Warsaw-Wrocław-Warsaw-Montreal-Warsaw-Toulouse-Warsaw-Grenoble-Lisbon – these are the principal stations in the life of Wojtek Ziemilski – director, writer, choreographer, born in 1977.
Director, author, choreographer and polyglot. Born in 1977.
At the heart of each chapter is a story of family, love or career. He was born in California. Ziemilski said about himself:
My parents returned to Poland when I was three-months old. For years I was told that I was partly an American – I was left with the feeling that I was in fact ‘from somewhere else’ When I was six years old I went to school in the US for a while. All that remains today is that I vote in the US Presidential elections as a representative of all those who are not Americans, but whose lives are hugely affected by US policy.
Wojtek Ziemilski is a polyglot, ‘because that’s how it worked out’. He is a graduate of philosophy. He received a master’s degree in philosophy in Grenoble. Ziemilski also studied applied linguistics at the University of Warsaw and directing at the Portuguese Gulbenkian Foundation. For a long time he lived in Lisbon, where he prepared a multimedia performance entitled Hamlet Light. In Poland, the artist collaborated with the TR Warszawa Theatre – he is the creator of the video installation Actors. He conducts workshops on new experimental forms in the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute.
During his studies in Grenoble Ziemilski got seriously involved in theatre.
I received an invitation from TR Warszawa to create a video studio with them. I returned to Poland – it was three years ago – and worked in the TR for about a year. Then came the crisis, the project was cancelled, and since then I have been doing my own thing. I live in Warsaw, I also work mainly in Warsaw, but I will soon have my debut in Poznań, and straight afterwards I am doing a show in Moldova. I make a living from directing, I sometimes conduct workshops – mainly in Poland, but also in Portugal. At the moment my art allows me to provide for myself. A few years ago, I had a second job as a translator.
Ziemilski is the author of the blog new-art.blogspot.com dedicated to modern art. He declared:
I have very leftist views in life, so I take it out in the virtual space
He published photo feuilletons on Political Critique’s website every day for over a year – reaching two hundred eighty nine publications. Images taken with a mobile phone show a window shop with two signboards: NATIONAL FLAGS and next to it PROMOTION. He photographed ‘Invitation to the TELESHOPPING Anniversary’ and a handwritten note squeezed between a bunch of potatoes saying ‘ugly but good’. He immortalised the notice board announcing that SWEETS ARE WEIGHED IN THE TRADITION SECTION. What stands out, however, is: Section 2 GROWING RESOURCE FORMATION.
Wojtek Ziemilski won fame through the show Small Narration about his grandfather, Wojciech Dzieduszycki (Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz Studio Theatre in Warsaw, premiered on 20th March, 2010). The artist sits on the stage and reads, while the screen displays pictures and text.
Wojciech Dzieduszycki (1912-2008) ‘Tunio’, as they called him in Wrocław, came from a family, which used the coat of arms Sas and received the title of Count in 1775. He was born in Yezupil near Stanislaviv. Dzieduszycki made his debut as a tenor in the opera in Stanislaviv, then appeared in Lviv, Florence and Milan. During the war he was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, and later to a concentration camp in Groß-Rosen.
In 1945 Dzieduszycki settled in Wrocław, where he ran mills. In 1952 he founded the cabaret Cigarette Smoke with his wife Halina. He wrote reviews and essays, appeared on television and in films. He co-organised the Chopin festivals in Duszniki-Zdrój. In 2006 historians from the Institute of National Remembrance in Rzeszów revealed his cooperation with the Security Service. It is certain that before he took it up, he was himself spied on; denunciations against him have been preserved. Dzieduszycki’s collaboration with the Security Service lasted for twenty three years. By 1973, he had written more than four hundred reports.
After his past was revealed Dzieduszycki apologised on TV to everyone who could have been harmed by his activities. He withdrew from public life and resigned from the title of Honorary Citizen of Wrocław granted to him in 1999.
The problem in Small Narration is psychologically and practically complex, but artistically – very simple – reveals Wojciech Ziemilski. – The idea was to create theatre. To reach the sublime, and thus material transformation. It was not about recovering from trauma – the immediate trauma was already gone. And the indirect one will exist regardless of everything. I asked myself if I could do something that would go beyond my own experience, which would not be a story about my terrible discovery, or how hard it was for me. At that point the reworking of trauma would better be done with the help of friends or a psychologist. In art, especially on stage, this usually leads to embarrassing results. At the same time, the stage could be used to go beyond expressing one’s own feelings.
In Small Narration the screen behind the back of the artist displayed ironic comments and excerpts from On Certainty, the last work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, such as:
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Whether I know something depends on whether the evidence backs me up or contradicts me. For to say one knows one has a pain means nothing.
I am very fond of him. On Certainty is about the reliance of knowledge on language, which is, in turn, based on uncertainty. It is a bit like seeing the world through the eyes of a child, there is certain innocence. It can be used in a completely different context, playing on the ambiguity of the quotes and adding them as poetic comments to what I felt.
Agata Dziedzic wrote:
Ziemilski is far from hypocrisy – he does not allow himself to protect Dzieduszycki from allegations, nor he decides to completely distance himself from his (after all, beloved) grandfather. Small Narration belongs to the type of art, which I applaud with both delight and considerable embarrassment. Its simplicity is captivating; its authenticity and the crossing of the boundary between Me-The Creator and You-The Recipient are convincing.
Wojtek Ziemilski is the author of the shows Map and Prologue. Map, presented in Komuna Warszawa, is something between an installation and a performance. There is no plot. Five viewers enter the room. Each of them gets an item that shows him the route of his theatrical journey. Map is a walk of the spectator, who is given some topics to think about by the artists. Prologue, prepared by Reminiscencje Teatralne in Kraków and Ochota Theatre in Warsaw, is in turn a kind of vivisection carried out on a group of spectators. Ziemilski offers theatre, in which the audience agrees to active participation.
On request of the Malta Festival Poznań 2012 Wojtek Ziemilski created the performance Relatives with a Chinese woman named Huang, who lives in Brussels, and has ancestors in the Middle Kingdom. There are forty million people called Huang in the world. The director found four in Poznań through Facebook. He is in constant contact with them. Wojtek Ziemilski says:
Relatives is a performative installation. It’s a fantasy about a reunion of the great Asian family. Great, because of its forty million members. In this scenario, the meeting takes place in Poland. What does such a big family mean? Are these ties significant? What could forty million people have in common?
Ziemilski avoids strict definitions of his role in the theatre. In fact, he does not feel neither as a performer nor a director. In an interview for Dwutygodnik he confessed:
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When someone asks me who I am, I say director, because then I have peace of mind. This Polish word sounds very bad to me. The director is primarily a demiurge, an egocentric, a good father, someone who brings together all the power, because he is too overwhelmed by his own suffering. In Poland, the myth of Konrad, who bears the responsibility for the whole universe, is also a myth of the director. The Polish word for ‘director’ (i.e. ‘reżyser’) stems from the French word ‘régisseur’, which can be translated as ‘stage manager’, or more literally – ‘setter’. In our theatre this person comes from a completely different world – from a metaphysical order steeped in religious faith. In Poland performances are still treated as religious rites, and directing as priesthood. We love the ‘sacred’. When the Poles were losing their last match at the European Championship, the commentators constantly talked about faith and hope. If sport is governed by metaphysics, then what is left for theatre!
Ziemilski prefers the idea of a director who is an organiser, who makes decisions when a lot is going on. When propositions are coming from all sides, the group is searching for something together, and then one person makes decisions. ‘The director has one additional vote, but it is not a significant advantage – he adds. – The director should question and listen. There are a British versions of group directing.
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I believe that such a radical approach, which implies working within a single context and perspective, constitutes unnecessary self-censorship – said the artist in the above-mentioned interview. – Following such trail of thought, one might wonder about the meaning of performances created by Americans or French, which do not include any references to their countries or cultures. After all, plays can refer to the problems of globalisation, or love, or history. I have a feeling, perhaps because I’ve travelled so much, that there is no clear distinction between what is ours and what is foreign. I don’t need to say that I am Polish all the time.
In February 2017 Ziemilski presented Come Together in Warsaw's Studio Theatre Gallery. Anna R. Burzyńska called it an '(anti)participatory project'. Jokingly tackling theatrical conventions, Ziemilski once more decided to take up the matter of the audience's participation in a performance. He invited various artists to perform on stage: the dancer and choreographer Maria Stokłosa, the sculptor Wojciech Pustoła (responsible for scene design and costumes), the musician and performer Sean Palmer, and two actors – Krzysztof Strużycki and Lena Frankiewicz.
In June 2018 A Show for Tourists premiered in Komuna// Warszawa. It was equally low-key and based on choreography by Maria Stokłosa, improvised over and over again. As the description reads:
Her dance is like candy. It’s like when you go to your grandma’s and she has candy. And you take the candy and it’s sweet. And you don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to know the ingredients of the candy or if it’s cancerous.
In September 2018 the performance The Polaks Explain the Future premiered in Nowy Theatre as part of the project 2118, curated by Tomasz Plata. 2118 presented answers that young artists gave to the question: 'What will theatre be like in 100 years?'. Ziemilski invited the Polaks – Piotr, dressed as superman, and Jaśmina, performing in a frog costume – a great duo who are brother and sister. With charming energy they gave increasingly absurd answers to the question posed, while also playing a highly energetic DJ set.
Author: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, June/July 2012, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, March 2015, update: NS, April 2019