Komuna // Warsaw is one of the most important independent theaters, experimenting at the confluence of performing arts, video installations and music.
Komuna Warszawa or the Warsaw Commune has functioned as the 'posthumous heir and child' of the Komuna Otwock / Otwock Commune, following in the footsteps of their predecessor since 2009.
Going back over twenty years to the group's roots takes us to the historic date of 1989. Komuna Otwock, an anarchist, action-inspiring community was called into life during the political transformation and the beginnings of democracy in Poland. The creators of the initiative were Grzegorz Laszuk (a lawyer, graphic designer and artist) and Paweł Stankiewicz. Registered officially as an association in 1995, naming themselves after the town they started up in.
With an emphasis on the arts and culture, engaging in environmental protection, as well as human and civil rights, the group concentrated on animating the life of their local community. Utopian socialist ideas, feminist objectives, vegetarianism, and ecology were brought to life by various artists, performers and cultural animators, stemming from the strongly present punk and hippie subcultures and the underground music scene. Komuna truly became the voice of its generation - young people entering adulthood at the dawn of democracy in Poland.
In one of its first declarations, Komuna Otwock would state: Art is a Celebration, and Celebration is Revolution; breaking the established borders, uniting the opposites, altering an order based on stupidity and aggression (The Revolt Magazine,1990 no 5). Although the group collaborated with the Warsaw-based Alternative Society Movement, their main goal remained to instigate activities for the local community.
And this they endeavored to pursue through distributing pamphlets, publishing Info (a local paper), graffiti painting, holding concerts at the local Smok / Dragon club and broadcasting on an illegal radio station, Czosnek / Garlic. After officially founding an association in 1995, the group rented an old, pre-war school building and established the Komuna Otwock House in Ponurzyca. The official programme of the House was presented, from which the inspiration could be traced back to the tradition of the Gardzienice Centre For Theatre Practices, as well as the Lucim Group Of Witold Chmielewski.
The programme consisted of running eco-school workshops, establishing a Rural Area Integration Center, and managing a mountain lodge. Renovating a 1931 manor house and starting-up the Center became financially possible thanks to winning the Small Homelands Culture Foundation prize. Their general activities also consisted of organising stage and street para-theatrical activities, events and performance-art in cooperation with Amnesty International and the Gaia Club, supporting social and ecologically-orientated campaigns, holding workshops, exhibitions and concerts, organising meetings and lectures as well as pursuing publishing activities.
It was in Ponurzyca in 1994 that the first theatre performance, a non-artistic industrial opera entitled Stefan or the meaning of life was staged by the group, where one heard the declaration: "We shall throw our performances like bombs".
Since the mid-1990s Komuna Otwock is regarded as one of the most interesting socially-involved alternative theatre ensembles, making bold and creative use of multimedia.
One of the group's most significant features was collective art creations; posters signed by all the artists, despite the obviousness of Grzegorz Laszuk's leadership. His abundant personality strongly influenced the form of the presentations. He admits that he has been inspired by Wojciech Krukowski's Movement Academy and its minimalist, conceptual style, borderlined between theatre and performance art, writing "we liked their means of expression - simple as they were - being more of a sign, than a deep emotional experience of an actor" (Art of the Street Festival). Among Laszuk's inspirations one can also find the Bread and Puppet Theatre, Catalonian La Fura dels Baus group, the English DV8 physical theatre, fascination of the Pina Bausch dance theatre and the ritual Japanese theatre.
The first Komuna Otwock performance was like a political poster with no plot, following a chief idea around which rhythmicised, group movement was being built. Laszuk suggested that "the rhythmical music acted upon one's subconscious". The performers' gestures did not illustrate words - they were more of a visual context or created a series of associations. The performance was accompanied by trance music performed on barrels, drums and exotic instruments. It also included slide shows and projections of slogans, photos, fragments of documentaries on the screens along with fluorescent lights and stroboscopes.
The no-title performance from 1997 is regarded as the group's first success. It was conceived in a style reminiscent of the Laibach group, with slides, slogans and photos (a man on the moon, Hitler, Stalin, starving children) projected onto two screens. A survey was screened with ten questions like: are you happy? what rules your life? what can improve the world? The audience was invited to confront themselves with a dozen or so possible answers. The actors in pairs or in groups moved dynamically in between the screens. Accompanied by live trance rhythms in techno and ambient style music, with barrels, cymbals and didgeridoo. At the climax of the performance the artists cut to pieces sheets of paper with symbols (peace sign, anarchy symbol, the militant Poland, Star of David, tao, swastika, dollar sign, logo of Komuna Otwock and Legia Warsaw football club). Then the pieces were placed together in various configurations and presented to the audience in order to make them aware of the mental and informational chaos of the everyday life.
The successive performance entitled The first god ought to be killed (2000) was inspired by the text of Mircea Eliade concerning the first god, who created life by chance. Ten performers with impressive physical disposition and precision of movement, were accompanied by the minimalist music from the likes of Steve Reich. The stage design was composed of various things found in the street. A message was repeated: "Sense is a non-dream state, that sometimes we call revolution". Second part of the diptych La Rivoluzione siamo Noi (2000) was staged at the square outside the Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw. The performance was inspired by the idea of the social sculpture (the evolutionary change) formulated by Joseph Beuys and his Third Way postulate applied to the post-capitalist and post-communist society. He urged the audience to take the time to "be the master of one's life".
Komuna Otwock ensemble made regular appearances at the most significant events and festivals of alternative theatres including the Łódź Theatre Meetings, the International Malta Festival in Poznań, the Kraków Theatre Reminiscences, the Warsaw International "Crossroads" Festival, the Gdańsk The Best Of, the Lublin Theatre Confrontations.
In 2001 Komuna Otwock female artists prepared a twenty minutes long feminist performance concerning the porn pamphlets found in the streets. Invited to perform at the Łódź Theatre Meetings they called their group Femina Fabra. The performance was awarded a distinction for the theatrical language and the choice of a socially-aware topic.
In 2005 a performance inspired by the war diary of Calek Perechodnik (a Jewish policeman of the Otwock ghetto) and Zygmunt Bauman's book Modernity and Holocaust (a sociological analysis of the Holocaust) was awarded the Minister of Culture prize during the Szczecin Counterpoint Festival. The performance comprised chants, acrobatics and projections of archival photos. It was the groups most highly regarded performance.
Between 2004/2005 all the ensembles' members moved to Warsaw. Initially they worked at the post-industrial hall of the former VIS factory. In April 2007 they began working in the Praga suburb of Warsaw (30/32 Lubelska Street).The location where Mill / Maslow (2007) took place, confronting the theme of the "pyramid of needs" system by Abraham Maslow and the ideas of the father of democratic liberalism, John Stuart Mill. The conclusions one could draw from the performance proved that the desire for happiness, pleasure, fear of fear and pain are stronger than all ideologies and rationality.
In March 2008 the ensemble started up a cycle entitled every-two-weeks-show, a cycle of artistic theatrical and musical campaigns designed to be quick responses to current political and social events, or referring to important dates, historical anniversaries and holidays. It was also a discussion forum dedicated to social and political issues, accompanied by performances, concerts and projections. However, the Komuna Otwock artists soon decided that the debates "eat up a whole lot of their time" and found that they much more prefer some activities that are more practical and local. They changed their name to Komuna Warszawa / Commune Warsaw and began a new chapter.
Between November 7-9, 2009 the ensemble organised a goodbye festival entitled The Komuna Otwock: twenty years and that's that. It included three performances: the revived Perechodnik / Bauman, Mill / Maslow and the pre-premiere The Book of Inventions. Accompanied by fiery discussions with special guests. Concerts of musicians associated with the Komuna Otwock were also presented as was the friend-squat "Rozbrat" from Poznań. The communards proclaimed a new "Manifesto" in which they explained was the end of a certain stage in their lives and accounted for the future, stating "this experiment has to be named a failure". Thus Komuna Warszawa started its more or less the same activities as its predecessor, including the idea of non-profit participation.
Calling ourselves Komuna Warszawa, we will address issues that are important to us, in ways that are important to us and that meet our aesthetical needs. Instead of proclaiming the ideas, we, the Komuna Warszawa, intend to narrate the stories, states a Manifesto from November 29, 2009.
Komuna Otwock's activities have been documented in a publication entitled The Komuna Otwock (the Political Critique Guides series) edited by Agnieszka Berlińska and Tomasz Plata (Warsaw, 2009). Komuna Otwock was active until the end of 2009.
In Warsaw they opened "Deficit Bar" on Lubelska Street, using elements of set design to decorate the interior. The location of the vegetarian anti-New Year's Eve was organised by the Komuna Warszawa (2009/2010). They are happy to organise so-called "house-parties" - arts and discussion meetings at their headquarters or on a scenic platform.
A conceptual art campaign in the city and on the internet, entitled One ought to take care was Komuna Warszawa's first significant action. It was conducted between December 2009 and the end of January 2010. Large posters with the slogan "One ought to take care" were placed on several dozen advertising pillars. Directing viewers to a web page, allowing people to participate in the action, people could add their ideas regarding what one should take care against and why. Recapitulation of the action took place on January 31, 2010; presentation of the "caution map" was accompanied by a concert of the Kosmos band, whose song One ought to take care was the action's poetical inspiration.
The cyclical programme entitled Perform, presented the most interesting Polish artists working on visual arts theatre, modern dance, performance art and the pro-social. The programme comprised four cycles: The biographies and autobiographies, Remixes, Affirmative actions, and The freedom in Warsaw: lectures. The project is a co-production of Komuna Warszawa, the High Risk Stage, the Studio Theatre from Warsaw, partnered by the Polish Theatre from Bydgoszcz.
Between May 23-29, 2010, the International Theatre Festival took place, Theatre in the public space. Comprised of workshops, lectures and studio performances by international group of actors, dancers and performers, working under the guidance of famous public art creators: the Movement Academy, Public Movement (Israel), Poste Restante (Sweden), Marta Ladjanszka (Hungary). Evening meetings, open to the public, took place where specialists in cultural anthropology, theatre studies and sociology such as professor Leszek Kolankiewicz or professor Mirosław Pęczak discussed Polish and foreign examples of making art on the borderlines of theatre arts, performatics and dance theatre.
On June 26, 2010 was the official opening of the wooden scenic platform, accompanied by a concert by the Brass Orchestra from Siedlce. Constructed of railway sleepers in the courtyard of a house, the installation action Stand By Me. Designed by young architects, Karsten Huneck and Bernd Truempler, from the British-German Office for Subversive Architecture (OSA) the platform enables contemplation of railway tracks and panorama of the Warsaw-East railway station. Cyclical breakfasts, discussions and concerts take place there.
In 2010 Komuna Warszawa staged The Map (premiere December 18, 2010) concept and direction by Wojciech Ziemilski, the performance was 20 mintues long and only five spectators can participate at a single time. Each of them gets to handle an object which shows him the path of his theatrical journey.
In 2010 Komuna//Warszawa launched a cycle called RE//MIX, comprising a few dozen projects created by experienced artists as well as those at the beginning of their careers. The idea was simple: the artists were supposed to create a work with references to artistic figures important to them. Various theatre creators were invited to participate, including directors, dancers, composers, and musicians. They were given the chance to rehearse for a couple weeks and be given a curator and a producer. Komuna//Warszawa also took care of promotion and the preparation of the premiere. The last events of the cycle took place in December 2013.
Another cycle held by the institution was called We, the Bourgeois created in co-operation with ZAMEK Culture Centre in Poznań. Tomasz Plata was its curator. Three premieres were part of the cycle: Pygmalion by Wojtek Ziemilski, Tocqueville: Life after a Great Revolution by Grzegorz Laszuk and Field Study: Girls’ Literature from Jeżyce in Poznań by Weronika Szczawińska. The programme of We, the Bourgeois also comprised lectures and discussions. The invited guests included philosopher Andrzej Leder, sociologist Jan Sowa, and literary theorist Przemysław Czapliński.
The three-year cycle The Future, created in partnership with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, was divided into three parts. In 2014, the artists investigated the future of Europe (premieres: Europe: The Inquiry, choreography by Magda Jędra, Iza Szostak, and Weronika Pelczyńska; Future Heroes by Markus Öhm, Terry Pratchett: Social Science by Komuna//Warszawa). In 2015 the audience got a chance to take a look at the future of the body, taken up in the following performances: […,] by Agata Sinarska, Aristocrats by the group Chotowski / Hueckel / Śliwiński / Węgłowski, and Dune 1961 : Spoken Opera – Fragments by Komuna//Warszawa). The project ended in 2016 with the cycle Real Utopias, comprising the works Make Yourself by Marta Ziółek, Contempt by Witkor Rubin, and B.R.I.N. Project by Komuna//Warszawa.
In 2016 and 2017 Komuna presented a popular project called MicroTheatre. The curator Tomasz Plata called it ‘an exercise in self-limitation,’ which seems to be a perfect description. The artists could stage a piece only 16 minutes long and use very scarce means (up to four people could perform, and the only equipment the artists could use were two microphones, a projector, four lights, and a small set of props). Many renowned artists took part in the project, including Anna Smolar, Justyna Sobczyk, Michał Borczuch, Weronika Szczawińska, Grzegorz Jarzyna, and Anna Karasińska. In December 2017 in Warsaw’s Nowy Theatre, the seven best performances of the cycle were presented once again.
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Scena z przedstawienia "Rozmowa o drzewach" w reżyserii Weroniki Szczawińskiej, 2019, fot. Pat Mic/Komuna Warszawa
polish contemporary theatre
Predictably, MacroTheatre was quite the opposite: a 16-hour-long theatre event that started at noon, 23rd September 2017, and finished at 4am on 24th September. There were four ongoing pieces to choose from, created by Wojtek Ziemilski together with Wojtek Pustoła, Krzysztof Garbaczewski, Klub Komediowy, and Komuna//Warszawa.
In 2017 Komuna//Warszawa also presented 7 Songs about the Avant-garde, and Pixo by Marta Ziółek, as well as inaugurated the cycle Pre-war/War/Post-war which proposed looking at war as a permanent state of affairs that humanity has to deal with. It comprised pieces by Cezary Tomaszewski (Cezary Goes to War), Anna Smolar (Holiday Resort), Komuna//Warszawa (Pre-war/War/Post-war/1/2/3), Weronika Szczawińska (No More War), Anna Karasińska (I Cannot Tell You Well), and Agnieszka Jakimiak (War: The Best Of).
The year 2019 became the Year of Landscape for Komuna//Warszawa. It inaugurated an innovative residency programme that is to last until 2022. Weronika Szczawińska became the curator of its first season. Its jury has chosen three laureates of the programme in an open call: Dobrawa Borkała, Wojciech Grudziński, and Klaudia Hartung-Wójciak. Apart from them, Agata Maszkiewicz and the late Rafał Urbacki were invited to participate. Maszkiewicz presented the performance Such a Landscape in May 2019 as a part of the cycle, and Weronika Szczawińska staged her piece titled A Talk about Trees. Dobrawa Borkała did the intriguing piece Breathing Symphony: A Brightening, Wojciech Grudziński presented Rodos, and Klaudia Hartung-Wójciak directed The Manatee: A Submarine Romance.
Komuna//Warszawa celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2019 at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, where they showed an exhibition titled Disengagement From Practice Produces Theoretical Hallucinations between 29th June and 29th September.
In co-operation with the Bęc Zmiana Foundation, Komuna//Warszawa provided institutional support for the creation of Radio Kapitał – a community radio station broadcasting 24/7. You can listen to the station online.
Author: Grzegorz Janikowski, Jan 2011, updated by NS, October 2019