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Chapter 9

 

The Dichotomy of both Capitalist and Communist Mismanagement

During my first visit to Poland in 1989, one of the stops along the nine-city train tour that was organized for me by Jerzy Ryba, was the city of Koszalin, which is situated on the Baltic Sea. This was, in fact, the first time that I was presented with a creative problem to solve in Poland, under circumstances the likes of which I had never known. An exhibition had been planned for me that no one had even mentioned to me prior to my arrival.

Both posters and postcard sized invitations on flimsy typing paper were already printed, in a fashion that had become the norm during the 1980s, when the country was living under the repression of Martial Law. Back then, it was illegal to mass produce anything in print to promote a public event that was not officially sponsored by the Communist Party. With an antique printing press, a simple, minimal design was reproduced on the posters, as was my name (just on the poster) and the name of the place where the exhibition was held. However, the purpose of the event, the address and date was printed by hand, letter-by-letter, with children’s wood ink blocks and the same was done on the postcard sized invitations, written by hand with an old fountain pen that was dipped in a vial of ink.

The exhibition was held inside of a church. Catholic churches were among the very few public places, where artworks could be exhibited, that were not sanctioned by the Communist Party. Ryba ran a gallery in the basement of the oldest church in Wrocław. He told me that he was an atheist and that the head bishop of the church was well aware of this. They made a deal whereby Ryba would hold twelve yearly exhibitions, ten of them with work of his choosing and two that had to be of Catholic themes. As such, the Catholic Church and revolutionary artists became strange bedfellows during the era of communist suppression. The only other means by which artists exhibited their work, outside of the official communist galleries, was in private apartments, as was the case of the man, whose home I stayed in, who was imprisoned when his private apartment gallery was discovered.

With no idea at all how I would be able to spontaneously exhibit the computer generated drawings that were rolled up inside of a plastic tube, that I was carrying with me by train from city to city, I was offered a sticky substance similar to Blu-Tack that I attached to the corners of each drawing. I then stuck them close to each other on a wall in several rows both vertically and horizontally. The example above shows six of such drawings. About thirty-five of them were exhibited, as one large modular mural.

The spontaneous exhibition lasted only a single night, when I gave a talk before a sizeable audience. In so doing, I explained the inspiration behind the subject of these artworks, which are abstract interpretations of underground public transportation maps from around the world. During my talk, I passed around the room a photocopy of an old map of what was once the largest commuter train system in the world, in my native home of Los Angeles. I talked about why the entire system was removed and that the last line was closed down during my childhood. This forced nearly complete dependency on privately owned automobile transportation, thus resulting in terrible traffic congestion and pollution. I said that it was an example of gross capitalist mismanagement of a great city.

Next, I held up another map that had been given to me, while visiting Warsaw, by a director of the Warsaw Metro, which at the time consisted of just two unfinished stations. The metro system was intended as a gift from Stalin, but he abandoned the project, I was told, when reservoirs of water were discovered underground. The Poles continued construction by themselves but without the funds to do more than work on the first line, of a planned four-line system, at a snail-slow pace. I was taken on a tour of one of the unfinished stations and found workers standing around chatting and smoking cigarettes. This, I said, was an example of gross communist mismanagement of a great city.

It was also where my photo essay that I showed as a “Candlelight Postcard Installation” had commenced.

Around twenty years later, when the first line of the Warsaw Metro had long since been opened, my landlord behaved as if nothing had changed. Worse, she had come to rely on the expert kombinować skills of my prior manager, with whom she had become so enamored, that when he had a serious auto accident on Christmas Eve, due to drunken driving, she said trusted him implicitly and couldn’t see going ahead without him in making vital improvements on her property. His sister, who was also injured in the accident, later told me that she was terrified that night because he was so intoxicated. As it turned out, the heavy metal fence was his and the neighbor’s parting gift, after I fired him, as I learned that he was telling people around town that he was the owner of my business.

My new manager, who had replaced him, visited the office next door and spoke to the building’s manager, who informed her that he had asked my prior manager to stop parking his car in his parking lot, which had barely enough spaces for his tenants. He further complained that the roof still had not been restored, despite his request to do so over a year earlier, as he feared that a broken tile might fall onto a car, or someone walking by, and that he would be sued in court. According to what the neighbor told my new manager, my former manager had responded by swearing at him.

The only one who would end up sued in court was me, by Tokarczuk.

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