Projekt Fundacji Bęc Zmiana

Maria Świerżewska / Opening Collections

Conversation with Maria Świerżewska, educator and coordinator of the Open Zachęta project, led by the Zachęta Nationall Gallery of Art ( Interview by: Ewelina Bartosik

The Zachęta National Gallery of Art has created an online portal that functions as a sort of virtual gallery of contemporary art. The site is part of the larger Otwarta Zachęta project, aimed at broadening the accessibility and openness of the gallery. What is the ideal picture of a perfectly open Zachęta?
Open Zachęta revolves around the idea of open collections, but it also refers to the architectonic structure of the Zachęta museum building itself. It’s important that the collection on the site is made up of certain sections of our collections, but we also have a great deal of diverse educational materials, films, texts. Our aim is for this to be a place where we can share everything we produce.
Zachęta is a gallery, not a museum, and it doesn’t have a permanent collection, so the collection is closed off in a warehouse. We lend out works to various institutions and incorporate them into our own exhibitions, but this is still a small percentage. For obvious reasons, from the point of view of conservation or at least plain logistics, there’s no way of showing our full collection „live.” What remains is the possibility of digitalization and exhibiting works via their digital reproductions. And making further use of them.


Is this a way to „revive” the Zachęta collection? How important is it for other artists, and not only artists, to have the chance to reuse these works, to expand their circulation?
We want the works in our warehouses to truly „live.” Certainly, the main driver, as I said before, comes from a lack of a regular and consistent exposition of these works. The Internet is the only place where these works can be seen on an everyday basis. Hence, we wanted to reveal our collection. In spite of the fact that it’s quite a particular collection – given the particular history of this institution – it’s a great resource, for example, for teachers in putting educational materials together.
The second significant issue, highlighted in every discussion on free licensing in public institutions, is the use of public funds. We are an institution financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, in other words, financed by taxpayers. If citizens have contributed money to our operations, for example, why would they have to pay again to look at or „use” our collection?
We are intent on having all our accessible resources in one place. When logging on to our website, users know they can download every image and every film, which was also important to me. Of course, the films aren’t in very high resolution because it makes it easier to download and doesn’t overload the server.
Certainly, the issue of expanding the circulation of art is also very important. It can’t be denied that every creative act is tied to drawing inspiration from other things, to a larger or lesser degree. If the works in the Zachęta collection can be a source for future works, that’s wonderful. I’m also referring here to „non-professional” activities.

How do artists feel about this new situation?
It’s always different when we talk to artists about the pieces in question and their fears of losing control over their own works. Certainly, a great number of artists have a problem with this and we still have a long road ahead of us. Yet a number of them understand the argument that all of us, in creating something, are inspired by something that came before. That nothing came about just like that. Basically, the process of creating a work of art can be described as a history of remixing various works, ideas, etc… Aside from the issue of public funds, this is another argument in favor of artists joining our program. We organized several meetings during Zachęta’s open day in 2011 as an introduction to the discussion and establishing the problem. It was a Monday in December, a day when the museum is usually closed to visitors. We organized a tour, along with a panel on the freedom of art, engaging specialists and two artists, Katarzyna Kozyra and Tymek Borowski, in the discussion. It was bilateral, as Tymek Borowski is already considering the Internet in his work. Practically everything he puts on YouTube is „pro” remixing. On the other hand, Kozyra is all for making her works accessible online and in this way expanding her audience, but she was afraid of her works of parts of her works appearing in a context that she could find unacceptable.

Maria Świerżewska – art historian and cultural animator. She has been affiliated with the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw for four years, where she conducts workshops for children and young adults (including the Zachęta Reads to Kids series) and also works in the department that oversees the gallery’s collection.