Saturday, November 10, 2012

Kisieland in Vienna

My new installation (part of the ongoing "Kisieland" project) at Rosa Arbeit auf goldener Strasse exhibition, "xhibit" Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna. A short description of the project below.

In 2008, I began work on a special issue of my self-published periodical, "DIK Fagazine". It was entirely devoted to the life of homosexuals in Central and Eastern Europe before 1989. This is how I came across Ryszard Kisiel, among others. At first I only knew that in the 1980s he had been publishing "Filo", the first - half-legally distributed among friends - gay zine in this part of Europe. During subsequent meetings that took place at Kisiel's home in Gdansk, I had a chance to get acquainted with his extensive archive, which allowed me to discover new facts about the gay community of the period and learn about various aspects of his activities.
One day Ryszard pulled out a plastic bag full of carefully annotated boxes containing almost 300 colour slides. As it turned out, these were documented photographic sessions arranged by Kisiel and his friends in one of their private apartments. The slides were made at the end of 1985 and the beginning of 1986 as a direct reaction to the "Hyacinth" action (a large-scale operation of Citizens' Militia whose objective was to collect information about Polish gays and their environment, and which resulted in the registering of around 11000 personal files). As Kisiel admits: "Once they started to uncover us, there was no point in staying hidden any more. We had nothing to lose, so we decided to do our own thing and not be bothered by anything."
The slides I discovered do not seem shocking; however, they break with stereotypical ways of thinking about that time in the People's Republic of Poland and are a specific visual testimony of the period. They challenge the image of the homosexual as a hounted victim, revealing instead a great potential for positive energy, irony (even towards such taboo subjects as AIDS) and most of all self-irony, which today's LGBT activists often miss.

The project "Kisieland" is assumed to involve long-term activities, beginning with the conversations' recording, through the process of organizing and digitizing the slides, a documentary film, publishing a book and presenting various materials in the form of exhibitions. Placing Kisiel's archive in the context of the arts is a chance to restore/reveal but also to discover its critical potential. It is also an opportunity to complement Polish visual history with hitherto ignored motifs.

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