For the exhibition “Around Us a Sea of Fire. The Fate of Jewish Civilians During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising”, Joanna Rajkowska was commissioned to produce the project We live day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.
The eye photographed for this work is that of Krystyna Budnicka, a Warsaw resident and the only known survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising still alive as of 2023.
The title, We live day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, is taken from a diary left by another ghetto inhabitant, describing life during the uprising. Krystyna Budnicka was born Hena Kuczer in Warsaw in 1932. Part of a large Jewish family that was to find itself confined within the Warsaw Ghetto, she survived the ghetto uprising of 1943 in a bunker built by her brothers. After escaping to the “aryan” side, she was taken in by the Budnicki family, taking their name when they passed her to a convent orphanage as they were being forced to evacuate Warsaw following the 1944 uprising.
The project We live day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute is the eye that looks and at which we look. It is an exchange of glances and a play of views.The project also refers to the accounts of those who were in the ghetto during the uprising and saw people watching from rooftops on the “aryan” side, and the accounts of those who were watching. What they had in common is an eye, a human eye.
Joanna Rajkowska asked Krystyna Budnicka to be able to take a photograph of her eye in a macro scale. As a result we see what we normally cannot see: her eye magnified about 160 times – pupil, iris, sclera and eyelids. The most complex is the structure of the iris with its thin, pigmented structure – regularly arranged elevations (trabeculae) and depressions (sinuses, cryptae). Deep, vivid brown colour of the iris makes the photograph very material. Presented as a lightbox it has almost a three dimensional effect – it is organic, soft, sculptural and palpable.
The eye of Krystyna Budnicka is not an abstract eye, it is not symbolic or metaphoric. It is Her eye, material, unique and fragile. A part of the body, that was suffering, being confined and sentenced to extermination. Rajkowska points at the ultimate border line – mere physical survival defined by fragility of human organism. This is also the eye that has seen the bunker, the suffering and cruelty of the perpetrators, and, sometimes, of the witnesses. This eye had simply seen and contained it all. Memories, in this project, are part of every single cell of our body.
Within the exhibition “Around Us a Sea of Fire. The Fate of Jewish Civilians During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” the play of glances repeats the ghastly exchange of 1943. It reaches for what was the experience of the insurgents, witnesses and victims every day, hour and minute.