Curator Marta Czyż and the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

At this year’s edition of the Venice Biennale, the most important art event in the world, the Polish Pavilion is attracting a great deal of interest. Marta Czyż, curator of the Repeat after me II exhibition, told us about her inspirations, challenges and the success of her collaboration with the Ukrainian collective Open Group. Ceramika Paradyż, a company actively supporting art through its involvement in numerous artistic projects and cooperation with artists and cultural institutions, became a partner of the project.

Ceramika Paradyż, a manufacturer of tiles and quartz sinters, has been promoting art for 35 years, creating the latest collections in line with the latest design trends. The company regularly engages in artistic projects, collaborating with prominent designers such as Gosia Baczyńska and Anna Orska. Thanks to its innovative approach, the brand has gained recognition both in Poland and abroad. Participation as a Partner of the Polish Pavilion at the ongoing Biennale di Venezia is another initiative of the Polish manufacturer, thanks to which it gains the opportunity to reach a wider, international audience. We invited Marta Czyż, curator of the Polish Pavilion, to talk about the exhibition currently taking place in Venice.

What are the main goals you wanted to achieve by presenting the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale?

Marta Czyż: Let me start by saying that I have fulfilled my dream of realising an exhibition at the most important art event in the world, La Biennale di Venezia. To achieve this, it was necessary to have an idea for a pavilion that would show work capable of attracting attention. For me, this meant proposing a universal and important message, presented in an appropriate formula. Today, I feel that by inviting the Ukrainian collective Open Group (comprising Yuriy Biley, Pavlo Kovach and Anton Varga) with the project Repeat after me II, I have achieved this.

Were there specific guidelines or themes that guided you in selecting the works for the exhibition? Where did you get the idea to invite the Open Group collective?

M.C.: I have been fascinated by contemporary Ukrainian art for years, and I have been working with the Open Group collective since 2020. I have been following all their works closely for years and have written quite a few texts and interviews about them. Their works are often based on one simple idea, which becomes a field for a wide interpretation on many levels. The artists’ approach to the definition of the work, as well as its representation and authorship, escapes the classical approach. At the same time, a strong artistic gesture resounds in these seemingly simple works, a form of communication that, being part of conceptual practices, seems to be understood by all, often being extremely poignant. Such was the case with the work Repeat after me II.

So how do you assess the reactions of international audiences and art critics to the Polish Pavilion and the video installation presented at the exhibition?

M.C.: I am very surprised by such a good reception of the work. In my subjective opinion it was the best proposal and I am proud of the artists and their work. Such feelings are often not followed by mentions from visitors, critics and curators. This time it turned out that the Polish Pavilion was noticed by virtually everyone. Articles about the installation appeared in most opinion-forming media. The work has been appreciated by the general public and people from the industry who write to us to congratulate us. This is very pleasing.

What do you think about commercial brands supporting such engaging art?

M.C.: I think the art world is a vessel connected to different industries. Many times it is the case that the dream budget of a project, allowing it to be realised in its intended form, is beyond the capacity of the organiser. It is important when you can count on the support of a commercial brand, however it is also the case that not all brands fit into a given project or venture. Ceramika Paradyż has a sincere interest in and affinity with artistic activities, consistently building its image as a patron of the arts. And as we know, patrons have been very important in supporting and developing the arts since the Renaissance. This is an obliging task.

What do you think were the main challenges in organising this exhibition?

M.C.: In addition to extracting important threads for understanding and building contexts around the project, my work was often very technical. Over the course of three months, I had hundreds of meetings and conversations with the Open Group artists and our graphic designer Jan Bersz. I coordinated contact with the lyricists Svitlana Biedarieva, Cezary Zechowski and Rasha Salti. I also worked on the preparation of the set design with the architectural office Centrala. I was responsible for working out many of the details involved in the production of the new Open Group film and I was in constant contact with the producers of the exhibition on behalf of Zacheta.

Can you tell us more about the main messages addressed by the Open Group artists in the exhibition and address the relationship of the installation to the theme of this year’s Biennale, ‘Foreigners are everywhere’?

M.C.: The Open Group artists address this theme on a number of levels. The first issue is about defining who a foreigner is. In the case of our Pavilion, we are talking about civilian refugees who have had to leave their homes out of compulsion because their home no longer exists or is no longer a safe place. Two video works are presented in the exhibition. The first is from 2022 and is narrated to us by internally displaced people who moved from western to eastern Ukraine about their experiences of war, sharing the remembered sounds of weapons and warning signals. In the second video, from 2024, the protagonists are people from Ukraine residing in various European cities and in New York. Often introducing themselves and talking about their current location, they talk about who they are staying with in that place. They also often say that they are people from all over the world. Refugeeism, like being a foreigner, does not have a single location today. Foreigners is a more capacious concept. We often leave our country of our own free will, for very different reasons. Refugees leave their home out of compulsion. They do not really want to do so. They are looking for a place in the world where they can live safely, although often not on their own terms, submitting to rules that organise their lives in a new way. At the same time, today no place seems safe. We live in a time of many armed conflicts and political clashes, the consequences of which we cannot predict. The work Repeat after me II is the voice of all refugees around the world, whose protagonists tell the story of war with the universal sounds of weapons resounding today in different parts of the world.

photos: Milena Liebe, Zachęta Archive

source: Paradyż press materials

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