On my final day in Poland, I had neither a dental appointment or work commitment. I rose early – a man on a mission. My plan was to visit the Centrum Sztuki Wspolczesnej, Laznia (the Centre of Modern Art). This is an art gallery located in an old city bathhouse. It was recommended by my host as it would give me an opportunity to see a less touristic part of the Old Town. The neighbourhood seems to be gentrifying slightly, but used to be rather a poor part of town. This history is visible on the streets. It is a district generally ignored by tourists which made it sound very appealing.
The current exhibition is called ‘Rocking the State’ by Lithuanian artist Deimante Narkevicius. Split into four video displays in four separate spaces, the first was a short film showing Lithuanian teenagers at an illegal disco in the 1970s dancing joyously to banned western rock music. The second was a film of a current, unidentified teenage band performing a gig in a bookshop. The third was a 45 minute acted film called ‘Restricted Sensation’ about a gay theatre stage manager in 1974, who is jailed for his homosexuality. His KGB captor secretly loves him but cannot reveal this. Even though it was in Lithuanian with Polish subtitles I figured out plot before I read the booklet – since childhood I could identify gay subtext. The last video was the most sinister as it showed the real life removal of communist era statue from a bridge in Vilnius in 1992. It was a good counterpoint to ‘Restricted Sensation’ as it showed that art can be destroyed by any political ideology, and the destruction of communist art is just as wrong as the suppression of capitalist art.
After a lunch of pig in the Jazz Cafe in the Music Academy (I loved how, when I asked the woman behind counter for the origin of the schnitzely looking feast on display, she looked at me dispassionately, and snarled ‘PIG’. It was a masterclass in passive aggressiveness) I made my way to Stocznia Gdansk (Gdansk Shipyard) – once the beating heart of the Soviet shipbuilding industry, and where the Solidarnosc union – led by Lech Walesa – was formed, which would lead to the eventual liberation of Poland, almost thirty years ago. Nowadays the shipyard is as vast as ever, but operating at a much smaller scale. Not quite derelict, there are still some ship related activities happening, but at a much lower key. It was both eerie and peaceful wandering around the vast waterside terrain. I had been told that there was a cultural section of the shipyard which was now used for parties and exhibitions. I was wandering around the yard for a couple of hours when I finally stumbled across it. I had been there already – the night before at the concert. I am a bit of a culture vulture, even if I say so myself.
After the shipyard I took a train to the Wrszeszcz district of town as I had been told it was very pretty, but again not overwhelmed by tourism. It was indeed picturesque.
I am home again now, and my feet are throbbing in pain. An eight hour walk will do that to you.
Goodnight Poland. Yet again you rocked my world.