Here and There: A Short Essay on Glocality

A mid-sized city, which grew rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s due to the political circumstances of post-war Poland, needed more than just offices and institutions. Zielona Góra became the space of an experiment that has continued to this day, an experiment which consists in testing the visual arts as a means of developing local identity in a globalized world.

And yet there were neither hundreds of artists nor crowds of spectators here. It was rather the charisma of several individuals-particularly Marian Szpakowski, later also Zenon Polus-that resulted in unprecedented situations, appearing at first sight as emanations of the causal power of contemporary art. Of course, without close collaboration between artists and the local government nothing like that would have happened.

Those issues are discussed by Konrad Schiller1 and related by the artists and organizers involved,2 although we are still waiting for further studies of those times and events, based, for example, on Arjun Appadurai’s construct of the ethnoscape, according to which the “warp of [stable communities and networks] is everywhere shot through with the weft of human motion, as more persons and groups deal with the realities of having to move or the fantasies of wanting to move.” As it turned out, a sense of distance is indispensable. I remember that when, as a fledgling BWA staffer, I was invited to co-organize the 1st New Art Biennale, the mere three years that had passed since the last edition of the Golden Grape felt like an era; it included the breeze of freedom during the first Solidarity, martial law, and the stagnation that followed, invigorated by the independent exhibition movement. It also saw the closure of the BWA gallery and the death of Marian Szpakowski (September 1983). The intensity of the time meant that the Golden Grape seemed like a distant past, and the New Art Biennale like a wholly new chapter. Only later did I realize that Jerzy Ludwiński, whom we had invited to co-curate the Biennale, had also been involved in the production of the Golden Grape. Dissociating myself from the history of that event, I did not know this one was still its consequence. It is evident from today’s perspective, when twenty four years have passed since the last Biennale.

We are returning to the idea of a large survey exhibition in completely different circumstances-socially, historically, culturally. During a pandemic, not really knowing what is up next for the world. At the same time, everything again happens in a city that gained its present shape at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though the original hosts of this space have been replaced by quite somebody else. Respect for the past, even in its material manifestations, should not obscure the achievements of the last seventy five years and the fact that the Golden Grape and the New Art Biennale led eventually to the founding of the University of Zielona Góra’s Institute of Visual Arts, which has been educating new generations of artists. It was on the initiative of the Institute’s present director, Prof. Paulina Komorowska- Birger, that we commenced work on the new biennale.

About a hundred events called a “biennale” take place every year around the world, but I believe that what we do here makes profound sense in many aspects. The globalized idea of a formatted survey of recent art should be predicated on a new notion of the meaning of locality; the Biennale is, after all, the result of collaboration between the University of Zielona Góra, the City Hall, the Museum of the Lubusz Region, the Salony Foundation, and the BWA gallery. This suggests what cultural space can be for local activities - a “here,” situated in the context of broadly defined globalization, a “there.” A glocality so construed should become a platform for new values, conveying a new meaning of cultural work in a “peripheral” city, if there still exists any “centre” at all.

— Wojciech Kozłowski

1  Konrad Schiller, Awangarda na Dzikim Zachodzie. O wystawach i sympozjach Złote Grono w Zielonej Górze (Warszawa – Zielona Góra: Stowarzyszenie 40 000 Malarzy, 2015).

2  Piotr Słodkowski, ed., Przestrzeń społeczna. Historie mówione Złotego Grona i Biennale Sztuki Nowej (Zielona Góra: Fundacja Salony, 2014).