"Toguna", Paweł Althamer's latest project created together with the sculptor Youssuf Dara, is the effect of the artist's enduring fascination with the culture of the Dogon, an African tribe living in south-central Mali in West Africa.
The Sculpture Park in Bródno is a unique example of a long-term Polish local initiative which encourages the development of socially-oriented art projects in public space. Every work shown in the Park is of a different character, durability and level of "functionality". Currently the Park is filled with works by Paweł Althamer, Olaf Eliasson, Grupa Nowolipie, Susan Philipsz, Katarzyna Przezwańska, Monika Sosnowska and Rikrit Tiravanijia.
"Toguna" is Paweł Althamer's newest project made in Warsaw's Targówek district (following such actions as "Bródno 2000", "Paradise" set in a park, "Abram and Buruś" sculpture, "Sylwia" fountain created together with Grupa Nowolipie, a white children's playground, as well as a staircase design titled "Staircase"). When working on the project which refers to the culture of the Dogon the artist collaborated with the sculptor Youssuf Dara.
Paweł Althamer travelled to Bandiagara inhabited by the Dogon people in 1991. He wrote that the experience "aroused and changed his consciousness". The Dogon believe they come from outer space, that they landed on the shore of Debo lake with a blast and surrounded by flames thousands of years ago. The tribe is known for its advanced knowledge of astronomy. Some researchers claim that the Dogon knew the precise location of planets in the Sirius system (from where they were supposed to have travelled in an intergalactic ark) centuries before the Europeans discovered them. Art plays a significant role for the Dogon, as the Universe "is kept alive" thanks to the magical skills of the artists. Sigui, an eight-year-long ritual of "reviving the Cosmos" is held once every sixty years in the tribe's villages. During the ritual the main focus is put on Mother of the Masks, a wooden structure rebuilt each time by a Dogon sculptor. The next Sigui ceremony will begin in 2027.
Althamer has used both shamanistic themes and the concept of the Stranger-Astronaut many times in his work. During his long journey to the Dogon people in 2009, this time accompanied by several inhabitants of Warsaw's Bródno district - "the golden people" - the artist met the sculptor Youssuf Dara. He decided to invite him to Warsaw with a special mission: to construct "social architecture" inspired by African tradition. Toguna, a wooden shelter with a thick roof supported by sculpted columns, a place where male village inhabitants meet and discuss, is an important space for the Dogon people. The Toguna built near Bródno Park is not only a potential space for social interaction; it is also supposed to serve the unexciting function of a bus stop.
A subsequent journey made by the artist and his friends to Mali, from where they came back with the Dogon sculptor, plays an integral part in Althamer's new Bródno project. In Mali the artist made performances for the Dogon such as walking in the costume of Koziołek Matołek (Matołek the Billy-Goat); a quote from Kornel Makuszyński's children's books "search around the whole wide world for what is so close by" ("po szerokim szukać świecie, tego co jest bardzo blisko") could serve as the trip's motto. According to the Althamer's intention Youssuf Dara, the co-author of the Toguna in the Warsaw district, is a messenger from another world who comes to Bródno on a special mission. The event is as unusual as it is paradoxical, given the tribe's myth about landing in a spaceship in the middle of the African savannah.
In an interview from March 2011 Althamer said:
Regardless of where we find ourselves there is no need to panic. Indeed we are strangers, but on the other hand we never left our own home. The only journey you have to make is an internal one. To be more precise, it's even an opportunity to renounce all forms of travel. That you are precisely where you should be is the most important discovery.
Project curators: Sebastian Cichocki and Katarzyna Karwańska.
Opening of "Toguna" Project: 23 July 2011 (Saturday) at 16:00, between Chodecka and Kondratowicza streets, Warsaw.
18:00: tour around the Sculpture Park in Bródno: Sebastian Cichocki and his guests; meeting by "Sylwia" fountain.
19:00: evening with music by Rikrit Tiravanijia's "Tea House" (one of the projects carried out in the Sculpture Park in 2009).
Organisation: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the Mayor of Targówek District, City of Warsaw.
Source: press material
[photo: Polaroid picture from Paweł Althamer's first visit to the Dogon in 1991]
[slides: photographs courtesy of Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw]
Translated by: Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer