Text on the “social-research” part of the group exhibition (cloister, courtyard, presbytery)
The word “old” has become symbolically alienated from public discussion in almost all contemporary societies. As a result, the needs of seniors often escape the attention of planners, architects, artists or the media. The elderly face many problems, feeling unwanted in public spaces and useless to the capitalist machine when they stop pursuing gainful employment. They often find refuge in their backyard garden or allotment plot. These places become an extension of their own home, a space for respite but also for work to which seniors turn when they can no longer actively participate in social life. Eventually, gardens and allotment plots become places where people feel comfortable because they are managed according to their own rules.
Maciej Aleksandrowicz’s artistic statement, which can be admired in the nave and the presbytery, is accompanied by a social-research collective part of the “Gardens of Maturity” exhibition, located in three different spaces of Galeria EL. This part comprises works by people originating from different scientific disciplines, addressing the subject of ageing as well as the role and importance of the garden itself in that process. From this perspective, the “Gardens of Maturity” become a platform for the exchange of ideas between architects, designers, urban activists, artists and literary scholars who attempt to ask the right questions in their works, pointing out key problems or trying to find answers and proposing solutions.
At the exhibition, the garden becomes the horizon of activities, the point around which all the presented works are focused. In her text on Maciej Aleksandrowicz’s installation placed in the nave and presbytery of Galeria EL Art Centre, Katarzyna Trzeciak discusses the artist’s work as a paradoxical meeting and convergence of forces connected with idyllic vitality that have been stopped in the process of decay and stagnation, which is precisely what his dystopian-cyborgian creation reflects. The works comprising the research and social part become a space where youth meets old age. What becomes important in this context is the fact that all the people participating in the exhibition are under the age of 50. The “Gardens of Maturity” allow them to look at their own future as well as that of the next generations. They enable asking the question whether we – as a society – devote enough attention to the elderly, their problems and needs.
Description of works:
In the back space of the presbytery, right behind Maciej Aleksandrowicz’s installation, visitors will find a work entitled “In the garden” by sculptor Katarzyna Szarek. The seemingly comfortable item of garden furniture, lined with comfortable padding turns out to be a bed spiked with needles. The work also builds on the principle of surrealistic combination of completely different elements. The artist was inspired by the words she once heard from an elderly person who said that she starts to worry when she gets out of bed in the morning and nothing hurts her. The work metaphorically illustrates the state of familiarity and complete acceptance of the inconveniences the elderly person has to face, associated with an ageing body and the difficulties arising from the external environment.
There are three more works in the cloister space. The first piece visitors can see when entering the cloister is “Roro’s Mwencho Hot Sauce” by Jacek Kolasiński, an artist based in the United States. The concept originates from a reflection on the situation of the elderly migrant community from the Caribbean Islands living in Miami. The work tells the story of a pensioner Robert P. La Forest, a native of Haiti, who cooks spicy sauce in his home garden in Miami – a sauce typical for the region where he was born. Apart from the very spicy bottled sauce placed in a suitcase, the artwork includes a set of commercial gadgets aimed at boosting product sales and building the brand. Thus, the piece becomes a story of an elderly man who participates in the market machine in order to increase his retirement income. In this context, the garden becomes his sanctuary of identity it is present in the process of mixing local customs and becomes a support for the economic activity of a Haitian pensioner.
Passing further into the cloister, on the southern wall you can find two works. The first one entitled “Tree” was created by the Elbląg Branch of the Association of Polish Architects. It is a branched structure, with separate levels symbolically marking 4 named spaces. The architects left the slots to be filled by the exhibition visitors with their concepts and ideas. The form of the tree will undergo transformations throughout the exhibition, surrendering to the creativity of the audience. The other work placed on that wall is a project consisting of four charts, entitled “Millennials’ Gardens” (4) by Lab 60 + team consisting of architects and urban activists. It presents a conceptual design of a box designed for asking questions, intended for younger users. They can confront themselves with a view of their future, when they most likely reach senior age. The project thus aims to confront the audience with questions that they usually avoid, thereby making them more sensitive to important social issues and introducing relevant topics to the public debate.
The last work exhibited in that space is “Road” by landscape architect Izabela Myszka. Her metaphorical installation refers to the link between different parts of the garden, which serves not only the owner but also his or her guests who move around in such a way as not to destroy the plants. The path made of wooden blocks is not necessarily comfortable and well-adapted to the needs of elderly people. It is easy to stumble on any of the blocks placed on the edges. What can be attractive for a young person might be an obstacle for a senior citizen – yet another challenge lurking in the urban space. Additionally, it can be associated with the red carpet honouring a person for their efforts, at the end of their life.
In the outdoor courtyard of Galeria EL, near the old brick walls, you can see an environmental project entitled “Oasis” by Wiktor Piskorz, an artist working as a photographer and acoustician at Galeria EL Art Centre. His embankment with plants and tree seedlings is an expression of care for future and present ageing generations, and an attempt to create a place friendly for senior citizens – the eutopia mentioned in Katarzyna Trzeciak’s text. In the context of the dead trees in the nave, “Oasis” shows a living garden full of young trees, also standing in opposition to the progressing dominance of concrete in today’s cities where greenery becomes more and more scarce. Shaping the embankment is a long-term creative process and thus does not assume a vision of its final shape – it is subject to constant evolution due to weather conditions and other unintentional changes.