PHOTOGRAPHY AND TEMPORALITY AT THE FIRST BIENNALE OF SPATIAL FORMS IN THE POLISH PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC (ELBLAG, 1965) SYLWIA SERAFINOWICZ
Monday, 9 January, 2012 by Jane Scarth
Research Forum Modern and Contemporary Seminar
One of the aims of this new initiative by the Research Forum is to allow students to respond to research events in diverse ways, placing new, perhaps abstract lenses on the information presented. I have chosen to respond to this discussion with a note on Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. As a true admirer of his work I couldn’t help but see two distinct, if somewhat trivial, aesthetic similarities with a photograph by Elżbieta Tejchman in the presentation (Fig. 1), and two of his images. The first related to the use of a solitary figure within a bleak, monochrome landscape, seen here in Nostalgia (Fig. 2), as a strong visual motif in Tarkovsky’s films. The second is the form of the sculpture in Fig. 1, Antoni Starczewski’s ‘spatial form‘ created for the Biennale, and the Polish poster for Solaris (1972), designed by Andrzej Bertrandt (Fig. 3).
These two aspects pick up on the tension of artistic forces in the notion of ‘Photography and Temporality’, there is first the sculpture for the Biennale itself, and then the photographer documenting the event for future observation. Yet when these photographs adopt distinct aesthetic and compositional choices, the artwork it has originally depicted takes on a new meaning within the photographic context. This was one of the themes that Sylwia Serafinowicz discussed in her seminar, analysing the photographs themselves more than the artworks they depict.
I found it quite bizarre that these two separate elements (the sculpture and Solaris, and the photograph and Nostalgia) came together in such a way as to highlight the political dimension, another key theme in Sylwia’s talk. This is because both Tarkovsky’s films and The First Biennale of Spatial Forms work against the current pressures of artists to conform to the socialist realist style of the soviet state, which was extremely difficult to oppose. Particularly for Tarkovsky in Russia, who found it increasingly difficult to make films in his home country, his last two (Nostalgia and The Sacrifice) having to be filmed elsewhere.
Sylwia suggested that in Tejchman’s photographs, the domination of the landscape and deserted streets speak of a void caused by the destruction of the old town of Elblag, under Nazi and then Soviet rule. Considering this now in terms of my Tarkovsky-esque reading, perhaps if we take the photograph out of the context of the Biennale, this is a structure that would not be so out of place as a strange piece of abandoned industrial machinery somewhere in ‘The Zone’, the surreal wasteland setting of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979).
I decided to make this first blog post a ‘response’ on a very basic level, and as such these comments barely scratch the surface of the depth of Sylwia’s discussion into the complex elements of both the Biennale and the accompanying photographs. Although my observations rely solely on what was essentially a gut reaction to an aesthetic and compositional mood shared by these images, this can be one way to play around with ideas, which can sometimes extend broader angles for research.