ZAMEK Culture Centre



The beginnings of the open-air historical performances staged by volunteers in Murowana Goślina date back to 2007. The script of the shows would change dynamically and their meaning gradually evolve: from interpreting local legends, to recalling episodes of regional events, to themes drawing on the national history. The year 2016, marking the 1050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland, saw the premiere of The Eagle and the Cross, which recounted two millennia of Polish history. The performance continues to be staged, with only minor annual modifications. This season it will be seen by some 20,000 spectators, being the largest patriotic event of its kind in Poland.

The authors of that open-air show draw pictorial inspiration from the paintings by Jacek Malczewski, Artur Grottger, Józef Chełmoński and especially Jan Matejko, using them as a point of reference. Ingrained in Polish collective consciousness, those images of the past are brought to life through performative action. The events, symbols, objects, figures and gestures that make up the core of Polish national mythology materialize almost simultaneously on the outdoor stage. They are resurrected, embodied and re-enacted over and over again by an ensemble of amateur artists.

Since 2020, I have been conducting anthropological research among the people involved in The Eagle and the Cross. My work has been concerned with the interactions between the volunteer actresses and actors and the events, characters and values of the imagined past. I try to explore the consequences of the situation where more than 300 people toil for several months each year re-enacting the canonical episodes in Polish national history. I wonder what place we occupy on the timeline when the past becomes a repository of repeatedly incarnated moral parables? How do we function in a community when the characters of the imagined Rejtan, John Paul II, children executed by the Nazis, the Virgin Mary, are played by a neighbour, a primary school classmate, a godchild, or a teacher? How are the meanings of time, history and the criteria of truth demarcated and established in this participatory action? What identities do we reproduce and actualize in such an action?

The 2021 publication entitled Historia Polski. Zeszyt ćwiczeń vol.1 was the first working recapitulation of that inquiry. It features photographs that capture the gestures of the actresses and actors during spring rehearsals for the show. When rehearsing the scene of the Battle of Warsaw, the Battle of Vienna or the Adoration of the Kings, they perform certain actions which will make up living quotes from historical paintings only in the eyes of the audience.

In 2022, I changed my perspective, playing in the shows with a small automatic camera hanging around my neck during the performances. It was provisionally camouflaged to keep it out of sight of the audience, but it was clear to the other performers and the organizers of the show that I was taking pictures. They were also fully aware that this was part of the research and artistic activities I was carrying out. Every second, the camera (1) recorded the reality of the show from the standpoint of the actresses and actors, (2) recorded events from Polish history as seen through the eyes of their participants, and (3) commented on the way we choose to lend meaning to the past in participatory action.

The exhibition at the pf Photography Gallery combines these two threads.

Text by Michał Sita

curatorial collaboration and tour of the original exhibition: Łukasz Rusznica

arrangement: Anna Pilawska-Sita

partner: Institute of Anthropology and EthnologyAdam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

collaboration: Archiwum SłońcaCreative Arts Centre OPT Zamek WrocławThe National Museum in Poznań

production assistance: Carrara

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