PRINT May 2017

Piotr Łakomy


Poland is the future: The nationalist, extreme-right-wing Law and Justice Party swept to power there in October 2015, giving the rest of the world a glimpse of what happens when contemporary populism engulfs a nation and takes hold. This shift announced a crack in the postwar liberal European order, and the results have been as swift as they are terrifying: authoritarian efforts to rewrite the constitution, a draconian attempt to curtail reproductive rights, and the radical defunding of the arts. In this way, Poland can be seen as both a case study and a warning—portending the dire conditions of culture in the age of ultranationalism.

In the pages that follow, Artforum invited a group of distinguished contributors to reflect on art in Warsaw in this political climate. Joanna Mytkowska, director of the city’s Museum of Modern Art, examines the state of the capital’s cultural institutions; curator Natalia Sielewicz writes about advertising, propaganda, and spectacle in Warsaw’s urban spaces; and critic Anna Kats weighs in on architecture and the built environment under siege. Finally, artists Agnieszka Kurant, Monika Sosnowska, Piotr Uklański, and Artur Żmijewski discuss the ways in which the city’s changed circumstances affect their ideas now.

View of “Piotr Łakomy: Tomorrow Will Be Smaller,” 2014, House of Polish Words, Warsaw.

IN 2014, I organized an exhibition of my work, “Tomorrow Will Be Smaller,” in collaboration with the directors of Stereo Gallery.Back then they were looking for a new exhibition space. The House of Polish Words, a former printing factory, had been made available to us as a temporary venue. The building housed a number of presses during the era of the Polish People’s Republic. Since the early 1950s, it had produced the best-known newspapers in the country.

At the grand opening, in July 1950, Prime Minister Jósef Cyrankiewicz said, “A great industrial facility arrives in Warsaw, one of the largest in Europe. A new stronghold from which, like bullets, millions of books and publications will be thrown, establishing knowledge about life and bombarding the trenches of darkness and backwardness.” In November of the same year, in a specially adapted production hall in the building, the Second World Congress of the Supporters of Peace convened.

Now this historic building in the center of Warsaw is deserted and decaying. During my first visit, in one of the main halls, I came across large-scale graffiti reading WE ARE CARRYING A BOMB FOR YOU, which had been shown in a Polish hip-hop video. I chose one of the two entrance halls for my show. It was a sunny space with tall dark-blue pillars and a central spiral staircase.

All of the works that I prepared for the exhibition could be called lamps. Some emitted light; others were built from the old frames of fluorescent ceiling fixtures. Each work measured seventy-two inches, about the height of the average man.

The entrance hall during the day was sunlit. In the evening the works were the only source of light in the space; they lit up one another. In the center, at the bottom of the staircase, I installed a lamp with an engine. It performed a full rotation every minute, measuring time.

Piotr Łakomy is an artist based in Warsaw.