Małgorzata Szczęśniak’s Here and Gone Spaces

Widok z wystawy "Pojawia się i znika" scenografki Małgorzaty Szczęśniak

A view from the Pojawia się i znika exhibition of Małgorzata Szczęśniak's works, photo: Konrad Pustoła / Nowy Teatr

Pojawia się i znika / Appearing and Vanishing is a collage of fragments of works by the renowned Polish stage designer, who produced sets for nearly all of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s productions, and is a collaborator in his Nowy Teatr in Warsaw. Szczęśniak’s numerous drawings, sketches and fragments of stage and and costume design are interpreted anew by architect Aleksandra Wasilkowska

Małgorzata Szczęśniak is best known as the author of spaces and costumes in Warlikowski’s performaces. The artists have been working with each other since their student years. They have created over 40 productions on some of the world’s leading stages. Their (A)pollonia brought Szczęśniak the Best Stage Design of the 2009/2010 season Award, presented by the French Association of Theatre, Music and Dance Critics.

The playwright-dramaturge Piotr Gruszczyński says of the artist’s work:

The oeuvre of Małgorzata Szczęśniak constitutes a central point of reference in European scenography. There are very few giants like this. The work is complex, multi-layered, with a long inner history as well, and with two thresholds that part within – the theatrical and operatic. And yet, it is very consistent, uniform, almost the fruit of an evolution

The works by Szczęśniak are brought to life by Aleksandra Wasilkowska, who often creates stage design herself, as she discerns her theatrical ideas from the domain of architecture.

The Pojawia się i znika display begins on the patio in front of Warsaw’s MPO sheds, where Nowy Teatr has its new headquarters. It starts with a speculation on the future of theatre and an attempt to answer the question posed in Warlikowski's newest production, Warsaw Cabaret (for which the scenography was of course created by Szczęśniak), namely: What would the world be without us? The "us" in question being the theatre.

The promenade then evolves into an acoustic walk through the meanders and hidden corners of the post-industrial shed. Wasilkowska creates a subjective and fragmented view of Szczęśniak's most recognisable traits: movement, the performative aspects of space, a blurring of the frontier between stage and audience, and the creation of surrealist imagery.

Visitors to the exhibition hear a mix of dialogues from the performances, intertwined with new texts written by the curator Wasilkowska and the playwright Gruszczyński, as well as music by Paweł Mykietyn. In a talk with Gazeta Wyborcza, Wasilkowska reveals that the collage of memories also includes drawings for unrealised productions, and that the display attempts to capture the childhood years of Szczęśniak in Kraków.

In a talk with Wasilkowska, Małgorzata Szczęśniak declared

I can say that I don’t like the theatre, its closed and claustrophobic space. I don’t feel good in closed, small, dark places. In a traditional theatre everything is conventional and this limits from all sides the possibility of breathing - both for the spectator, and the actor. The only way to change it is by tearing down the unnecessary boundaries and creating open spaces which are in harmony with the natural rhythm and the rhythm of a human being. Logic is the madness of an ordered abstraction. Thus, I begin with this idea, in order not to get bored, not to limit myself, and to feel the openness of the space, and the openness of the mind and ideas that follow from it. The possibility of an exploration. The possibility of taking a huge gulp of the open space, in which our theatre is played.

The most recent production for which Szczęśniak developed the stage design is the Warlikowski's Warsaw Cabaret, showing at the 2013 Avignon Festival. Warlikowski, who always collaborates with Szczęśniak, revealed some of the discreet symbolism of objects employed in the production. In a talk with the bibliobs.nouvelobs.com, the director was asked about the nearly never failing presence of a sink or a bidet in Szczęśniak's designs for his performances. He commented that

They are simply the mark of the intimate, never an esthetic sign. On the set of Warsaw Cabaret, there are other intimate spaces - a box of transparent glass where barely two people can enter. This symbolic space, closed off, but also the place from which the spectator can perceive the couple's gaze, for me it speaks of the fear of living without the body of another that covers us and gives us the warmth necessary to survive.

"Pojawia się i znika. Archeologia scenografii Małgorzaty Szczęśniak"
Appearing and Vanishing. The Archeology of Małgorzata Szczęśniak’s Stage Design

Concept and exhibition design by Aleksandra Wasilkowska


The exhibition runs through to the 31st of August, 2013 at the Nowy Teatr headquarters in Warsaw. The admission is free of charge

Paulina Schlosser, source: www.nowyteatr.org, wyborcza.pl; 17.07.2013

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