Agata Grzybowska: 9 Gates of No Return
Friday December 6, 2019 – Friday January 3, 2020
Artist Talk with Aleksandra Szymczyk:
Sunday December 8, 2019, 18:00 – 20:00
I would spend time in the wilderness, observing the mountains and the snow for hours, listening to the wind, the silence, creaking old trees – just to take one photo. Someday in November 2015, I decided to get away – to leave everything and everybody behind. I packed my cameras, lots of negatives and I just disappeared for several months. I started working on the project about loneliness because I wanted to comprehend it. What does loneliness mean? What are the consequences of turning away from one’s previous life? Why does one consciously opt for loneliness?
The Bieszczady Mountains in the southeastern region of Poland is a place, where the World War II did not finish in 1945. As a result of mass resettlements connected with alterations of Poland’s borders, many people were forced to change their place of living. It is estimated that the interwar Poland (Second Polish Republic) was inhabited by 5 million Ukrainians, out of whom over 700,000 remained within the new borders of the post-war Poland.
Between 1944-46 the first resettlement action took place and 480 000 Ukrainians were expelled to the Soviet Union territories. During the second action which was called Vistula (1947-1950) another 140,000 inhabitants were resettled. The abandoned villages, houses and synagogues were burnt, orthodox churches were plundered and demolished. Five centuries of Polish-Russian-Jewish history of the Bieszczady was about to be wiped out.
In the 1950’s this region became a mythical land of freedom. The mountains were an asylum, a distant shelter for outsiders, outcasts, fugitives and exiles, who chose them as the place where they can meet their own selves, escape the suffocating life.
I decided to travel the mountains, searching for my protagonists. Walking for days in deep snow, sleeping in the tent in the middle of the forest, carrying a backpack which weighed 27 kg, I found the people and I found the 9 gates mentioned in the title of my project.
As a photographer often working in war zones, after years of photographing other people’s pain, I needed to slow down, to stop and take a breath. I wanted to learn again how to photograph in silence, sometimes at night, I wanted to teach myself again how to focus and search for images in nature, sometimes being next to another person, listening to their stories, pain and anguish, but also happiness – simply listening to their lives. The nature became a calming factor and a kind of escape for me. It became a new form of artistic expression coined into the creative obsession which resulted in spending time in the wilderness, observing the mountains and the snow for hours, listening to the wind, the silence, creaking old trees – just to take one photo.
The protagonists of my photographs arrived in the Bieszczady Mountains between 1950s and 1980s. Each person came to the mountains for a different reason, none of them have ever left. They chose loneliness in the mountains, escaped their old lives and created their new ‘selves’ from scratch. The common experience and the linking point for the individuals I photographed is abandonment or resignation from something or someone.
They share a specific understanding of freedom; freedom which is demanding and requires sacrifice but is constructive at the same time. The people I met and talked to have been confronted and changed by nature, their hands have been damaged by physical labour. The rhythm of their day is completely different to the rhythm of the city; for them the latter one became synonymous with ease and boredom. Mountains are demanding and require determination – they hold no place for weak individuals degenerated by civilisation. My protagonists live in solitude, often without electricity and running water; they have relinquished advancements and comforts of the city. Civilisation gives us something but also takes something away.
Loneliness is a natural state of a human being – an experience independent from those, who surround us. Loneliness might take two basic forms: introversion or isolation. A lonely person does not have to be alone, but here and now he/she remains separated in the reflection which extends beyond the surrounding. In case of isolation, loneliness becomes the lack of the presence of other people or their understanding; a state, when a person is not able to notice another human being.
‘9 Gates of No Return’ is a cycle about loneliness and melancholy.
About my own loneliness – as a person and as a photographer.
And about the loneliness of others – for me to understand it.
Agata Grzybowska (Translated by Aleksandra Szymczyk)
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