Projekt Fundacji Bęc Zmiana
Conversation with Michał Mioduszewski, a local activist, host at the Tea House in the Bródno Sculpture Park in Warsaw, co-founder of the Citizens Bank (Bank Obywatelski). Interview by: Emilia Nędzi
The Targówek district has its own local colour and character, doesn’t it? How do you find it living there?
There’s a great deal of social stratification here and growing isolation. Night life happens between one liquor store and the next. There’s one on every corner. Young people who don’t take advantage of the recreational activities available to them in the city center spend their time on the streets, on benches, outside of housing blocks. The older generation look at this in disgust, they close their windows. New gated communities are built, which deepens this isolation all the more. The truth is that this district really isn’t much different from any other. The people are the same as the people in the center or other areas of the city. Some people look for culture in the center, but not everyone can afford it – mentally or financially.
This is the site of the Sculpture Park – a 25-ha enclave of greenery, a sculpture garden, a piece of paradise, surrounded by a barricade of housing blocks, as it was conceived by its founder, the artist Paweł Althamer. And in this park – among the works of such artists as Monika Sosnowska and Olafur Eliasson – is the Tea House, a project by Rirkrit Tiravanija, where you act as host. What does such a role entail?
To make the Sculpture Park accessible. To make contemporary art in the public space accessible, talking to people about what this art is because, really, most people don’t realize that these are works of art. People say: „Here’s a shack, there’s a shed, a cube.” Few of them would use the terms „sculpture” or „installation.” Still, reactions to the House itself are really great.
Thanks to your involvement it’s not just a static sculpture, an installation meant as an object of contemplation, but a meeting place, a space for discussion, conversation, spending time together… I really like the exchange of a cookie for a drawing.
This is how 2,500 works came about, counting based on the reams of paper that were used up. They’re all here in the House. On the last weekend of the season, meaning the first weekend of September, they were hung out like laundry between the trees. It’s mainly the children who draw, but it’s super that more and more often, adults are showing an eagerness for it as well. And it turns out that someone who’s thirty-something, forty-something draws like their seven-year old, which is sad because it shows what shortcomings there are in art education. There is fear, shame. There’s the excuse: „I’d prefer to pay.” There are different prices for a cookie or coffee because we don’t have a price list. Our guests are often troubled by the fact we don’t have one, but they appreciate the idea. Some people give one zloty, others ten, some even twenty zlotys for an mediocre cup of coffee. What’s important to me? I wanted to give people the opportunity to make up their own minds, for many it’s a difficult one, to have the chance to stop for a moment. „I’ve regained by faith in people and this country. I didn’t think such things were possible,” was something one person had that completely blew me away. I didn’t know how to react – particularly since it came at a moment when I wanted to drop it all because it made no sense for me to sit here for free. All I said was „thank you.” There wasn’t a single angry voice at this meeting place of ours.
Do you swap stories with the locals from the housing block about what’s going on around the House: news, events, your initiatives? Do you get any information back from them? Does this miniature tea house, which has already turned into a camera obscura, stimulate interaction between local residents?
This season Justyna Ambroziak, a librarian, by the way, proposed a book club. We needed something of the sort. Now the club has moved to our local library. It was Janek Mencwel who proposed making Tiravanija’s sculpture into a camera obscura, and we took pictures of the House. Janek also came up with the Treasure of Targówek. First we put a crate together out of some pine wood, with a swing lid on top. And for all of august we gathered objects that the residents would bring over to us. There was an iron, huge wall clock, garlic press, set of maps and details about Targówek. The point was to bring something that was considered valuable and to make a graphic symbol for it, something like a legend, so that whoever would find the crate, say, in fifty years, could figure out what it all is and why it was buried by local residents. One day a tall guy comes by, all in leather, with his daughter, they call them necks, and he asks what we’re doing. Janek tells him about the idea and he says: „Wow, that’s cool. Kasia, do you want to put something in the crate?” „Daddy, I’ll make a drawing,” she says. She writes: Not everyfing that glitters is gold. So the dad says, „I’ll throw in my Rolex.” Janek asks, „Do you think that’s a good decision?” „Not everything’s gold that glitters” is the response. So, it wasn’t an original Rolex, but it glittered like it was gold. Then we buried the crate here in the Sculpture Park, even though we didn’t have an official permit, because no one wanted to issue one. This was an incredible experience that brought people together.
Michał Mioduszewski – student and collaborator of Paweł Althamer. Creator of interactive projects for the residents of the Targówek district, such as the Targówek Self-portrait art workshops and Cinema Hall – a film series screened in the corridor of the housing block at 13 Krasnobrodzka Street.