15.03.2021 Monday

“Wrocław Cultural Guide”: 5 questions to… Sylwia Świsłocka-Karwot

Sylwia Świsłocka-Karwot, an art historian, president of the Zachęta Lower Silesian Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts and a scholar associated with University of Wrocław, has been director of the Wrocław Contemporary Museum since January. She talked to the “Guide” team about what the museum has in store for us in the coming year.

Sylwia Świsłocka-Karwot, photo from private archives

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1. You are taking over as director of the museum at a difficult time for cultural institutions – in the midst of a pandemic. What strategy will WCM adopt in the event of further lockdowns?

Depending on the situation. We have prepared a strategy that takes into account the constraints resulting from the ongoing pandemic. We need to anticipate things, but also learn to adapt to change. The difficult situation in the world, tensions in the country, as well as in our homes teach us to be humble towards the elements, including ourselves. The elements cannot be stopped – they can only be made more familiar, and we can learn to be mindful despite stress and all the things. Maybe it’s also an opportunity to learn who we are? These days we have to discover ourselves anew and be with each other. I’d rather we didn’t escalate tensions. The museum can be a safety valve of sorts, a therapeutic outlet which allows us to unload these emotions swollen with fears. We want to be with the people of Wrocław, the artists. We want to be together. We want to seek understanding, openness.

2. How do you envision the museum developing during your tenure?

I envision growth in a number of areas. The first is to improve the management of the WCM. The results of last year’s audit, and the ongoing predicament, are a starting point to the reflection for the indispensable improvement in the understanding of the institution’s identity, as well as its mission. I want to develop internal processes in such a way that the situation will be rectified, the team will feel comfortable working, and the art exhibitions will still be attractive, relevant and questioning.

The second area is the promotion of Wrocław’s art outside – support for the most interesting artistic projects by representatives of the local community, activities of high artistic value, great culture-creating potential and a good educational offer, which is something that I believe to be the most important. I would also like to compete for exhibitions of works by significant and intriguing artists from Poland, Europe and maybe even the world. We made a move to display works by a certain American artist in Wrocław… But this is not the time to talk about specifics – the ideas are there, we will see if they come to fruition.

Finally, the third area is building relationships and an environment of dialogue in the field of art and in the society as a whole. Putting emphasis on key phenomena in contemporary art, subject to at least community discussion. In my opinion, you cannot deal with art without asking yourself what it is. How is it evolving? Why do we need it? 

3. What activities and exhibitions is the WCM planning for this year?

In February, we opened the exhibition The Night Will Drive a Heart dedicated to the transgressive ways in which artists express themselves. We are currently working on an intriguing display of works by Wanda Gołkowska, a phenomenal artist from Wrocław, whose achievements in the field of abstract art, expressed with an extremely beautiful and precise language of geometry and colour, are our treasure. Juxtaposed with the objects of Marlena Kudlicka, a Polish artist residing in Berlin, they will be a journey into the world of sublime tension of line, form, colour and drawing in space. We are in for a surprise – the latest art by performer Piotr Wyrzykowski. We have already had a chance to get to know the installation works of the artist — Comunnostalgie and Beta Nassau from the Lower Silesian Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts collection – we are curious to know what he is up to. In cooperation with OKiS in Wrocław, we are working on an exhibition of works by Zdzisław Jurkiewicz, dubbed the Wrocław Cadillac. He is a phenomenal seeker of truth about the cosmos and art in his favourite colours red and blue. I hope that we will be also able to lift up the moods in this difficult time by the exhibition of Kama Sokolnicka, invited to do a site specific project. We would also like to show the audience the works of Bartosz Hołoszkiewicz, Ada Zielińska… “photographically” – and in other ways. We are waiting for decisions concerning the TIFF Festival and the next displays of works from the Zachęta Lower Silesian Society collection.

4. You are also a member of the newly established Wrocław Culture Council, supporting the Mayor of Wrocław. What can you tell us about your role on the council?

Certainly, I am going to focus on affirming culture-creating activities and at least try to start a discussion about culture and art as values. I see the need to strengthen the city’s arts institutions, but that probably cannot be really done without the aforementioned discussion. The level of distrust towards culture seems to have reached its peak and this is our biggest problem, as people dealing with culture. The problem is at least twofold – there are actual issues, like the leaky roof and plaster falling off the walls, no budget and working conditions that are not conducive to creative thinking and action, there are also relational, axiological problems as well. The fact that these days we are losing our relationship with culture calls for reflection. It’s a matter of awareness and long-term strategy. The solution to this problem could involve a good substantive education – that is what I would like the city to do above all.

5.What do you think is the biggest challenge for cultural institutions in 2021?

The ability to accompany people, to build relationships, to work towards an integrated self. This is a huge field for those involved in culture. Art can change the world!

Interviewer: Nina Paśniewska

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