Danna Heller about the exhibition
It is no secret that when the word ‘Galicia’ is whispered in your ear, mixed feelings arise: on the one hand Galicia embodies the sense of open multi-culturalism and non-nationalism during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and spurs a sense of longing for a naive, imaginary space that no longer exists; while on the other hand Galicia recalls the traumatic period of WWII and its disastrous aftermath for the Jews and other communities who were liquidated from the region. As I am a half-Polish (half-Yemenite), Jewish, Israeli curator (who grew up in Texas), this exhibition inhabits several layers of consciousness which are manifested in the works of over a dozen international artists who relate to Galicia and its ‘parent’ the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a relationship that changes from fantasy, folly to zones of phantasmatic senses.
The great ambivalence of the notion of Galicia mentioned above is intensified by the artists who are participating in the exhibition and their complementary positions vis-à-vis this context: some artists currently live in the region (Hungary, Poland, Austria), while others are descendents of families from the area (Czech Republic or those living in Israel), and yet other artists who have no biographical connection (Portugal), but still their works incorporate a fresh point of view on common questions of identity and myth.
Queens, Kings, peasants, Hasidic communities, Ruthenians, Gypsies, folklore – these are all part of the landscape called Galicia, and in their singularity they create a common platform for imaginative relationships with each other. This exhibition wishes to touch on these fantastic notions with the representation of the Habsburg Monarchy and its offspring ‘alien’ child Galicia – from a Jewish, Hungarian, Austrian or distant and detached point of view.
When I received the invitation to prepare this exhibition, the art world connection between Poland and Israel was undergoing a renewed sense of dialogue, heightened by the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland, a fictional movement to bring the Jews back to Poland, embodied in a fairy tale structure and monarchic aesthetics. With this in the background, I ask myself as a Jewish Israeli curator, what is the meaning of coming into Poland today and presenting an exhibition in an area filled with op-posing points of view – horror/fantasy, trauma/longing. Would it be not an act of folly to bring back the Jews?
Instead of a renewal and ‘fake’ re-emergence of Jewish Life in Poland, instead of dealing with trauma/post-trauma and how we might cure it, I would like to shift the discourse in the direction of imagination, fantasy and folly. “Folly’s appearance is independent of era or locality; it is timeless and universal, although the habits and beliefs of a particular time and place determine the form it takes. It is unrelated to the type of regime: monarchy, oligarchy and democracy produce it equally. Nor is it peculiar to nation or class”. [Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly. From Troy to Vietnam, Cox & Wyman Ltd, Great Britain, Berkshire 1984.]
Thinking of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a starting point, it is inspiring today to think of notions of monarchs, majestic etiquette, a kingdom which is no longer, and a sense of longing and missing of the empire as an entity, a ‘fatherland’. The idea of Galicia as a sort of alien child to its parent, the Monarch, where a relationship of intimacy, dependence and patronage took place with a major political power – yet this connection was abruptly ended by historical circumstance. Questions of the rise and fall of empires, legacies and historical events lead me to a discussion of the sense of folly with which these events took place and still take place today even if imagined – artistically, culturally, socially, and politically.
The exhibition “Galicia, Mon Amour” attempts at presenting a mise-en-scene of situations that arise from considering the mythical aspects of what was Galicia. From a current point of view, it is also an attempt to dissect the characteristic that brings forth such an international ‘imported’ project in the city of Nowy Sacz, once Galicia, and explore its attitude towards itself today and its past as part of the fabric of this historical region. This attempt is also explored via experimental texts, poems and essays by the contributors to the catalog, who each add to the mosaic of a contemporary point of view into the myth of Galicia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Irony, absurdity, humor and folly evoke a mental reflex that may have the capacity to ‘deal’ with the myth of Galicia in a new direction. This approach may seem in opposition to the severe historical context of the region and the catastrophes that took place in the early 20th century. This is not to annihilate the significant devastation of the historical context, but ratheran attempt to shift the discourse regarding Poles, Jews and minorities of Gypsies, Ruthenians and others that inhabited the region. In the context of myself being a Jewish-Israeli curator, the exhibition may be understood as a variation on the standard western readings of the Polish-Jewish cultural exchange, and a provocation into new ironic channels of thought, twisting the mythical Galicia into a sort of theatrical platform for contemporary exchanges.
Danna Heller (1975) – independent curator. Born in Israel; grew up in Texas until 1993. Today she lives and works in Tel-Aviv–Jaffa. She graduated in art history and French literature, as well as curatorial studies from Tel Aviv university. Danna Heller is an interdisciplinary curator of international contemporary art and historical/cultural exhibitions, as well as video and performance events in Israel and abroad. Recently she initiated and organized in Israel the 2012 international annual congress for IKT (International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art). As a curator living in Israel, she is also engaged in questions of curatorship discourse in politically charged regions.