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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » February 4, 2009
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Delving Into Memories of Jewish Past
February 4, 2009   
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Niewinne oko nie istnieje (There's No Such Thing as an Innocent Eye) is an exhibition in three parts from Polish photographer Wojciech Wilczyk at the Atlas Sztuki gallery in £ód¼. Wilczyk photographed synagogues and other Jewish buildings or, in some cases, whatever remains of them, all over Poland. Most of these buildings have long since been converted to libraries, cultural centers, cinemas, funeral homes and even pubs.

The first part of the project comprises 18 enlarged photographs displayed on walls, the second a slide show of 400 buildings and an hour-long recording of conversations with local residents, and the third a Polish-English book/catalogue whose 700 pages contain 307 photographs, essays by the likes of David Peleg, Israel's ambassador to Poland, and transcriptions of conversations with residents.

Wilczyk was born in Cracow in 1961 and graduated from that city's Jagiellonian University in 1986 with a master's degree in Polish language and literary studies. He has been a professional photographer since 1988 and has also written verse and authored, or co-authored essays and critical articles. Prominent among his works is the Postindustrial series, which documents dilapidated industrial facilities across Poland and Germany.

Niewinne oko nie istnieje is the fruit of three years' work. Wilczyk set out to delve into people's memory of long gone Jewish neighbors, using religious architecture as a theme. He took almost 6,000 photographs of synagogues, houses of study and houses of prayer that still survive in Poland. "At first, I noted an otherness about these places that I found hard to explain," says Wilczyk. "I would go there, take a photo, then another... and a series of photographs began to come into being, indirectly speaking of those who had once made use of those buildings... I did not thrust a microphone into anyone's face... so people were saying what they really thought with no inhibitions."

Wilczyk believes that his project belongs to an art museum and is emphatically not a mere ethnographic curiosity. Visitors at the exhibition opening were impressed. "The idea is excellent, its appeal is mainly due to the dispassionate gaze of the artist. A lot of these buildings have even been deprived of ornamentation, as their Jewish symbols have been hacked off," said one.

The exhibition will remain in £ód¼ until March 1, moving on to Poznañ, then Israel in June, and then to the Jewish Museum in Paris at the turn of September and October, says gallery director Jacek Michalak. "It'll be in Chemnitz [Germany] a year from now in Feb. 2010. I have no doubt that there are other places in store."

Maria Sondej

Atlas Sztuki Gallery, 114/116 Piotrkowska St., £ód¼, tel. (0-42) 632 77 50, ww.atlassztuki.pl, Tue.-Fri. 4 p.m.-8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., free admission; until March 3
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