Kaja Pawelek

Research Group: Visual & Material Culture Research Centre
Award studied: PhD

Project title

The city as stage: reading Poland's post-socialist transformation through art practices in (and on) public space in Warsaw


The proposed project takes Warsaw's contemporary art and architecture – in particular temporary public interventions, installations and performances, as well as photography, fiction and documentaries – as a lens through which to discuss Warsaw's post-socialist transformation. I would like to explore how these practices preceded, mirrored and commented upon a deep social, political, economic and identity's change, being part of democratic re-appropriation of public space in post-socialist Poland. The project undertakes readings of selected case studies to trace the connection these works had with public discourse, collective memory, and the construction of a new identity of the city and its inhabitants. The notion of the stage stands for the idea that the city not only possesses an inherent theatricality with respect to how processes of transformation unfold within the public space, but that in the post-socialist city, these processes are exacerbated by the impact of rapid ideological, spatial, aesthetic, architectural changes. In this context I argue that contemporary art creates symbolic but visible scenarios through which Poland's transformation can be discussed and understood.
Art in Poland in the 2000s began to search for new spaces and new forms of societal discourse. Artists such as Paweł Althamer and Joanna Rajkowska created public artworks that became temporary or permanent landmarks in the Warsaw landscape. The way they entered the public realm, their intended and unintended goals, the tensions surrounding them and their relation with urban space and its transformation posed a groundbreaking platform for debates, criticism of contemporary urban society, and questions surrounding the possibilities of coming together and sharing one common space.
While some of the most well-known art works in public space have widely been discussed and written about in Poland, there remains a lack of interdisciplinary scholarship devoted to their wider context within the city's transformation after 1989. The main objective of this thesis is to fill this gap by developing a conceptual and methodological approach that can create a dialogue between public art and wider urban, cultural and political contexts.


Funding received

Kington University Research Studentship

Joanna Rajkowska, Oxygenator (Dotleniacz), Grzybowski Square, Warsaw, 2007. Produced by CCA Ujazdowski Castle Warsaw