Konrad Pustoła (1976-2015) graduated from the Department of Economics at the University of Warsaw in 2003 and in 2008 from the Photography Department of the Royal College of Art in London. His projects investigated the spatial and visual aspects of social and economic relations. Winner of the Polish Press Photography Competition for the series Sanna (2001). He participated in many exhibitions, including The New Documentalists (2005) at the CCA Ujazdowski Castle; Bloomberg New Contemporaries (2008) in London; Storia, memoria, identitie (2009) in Modena; PhotoEspania (2010) in Madrid. In 2010 he released the album Dark Rooms, awarded at the The Best Album Art and Catalogue Competition Reminiscences.Print
Selected solo exhibitions:
2001 – “Ale Meksyk!”, Muzeum im. I. Paderewskiego, Warszawa;
2002 – “Sanna”, schronisko “Kalatówki”, Festiwal Fotografii Czarno-Białej, Zakopane;
2003 – “Ale Meksyk!”, Dom Darmstadt, Płock;
2004 – “Siena”, Instytut Włoski, Miesiąc Fotografii, Kraków;
2004 – “Siena”, Galeria Wizytująca, Warszawa;
2004 – “Warszawa”, Lumo 04, Photographic Triennial, Jyvaskyla, Finlandia;
2005 – “Warszawa”, KULTURJAHR der ZEHN, Berlin, Niemcy;
2006 – “Autor”, Galeria Okna Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa;
2006 – “S(t)ymulacje”, Otwarta Pracownia, Miesiąc Fotografii, Kraków;
2009 – “Darkrooms”, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa;
2010 – “Darkrooms” Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków;
2010 – “Niedokończone domy”, La Fabrica, Barcelona, w ramach Festiwalu Europes;
2012 – “Biało-czerwoni”, CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa.
Wybrane wystawy zbiorowe:
1998 – “Miasto”, Uniwersytet Warszawski, Warszawa;
2000 – “Supermarket sztuki”, Galeria DAP, Warszawa;
2001 – “W ciągu pieszym”, mur kościoła Św. Anny, Warszawa;
2001 – “Warszawa od świtu do zmierzchu”, galeria ZPAF, Warszawa;
2002 – “Powiększenie. Fotografia w czasach zgiełku”, PKiN, Warszawa;
2006 – “Architektura intymna, architektura porzucona”, Galeria Kronika, Bytom;
2006 – “Nowi Dokumentaliści”, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa;
2007 – “Antyfotografie”, Galeria Miejska Arsenał, Biennale Fotografii, Poznań;
2008 – “Efekt czerwonych oczu”, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa;
2008 – “Wenus polska”, dawna Kuchnia Brata Alberta, Miesiąc Fotografii, Kraków;
2009 – “Nieodkryte/niewypowiedziane”, Nowy Teatr, Warszawa;
2009 – “Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2009”;
2010 – PhotoEspania, Madryt;
2011 – Festiwal Artboom, Kraków;
2012 – “Świat nie przedstawiony”, CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa;
2013 – “Zdjęcie miasta”, Nowy Teatr, Warszawa;
2013 – “Widoki władzy. Gdańsk”, Festiwal Alternativa, Gdańsk;
2014 – “Shock Therapy: Photographs of the Polish Transformation after 1989”, Milli Reasurans Art Gallery, Stambuł, Turcja;
2015 – Warszawski Festiwal Fotografii Artystycznej “Common Space”
Who the photographer is? Punditry on Konrad Pustoła’s works.
‘We fill pre-existing forms and when we fill them we change them and are changed’
Frank Bidart, Borges and I
Born on April 14, 1976 Konrad Pustoła took to photography as far back as in his secondary school. He started learning at this stage in Poland but graduated in 1994 at Worthington Kilbourn High School, Columbus, Ohio – and this is where he entered photographic darkroom for the first time. He was an ambitious amateur photographer interested in black-and-white photography which he practised on daily basis as well as during special occasions like family festivities or his juvenile voyages (including these to Africa). The breakthrough in Konrad Pustoła’s artistic evolution came in 1997 with meeting Juliusz Sokołowski – doyen of photographic document, master of classic large format analogue photography interested in contemporary architecture. Since last decade of 20th century Sokołowski runs photographic workshops (firstly at the Warsaw University’s Department of Polish Philology, then Department of Cultural Studies) which form a place for meeting, discussing and photographic initiation for dozens of young creatives, like Przemysław Pokrycki, Anna Bedyńska, Katarzyna Żebrowska or Tomasz Drzazgowski. Pustoła participates in these discussions, serving as Sokołowski’s assistant in the years 1998–2000. Executing – together with Sokołowski – cycles of architectural (for Murator publishing house) and portrait works (e.g. women incarcerated at prison in Grudziądz), Pustoła burnishes his artistic skills and carves out his opinion on what photography could become.
‘I was Sokołowski’s assistant for two years, helping him with TOK FM advertising campaign, jobs for «Marie Claire» etc. At the same time, with whole workshop fellowship we were attending open-air photography events or setting exhibitions – and this is how the group formed this year to be transformed into genuine formal association. Its name is Poniekąd (Somehow), as it was created by people who attended workshops as students dealing with various things and ‘somehow’ taking photos’.
Though Poniekąd association appeared to be ephemeral, the citation above seems to render rightly contemporaneous Konrad Pustoła’s stature: not a professional photographer yet, but not an amateur anymore. Meanwhile Pustoła fulfils his early photographic cycles like Most Syreny (Siren’s Bridge, 1999), Wolni tkacze (Fabryka) (Free Weavers [Factory]) or Aparat z harmonijką (Barcelona) (Camera with windbag [Barcelona]) – both from 2000. First Pustoła’s work recognized by profession and critics was a cycle of black-and-white photos taken with antiquated Graflex camera, entitled poetically Sanna (The Sledging, 2000). Published in ‘Polityka’ weekly and ‘Pozytyw’ monthly, award-winning at Polish press photography competition, influenced by Juliusz Sokołowski and – indirectly – American documentary photography (primarily Walker Evans and circle of Farm Security Administration photographers), this photo essay was created in co-operation with Wojciech Prażmowski. Sanna pictured a life of the family which got away from big-city tumult into desolated Bieszczady mountains, in order to try creating life conditions better and more suitable to their needs and beliefs than contemporary urban culture. This is how Pustoła himself described Sanna’s assumptions and manner of execution in 2001:
‘When going there [to Bieszczady – AM note] with camera, I knew various tales, though I didn’t have any kind of planned project but what I knew was that I wanted to take a picture of them. That was the very first picture – and the longer I stayed with Bross family, the better I realized that it can not end with this sole photo, so I took another ones. Combining their amazing story with beautiful surroundings they live in, and primarily with how unusual people they are – this makes me wanting to come back there and document it. This is just the first chapter of a long-time tale I hope to fulfil’.
The tale ended after three years; meanwhile a documentary recording of alternative Bieszczady’s idyll gradually gave way to socially concerned urban photography. Bross family life documentation plans formed a starting point for reflections over further long-term authorial projects. It is also worth to pay attention to the distance then kept by the author – somehow a photographer – to the world of art to which he was to aspirate soon. In context of his artistic ambitions which he had already shown, Pustoła’s answer to the question, whether he fears that winning major award in Polish Press Photography Competition would label him as a reporter or press photographer or not, was like:
‘I am not afraid as I don’t see anything wrong in it. Besides, who can label me like that? Press photographer needs to be more ‘efficient’ than that, as the maximum number of such cycles I am able to prepare is four a year which makes it quite noneconomic. I need to resort to ‘hackworks’. What I do is quite laborious – nevertheless I hope this prevents me from being just one of many. Concerning any artistic pretensions: Walker Evans who photographed various things – social, documentary – was very contemptuous when talking about photography as an art. He absolutely did not considered it as an art, though nowadays his photos have such status and are sold at legit art galleries for really big money. I want to do what my heart desires. Of course I strive to take photos which won’t be out-of-date by the next day. I want the stuff I am currently creating to be equally topical in the next ten years as it is now – or maybe even more valuable due to its documentary shape’.
Citation above is marked with dreams about both fame and money; ambition to create well-known, valued documentary photography or even artistic photography; youthful faith that you can do anything you want to; all of above together with sad necessity of life-saving ‘hackworks’. It is a specific amalgam forming identity of a creator entering into the world of photography and art.
Koalicja Latarnik (Lamplighter Coalition)
Co-operation with Juliusz Sokołowski leads to Konrad Pustoła’s active engagement in Koalicja Latarnik, an informal artistic group created by young workshop participants and prominent exponents of Polish documentary. Looking off, counting at most several dozens of members Koalicja’s activity seems to be an inviable attempt to slow down and influence the changes taking place in contemporary visual culture by clinging to forepast photographic methods and modernistic conception of ‘pure’ photography. The climax of Koalicja’s activity and its Web page www.latarnik.pl was Black-and-White Photography Festival Powiększenie (Blow-Up). Fotografia w czasach zgiełku (Blow-Up. Photography in a time of tumult) held in September, 2002 at Pałac Kultury i Nauki (Palace of Culture and Science) in Warsaw. In the central spot of the exhibition, there was a board with commandments where one could learn that ‘Latarnik’s goal is to stop the time, meeting and ability to close your eyes when you are overwhelmed by the flood of dead pictures’. Konrad Pustoła’s works were then also marked by a kind of unhurried photographic practice (slow-photography), celebrating creation process and deliberate delay in completing the final work. Sanna is a good example of such attitude, as standing out from competition fuss of photos hurriedly created for media industry. Portrait cycle heroes withdrawal from life can be associated with Latarnik photographers’ attitude – who dissent themselves from contemporaneity and who are contestants full of poetry and emotionalism. Pustoła’s cycle was equally: technically perfect, formally accurate, modernistic to the bone and – in the positive meaning – provincial, as much as Polish Bieszczady originated, a quarter of a century after Walker Evans death American photography can be. Konrad Pustoła’s fascination with American documentary photographers and cameras used by them dated back to his residence in the USA during secondary school period and arose from participation in courses organised by American Studies Centre of University of Warsaw and his own journeys to the United States where he could get familiar with archives and collections of photographic masterpieces. Through these journeys it was also possible to ask A.D. Coleman – the world-wide famous photography theoretician and historian – to write an essay which came out in printed ‘Latarnik’ issue accompanying festival mentioned above. At that time, Pustoła was already interested in theory of photography, social engagement and igniting discussions on medium place and role in contemporary world.
Beside American fascinations, another form shaping factor should be mentioned here: contact with peers at Juliusz Sokołowski workshops, conversations with Andrzej Georgiew and mentioned above Wojciech Prażmowski who worked then on new documentary photo series like Biało-czerwono-czarna (White-Red-Black, 1999).
This is Mexico!
Despite philosophy preached by Koalicja Latarnik members who preferred rural life over urban fuss, Konrad Pustoła intensified in time his absorption in urban and big-city culture. The nature of his photographs taken in Mexico City, where Pustoła ventured to visualize social inequities for the first time (Ale Meksyk! – This is Mexico!, 2001) were less poetical and more analytical than in Sanna. On occasion of this exhibition and publication Pustoła declared: ‘I study economics and I’m interested in analysing social relations, economic conditionings and their impact on individual’s life’. The restriction forced on artist by himself was creating a documentation of just one – but significant – street. His choice was the longest one – running for almost fifty kilometres from south to north of Mexico City – Insurgents Avenue (Avenida de los Insurgentes). This idea reminds of classic work by Edward Ruscha Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) which was published on his own in form of a book; however, these photos are completely different, still closer to Evans or earlier Pustoła’s work Sanna wrought in so distant from Mexico mountains of Bieszczady. Black-and-white, mainly portrait photos are focused on a man and his fate. ‘Konrad with his old large-format camera (Graflex) photographed architecture: street, dwelling houses, entertainment venues, shops’ – wrote about the project Agnieszka Kowalska in ‘Gazeta Stołeczna’. ‘But he preferably portrayed people: economists before stock exchange building, a befriended journalist, children in their uniforms before a school, numerous family celebrating public holiday’. In context of projects realised later on, the following words regarding workshop spoken by the author and quoted by Kowalska seem to be crucial: ‘This camera imposes working style. There is no question of catching a moment. You need to set the equipment, wait for a while. This gives a non routine occasion to talk, to get to know better the people you portray. […] Majority of photographs presented there [i.e. exhibition] are black-and-white, just the last sequence – this one where I tried to capture a spirit of modern city, democratic and free market Mexico – is enriched with colour’. Sequence of coloured photos as an interlude making the black-and-white entirety more contemporary reminds strategy of the first expositions of Biało-czerwono-czarna (White-Red-Black) by Wojciech Prażmowski. This idiosyncratic way of thinking about colour in combination with representation of free market reality will return in the Polish photo series named U Adasia (At Adaś’, 2003).
Photographs from Mexico were shown at the exhibition in J. I. Paderewski Museum of Polish Emigration at Łazienki Królewskie (Royal Baths, Warsaw), placed on hoardings spread across Warsaw and published in one of the earliest issues of ‘Krytyka Polityczna’ magazine in which activity Pustoła was engaged from its very beginning – as an artist, editor and art director. It is also worth highlighting here using hoarding for exposition purposes which artist will also reach out for in the years 2011–2013 fulfilling cycle of Widoki władzy (Views of Power). Equally significantly, Ale Meksyk! project was realised by Pustoła together with a team of friends-cooperators: Agata Raczyńska (computer graphic designer), Michał Smolana (photographer and graphic designer) and Anna Szymaniak (translator). Inclination to work in a collectivity is one of features distinguishing Konrad Pustoła from others (a.o. Tiszert dla wolności, T-shirt for Freedom, 2004).
Colourful and lively modern metropolis which is Mexico City adjoins in Konrad Pustoła’s portfolio with unusual – though little-known – study of Polish regions stamped with global free market economy. Published for the first time in ‘POLMEX’ magazine, a cycle of photos from Legionowo entitled U Adasia (At Adaś’, 2003) forms a specific portrait of the post communist transformation. Pustoła branches off here from classic black-and-white modernistic photography in order to show a dwarfed world of post-modern unrestricted capitalism of the Leszek Balcerowicz’s age in a distorting mirror. Author’s ironic distance towards this reality – discernible in photos and accompanying them in printings and at exhibitions of Litania do Pana Adasia (Litany of Mr Adaś) by Magdalena Pustoła – gets sharpened by ‘crossing’ photosensitive material which gives an effect of distorted, subdued colours like those seen on ORWO Color films made in East Germany. For project analysis purpose it would be useful to quote author’s words from the earlier conversation that took place in 2001:
‘I am latterly coming to a conclusion that economic education, and particularly history of economic notion and social questions become increasingly the subjects of my works. For example, I am fond of changes in employment relationship, production methods and how these changes impact lives of people. It’s related to evanescence, passing of some reality fragments, replaced by a new lease of life, usually more plastic and cheap’.
Pustoła was earlier interested in recording past relics in photographs, but in U Adasia series he manifests for the first time – in its entire grandeur – predilection for showing downmarket nice ‘new’ from which – for the time being – author dissents. Titular Adaś is an owner of a cheap advertisement production workshop (all kinds of panels, signboards, stickers and banners literally covering entire neighbourhood). The protagonists are not visible on the photos nor are Legionowo inhabitants. Pustoła breaks with his absorption in man. In his documentary-anthropological field study, for the first time, the author concentrates his attention on symptoms of human activities rather than on people themselves.
Since such an early projects like Warszawa (Warsaw, 2004), apart from politics there is also aesthetics present in Konrad Pustoła’s photography. In this cycle, the tension between new and old, past relics and new capitalistic reality – is also perceptible. Photographed with wooden Japanese Nagaoka Warszawa brings out the world of beauty forgotten by critical and engaged art. In Warszawa – like in Sanna – Pustoła uses instant Polaroid photosensitive materials (Polapan 55), but in a definitely less indicating way, rather more symbolic if we should use the well-known semiotic categories by Charles Sanders Peirce. In this context, technical question is important; Pustoła’s answers to the matter in an essay Dlaczego polaroidy? (Why Polaroids?):
‘Working in cycles, due to instant possibility of negative development and obtaining small positive-preview, one can order the works next to each other and deliberate what is still missing or what is too abundant yet. Instant print is also an invaluable tool when photographing people. They see achieved result at once which helps in gaining their trust and acceptance. Polapan 55 materials exposed to 32 ASA (overexposed by 1 EV and overdeveloped by approx. 25 seconds at 20 degrees Celsius give wonderful tonality together with quite high contrast. It was particularly important to me regarding pinhole photography which gives low contrast pictures by definition. Long exposure caused by low negative sensitivity erased all objects moving in the frame. Through mixture of these two profiles I have achieved the intended effect of sleepiness and void’.
Techniques – as in case of Sanna or Ale Meksyk! – may become used to relate with human being and maintain convention of humanistic photography. On the other hand, nothing prevents using them to recede traces of people and other ‘accidental’ elements of the picture layout. This conscious measure leads to experimental intrusion into art photography convention. Withdrawal from portraying people – as seen earlier in U Adasia and Warszawa – is achieved by different technical measures (long exposures instead of framing) and leads to completely different formal results. Sharp documentary views of small Warsaw suburban town give way to delicate, symmetric, notably softened shot actions of the capital city and anticipate the whole new kind of photography. Meanwhile Warszawa is a city so surrealistic in its void. Treated in arty way – is a post pictorial city. Pustoła had intentionally shown this photo cycle in 2005 at Mała Galeria (Small Gallery of) ZPAF-CSW. Marek Grygiel – long-term gallery curator – included Pustoła’s cycle within broader phenomenon of pinhole photography developed by artists present before that time in gallery programme – Wiktor Nowotka, Basia Sokołowska, Daniel Kazimierski, Marek Poźniak, Przemek Zajfert or Georgia Krawiec. ‘Nevertheless, this outwardly simple process demanding some experience within the scope of experiment and research, gives very diversified and unpredictable results.’ – wrote Grygiel in the catalogue notation, situating Pustoła among intergenerational alliance of formalists interested in forepassed classic processes. Concurrently Grygiel described substantive content of Warszawa as follows:
‘Konrad Pustoła, fascinated with contemporary city being not only a human assemblage but also a mosaic of «endless number of patterns, colours and textures created by centuries-old layers of history», tries to trap this unceasing process with his almost monochromatic photographs. He calls this action «look retardation» [quotations from author’s notation accompanying exhibition – note of AM]. This is why he is not into motion, fuss, mass – which enthralled futurists so rapidly – but he tries to render the ambience of transitoriness and time flow relativity. This applies both to already publicly shown collection of photographs of unspoilt Italian city of Siena where history deposited itself in layers, and Warsaw – city «cursed with newness» through its tragic and volatile turns of fate. A particular aesthetics of these works is not only a result of intentionally used tool – which is this one of the simplest techniques of taking pictures – but also of an unpredictable, accidentally developed stratifications, indistinctnesses, pictorial effects making these photos more like paintings and chromolithograph than hyper realistic recording of reality surrounding us’.
Therefore, Pustoła is an formalistic experimenter, well-nigh a painter, but also a lamplighter-photograph acting ‘in the time of fuss’ sweeping history with ‘retarded look’, seeing not in a documentary way like Walker Evans did, but like while in sleep, through fog, blurrily. Pustoła’s works painting value will return once more in the context of criticism of Dark Rooms cycle realised in the years 2008–2009. Meanwhile, in 2004 aesthetics of Warszawa – and as well Siena (2004) which kinship to Warszawa was reasonably mentioned by Grygiel – delighted critics. Warszawa realising technique which draws spectator’s attention was referred to in more modern way by an author of second catalogue notation – Jarosław Lipszyc who provisionally introduced the concept of ‘lo-fi’ aesthetics:
‘Lo-fi (abbreviation for low-fidelity which is humorous reversal of hi-fi beloved by audiophiles) is not a technical term but a cultural one, for it does not mean recording quality in so far as conscious author’s choice, creative strategy, and last but not least – some kind of an artistic-social movement together with its fans, legends and history. Konrad Pustoła left on his prints traces of chemical reagents activity, making them a kind of artistic manifest. His pictures are photographic lo-fi. Theoretically camera obscura enables exposing the plate with full depth of field. But in practice – which can be easily verified – pinhole camera pictures are not sharp at any ground. They reveal work method and more – the method becomes a picture subject much more important than photographed objects. It is not a picture what is important – this is a process of shooting photograph. I do not especially marvel at this. At the time when developing an accurate print requires acquisition of digital camera and inkjet printer while entire process is fully automated, artists need to look for a particular space for themselves. Increasing popularity of «Warsaw gum» which requires spending long weeks in darkroom and poisoning your body with chemical miasmas is understandable only in the context of these «user-friendly» processes. It is real art to choose «user-unfriendly» technique. Shooting photos requiring transporting of photographic camera with a truck (or leastways – as in Konrad’s case – with reasonable estate wagon). Exposing frames not in a split second but for hours, resulting with subject choice limitations. Pustoła’s Warszawa is same as the technique he chose. Long exposure erased people from it. No one plays at amusement grounds, no one prays in church. Abandoned cars are totally useless. Technology – as Pustoła warns – is capable of killing its creators and users off. The only things that would then remain will be monuments of stupidity (like Picasso’s dove) and vainglory (like Palace of Culture and Science)’.
This time, Konrad Pustoła is a contemporary enthusiast of old-fashioned, unfriendly processes who mounts a pile of obstacles for himself, constantly raising the bar and pursuing technical mastery avatar of photographic ‘art for art’s sake’ philosophy of early 21st century .
Pustoła will be repeatedly returning to shooting Warsaw when fulfilling commercial jobs (e.g. documenting construction of Złote Tarasy and Arkadia shopping centres, Złota 44 and Rondo 1 skyscrapers etc. as ordered by the investors) and his original projects (e.g. photographic postcards for Zniknij nad Wisłą [Vanish by the Vistula river] festival by Fundacja Bęc Zmiana , Uwalnianie przestrzeni [Liberating Space] for Teatr Nowy [New Theatre, 2010] or unaccomplished project Narządy wewnętrzne miasta [City’s Internal Organs, 2012]). Though he will sometimes carry his camera with ‘reasonable estate wagon’, he will never get back to painstaking measured in weeks work in the darkroom. Lipszyc was right – this process kills off its creative – and that’s what Konrad Pustoła wanted to evade.
Stag party / Siena
Year 2004 was a time of solstices on artistic and ideological Konrad Pustoła’s plans as well as in his personal life. In this very year – after multiannual engagement – he has married Magda Raczyńska, sociologist, critic and curator (they will split up in 2008). They fulfilled multiple projects as a photographer-journalist duo (e.g.: Barcelona, 2002; Dosyć [Enough], 2004; Tutaj żyję [Here I live], 2005). Since Konrad Pustoła is an artist who is not afraid of using personal overtones and – consequently – it is hard to dismiss in silence his decision on publishing photos of such intimate events as stag party or after-marriage honeymoon trip to Italy (and more specifically – to the city of Siena mentioned above).
While Jarosław Lipszyc wrote volubly about lo-fi philosophy and aesthetics, relating them to old-fashioned pinhole photography technique, it is hard to resist the impression that the other kind of this philosophy instance can be found in a cycle Wieczór kawalerski (Stag party, 2004) performed with digital camera. Author himself commented on creation of photos published on printed ‘Fototapeta’ (2004) and ‘Ruch’ magazine (2009) as follows:
‘Stag party was real. Definitely not a session for magazines like «FACE», «ID» or even «A4». Wedding took place a week later. Lack of camera was roughly planned on the off chance that there would happen some things we would not like to remember. Well, me especially. After wedding. We are totally encircled by image recording devices. Sometimes against our will. Computer webcams, CCD cameras in shops, underground, digital cameras or finally mobile phones equipped with photographic cameras. But there a moment came when methought: too bad there is no camera. Someone had drawn a phone –poor quality reality recorder. Then others started triggering phone shutters. Blindly, by turns, brainlessly. Unconsciously, even with animal trance over event course, the camera started to shoot photos independently. Independently, as we could not really recall who shot them. We do not remember what really happened, too. We got totally blotto. So, this camera-phone actually working autonomously of our will gives us the best a photography can give – awareness of what happened then’.
Emphasized by Konrad Pustoła ‘wild’ (‘animal’) dimension of photographs from male party can be correlated with ‘cultural’ art photos brought from honeymoon trip, when artist and his spouse went to Siena. These Italian pictures can also – like Warszawa is – get included into artistic lo-fi aesthetics but only on condition that while Siena is more like ‘high-end lo-fi’, Wieczór kawalerski symbolises descension to ‘digital trash’ level. Both cycles stun with form which is not indifferent to the word and are a negation muted, impartial document à la Walker Evans whose admirer Pustoła was not that long ago.
Meanwhile, Konrad Pustoła studies at Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa, Telewizyjna i Teatralna im. Leona Schillera (Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre) in Łódź. He has completed his master programme in the years 2004-2006 but failed to graduate due to problems with theoretical thesis required by academy. At the time, Pustoła assists Magnum Agency photographer Mark Power who on autumn 2003 began working on a cycle devoted to Poland which is intended to be shown at the Euro Visions exhibition. Power’s influence on Pustoła is not only related to photographic technique or way of perceiving reality but also a particular image philosophy developed by author who at that time was applying for a full membership in Magnum. Differently than it was in relationships with Juliusz Sokołowski or Wojciech Prażmowski, Konrad Pustoła is able yet to not only assist the master and soak up the knowledge but he initiates a partner dialogue with Power and inspires him creatively. These conversations and co-working induced Power to devote five years of his life to photograph Poland, while Pustoła begins his photographic study at London Royal College of Art. This is how Konrad Pustoła described his meeting with Power during conversation with Krzysztof Masiewicz and Piotr Bazylka:
‘So the London issue began three years ago when I started working for Magnum photographer Mark Power who shot photos in Poland within the framework of the Eurovision project. For almost three years I was – and in fact I still am – not only an assistant to him, but also a researcher, driver, interpreter and whoever else you can imagine. We had befriended. Working with Mark was a shock for me as for the first time I familiarised myself with the Western photographer working manner. What funds does he have, how his attitude is and how it would affect his future. Since me and my wife (Magda Pustoła) were thinking about going abroad yet in order to aerate ourselves, Mark recklessly suggested that if it should be London then RCA [is the only right choice – translator note]. Even if he was laughing at us stating that if I would manage to enter there I would stop consorting with him as the Magnum photography is considered by RCA more like strongly focused on presenting the role of photography «documentalism» rather, than an art using photography medium but being free of its limitations or exploring them’.
One can conclude from this 2007 statement that Pustoła – thanks to Power – ascended to a new level of documentary photography creation. Results of this change surely include Nieskończone domy (Unfinished houses, 2005) i Nieskończone fabryki (Unfinished plants, 2005). Pustoła is interested more and more in ‘art using photography medium but being free of its limitations or exploring them’ than in a photography itself . On the other hand, Power’s vision of photography and his evaluation of Polish transformation influenced himself and his Polish pictures. No wonder that Power’s Melodia dwóch pieśni (The Sound of Two Songs), one of the most important books about Poland of the early 21st century, was dedicated to Konrad. According to his own words Pustoła owes extroversion to colour – which earlier appeared sporadically in his works (U Adasia) – to Power. ‘Since I started working with Mark Power from whom I learned so much, I stopped being afraid of colour’ – says Pustoła in the same conversation with Bazylka and Masiewicz. ‘He [Power] is a graduated painter and therefore he is very sensitive to colour. Nowadays colour no longer bothers me, on the contrary […], colour became something utterly natural, neutral and appropriate’. In addition, we can say that earlier it was black, white and shades of grey what was natural, neutral and appropriate, as it is in tradition of modernistic photography created after Walker Evans.
T-shirt for Freedom / Summer Resort
Collaterally to Łódź studies and working with Power, Pustoła progressively engaged himself into politics. Leaving ‘Latarnik’ and joining society of ‘Krytyka Polityczna’, which he contributed to and where he is an art director till 2006, he translates to growing interest in imperative social issues. Contemporaneous Pustoła’s political attitude may be represented by his support for social action Tiszert dla wolności (T-shirt for Freedom, 2004–2005) and his involvement in defending Le Madame club (2006). By photographing well-known politicians and people of culture wearing T-shirts with slogans challenging effective mainstream political correctness rules, Pustoła not only forms visual shape of Antek Adamowicz’s idea but also becomes one of the models himself. Participating in this action can be considered as one of the earliest symptoms of artist’s interest in his own subjectivity and his standing on the field of art. Hoarding campaign, Fundacja dla Wolności (Fund for Freedom) competition and press publications (‘Wysokie Obcasy’) result in media and public interest in Tiszert dla wolności, meeting with unusual – in context of earlier realisations – social response. For the first time Pustoła participates in topical public debate. He becomes an activist for whom photography performs ancillary function as an effective tool used for strictly political purpose.
While other action contributors wear T-shirts with slogans like: ‘I didn’t mourn for pope’ (Max Cegielski), ‘I’m mentally ill’ (Krzysztof Materna), ‘I have two dads’ (Kora Jackowska), Konrad Pustoła shows himself in the picture wearing racily outmoded though convenient photograph outfit and in T-shirt with writing ‘I am a villager’. This comment to social exclusion on the grounds of social origin, in this case, becomes a self-mocking reference to Pustoła’s status as a representative of intellectual metropolis elite. This dimension of Pustoła’s self-portrait can be more transparent when we correlate Tiszert dla wolności – which can be treated in a pure technical manner as fashion photography – with simultaneously published (also in ‘Wysokie Obcasy’), one of rare in artist’s portfolio fashion shoots entitled Letnisko (Summer Resort, 2005). Colourful, buoyant pictures show a circle of closest friends resting at Tomasz Obłój’s chalet near Lublin. Stylishly dressed young-and-beautiful were photographed – which is rare – without stylisation typical for fashion shoots, as if relaxation and idyllic life in rustic staffage were something utterly natural within this society. This series of friends pictures Konrad Pustoła described in his jottings as ‘alternative fashion shoot’. Poised between politics and art, activism and commerciality – the author suffers from growing discomfort which coloured on taking decision to go studying in London. Reflection on who Konrad Pustoła really is, becomes an urgent issue which needs to be sorted out by artist himself. This is the question: is he an orthodox documentary photographer, an expert on rare and forepassed processes, commercial photographer, creator of alternative fashion shoots, critical artist or political activist? Only revolution – rephrasing interview given to Marta Eloy Cichocka – can solve these difficult to reconcile contradictions.
Photographer works on Sundays
The author’s identity crisis he suffered those days was fully manifested in series of works realised in the years 2006–2008 in Poland (Autor [Author], 2006) and Great Britain during studies at London Royal College of Art which artist began on autumn 2006 (An Art College, 2007; Tate, 2007; Free Press, 2007). Contemporary photographer’s standing was diagnosed also by Magda Pustoła while organising exhibition at Cracow Bunkier Sztuki (Bunker of Art) where her husband participated showing his Autor mentioned above. Considered as Autor’s exhibition framework project entitles Fotograf pracuje w niedzielę (Photographer works on Sundays) was an attempt to answer several questions put by the curator: ‘How to show and catch sight of instalibility, unpredictability, lack of guarantee and support that mark working lives of contemporary cultural producers developing tenors, meanings, images, emotions, relations and identities? What is worthy there and what needs to be changed? And how? What to do when one has enough of that?’. Magda Pustoła in her self-commentary described her own exhibition as ‘slightly funny, slightly scary’. Exposition combined generational and social dimensions:
‘All artists presenting their works here were born in the mid seventies. They belong to the generation for which photographic market – despite its institution immaturity – is as obvious as breathing. All of them are friends, students or graduates of Photography Studies on Cinematography Department of Łódź film school. At the same time they are working as photojournalists (Przemysław Pokrycki, Andrzej Wiktor), performing jobs for tabloids (Anna Orłowska), realising fashion shoots (Iza Grzybowska) or trying to enter the art market and stay there (Konrad Pustoła). Despite numerous professional restrictions, their ideas for a «good life» form a fascinating contemporary strategies map of dealing with uncertainty’.
Though from curator’s notation arises that photography engenders misery, exposition itself was very eyesome and self-mocking. Konrad Pustoła’s Autor shown there distinguished itself with prominence of problem raised by artist. Author’s uncertainty exceeded individual’s economic and social safety level and disputes of legal nature (copyright) as well, forming a statement on symbolic questions and ontological issues, not to mention instigating (or rather appropriation) of Tadeusz Kantor who was strongly tied with Cracow. Autor shown several months later at Galeria Okna (Windows Gallery) in Warsaw, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski (Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle), had seen its curator description by Marcin Krasny:
‘Three photographs chosen by Konrad Pustoła look almost the same. All of them show elegantly dressed man standing among sea waves adopting a pose of a conductor, observed by crowds gathered on the beach. They all come from same negative which belongs to Polish twentieth-century art canon. However, each of them has a distinct caption and differs a little from the others depending on press title it was published on 2005: a calendar issued by Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych (Foreign Office), a book by Anda Rottenberg Art in Poland 1945–2005 and on a poster bought by Konrad at Zachęta Gallery. Who is the author of the presented work? Tadeusz Kantor who concocted Happening morski (Sea happening), Edward Krasiński who conducted the waves during that event and Eustachy Kossakowski who shot this picture which later on was repeatedly reproduced? Or maybe – what’s more terrifying – Konrad Pustoła who included them into his work treating – paradoxically – about attribution conventions? Or maybe each answer is correct as this accomplishment was produced on the same basis as motion pictures having its own screenwriter, director and cameraman? In short – it was a collective work. The thing is that as with motion picture there is always someone more important and someone who gets ignored’.
What’s more interesting, toward the end of notation Konrad Pustoła is correlated by Krasny with Joseph Kosuth – a classic of conceptual art . Autor is compared to the work entitled Jedno i trzy krzesła (One And Three Chairs, 1965). While Kosuth’s conceptual emanations of things are quite stable, this indicating potential gets called into doubt in Pustoła’s photography. Charles Sanders Peirce essentialised this matter in a very simple way: ‘[W]hat we know about photography is that it is a result of rays glancing off the objects which makes it a sign of high informational level’. However, Pustoła is not really interested in rays glancing off the picture he had re-photographed – he focuses rather on aura emanating from a trinity of so singular authors : Tadeusz Kantor, Eustachy Kossakowski, Edward Krasiński. The sign becomes a symbol, while afterthought drives at capturing author’s function. Pustoła questions efficiency of this function understood as ‘field of conceptual or theoretical cohesion’. This makes him closer to (if looking for Anglo-Saxon analogies) creatives like Sherrie Levine, Martha Rosler or Louise Lawler rather than to Joseph Kosuth mentioned by Krasny. Though author’s standing – and thus subject as well – is frail as Krasiński’s figure ‘conducting’ the sea, it desperately and wilfully demands some support or anchorage. Out of this issue Pustoła creates and exhibition made of three pictures signed with his own name. Issues of other authors’ works appropriation will incidentally return in Konrad Pustoła’s work devoted to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Edward Krasiński will become a protagonist of documentation (realised in 2011) of his own flat and workshop transformed into Instytut Awangardy (Avant-Garde Institute).
There is a work – realised during studying in London, fundamental to Pustoła’s artistic shaping – which might be considered as a pendant to Autor described above. An Art College pictures fragments of wall, tabletops and seat backs in collegial cafeteria. It takes a while, when soft light filling the picture enables spotting the shapes of students’ works which dangled on the wall just a moment ago together with still present labels containing authors’ names and captions of already disassembled works. Simplicity and nobility of the layout are masking irony charge planted under strong foundation of academic and artistic education, implying dignity of curriculum created within collegial artistic life. Even if it contains of such an absurd activities as art exhibition at cafeteria. In other words, this time An Art College is a kind of removing a spell from creating alleged authors education system (and thus: an art market using them) rather than from the author’s function. On the other hand, realised at that time diptych entitled Tate pictures a portion of timeline being aggregate chart of modern and contemporary art history placed on some wall of a gallery which is significant for global world of art. Pustoła shows close-up of recent, related to contemporaneity sequence of prominent, perpetuation worth artists’ names like Martin Creed, Yinka Shonibare, Andrea Fraser, Kara Walker, Thomas Hirschorn and others. At first sight, both photos look identically; however, an attentive observer would spot that there is a caption added to one of them, containing legal name: Konrad Pustoła.
Unfinished houses / Unfinished plants
Photographer’s identity crisis arose also from working on – created almost simultaneously with Autor mentioned above – Unfinished houses and Unfinished plants (2005–2006). It is not without significance that at the same Nicolas Grospierre (Not Economically Viable, 2005) and Maciej Stępiński (Bez tytułu [domy], Untitled [houses] 2005) had realised congenially similar projects, and some of earlier realisations also need to be mentioned here: panels with poetry and photographs by Michał Kaczyński and Łukasz Gorczyca, working together under an alias of Mateusz Dajwer on DOM Polski (Polish HOUSE) cycle at the end of 20th century. Dan Graham’s Homes for America 1965 photo cycle can also be considered as point of reference for Konrad Pustoła’s series. Unfinished houses – together with all cycles mentioned above excluding Graham’s – were shown in Poznań Arsenał Gallery in 2007 at Antyfotografie (Antiphotographs) exhibition, forming a metaphor of ‘an unfinished subject’.
However, these – realised simultaneously and without mutual awareness – other author’s cycles should not be considered as a direct inspiration source of Nieskończone domy. This source was so uncommon among artists economic education (degree at Warsaw University) which sensitised Pustoła to prevailing social context. At the same time, documentary record of specific for free-market economy trends fluctuation in Pustoła’s project is formally sophisticated criticism carried out with use of photography. Scattered among Poland after end of 90’s recession lone breeze-block house shells built on cheap parcels, sometimes in the centre of recently cultivated field or even illegally, devoid of any infrastructure – according to Pustoła’s declaration are ‘silent monuments of failure, disappointed expectations, family dramas and harsh lesson on the dark side of the free-market economy’. The same applies for Unfinished plants – marks of dreaming about own business and related to it promises of success within available free-market possibilities. Both series premiered in 2006. Unfinished plants were exposed at Teraz Polska (Now Poland) exhibition organised within Cracow Month of Photography in former Schindler’s plant, while Unfinished houses might be seen at nearly simultaneous Nowi dokumentaliści (New documentalists) exhibition at CSW Zamek Ujazdowski. It seems that unfinished big capital (plant) work was less enthusiastically received than arousing curiosity individual tales of people dealing with new reality. On one hand, there is a comprehensive article – kind of a journalistic investigation followed by Tomasz Kwaśniewski of ‘Duży Format’ (supplement to ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’), and also long life of the exhibition which was displayed – among others – on exhibitions in Kiel, Mexico City, Hurtford, and also twice in Spain, a country badly experienced by global economic crisis. What is more interesting, this quite general metaphor of contemporary homo oeconomicus condition Kwaśniewski – in an article Dom, w którym nie chcę mieszkać (A house I don’t want to live in) – completed with commentary consisting of ‘unfinished houses’ owners’ testimonies he had found. Kwaśniewski’s notation begins with Konrad Pustoła’s quotation saying that: ‘My photos are an attempt of turbocapitalism dark side visual portrayal. These unfinished houses are the quintessence of sadness and failure that were experienced by many’. These tragic stories and straight confessions complete the abstractional project with humane content. Someone’s son had lost, someone’s parents had gone, someone had bankrupted, someone else had excessively run up the debt.
Beside economic transformation the artist is also interested in widely understood individual sexual identity (changes in the customs and sexual minorities’ emancipation). Erotic excess was incidentally embedded into Wieczór kawalerski topic, but sexual identity thread also fully appears – in the form of an original project completed with solo exhibition – in S(t)imulations installation exposed at Cracow Otwarta Pracownia (Open Workshop, 2006).
The exhibition had a form of dark labyrinth designed by artists filled with photos and short movies from network ‘chatrooms’ (mainly screenshots exposed in a form of lightboxes). The totality resembled claustrophobic spaces of cheap sex-shop erotic booths and was intended to exemplify a kind of new sexual network order. Konrad Pustoła described idea underpinning this exhibition as follows: ‘Rapid new technologies development created a virtual space which gradually and imperceptibly begins to play a bigger and bigger part in contemporary’s man life. By using a simple communication interface (chat) together with webcam, everyone connected to network is able to broadcast any moving image into virtual (social) space – while remaining (though increasingly illusive) anonymous. In most cases these are self-presentations of people using chat and webcam. This world is surprisingly diverse and overthrowing some stereotypes while confirming others’.
Hence, a man returns in this kinky way to Pustoła’s photography. There are no more elegant black-and-white, large format portraits shot on Polaroid materials, but vernacular illustrations entrapped by photographer in an ocean of low quality photos (lo-fi aesthetics). Pictures of faces, erected penises, bare female breasts and unveiled wombs intermeshed themselves in a total network collage. When overcoming promoters’ concerns related to violations of personal rights, Pustoła did not hide his protagonists’ identities and did not expurgated scenes of masturbating or copulation. Exposure of sexuality to the public was total. This is important in the context of subsequent –less literal and more controversial – project of Dark Rooms. At exhibition one could get hold an impression that network becomes a space blurring subdivisions along unyielding sexual identities structured upon bipolar heteronormative matrix. In this particular arsy-versy world the identity seemed to be meaningless. Both total and selective ensemble Poles portrait created by Pustoła might be treated as illustration of on-line work, covering communication and sexual or emotional energy workflow, and sometimes good old economic capital as well. A significant exhibition complement was that – as artist mentioned – during a varnishing day a septic tank had exploded which literally flooded the exhibition space.
Pustoła’s projects culmination took place in spring of 2006 – he had almost simultaneously shown Autor, Nieskończone domy, Nieskończone fabryki and S(t)imulations as well. His learning at RCA began in autumn. However, two subsequent years brought concentration of his creative energy rather than retardation of his work pace. Round of minor projects prepared during school in Britain, like Free Press (2007) or in Poland e.g. Pozwolenie proszę (Permit, please!, 2008), had forwarded skills of Pustoła who uses then scraps found in tabloids or enters activity teetering between performance and photography, and also realises his earliest videos. His principal work – which would be later used as his thesis defence – was series of 35 coloured interior panoramas of gay clubs scattered among major Polish cities, entitled Dark Rooms, realised in the years 2007-2009. Artist commented on cycle development circumstances as follows:
‘In London I suffered from crisis related to photography – I did not want to shoot photos anymore as in my opinion they got disgraced. Suddenly, during implementation of that project, I took it a little easier, somehow like in Coffee and Cigarettes movie: as we gave up smoking, let’s smoke! And thus: as I am an artist, I can even do such a photographic work’.
This quotation completes Konrad Pustoła’s uncertain identity question betrayed in the mentioned above passages related to status of being ‘somehow’ a photographer, documentarian, artist. It is thus possible to risk the claim that graduating at Royal College of Art, Pustoła reaches his maturity. He is already an artist, at least when considering institutional and formal aspects. Critical artist aware of institutional conditioning as shown in already mentioned subversive projects like An Art College or Tate, realised during school.
With respect to Konrad Pustoła’s realisations described above, Dark Rooms are specific synthesis of traditional classic photographer’s workshop (Koalicja Latarnik), interest in aesthetics and nearly decorative beauty (Warszawa, Siena), fascination with chromophotography (U Adasia, Nieskończone domy, Nieskończone fabryki), political involvement (Tiszert dla wolności, working for ‘Krytyka Polityczna’, defending Le Madame, workshops for youth and refugees), drawing out sexual identity threads (Wieczór kawalerski, S(t)ymulacje). On the other hand, Dark Rooms series photos introduce a lot of new features to Pustoła’s works: ranging from technical questions (use of large format panoramic photography) to substantive content of work (typology of so-called fuckrooms at gay clubs). Entire series is engineered like a trap. A soft semantic net stretched by author along dark room on array of anchor points. Author focuses on skive, he is intrigued with interior details, sex activity traces left by men, while rooms are photographed like crime scenes and at the same time in a way approaching photography to abstract painting. Artist says in conversation with Bogna Świątkowska:
‘New cycle’s name is Dark Rooms. When they were closing Le Madame club in Warsaw, I was involved into its defence. In front of my very eyes the energy that laid there was annihilated. It was lifted because – among others causes – there was a darkroom at that club. Darkroom is a place where you can couple. I photographed these spots after their closure but before cleaning them. It appeared that things which are usually not visible become visual, that thanks to me the energy, light, colour get unveiled. These spots seem to have a potential of a mirror. At first people scoping pictures out do not realise what they are looking at. Photos are ordered growingly according to the information quantity. When spectators are already slightly allured, suddenly the shot blares – it clears up what they are looking at. And in that very moment they gen up what they do feel, how this thing affects them. If it arouses or repulses them. I tried to make these photos of open nature, as little labelled as possible, so that’s why many of them are so abstractive, even pictorial’.
The photographs are free of people, inhuman and arch-human at the same time. Pustoła uses photographic mark indicating nature, but simultaneously forms whole of it in shape of commodious metaphor – even through linguistic ambiguity of titular ‘darkroom’, a synonym not only for gay club sex activity spot but also for a photographic darkroom. Departing from author’s comment, it also creates a room for discussions on subjects on the border of politics, aesthetics, and sexuality. Due to artist’s expectations photographs triggered extreme emotions among critics writing about Dark Rooms exhibition. On the one side of the argument there would be catalog notation authors identifying themselves with project (Alexander Garcia Düttmann, Maria Poprzęcka, Olga Tokarczuk) together with art. historians and critics accepting Dark Rooms substantive value (Dominik Kuryłek, Wojciech Bałus, Aleksandra Suława); on the other side there would be vicious exhibition opponents pouncing on author for excessive aestheticisation and alleged homophobia (Paweł Leszkowicz), acknowledging exhibition as quite unsuccessful coming out (Monika Małkowska), treating it as leftist provocation (Krzysztof Wojciechowski) or – simply – as uncritical bullshit (Dorota Jarecka). Surely this photo series – shown a.o. in Warsaw, Poznań, Kraków, Gdańsk, London, Paris, Milan – triggered discussion on socially involved photography and art. Paweł Leszkowicz in Pustka w darkroomie, czyli sztuka wobec rewolucji seksualnej (Void in the darkroom or art against sexual revolution) essay incisively sketched Konrad Pustoła’s project horizon:
‘Beside obvious attractive moral surface Konrad Pustoła’s photographs bring up an array of theoretical questions which are vital not only for art. but also for visual presentation our culture is based on. These are issues related to 1) socio-political function and image efficiency, 2) relation between presentation, control and sexuality, 3) aestheticisation function, 4) visual communication nature, 5) appropriation/reintegration of minority subcultures, 6) homosexuality image in the heteronormative culture’.
Leszkowicz in his key for discussion on Dark Rooms text, at the same time introduces somewhat on meta level seventh theoretical question. Namely: standing and identity of artistic subject. It is not a coincidence that even essay title contains reference to void which gets explicitly stitched with artist’s surname in the text:
‘In Poland everything regarding homosexuality question is political but not necessarily in a progressive sense. In this regard, Konrad Pustoła’s «darkrooms» are also empty (!) [exclamation in original – note by AM] [Polish pun: Pustoła and pusty = empty – note by translator] and their social meaning results from consumer’s view and his/hers moral ideology. Same photograph can be a picture of both depravity and emancipation, and capable of triggering disgust or longing for such an experience, reluctance or entertainment. Artist is not in control of these interpretations as he has opened void of the sense. This is the void of chaos of political and sexual projections against homosexuality draining contemporary societies still unable to abandon this last-mentioned superstition. […]Konrad Pustoła’s void [‘Pustka Pustoły’ in Polish – note by translator] protects privacy and is a symbol of some void without identity, also a key expression of entire cycle, its conceptual cause and idea. However, this void causes lack of transgression which is darkroom sex. We do not see bodies but their traces related to drinking and excretion. Empty, squashed beer cans adjoin used condoms. These traces are masculinity abject – deposits of disgust against appetitive male drinking physiology, ejaculation, sweat and uncontrolled sexuality. Liquids specking darkroom walls, furniture and carpets had a contact with body and now become its traces, marks. There are no men but their humid imprints’.
For project title Konrad Pustoła chose a word coincidentally referencing (as it happens in live language) both to a coupling room in gay club and to photographic darkroom. Thereby he plays with definition of photography as an indicator (of material trace, print). In other words this lasts him that ‘liquids specking darkroom walls, furniture and carpets had a contact with body and now become its traces, marks’. It is also related with Paweł Leszkowicz disappointment with lack of transgressive sex. Leszkowicz reasonably sees conceptual cause and principal idea. He sees but does not approve it. However, programmatic project void is not an artist’s problem – he seems reconciled with this want – it is a problem for consumer whose reaction is not to be willingly stimulated by Pustoła this time. It is an inconvenience because this means that void needs to be ‘filled’ with something – there is a need to develop some pictures or films in this darkroom, to find some meanings and to read some signs. Everyone who write, read, fantasise about Dark Rooms, is willy-nilly doing that. No matter whether edgy due to ‘Pustoła’s pustka (void)’ or excited with own fertilising sense fullness. Pustoła puts over that photographer’s – and photography’s – place is an empty spot, ‘void of sense’, an empty darkroom wall and a screen where one can project nearly any contents. There is more said about that in Paweł Leszkowicz’s diagnosis:
‘Konrad Pustoła’s symptomatic void remains as a last resort. It is a void of meaning, void which was sought-after in photography by surrealists, as unacquaintance could be touched only through such a nothingness. We do not see people on them as it seems that they concern invisible processes unfolding inside psyche or desire itself. By recording reality of exterior architecture they concern interior of male sexual subjectivity. Dark rooms labyrinth of these panoramas is like a recesses of unacquaintance landscape – it is not by chance that panorama is a landscape medium. Darkrooms combine libidinal and architectural ignorance. We enter a dense architecture of desire through safe art photography seclusion. And probably that is what matters most; for what happened before closing the clubs (and who was there!) is a secret vital for social status quo. Dark Rooms keeps and aesthetises this secret though does not change status quo. And this is maybe the cause of art.’s problem with sexual revolution. Revolution changes status quo while art just sometimes records them picturesquely’.
A probing Leszkowicz’s article ends irrevocably with humiliating art and artists punchline. So the question arises where does Leszkowicz’s and other critics annoyance, or rather rage against the artist come from, while Pustoła did nothing but execution of an act of ‘picturesque recording’, reproduction of existing status quo? When writing about ignorance and psychoanalysis it is worth to refer to trivialised but probably still topical cliché stating that successful therapy relies on declaring or abstracting hidden, earlier unknown matter. This is maybe a minor but essential change in state of consciousness. Even a picturesque recording enables spotting, understanding and then changing the reality. Leszkowicz sees such a possibility but after a while he rejects this solution:
‘However, if we would adapt (speculatively) a theory that absolutely every presentation of excluded areas is their social integration, and visibility is always liberating – then photographs could fulfil leftist imperative of art engaged socially into moral revolution and sexual rights. To However, this assumption is not that obvious and my ambivalent reflection on Dark Rooms comes from duality lurking in these panoramas. This project of so popular scandalizing charm can be a visual tract about reflection on art as a sublimation (lack of sex in a picture) and art as effective socio-political instrument (no clear intention)’.
Pustoła intently does not photograph people, bodies, sex as he did in e.g. S(t)imulations. He is also not fond of simple, clear envoy basing e.g. on photographing profiles of sexual minority representatives or people supporting ideas of these minorities’ emancipation (Tiszert dla wolności), or creating typology of facades of buildings where darkrooms exist. As Leszkowicz noticed, he is interested exactly with documenting ‘invisible processes unfolding inside psyche or desire itself’. Symptomatic criticism’s rage from left to right can be presumed only as an evidence that artist touched sore – and not worked through – point. And it is of secondary importance if the artist creates in too picturesque, critically enough or politically correct way.
Discussion on Dark Rooms which lasted for several months together with consecutive exhibition editions occupy artist’s attention and put other projects on the back burner. The decisions to divorce Magda Raczyńska, move from London to Warsaw and establish a new relationship with Karolina Ochab were not without significance in this matter. Before involving himself in another of full-fledged projects which Widoki władzy (Views of Power) is, in winter 2010-11 Konrad Pustoła realises for ‘Krytyka Polityczna’ with his iPhone’s digital camera a quasi-photostory entitled Król Duch (Ghost King). Coloured pictures present – from driver’s perspective – located in Świebodzin 36 metres high Jesus Christ statue. Pustoła slowly gets closer to the statue, photographing surroundings while each picture contains Świebodzin’s Jesus effigy in more or less prominent spot. Pustoła gains on a sign that intrigues him, humbly looks up in a pilgrim’s way and comes to a stop at monument’s feet but he does not stop there. He does not worshipfully keep silent but adds Dmitri Prigov’s 1976 poem from Wiersze o Mylycancie (Poems on P’liceman) as a commentary to the project:
‘When the p’liceman stands here at his post
Expanses all the way to Vnukovo unfurl before him
The P’liceman gazes to the West and to the East
And emptiness unfurls behind them
And the center, which the P’liceman holds:
A view of him unfurls from ev’rywhere
From ev’rywhere the Policeman can be seen
From the East is seen the Policeman
And from the sea the Policeman can be seen
And from the sky is seen the Policeman
And from beneath the very earth…
Anyway, he isn’t hiding’.
[translated from Russian by Matvei Yankelevich – note from translator]
Prigov’s poem can be considered as kind of defiant prayer of a prayer coming back to Christ-policeman’s statue and in a gesture of despair and in an iconoclastic gesture carries out his fantasy to see (and photograph) what Świebodzin’s Christ sees. This is what pendant to Król Duch serves as, i.e. panoptic Świebodzin panorama shot from balloon released at monument’s feet and hung up exactly at the height of monumental sculpture eyesight. Photos originally published in ‘Krytyka Polityczna’ issue entitled ‘Duchy’ (‘Ghosts’) were also presented as a choice at Poznań Galeria Piekary exhibition Kiedy zbudowano Tesco w Świebodzinie? 5 lat przed Chrystusem (When Świebodzin’s Tesco was constructed? 5 years before Christ). Exposition’s closure was photograph wallpaper attached to the wall presenting panorama unfolding around Świebodzin. This perspective change, urge to see and show how reality looks from both sides or rather from the top and the bottom of symbolic power hierarchy, seems typically for Pustoła’s works.
From aesthetic-technical side Król Duch fall into lo-fi projects due to use of mobile phone, though this is completely different lo-fi than this of 2004 (Wieczór kawalerski) or 2006 (S[t]imulations). There is no room for digital grain fetishisation and emphasising pictorial effects but it does not mean that artist abandons experimenting with new technologies.
Views of Power
This image of power represented by monumental Jesus Christ’s figure photographed by Konrad Pustoła was preceded by a cycle of colourful landscapes presenting views from the windows at offices of most prominent and influential men in Cracow, realised in the years 2011-2013. Among artist’s works there are two less known photo cycles anticipating Widoki władzy (Views of Power) In 2007 Imago Mundi foundation invited Pustoła to photograph expats who live in Cracow, coming from a.o. Spain, Canada and United States. Project – published as a choice in album Małopolska. Fotografie. To niczego nie wyjaśnia (Lesser Poland. Photographs. This explains nothing) consists of portrait of a person, view from his/hers flat’s window and a few sentences describing photos’ protagonist. Inspiration of these works was ‘city domesticating’ which was executed by Konrad Pustoła after moving to London – when visiting his school friends and colleagues he shot photos presenting views from their flats. A little later artist influenced by Hollywood movies had particularised an idea to realise several views from windows of people wielding power (political, economic and religious) in global scale. Movie extracts showing protagonists looking outside through the window were cut by Anna Brzezińska into a few minutes’ found-footage video. However, the artist did not manage to reach out pope, queen of England or president of the United States, whose views were originally regarded and only a traces in the archive remained after these attempts. Finally Konrad Pustoła realised in the years 2011–2013 photo series concurring on Widoki władzy in Polish cities of: Cracow, Warsaw, Zielona Góra, Gdańsk and Wałbrzych.
Photos executed in digital technology but no more of lo-fi aesthetics can be considered as a specific answer to a simple question formulated in a text accompanying the first exposition within ArtBoom festival: ‘[W]hat do people see who decide on Cracow’s destiny?’ – but one can accordingly develop thread of relation between power, knowledge and vision took up by Pustoła. Press release contains also a remark that ‘point of view always treated as social status determinant is simultaneously a direct source of information on external real world during working time’. Pustoła is surely interested – at the very least on photography level – in equalising point of view of people having different social status (wielding power and subjected to power), pointing at lack of symmetry between subjects and objects of political, economic and symbolic power. Politics of city landscape is brutal and as if that wasn’t enough, artist decided to show these pictures to the public on hoardings blemishing cities. Views he photographs do not seem to be a ‘source of information on real external world during working time’ but rather a landscape, portion of nature enabling artists (and photographers) to transform the world into picture and letting authority representatives to follow ordering and subordinating activities. In other words, there is no ‘real external world’ on these photos, there is only a power which observes and performs the work, creates the only world we know. This world is far from perfection.
Konrad Pustoła’s photos significantly develop and at the same time systematise issues of mind landscape of people wielding power in Poland’s scale. Pustoła does not only concentrate on clerks’ authority. There are no office interiors, corridors or conference rooms. Instead of them we see landscape which preponderantly characterises the particular person. ‘Disappointment is usually the first response to the views of people in power’, writes sociologist Maciej Gdula in the text opening Konrad Pustoła’s book with his photographs. Gdula’s opinion is shared by Jarosław Trybuś and Grzegorz Piątek who simply write: ‘The title sounds like mockery next to the gloomy wall visible from NBP (National Bank of Poland) chairman’s window, backs of the blocks watched daily by vice-president of Warsaw, Mokotów hovels outside Beata Stasińska’s window. This is not what is expected by people who fantasise about these who are above us’. Furthermore, in ‘Polityka’ journalist Jacek Socha’s subsuming who focused on accidentality and poverty of the views, they are a kind of peculiar portraits without faces. These are provincial and transformational portraits. Pustoła’s study connotes raw status of Nieskończone domy and Nieskończone fabryki, stop-gaps of Legionowo near Warsaw (U Adasia), a view from London students’ windows.
White-and-Reds / Euro
During Widoki władzy cycle realisation in subsequent cities Konrad Pustoła got interested with media performance accompanying Euro 2012 football games. This time author himself performed ‘p’liceman’ role and embalmed a view – which power trying to come over and control the football fans has – resembling CCTV camera recordings. Filmed from the roof of a building located in Warsaw city centre, the picture shows a crowd watching Poland vs. Russia game displayed on giant screens placed in fan zone next to Palace of Culture and Science. Football emotions and media performance are shown – literally and figuratively – distantly. We do not see the game itself but only crowd reactions. It seems that Pustoła was really fascinated with mass presence in the city centre, the power of performance and performance of the power. The view he earlier tried to critically analyse, in this case becomes his own view. It is also hard to get rid of impression that single-channel large format video screening presented at CSW Zamek Ujazdowski distantly showing crowd of fans, aesthetised and sublimated this national, white-and-red football performance. On the other hand, there was no moment of distancing yourself from and critical reflection on what is visible, key for e.g. Dark Rooms series. Curator Marcin Krasny get carried away by work’s atmosphere, when writing in text accompanying the screening: ‘Reactions of cohesive, dense crowd tracking footballers’ actions on the pitch perfectly convey the tenor of sport clash and emotions accompanying it. The work is long, lasts almost as much as one half of a football game. The sunlight catching crowd of fans dressed in sports shirts is a singular «hero» of the movie – the setting sun gradually changes the dominant picture colour scheme, very slowly from white to red, flavouring the work with symbolic purport’.
National imagery got blurred in extended by eight further movies multi-channel screening entitled Euro (2013). For the sake of this installation Pustoła cut another takes of Warsaw city centre, showing a.o. fans march, police motorcade passage, inhabitants behaviour etc. This more nuanced and scattered picture of titular Euro was additionally energised with form of a presentation at Zdjęcie miasta. Fotografia warszawska i praktyki pokrewne (Photo of a City. Warsaw Photography and akin practices) exhibition in Warsaw Nowy Teatr. The totality was shown on nine medium-size screens which gave impression of tracing events at police operations room. It also makes the last of work series devoted to ‘the power of view’ and ‘view of the power’ closer to triptych of unfinished Narządy wewnętrzne miasta (City’s Internal Organs) series (2013) also shown at Nowy Teatr, which shown – usually not visible for Warsaw inhabitants – spots, machines and apparatuses determining the working of metropolitan system totality.
City’s Internal Organs
Dialectics – present in the photographic works and video installation Photo of a City… exhibition – of what is visible and hidden can be extended to the closing, mature period of Konrad Pustoła’s works. Specific for the author of Nieskończone domy features like multitasking and simultaneous working on several artistic projects (excluding commercial ones), impede taxonomy and complicate interpretation. For better understanding of the work one should get back to the year 2009 when Pustoła accomplishes studying in London and returns to Poland working on Dark Rooms exposure at Warsaw CSW Zamek Ujazdowski and Cracow Bunkier Sztuki. At the same time he participates in curated by Agnieszka Sural Nieodkryte, niewypowiedziane (Unfound, Untold) project where he shows Kompozycja (Layout, 2009). Kompozycja consists of three photos of ruined boiler house near Toruń. In conversation with Agnieszka Sural the artist does not seem only to be not interested in departed building’s function but also in social and political context which was so important earlier:
‘As usual, I got there by accident. Just passing through. Instead, several things intrigued me there. First one was that this building stands inside so accessible space which is uncommon. And the second one was that it was going to pieces while it seemed like it had been designed. I did not make these photos out of nostalgia for dilapidated architecture and wanting to eternise it. It is this building decay design what is attractive in itself. Such a constructivist situation. I don’t know how that place looked before, how did it operate – but when it had fallen into pieces it adopted a form in my eyes’.
During conversation Pustoła contraposes Kompozycja to realised a few years earlier Nieskończone domy, emphasising growing interest in formal and aesthetic aspect of the realised photographic projects. Author is mainly interested in forms where entropy manifests itself, while, in a lesser degree, in executed pictures’ cyclicity, sense and agency. Both outside reader and perceptive interpreter of Pustoła’s works can get ruffled – like Agnieszka Sural hosting the conversation was. Is it really the same artist who scrupulously realises documentary photographic cycles calculated for dozens of politically involved photos? Mature period of Pustoła’s works is marked with paradoxical inconsistency and high-handedness of undertaken actions. In other words, the artist – whenever he wants to – is able to create a series of rigidly composed ‘fuckroom’ photos breaking with political correctness, but nothing prevents to shoot – when driving a car – three (why not four?) ‘layouts’ of unknown but formally interesting bughouse. ‘Now I am less authoritative, I don’t use such words as «always», «everything», «everywhere», «never», «be obliged» as frequently as before. That’s an awful word: «obligation». Devil’s invention. The utmost plight one can imagine’, says Konrad Pustoła in the closing phrases of conversation with Bogna Świątkowska. Mature period of Pustoła’s works is also marked with forsaking didacticism arising from obligation. It does not mean that politics vaporise from photographic series. It is still present there though in a different, more subtle and aesthetic way. In the quoted conversation, Pustoła intentionally refers to The Politics of Aesthetics by Jacques Ranciere.
In parallel with shown earlier Widoki władzy specific vision of Warsaw, somehow inside out, appeared in photographic postcards cycle released by Fundacja Bęc Zmiana during Zniknij nad Wisłą (Vanish by the Vistula river) festival in 2009. The photos of riverine bushes or weeds ‘shot’ during stroll are preceded by the relevant passage of Chamowo (Yob Town) by Miron Białoszewski, where the author describes unpredictability of walking far past beaten track. ‘Weed is visible. It’s a pity to pick it, though this time picking is exceptional. Then show to others. Later on you can find similar but looking better. Then it appears that the second one was better than the third where seeds are too large, they strew themselves, leaves are too big. Something new is visible, and when seen into – further sagebrush study, frisky leaves, flowers transformed into big fruit kasha, the whole is not as lacy as it used to be. These initial encounters are indispensable. When you don’t know what that is you go through holt by the Vistula river, nobody knows where it ends. For the first time, the thing is limitless, incomprehensible, unpredictable. This is how anxiety sometimes pays off’. Beside connotations suggested in curator’s commentary one can indicate on motives from the artist’s tramp on the banks of the Vistula river and photographing deserted fireplaces, tree limbs and tents abandoned most likely by street people. Single, nearly impressionistic photos taken out of context form a reverse of Dark Rooms and Widoki władzy cycles. At the same time they are related to each other by similar desire to see in a different way, peek at inaccessible places or open only for a small group of people. While in actions supported by Bęc Zmiana Pustoła was concentrated on nature vigorously flourishing by the river, realised in 2011 together with Nicolas Grospierr and Mikołaj Długosz – photographers invited by Nowy Teatr – the photo cycle within Uwalnianie przestrzeni (Liberating Space) festival shows fragmentarily abandoned and ruined buildings of Warsaw’s infrastructure. Pustoła fitted himself in scenario set by the organisers: ‘Nowy Teatr and Dom Spotkań z Historią [The History Meeting House] idea inspired by heritage festivals tradition at French and German cities relying on facilitating closed urban areas and guiding among them. The project being a part of «Wyłącz system. Uwalnianie przestrzeni» [Shut off the system. Liberating Space] enables travelling across closed Warsaw areas — architectural gems, artist’s workshops, undergrounds, roofs, warehouses and usually inaccessible recesses of public buildings – in order to symbolically ‘liberate’ them.
On the other hand, near the end of 2012 he shows – at subsequent edition of ‘Synchronizacja’ (‘Synchronisation’) festival curated by Bogna Świątkowska – at Warsaw National Library a heterogeneous installation Puste pola (Empty Fields) where beside film and photography also tent made of branches and trunks appears. Klara Czerniewska wrote in ‘Dwutygodnik’ on Pustoła’s installation: ‘In the context of exhibition the tent seems to symbolise a resistance against architecture considered as oppressive (restricting physically, financially and mentally) immobility. While Outraged and Occupying are looking for the society essence, architecture «lies fallow» and is restricted just to its basic, not reduced function – a shelter. The tent shown as a primary cottage at Library Konrad Pustoła’s Puste pola work refers to Vitruvius and Lars von Trier. As an attribute of a contemporary, free man – according to Centrala project group typology (Architektura namiotowa [Tent Architecture], 2011) – is indispensable in all conditions and at every latitude’.
Surely all projects mentioned above were intended to gain their methodical study in Narządy wewnętrzne miasta which eventually consisted of just three photographs. It is hard to say whether the photos intended to be shown for the first time at Kasia Michalski Gallery in 2014 were not shot due to holdup of logistical and personal nature, or due to disheartenment of the artist who was bothered with analogy to Taryn Simon’s atlas An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. It should be noted that in Narządy wewnętrzne – which was exposed at Zdjęcie miasta exhibition in the form of process announcing the complete work – the artist tried to find a balance between amenable to human control apparatuses and constantly eluding areas amenable to the power of nature (or social outcasts resistant to socialisation).
In the Konrad Pustoła’s works one can surely find spotted by Paweł Leszkowicz fascination with void and entropy which can be at least partly filled and held back by photography. However, there is an activity area which undermines such an univocal interpretation in he creator’s work Dark Rooms, which is occupationally created photography of architecture and industry. Since working with Juliusz Sokołowski, Pustoła steadily mastered his skills by photographing shopping malls, factory floors, skyscrapers, power stations, pharmaceutical factories, processing plants and others. It suffices to compare simultaneously created panoramic darkroom views with developed at almost the same time (2009–2010) photographs of power stations belonging to French-originated EDF Polska (Électricité de France group) to spot contrastive forms and to understand the reverse of the content. In subsequent years Konrad Pustoła gradually gets away from purely commercial attitude and begins to care about objects as visually fascinating as they are technically complicated. Industrial photography becomes an artistic challenge.
The exhibition realised in 2012 in Portuguese city of Guimarães is a project which can be considered as a joint between two opposing poles of Konrad Pustoła’s works. Exposition devoted to effects of wolfram extraction used various devices – photography, video, objects – on the one hand, surpassing snapshots of riverine weed and sagebrush as well as not completely succumbing to the rigour of professional industry photos. On the other hand, it is Guimarães where photographer examines and documents the process in which nature steadily recovers, earlier lost areas from remains of industry developed by mankind. This subject is an echo of realised cycles i.e. Zniknij nad Wisłą. Echo that is going to return in further cycles realised for Bęc Zmiana and developed in co-operation with Bogna Świątkowska (Everything solid evaporates, 2013–2015).
Guimarães installation is something indirect between postcard photographs realised before – which are of ‘snapshot’ nature and show flimsy objects, evanescent views etc. – and perfectly completed and composed large format industrial photographs. Konrad Pustoła freely and intentionally uses almost every mode of technical pictures of reality reproduction. At the same time he seems to consistently use cameras perfectly relevant to what he intends to express. In other words, when he photographs riverine bushes with a little, quick digital camera, in case of industrial photographs he would use an advanced large format photography technique that enforces precise and static picture layout.
Industry topic will become a challenge not only in respect of skills but mostly due to typically Polish lack of tradition and culture of photographing this type of forms. Informative pictures from interwar period and all the more post-war substantially social-realistic photographs can not form a positive point of reference. When trying to develop his own original interpretation of Polish industry modernisation, Pustoła has to face Juliusz Sokołowski’s works and work through known in global photography visions developed within Düsseldorf school circle (primarily: Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky) and – to a lesser extent – American industrial photography. There is a portfolio which survived in the artist’s archive, entitled Transformacja (Transformation), showing industrial forms belonging to EDF Polska, Polpharma S.A., Heinz Pudliszki, ZCH Police, Amazon Polska. This choice of photos created in the years 2010–2015 can be considered as representative to mature period of Pustoła’s creation. Author combines views of the objects and photos of machinery with close-ups enabling to spot the details. Vertical and horizontal photographs are ordered alternately with panoramas adding the rhythm. This is quite diverse and – at the same time – consistent view of industrial forms. Some of the motives – especially close-ups of goods produced on rolling conveyors – bring to mind the pre-war New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) iconography. Views of factory structures correspond to Bernd and Hilla Becher’s cycles, while panoramas work through iconic Andreas Gursky’s shots. A special attention needs to be paid to pictures sublimating industrial production, showing human activity scale and human-made objects’ complexity level. Sometimes these would be electric station cooling systems, stacks of indispensable half-finished products and chemicals stores. Some other time – rows of metal racks filled with the books, spinning rinsed vegetables or ampoules awaiting to be filled. Though Pustoła realised also portraits of factory workers, there are no individual shots in the selected set. In these select, formally perfect photos people come down to staffage emphasising scale oh the objects. As if the author was interested mostly in superindividual dimension of the documented process. Transformacja cycle performed with large format camera with the consent and help of companies’ owners and boards, begins a series of unfinished – due to his untimely death – Konrad Pustoła’s works.
Everything solid vanishes into thin air
The third in-depth photographic study – right after exceeding political correctness boundaries Dark Rooms series and nullifying fantasies on glory of the mighty Widoki władzy – is unfinished cycle entitled Wszystko, co stałe, rozpływa się w powietrzu (Everything solid vanishes into thin air, 2013–2015). Realised simultaneously with works of Nicolas Grospierre who was invited to the project by Bogna Świątkowska and befriended with Pustoła, these photos present kibbutzim scattered among Israel. In Pustoła’s photographs collective and self-sufficient enterprises, plants, factories – are historical forms, relics of unrealised utopia. The pictures contain buildings as well as details of particular assumptions, unrealised or abandoned projects of communities. The curator Bogna Świątkowska wrote on this project shown in extracts: ‘Transition from social model to neoliberal order – which happened over recent 25 years – was crucible to some of them. Architecture built in commonality logic experiences a crisis in a time of promoting individualism and competitiveness. Anything being back then a physical evidence supporting project of community life crumbles nowadays. This is why the artist referred in the title to the quote from The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’.
It is visible in photos created during four consecutive journeys how photographer tried to combine motives interesting him by realising building typologies and snapshots of nature consuming kibbutzim which are inadequate to contemporary times. It is hard to say how the work on this cycle would be accomplished as the choice of photos – described as ‘final’ – left in the archive seems to be too sparing to conceptualise univocally the meaning of artist’s work. In this context reference to Marx and Engels may be treated self-referentially – as a description of photographer’s condition.
A fog surrounding the last monumental Pustoła’s cycle can be dissipated by a view on realised simultaneously to kibbutzim exhibition dedicated to Polish sanatoriums (together with Bogna Świątkowska and Fundacja Bęc Zmiana). Modernistic architecture and peculiar ‘landscape politics’ makes both projects closer to each other as well as process of ‘evaporating’ ideological foundations basal for realising kibbutz and sanatorium assumptions. Photographs from both cycles are also linked to each other with breaking typological routine and an attempt to create a cycle made of outwardly heterogeneous photos. In other words, in both series there are photos which could be successfully exposed as single works while not being affected by withdrawing them from an array they belonged to.
Atypically for earlier Konrad Pustoła’s works – presented in one of so-called ‘Finnish lodges’ at Warsaw’s Jazdów which is unique due to being a part of a peculiar urban planning project – Uzdrowisko (Sanatorium) consisted of pleasant, quiet and, at the same time, nostalgic photographs. It is also the only Pustoła’s exhibition responding to the context of specific space where it was located. All other projects were presented at gallery spaces prearranged due to the exposition needs.
Playing with the context and history of location was not possible in case of Stawinoga (2015) installation. This realisation – created and ordered by curator Aneta Szyłak responsible for Gdańsk Alternativa festival – in reference to festival edition title accumulated ‘vernacular’ photos, paintings, Gobelins, letters and other objects coming from unused for years Pustoła family chalet located in titular village of Stawinoga. Personal or even intimate presentation nature had drawn attention of Karol Sienkiewicz who wrote: ‘The most vernacular thing there [at the festival – note by AM] is the topic of installation by Konrad Pustoła who re-creates life of family Stawinoga summer resort life basing on artefacts found in domestic archives. It turns to be cosily. Pustoła family’s country house was refit with own hands; this is where family celebrations usually took place. It used to be a rather quiet time – Stawinoga is a resting place. Pustoła’s professional photographs adjoin family photos and create[d] in countryside [Gobelins made by] one of family’s female members. However, dachas are intelligentsia entertainment. Pustoła’s project stands out against the background of exhibition – it shows something authentic. Everywhere else the indigenousness and grassroots knowledge become worked through the prism of the art and metaphor’.
Stawinoga is surely a sign of a turnaround towards his own family, analysis of relationship with parents and grandparents as well as with his brother (Wojciech Pustoła) involved in executing the project. The artist had shown these family tales and relationships in an artistic and at the same time ethnographical way. The thing bridging projects realised at kibbutzim, sanatoriums and chalets is the simmering mood of melancholy. Even nostalgia – for what is gone, unrealised – can be sensed there. At first sight, it seems that nostalgic undercurrent is strange to earlier Konrad Pustoła’s activities. However, if we consider the matter thoroughly, there is something bringing to the very sources of photography, to fascination with the dash into Bieszczady Mountains, to the simple, community and family life. Stawinoga was the last work shown during the lifetime of the author. Konrad Pustoła died on October 14, 2015, nearly two months after diagnosing a neoplastic disease.
A summative study of Konrad Pustoła’s works would be incomplete without emphasizing the meaning of detached photo series non encapsulated into independent works executed by the artist during his entire creative activity. These are not only pictures ‘shot’ with digital camera during journeys or a hurried, visual notes made with his mobile phone – even if Pustoła tried to pre-edit and compose such a photos into cycles (Milenium). In Nieskończone domy, the author’s archive, one can find a.o. an artistic life documentation, portraits of friends forming a natural environment he was living in.
When it comes to photographs of the artistic actions, beside typical vernissage or commemoration views, the factor that draws the attention is a documentation of culture institutions, including Warsaw Nowy Teatr (exhibitions, artistic projects, performances, architecture, portraits of employees and people bound up with that place) and Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN (architecture) located in Warsaw. There are also fascinating single photos in the archive, falling outside any interpretations. Pustoła left also photos of some artists’ workshops interiors (Edward Krasiński, Wojciech Dzieduszycki), art of work’s reproductions (Krystiana Robb-Narbutt) and multiple photographs ordered by or realised together with his befriended artists (a.o. Joanna Rajkowska, Grzegorz Klaman).