Woman artist to woman artist – the Book Art Museum
(Marta Ostajewska – Aleksandra Chciuk) # 1 Places
Performance with a piano, a ladder, two bodies and a child
MO You are an audiovisual artist who works with both sound and image. One of your favourite instruments is the piano. Tell me why?
ACH I am very fond of the piano. It was the first instrument I had encountered. It has been a long and a tortuous path. The piano we are standing at… I was about eight when I visited the Book Art Museum for the first time. My dad took me to a vernissage. That was my first public performance. It was this very piano that I improvised on then. I had difficulty reading sheet music from the very beginning. I was given music sheets. I put them in front of me and started to play. Then I went to music lessons and it turned out that I couldn’t play anything. I would come home and play again. My parents couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t say what was going on. And I just picked a few notes from a piece that I’d been given to learn at home and played my melodies and improvisations basing on these notes. And that was a rift. But it is one of the reasons why it developed into such a situation that now I mainly prepare this instrument. I collect various tiny items that I find in the forest, on the beach, or in a flea market. And then I use them for preparation. This is one of these paths. I really wanted to deepen this relationship with the instrument. As I was interested, from the very beginning, how an instrument influenced the performer, that is, what posture we adopt, what gestures and movements we make, how the body changes depending on an instrument. I was looking for different ways to explore this issue. Eventually, I entered this instrument, preparing it with myself. I had different ideas how to do it. However, the day before the recording, I had a dream that I was simply adhering to it completely and the sound was not the result of one particular movement, but rather the complete adherence to the instrument. Thus, a certain kind of organism is created. And this exchange is proper, and total. Moreover, this instrument has assisted me since the early days of my artistic activity. In a sense, I didn’t find it as an artistic activity at all. It was already present in my life, it occupied me, my time, and my thoughts. When I was still a child playing the instrument was rather emotional. I am glad that we have this opportunity to make the recording here today, since I return to this instrument every now and then. Each time the encounter and entering this space is significant and it determines new situations and qualities that are simply astounding and let me grow as an artist.
MO You treat this instrument as your artistic partner. You have a similar approach to a relationship with the place where you operate. Your actions are often site-specific. Please tell me about the places in Lodz that are important to you, where you have operated artistically.
ACH This aspect of my work is closely related to the city. It seems that its character largely influences the way I work and the way I work with space. Even though I have spent my entire life here, this city still surprises and inspires me. Due to its contrasts: places that may appear hard-to-reach, dirty, rough, and unfriendly and are in the juxtaposition to spick-and-span palace spaces. It is like taking a breath. It creates a really stimulating combination of quality. We inhale their character. Therefore, I look for such places. And sometimes they find me. I get asked to join a project and then I wonder where I haven’t been yet. It turns out that, for instance, there is a place that is really astounding, and it is two streets away. Then I almost feel like a newcomer, an explorer. I live here, and I haven’t known anything about this place at all. When such a place finds me, or I find it, I try to spend there as much time as possible. Also because I record its audio sphere. And not only that, as I also generate some sounds using objects that I have found there. However, I try not to disturb this existing landscape, but rather strengthen its potential. What also matters is whether I am there alone or with someone else. This may often be a form of collaboration. For instance, I invite various people to appear in front of the camera. I have been doing this project for many years, since 2014. Each time we meet in the Wschodnia Gallery, where the invited person sits on the same chair, in a space between two rooms. And there, in an intimate atmosphere, they read a book. I am really interested how the surroundings, this changing stage design, that has its own rhythm, offers something different to those who come here each time. The interdependence of the space and the visitor, how they engage with each other and where it is going. It depends on so many factors, and yet these factors are controllable. These are basically two parameters when you have an idea for an artistic action. These two parameters stimulate each other. On the one hand, something is planned, and on the other hand, there is simply no way for you to guess what is going to happen. It is always a coupling of these two potentials and these two energies. And that’s probably what fascinates me the most. Each place carries something like this and each time it is a sort of discovery. But then again I really appreciate the moments when I can simply be alone in a given place and blend in with it, and intensify its character by using certain tools. And then let it go further as an installation or audio performance. Meet the recipient.
MO Discussing your collaboration with places and artists in Lodz, could you tell me about a few places that are important to you? You have already mentioned the Wschodnia Gallery, and the Book Art Museum, where we are sitting now. You have also done a very interesting activity in the synagogue…
I have done an activity in the synagogue together with Kuba Krzewiński. He is an artist that I have been cooperating with for many years and I can safely say that we create an artistic duo. We realized the audio performance Międzydźwięki (“Sounds in between”) together. We spent many, many days in the synagogue and recorded the soundscapes we found there. We also worked with sounds by generating them with objects we’d found. This is how the audio performance tape was created. The whole thing took place in complete darkness. The invited guests, recipients, were guided by a narrow beam of light that I was directing at the stairs. The moment when the audience was moving from one level – from the first floor, from the so-called gallery – to the ground floor, through a narrow doorway and each person heard one word whispered in the ear. This was the highlight of the event. I said this word many times that evening. For me as an artist, but also as a performer, an artist-performer, it was a new experience. Many things happened during this transition. It was basically a kind of a ritual that went on, stretched over time. And these people, like in an hourglass, were slowly drifting downstairs, in total silence and total darkness.
Undoubtedly, the post-industrial spaces are important. I’ve had a pleasure to perform at many Lodz festivals that have taken place in such spaces. Getting back to this piano, Musica Privata took place here, the Lodz improvisers orchestra performed here and I played this piano during a concert, preparing this instrument. Lots of different spaces, lots of possibilities.
MO Senses are important to you. On the one hand, hearing, on the other hand, touch, and understandably the sense of sight: you do audiovisual activities where not only the sound, but also the visual aspect is central. If you had to choose one of these media, which one would be the most significant, the most vital?
ACH You can’t make me do this. I think that would just be unfair. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to choose what’s more important because it just doesn’t work that way. Though, I can say which came first. And I believe it was the sound. In that conscious sense. It is related to an experience that I often recall. In the synagogue, it was, somehow, a new version of the same experience.
When I went to the music school that was located in a tenement house in Jaracza street, I had to go through a gate to get there. You would enter this gate from a bustling, shabby street, and suddenly you would hear mixed sounds from the rooms where people were practicing. It all created an aura of another dimension that was already shining. I didn’t know where was the shining coming from yet, but I subliminally felt that seeing it was important for me, that I saw the sound. Then I started to wonder why it influenced me so much and was so emotional. It corresponded to what I said at the beginning: apart from the fact that you read pieces, there are a lot of things happening in this relationship with the instrument that are to be discovered, and the same applies to space. This space, apart from being used on a daily basis, has got many layers beneath. It is a matter of preparing it and using it. It turned out later that I could use it through art, and to work with space in that way, too. I mean audio space precisely, that is, that you can work not only with the sound that is being played, but also with the sounds that surround us, that we are able to capture. Not to mention the fact that the body itself generates a lot of sounds. We are a great machine for producing sounds in everyday life.
MO How do you perceive today’s improvisation with the piano, a ladder and two bodies, a baby’s body and various small objects?
ACH This element of my work is really important to me. As I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, the linkage between two dimensions is the quality that we bring… Through our experience, we are already taught certain gestures, we know our capabilities, we know how we will more or less behave in a given situation, but meeting in a given place and entering this space, it always generates a new quality and this is the transformation that is probably the most interesting, what will result from such a combination of the existing quality and the potential of the place. I just mean, to put it bluntly, that this part of the experiment, which always aims to discover something that you did not know before, for example about yourself. About yourself, meaning: in a given constellation, with another human being, but also in a new life mode. There are many aspects that we already know, but also some that are to be discovered.
MO This is not the first time we have cooperated artistically. We have done an action together in the Lodz gravel pit. It was the “inside” video performance, and we met even earlier, at the PLEXUS exhibition. That exhibition was about meetings or collisions of two artists. Can you share your thoughts on these two events?
ACH Which one first? Make it easy for me, please.
MO Let’s start with PLEXUS.
ACH Correspondence. Correspondence with you and your work. It was the time when I was making a video work, still being heavily influenced by Maja Deren, and I was traversing similar spaces, but distant from each other. These were the palace spaces of Lodz, the palace in Radziejowice and a palace in Venice. There, I multiplied myself in order to see myself in these circumstances and to check by following the sounds, where I would go, and where I would like to go. I found a dialogue with your work where you also multiplied yourself and searched for an understanding with a factory space. I liked very much that this was a collision of such, shall we say, a sleek, beautiful space, with the dirty nature of yours. It corresponded with each other. And at the same time, I subliminally felt that there was, in fact, a similar emotion in these works. And that we were guided by a similar emotion while implementing them.
BODY PHENOMENON AND MICORITUALS
“Inside” is simply an extraordinary combination of body and matter, be it mud, water, sand, roots, or stones. I find it fascinating every time how the human body takes on amazing forms when it is immersed in something and it suddenly appears as something different and new. I have seen a great deal in this weave. And it is probably a space that could be explored for a long period of time for us to understand what this phenomenon of the body is about. Not to mention such purely sensational things: this skin sometimes looked like an elephant’s skin, or it suddenly became a map, a constellation where I saw cities or some other situations. It is inspiring to me in the sense that afterwards I desire to push it further and see deeper what it can become in a further transformation. The important thing was that there was a language there. You used recordings that were read in different indigenous languages and that referred to different names. This, combined with body language and breath, came together to form a coherent cell. I think this work is just such a tiny cell in which these individual elements fit. Another important aspect was that when we arrived at a given place, we didn’t know what would happen. These were the micro-rituals that I recorded. I believe in such rituals.
MO For me, this collaboration has been really interesting. My organic performance in this space where the body blends with the world around it, your presence with or behind the camera, accompanying, and I’d even say participatory. I had a great sense of partnership in this relationship. It is also important to emphasize that you have created sounds for this action. As a result, this cooperation has been truly multi-level and organic. Concluding, please tell me what your immediate artistic plans are.
ACOUSMATICS AND DARKNESS
ACH I am tempted to return to the medium of photography and the first attempts have already been made. In fact, I have not yet been ready for this photography to resonate in my work. Recently, I want to come back to it, rediscover it. I showed my last series titled “Lodzer Miflecet” at FotoFestiwal (2021). It was related to traveling, night city walks, and searching for places, among other things. This spatial factor was really important to me. But I also find combining photography with sound rather curious. This aspect is not sufficiently researched – it might be too big a word – but I would like to work more with photography and sound. Doing performances, exhibitions, or acuzmatic installations by cutting off the sense of sight in order to strengthen the sense of hearing seems particularly attractive for me. I want such works to be as organoleptic as possible, that is perceived entirely with your body, such as Black of Granule, during which, together with Kuba Krzewiński we performed concerts in the dark, audio performances for one listener. For one listener, but of course there were a lot of them during that one evening. And this is probably the direction that I would like to explore. Just like my project of interactive images that reacted to movement. Now it’s time to create works that react to light beams and are sensitive to light. And the darkness is the proper environment for them.
MO Great! Thank you so much.
An interview with Aleksandra Chciuk by Marta Ostajewska
Performance: Aleksandra Chciuk, Marta Ostajewska and Natan Szychowski, a piano, a ladder, and small sound objects
Video and editing: Krzysztof Lewandowski
Special thanks to Mrs. Jadwiga Tryzno for making the Book Art Museum in Łódź available for us.