In Poland, we love to showcase our great and famous. Especially if they are somewhat known abroad. Like, you know, in Germany, or Lithuania.
If I sound a bit bitter there it’s because the great and celebrated have been the curse through most of my school years. I remember exercises like ‘write a short essay discussing whether Quo Vadis is worth the Nobel prize in literature’. What is Quo Vadis? Exactly. We had to know. Because it got the N o b e l prize. The discuss part was redundant. We were expected to list the reasons why it was worth the prize. And throw few dubious ones for it not being worth it, just for decoration.
And as some of the names become sacred, there’s not much thought put in to things that are being said about them. Exhibit A:
Artists for Europe exhibition on the fence of Royal Lazienki park. It consist of large prints of photographic portraits of our famous taken by Czesław Czpliński. And that is fine. Sadly each portrait is accompanied by a short description of the person in question. And what a world of wonder they are!
Now I understand, not much can be said in the 200 or so characters which fit in the little space designed for each description. We don’t want them taking over, right? I also understand that this has been put together for the Polish presidency in the EU and hence it has to look for the pro-European threads in each of the artist’s work, to give the illusion that this people have something more in common other than being accomplished artists and Polish.
Leszek Kołakowski: In 1991, commissioned by EXPO 1992 in Spain, he wrote a succinct, 1200-characters-long history of Poland, printed in the official catalogues of Seville Expo ’92 in eight languages.
Really? Is this what we have to say about one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century? His all-encompassing history of Marxism was translated into more languages than that. His contribution to European intellectual heritage is a continuation of the long line of philosophers dating back to ancient Greece.
Hanna Krall: Reporter of Polityka, Odra and Gazeta Wyborcza daily. She worked with Krzysztof Kieślowski in the “Tor” film group. The history of Polish Jews became a leasing subject in her oeuvre.
That last sentence – that is just bad journalism. It’s right up there with the school exercises – “Now everybody, try to remember what you can about this famous people, write it on this stickers and attach to the photos” – “That’s right, Johnny, Hanna Krall wrote about Polish Jews, well done”.
Whether you ever heard of these people or not this communicates nothing beyond the fact we have had a bunch of talented people in this country over last several decades and there’s been a photographer who took pictures of a lot of them.
Yes, there’s not a lot of space for text, but why not have some more information online, why not stack a simple QR leading to a mobile friendly website with some interactive content on it? Or sod the descriptions all together? or make sure they have any sort of sense?
The reason why I’m so angry about this is that it’s so typical, so symptomatic of our approach to communication, arts and culture. And I bet you it costed a lot. Polish President was hosting the opening.