Making Visible

29.7.19 / Text
Q & A with Jaśmina Wójcik

Foto: Jakub Wróblewski / Wajda Studio

Could you describe your interests and practice as an artist?

Jaśmin Wójcik: Apart from being an artist, I am also an activist and researcher, but I do not draw definitive boundaries between these; my practice as an artist is very much connected to my work as an activist. I think the way we remember plays a very important role in my work. I am very interested in personal memories, because I believe each of us has a unique story to tell, and I am against a universalized way of reading history. I think there is an inherent plurality to how we remember, I am furthermore interested in giving a platform to voices that usually remain invisible or unheard. I believe this is what art is really good at, giving attention and visibility.

Could you elaborate on how you work using an example from a recent project?

JW: I always work in collaboration; my projects are never developed alone. Of course, I am the initiator but for me it’s about bringing different people together, creating a group feeling through in-person interactions. In the last years, I’ve been working on a film Symphony of The Ursus Factory, in which I engaged with former workers of the Ursus Factory; it used to be one of the largest producer of agricultural machinery in Europe and a glory of Polish industry. When communism collapsed in Poland, the factory was closed and it started to fall into ruins. Together with my team, we reached out to former technologists, managers, secretaries of this factory, asking them to take part in an experimental documentary project in order to bring the factory back to life, so to speak, to enliven it through telling the stories of the people who created it, and at the same time to commemorate it.

And how do you approach your subjects, what are your ethics when working with communities?

JW: One thing that is very central to my practice is working on a long-term basis. As a result, the relations I form are not disposable; I am still in touch with many of the workers who participated in the Ursus Factory project, we have been presenting the work together, as I want to give them a voice, not only on the screen. This is extremely important for me, as I do not want to be an in-and-out kind of artist, who capitalizes on the work of the many. For me, it’s really about listening, appreciating, and remembering their stories. But also, I must add, I do not see myself in a position of a leader, this is not something that interests me although it happens, or seems to be happening, because of how authorship is attributed in the art field. I am always learning through these conversations. It is about mutual empowerment. Of course as a director I take responsibility for the continuity, the relation of different artistic components, being present and attentive at every stage of production: from the writing of the script, through conversations amongst the team, up until the laborious process of postproduction. I aim to work in a horizontal way but at the end I am held responsible for the whole; my energy gives the rhythm of work and activates others.

How do you understand the mechanisms of empowerment?

JW: I think each of us can only empower oneself, but there are ways of creating a safe setting, a structure of trust through which one can reach this empowerment, and this is what I am intending to do as an artist.

Why do you think this kind of work is important now?

JW: Because I am afraid we are losing the ability to form and sustain a community. As our society highlights and supports individualism, we are running out of time to really listen and care for one another. When I was studying at the art university, my teachers stressed that we have to be individuals but I think an ability to share, to belong to a collective or a group, is extremely important for our well-being as a society.

What about your upcoming project in Puch? What are you planning to do and what is your interest here?

JW: My project in Puch within the framework of steirischer herbst will evolve in a couple of stages. Behind the apple industry, which is at the same time a tourist attraction of Styria, lays the invisible labor of hundreds of people—so called guest workers or seasonal workers coming mainly from Poland and Romania. They are temporary and recurring neighbors of the local population of Puch, but apparently they only meet in a local supermarket, as I learned during my site visit. There seems to be a lack of will to meet, to encounter one another. The workers come for a particular time then they go back home, and return again when their work is needed. They are guests but how does hospitality function within this situation conditioned by the economy? Shall they simply do their work and go back home? Could they feel that they are contributing to the atmosphere of this region? The seasonal workers will be the subjects I would like to work with, and I would like to act through the means of art to facilitate an unconditional meeting with the inhabitants of Puch.

The first part will be a process of making visible. I will create a sculpture in a public space that will take the form of a tower made out of empty crates for apples. I refer to the famous Tatlin’s tower, the project for the Monument to the Third International. It is a simple and suggestive symbol for the worker’s movement. I believe it is especially important here in Puch, a city in which one encounters shiny apples at nearly every corner. The latter part of the work will take a form of workshops that I will offer together with composer Dominik Strycharski. Voice as an instrument and a tool to empower the workers to initiate a non-verbal dialogue with the local public. The workshops will be open to everyone. During the last stage, the tower will be activated by a sound composition with worker’s voices and will stand at the center of the inauguration dinner of the project.