Space of Emptiness
The cities we live in are unconditionally subject to entropy and slow degradation. They are disappearing. These processes take place in a natural rhythm that is so close to our own that they largely pass unnoticed. We can only experience them when we compare old photos with new ones, remembering the places that used to be dear to us, but are now abandoned. When the natural barrier of time is crossed, something drops off the surface of the earth more quickly than we could have expected and all we are faced with is the shadows of non-existing buildings. To compensate for the loss, we feel the need to add, build and fill empty spaces. It’s hard to bear silence, even harder to meet emptiness face to face. Miedzianka* gives us a fast-forward insight into the processes in a urbanistic theatrical performance, in the art of disappearing. Its story wants to teach us and tame us, and will take us through it on its own conditions.
It is going to be the first step to the understanding of what is and what is not anymore. Gradually, it is going to uncover the ongoing processes, thus allowing us to come to terms with the past through the existing space and new, sensual architectural acupuncture. These micro-interventions are supposed to give us a hand and guide us through the emptiness, help us accept non-being and subtraction. They aim to arouse adoration of a new life which fills the town and has become part of its greenery.
*Miedzianka is a small town in Lower Silesia (contemporary Poland) located at the north-west foot of Miedziana Góra. For years it thrived as a mining town, but eventually, also due to its identity, lost its importance and disappeared, much like many similar towns in the region. Its story might prove an important voice in the debate concerning the functioning and the future of disappearing towns in Lower Silesia.
Who influences you graphically?
In line with the principle I follow, namely the one establishing the project picture as the main link between imagination and reality, I find primitivist and abstract concepts particularly close. Creating reality by means of a considerable amount of understatement and non-literal means, I give the viewer the freedom that activates abstract thinking and allows them to feel the mood and the character of the object I have in mind. This is when I draw on Andrzej Wróblewski’s and Jerzy Nowosielski’s ideas. Right behind them are the masters of form and colour – Katarzyna Kobro, Mark Rothko and Henri Matisse. It’s good to begin sketching accompanied by the five. At the same time I try to look for the simplest means of expression through the linear, black and white schemes and axonometries.
What defined the selection of images through which you choose to reveal the thesis?
The pictures show the way which connects the collection of places that tell the story of Medzianka anew and in my own words. They shift away from the direct commemoration of significant events, dressing them only in metaphorical and symbolic meanings. Treating the presented installations as a temporary set for what is happening in the town today, we can consciously witness a pre-arranged process in which both the inhabitants and the guests take part. New, hidden spaces are not only supposed to evoke aesthetic appreciation, but, more importantly, to provoke a discussion on empty space and the designing opportunities it creates. At this point we should stop and think. Does space shape only what is or also what is not?
How could the thesis be expanded to talk and draw at a global scale?
Mining towns are very peculiar structures, incomparable with any other urban settlements. They come into being in the blink of an eye, growing rapidly for a dozen of years or so with some of them lose their significance just as rapidly. It is the underground treasures that are at the root of everything. Seemingly unexhausted, they attract investors, thus becoming the centre of the economic and urban development. Mining excavations are the sign posts which define irregular and chaotic trails through the city. These along with the local river valleys become the framework for new houses, and the later-formed network of streets reflects on the routes between the mines and the processing plants. However, the mining infrastructure is an autonomous structure, which is never connected with the existing network of settlements. This proves to be the chief cause of the downfall. As the excavations cease, there is longer any reason for the towns to exist
Each town has its own story, but when the same scenario repeats itself again, we start wondering if things could have gone differently and if there is anyone to blame. In each case the underlying causes might be multiple, but even the richest deposits run out, and the most complex towns eventually disappear. Therefore, it is crucial to take on the challenge of turning the page and writing new chapters for those towns that struggle to function trying to forget about their mining past.
Where do you see this project going?
The project does not aspire to reconstruct, nor construct anew. It does not aim to develop the town’s tourist potential, attracting hordes of tourists. A cosy, small-scale exhibition in the attic and a starting point for a discussion about Miedzianka’s identity are its probable objectives.
What is your take on the contemporary trend of borrowing images from the likes of Rousseau amongst others?
Deriving ideas from Rousseau is an instinctive identification with things we cannot see. Drawing a picture helps us create our own image of a project just like Rousseau drew pictures of the jungle he had never seen. What is more, the incredible simplicity of his paintings, comparable to the one visible in David Hockney’s collage art, is the best response to the sensitivity, subtlety and nonchalance that architecture desires. Last but not least, a Rousseau’s or Hockney’s masterclass is the best lesson a young collage artist can have.
Have you thought about exploring mediums as that of film to dwell further into this notion of change and degradation?
I considered the use of film or stop-motion animation when the project was still in development, particularly for the installation called ‘overgrowth’, which begins the Medzianka walk. When the town had to part with its houses, its visible urban layout and its interconnected architectural elements, the role of the architect and the builder was taken over by nature, claiming what was originally taken away from her. The new life which has begun is a life of overgrown ruins and foundations, wild meadows spreading around and tall trees growing on slowly decaying matter. How long does it take for a thing to disappear? How long does the earth suck in the remains of a town? Nature will show us how it treats various materials such as wood or concrete. We will also see how much time is needed for meadow grass to grow high again. A temporary exhibition, which is a one-off experience for visitors, will show us with the aid of a camera what happens in our absence and capture the imperceptible in the case of a long lasting process, i.e. the moment of disappearing.