On the morning of 1 January 2000, Krzysztof Zieliński headed out with a camera to the market square in his hometown of Wąbrzeźno. There, in the grey winter light of the New Year, he created the first pictures of what, after three more years of work, would form one of the most intriguing photographic and artistic projects carried out in Poland since 1989.
There is little art giving such a deep and timeless expression to social reality. Wąbrzeźno, an ordinary little town starting with W, down near the end of the alphabet, in a language where “w” could stand for wszędzie—anywhere, portrayed by the photographer after a decade of systemic changes up to the eve of Poland’s joining the European Union, became a visual synonym for the creeping transformation.
Working on colour negatives and alluding to the minimalist poetics of topographic photography, Zieliński created an image of the post-socialist countryside that is the first of its kind, moving and empathetic, constructed from mist and a thousand and one shades of grey. The region’s systemic transformation, viewed from this perspective, appears as little more than a fresh coat of paint on the walls of the old stone houses and few new commercial signs clashing with the surroundings. The image of economic relations is shops with used clothing and a plastic shopping bag from the German discount grocery chain Aldi hauled by a woman in a pink beret. The space yawning between the houses and blocks of flats leads nowhere.
Twenty years after taking the first photos and 16 years after presenting Hometown at Warsaw’s Zachęta National Gallery of Art, we are again exhibiting an extensive selection from Krzysztof Zieliński’s series, with a sense of the recurring and disturbing political currency of these images. What 15 years ago seemed a phantom of the past, a relic of hard times, today appears to be a fixed element of our identity and a grey trace of unprocessed history.
Krzysztof Zieliński (born 1974) studied photography at FAMU in Prague (obtaining a diploma with distinction in 2001). Since then he has completed ten photographic series and taken part in numerous exhibitions at home and abroad, including the Bienal de São Paulo and the Prague Biennale. Zieliński has had individual shows at such venues at Zachęta in Warsaw (2004) and the Centre of Contemporary Art in Toruń (2009). 2009–2010 he was a visiting professor at FAMU.