained relationship, a collaboration distinct from hallucinatory merging and confusion”.
Our intention is to embed the works of contemporary artists in the urban setting and make it a part of everyday life of the city. The idea of permanent presence of contemporary art in the public spaces of Lublin is rooted in the collective memory, artistic traditions and urban legends. It directly refers to activities of outstanding artists having strong associations with Lublin: to ideas promoted by the Zamek Group (especially to ideas of Włodzimierz Borowski and Jerzy Ludwiński, as well as artistic activity of Jan Ziemski), efforts to put the urban pipe dreams of Oskar and Zofia Hansen into reality, Sympozjum Puławskie [Symposium of Artists and Scientists in Puławy] of 1966, Lubelskie Spotkania Plastyczne [Fine Arts Meetings in Lublin] organized in the 1970s, activities of Labirynt Gallery managed by Andrzej Mroczek, to finally Open City Festival of Art in Public Spaces. The curator of this year’s festival, having a transformed formula, draws attention to the presence and significance of Lublin-based presentations of Jerzy Bereś.
Walter Benjamin wrote that “The city is the realization of that ancient dream of humanity, the labyrinth”. We believe that with the help of our artists, it will be possible to expand the urban labyrinth and make it more intricate, by uncovering hidden and non-obvious messages from the past. Our intention is to add new tokens to the network of already embedded local symbols, to deceive and inspire attention, in order for the contemporary flâneur to lose and find himself in the city well-known to him. Uncovering of the latent city consists in extracting the unusual from the trivia of everyday life, the unique from the common. Works of the artists will carry a clarifying and liberating meaning, they will turn into micro-narratives, subsequent components of the “social sculpture” and they will help see a city as a work of art.