Pijarski Krzysztof
29th november 2014
to 27th december 2014

The Spectral City - Waldemar Baraniewski

Warsaw is a spectral, potential city, a city unrealised. It is both visible and invisible. This is a paradox, since we speak about a city whose physical existence is indisputable. But this physical state of “development” isn’t crucial here, rather a certain image of the city that we carry within ourselves. Not so much in memory, as somewhere deep inside, in those “confused layers,” comprised of emotions, images, knowledge and imagination. Here is where this spectral Warsaw dwells.

It seems natural that the city’s development involves a necessary processes of spatial transformation and exchange of substance. These are the common rules of “playing the city.” Only that in Warsaw this process was violent. In the course of two, three months in 1944 a significant part of the city ceased to exist. Then for many years both its physical and symbolic tissue were subjected to two complementary as well as mutually exclusionary rules: reconstruction and erasure. Together they have shaped the city as we know it today. And, paradoxically, they are shaping this space until this day. The political transformation after 1989 imbued them with a new character and a new dynamic.

One of the first postwar housing estates – Muranów, was built on the rubble that was left of the ghetto. According to the author of the project, Bohdan Lachert, it was supposed to be a spatial monument of sorts to the ghetto and its annihilation. Situated on a natural acclivity of tons of ruins, it was construed of rubble concrete, as its designer put it – “from red bricks as if from the blood of Warsaw.” It remained a monument just for a short while. The red walls were plastered and decorated with lyrical ornament. Gradually the overly literal historical message of this spatial monument was erased.

Muranów, as a formed space is chronologically older than the new Old Town of Warsaw. The Old Town is a monument to the political intentions of the socialist government who sought legitimisation through attachment to history. Allegedly faithful and solid but in fact spectral and unreal. Suspended in a history saturated with ideology, as an artefact of the middle i.e. “progressive” social class, the bourgeoisie. Its abstract frame has been provided for decades by an empty spot which remained after the demolition of the Royal Castle which could not be inscribed in the progressive rhetoric.

In this process of reconstruction/erasure historical time underwent consummate disintegration – the new strove to be the old, the old was absent or becoming even newer.

When speaking about Warsaw, one needs to keep in mind the underground city which for the most part is hidden from view. But it is an element of this phantasmagoria. It is a city we walk on. We are above it, treading that which was covered up after historical catastrophe. New construction sites and street excavations provide moments of contact with this city. Then one can spot the stratigraphy, ground rubble, the black layer of ashes, at times foundations or cellars appear. Who inhabits this parallel city?

There are more of those underground cities in Europe – Rotterdam, Dresden, Berlin. All were rebuilt as modern – reconstruction and erasure. The modernist ideology of the “reform of the capitalist city” as an image of the former social relations proved very helpful. CIAM’s Athens Charter created a new rhetoric of city planning, with functionality and access to daylight, fresh air and abundant green spaces as dominating factors. In reconstructed cities their former historical sites were replaces by vast promenades and new parks.

The parallel – “overground” city had to produce space for new protagonists, new symbolic narratives and foundation myths. The were supposed to provide new axes of spatial orientation, different hierarchies. They were built with the introduction of a new toponymy relating to the actual pantheon of heroes. The easiest and cheapest way. 

The new sites were marked by monuments of different scale and meaning. By raising a monument each authority believes in its agency and historical persistence. Very often this proves to be an ordinary superstition or prejudice.  Contemporary history has seen more monuments demolished than preserved. Our times proved monuments to be the most fugitive form of commemoration.

When in 1989 the history of our region began to get back on its track, political monuments as well as the whole symbolic sphere of the passing government became subject to inevitable iconoclastic actions.

What is one to do with an “unwanted heritage”? Preserve? Destroy? Transform?

The above questions are still topical. Krzysztof Pijarski’s photographic project is an attempt at addressing them in an artistic context. A record of one of the processes of transforming the space of the new, “overground” city, ceaselessly reconstructed and erased. Also within ourselves. In what fits into our consciousness and the need for topographic identity.

As a closing comment I would like to refer to the statement of Paweł Susid, an acclaimed Polish painter, who answered my call for a short biographical note for an exhibition catalogue with an exceptionally apt description of these operations. He, as an artist, “lives in Warsaw – formerly between the monuments, squares and streets of: Dzierżyński, Marchlewski, Świerczewski and the People’s Army, at present – the Primate of the Millennium, Dmowski, Haller, Ogień and the National Armed Forces.”

26.11.2014 09:21:55

Krzysztof Pijarski (1980, lives in Warsaw)


Artist working mainly with photography, Assistant Professor at the Łódź Filmschool, art historian, translator. Defended a dissertation on Michael Fried, modernism and photography, entitled “An Archeology of Modernism.” As an artist, he focuses on the fate of images and objects in the (post)modern world, creating visual archeologies of museums, archives, landscapes and urban spaces & other “machines of representation.” A collection of his translations of essays by Allan Sekula was published by the Warsaw University Press in 2010. Editor of The Archive as Project (2011), and participant of PLAT(T)FORM 2012 at the Fotomuseum Winterthur.

26.11.2014 09:32:22

loading image...
Krzysztof Pijarski
Świerczewski / W-Z (02)
loading image...
Krzysztof Pijarski
"Consolidators" / Dzierżyński (22)
loading image...
Krzysztof Pijarski
"Consolidators" / Dzierżyński (32)