Comstar, Red Lion, Kino Dziga
public projects for Białystok [unrealized]
All three projects refer to University Square – a location that has witnessed the key events of the twentieth century in the history of Białystok. The site was developed in the ’50s and ’60s. As can be seen in the pictures, the square was open to pedestrians, there were well-kept flowerbeds arranged in geometric patterns, there were benches and paths. Public space is a measure of our relationship to the community. Empty, undeveloped, dead spaces are a sure sign that the community is in crisis. In the years of communism, regardless of the devastating impact of the system in many areas of life, University Square served as evidence of the thrifty municipality that had a vision of the city, and understood the function of this place on the map. University Square is best-known for the 1950 construction of the so-called Party House, the PZPR Provincial Committee, designed by Stanisław Bukowski. This is one of the crowning achievements of socialist realism in Polish architecture – modernism and classicism combined with the tradition of monumental architecture of public buildings of pre-war Poland.Nearby is the Rainbow Trading House, a good example of modernist architecture in use, with a neon sign in the shape of a rainbow on top. The concept of all the projects is to restore the square to pedestrians, by arranging crossings and the use of the square: the construction of paths, the installation of benches, the preparation of green areas and flowerbeds. Accessibility to the square is a key issue.
As can be seen in the pictures, the square was open to pedestrians, there were well-kept flowerbeds arranged in geometric patterns, there were benches and paths. Public space is a measure of our relationship to the community. Empty, undeveloped, dead spaces are a sure sign that the community is in crisis. In the years of communism, regardless of the devastating impact of the system in many areas of life, University Square served as evidence of the thrifty municipality that had a vision of the city, and understood the function of this place on the map. University Square is best-known for the 1950 construction of the so-called Party House, the PZPR Provincial Committee, designed by Stanisław Bukowski. This is one of the crowning achievements of socialist realism in Polish architecture – modernism and classicism combined with the tradition of monumental architecture of public buildings of pre-war Poland. Nearby is the Rainbow Trading House, a good example of modernist architecture in use, with a neon sign in the shape of a rainbow on top. The concept of all the projects is to restore the square to pedestrians, by arranging crossings and the use of the square: the construction of paths, the installation of benches, the preparation of green areas and flowerbeds. Accessibility to the square is a key issue.
The Comstar project is a concept of a place open for public meetings, a warm place, both literally and metaphorically, a reference to the utopian agora and a nod towards the Soviet avant-garde. It is also a reminder of the large flowerbed shaped like a red star that used to be at University Square in the post-War era. The main element of the project is a slightly raised platform in the shape of a five-pointed star, the sign of the revolution, built from red stone (or a high quality concrete), which is heated from below. It is important that the project is environmentally neutral, so it should employ either solar or geothermal energy. In both cases, the knowledge and experience of specialists in the design of energy self-sufficient buildings should be utilised. The platform should always maintain a temperature above zero in the winter months – at least 5-6 degrees Celsius. The snow will melt on it, so it will remain dry. One of the arms of the star would be installed with a pointed hood, made from the same material as the platform. It will be a place where you can shelter from the wind and rain, and from being burnt by the summer sun. It will also be a place for public expression, a kind of Białystok Hyde Park, where anyone can bring a PA system and say what he/she thinks (in conjunction with the hood it should have excellent acoustics.) This place, free of charge, free from censorship, based only on the energy of the community, should serve not only students of the University of Białystok, but also the city, the whole community, depending on their wishes or needs.
It is a condition to keep the space in public ownership and make information freely available about its purpose. The area of the red star should be equipped with various geometric forms which can be moved – cubes, rectangles and hemispheres of concrete, which can be positioned and arranged as needed. Comstar would be a place open to all kinds of public activities, such as students’ meetings, concerts, political debates. Comstar should be surrounded by thickets of bamboos traversed by stone paths, and areas of grass where you can freely sit.
Kino Dziga is a proposal to create a community by developing an intimate cinema for it, which will screen alternative films. The idea is derived from the tradition of film clubs, film enthusiasts and discussion groups. Kino Dziga recalls the tradition of the documentary film-maker Dziga Vertov, born Abelowicz David Kaufman in Białystok. Based on his theory of documentary film, employing a journalistic image style, “news sense” and mounting madness, Kino Dziga proposes “the art of authentic life,” hence non-fiction cinematography. The catalyst for the construction of Kino Dziga is the traumatic but juicy story of Białystok and a palpable hunger for relating it. Unresolved trauma, some of the little-known mysteries, discontinued biographies, exoduses of people who did not find their place here, and at the same time, the potential energy and dreams of people now living in Białystok produce a situation, in which the creation of an aura around the phenomenon of documentary might unleash creative potential. Kino Dziga is a project that focuses energy on the “here and now” with political, social and artistic responsibility. This responsibility concerns the image, the media, as well as the consequences of the screening of the films and the confrontation caused by the proposed political vision. The Kino Dziga project is to move the last preserved wooden mill in Białystok, which is in excellent condition, from ulica Pod Krzywą to the district of Chanajki, and to create the cinema inside – with the name Kino Dziga. It would be an act with a double meaning. On one hand, Białystok ignores its traditional wooden buildings, and there are known instances of the burning down of old homes, and their removal or dismantling with the official blessing of local authorities. The decision to move the mill would be a gesture of respect for the historic wooden buildings, while also an attempt to avoid the death of becoming an open-air museum/monument. The interior of the mill would be rebuilt after the move. It has sufficient space to accommodate the equipment, the projection room and the necessary storage. The whole interior would be renovated and adapted to the needs of a small, intimate theatre. A neon sign would hang on the facade of the building – Kino Dziga. A plaque on one wall would be a reminder of what the building once was – a mill at ulica Pod Krzywą. Kino Dziga would: first: create a specific film program, with the emphasis on showing politically engaged documentaries. Second: create an archive of films associated with Białystok – local productions, people important to cinematography, etc. A particularly important place would be reserved for Dziga Vertov and his theory of documentary film. Third: support local, documentary film production through the organization of screenings, talks, discussions and lectures related to this.
I See! I Hear!
The project’s title, I See! I Hear! is a quote from the communist era, and it works in two ways. I see! I hear! are Dziga Vertov’s words from 1923, from the text of The Council of Three: Radio-ear – editing “hear”! Kino-eye – editing “see”! The quotation intimates presence – “here and now” – readiness, participation, being a witness. But also it reminds us of the danger of denunciation and the corruption of ideas, to which Vertov himself fell victim. The project I See! I Hear! will combine the two threads in one – Vertov, his idealistic faith in communism and his incredible sense of film, with the history of University Square and the chequered past of Białystok from the communist era. Planting red flowers (constantly-blooming begonia – Begonia semperflorens, flowering from June to late autumn) is a central part of the project. They should spell the words – I see! I hear!, the quote from Dziga Vertov, and also be an “introduction” to the main project. The work, under the supervision of staff of the appropriate department of the city, should take place as a social act, which, for me, is an important part of the project. A social act, an act of solidarity, communal work, now understood as a servile pro-party gesture is no longer associated with the notion of building a genuine community and public spaces. And, in fact, it should be. I See! I Hear! attempts to revive the true power of social action. If no-one volunteers nothing happens. On two sides of the square and between the words should be space for speeches, events, learning, relaxing – a common area, public and “warm”. The plant selection and the arrangement of seating are an important element of the organization of this section of the square. The central part of the square should be equipped with a heating system under the surface (allowing its use during the winter without snow and ice) and be planted with bamboo and tall shrubs, in a manner governed by the imagination and inventiveness of the volunteers. They would not only have bamboo seedlings available, but also mature, tall bamboos in wooden flower pots filled with soil.
Red Lion is an attempt to organize the public space at University Square. At its centre there would be a large sculpture, a red lion on a pedestal. This is a reference to the plan to place two statues of lions flanking the entrance to the headquarters of the KW PZPR [communist party]. This plan was never realized. In a strange way it alluded to the architecture of a palace, and this paradox seems to be very significant not only for the headquarters of the PZPR, but Polish political thought in general. But maybe it did not have to be a bourgeois lion greeting members of the Socialist Party, but rather the lion of the revolution, even Lion Trotsky – [Lew Trotsky in Polish – Lion Trotsky). Either way, the architect’s intention was that the lions would be a part of the architectural design for the seat of government.
I propose to settle the question in public – in discussion with Białystok citizens, do they prefer a living, proud lion or a lion dead and bleeding? The debate surrounding the project should not only deal with the question of whether the Red Lion should be dead or alive, but also about how we treat history. Why is Berlin able to talk about its Nazi crimes, the architecture of the ’30s and to commemorate the burning of books in 1933, yet we try to cover up history and its material traces? Why can’t we speak openly about our historical mistakes? Why is Polish history always a history of innocent victims?
Why an allergy to communism rather than a sober assessment of the facts? Why have we abandoned the ideals of “the community” in return for a tightly conceived, insular world of small capitalists and their savings? And why do we not have a vision of ourselves as a society? Red Lion – dead or alive – will instigate conversations on this topic. Around the lion should be planted trees, bamboos and flowers, there will be paths laid and park furniture installed. Just as with the project Comstar, it is suggested that geothermal energy be used to heat the square.