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The Warsaw Voice » Stage & Screen » December 30, 2016
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Warsaw and Berlin: Partners in Art
December 30, 2016   
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As Warsaw and Berlin celebrate 25 years of official partnership, their thriving artistic communities are looking to make the most of the two cities’ unique mix of art, politics and culture.

Following a decades-long split between the East and West, Berlin has for years drawn artists with a magnetic pull. Sometimes nicknamed the “Silicon Valley” of Europe’s creative industries, it was once described as “poor but sexy” by the city’s former longtime mayor Klaus Wowereit. The phrase has since become Berlin’s unofficial motto.

The city’s multicultural vibe is a natural setting for hipster hangouts and for a peaceful coexistence of squats and gentrified quarters. Berlin is the adopted hometown of world-famous artists such as Chinese writer Ai Weiwei and Danish-Icelandic visual artist Ólafur Elíasson, and it is also home to internationally-acclaimed Polish German painters Roman Lipski and Sławomir Elsner.

Similarities attract
Some of the strongest ties between Warsaw and Berlin hinge on limitless possibilities, a shared history and a reputation as pioneering cities. To many artists from Poland, Berlin is a window through which they can see global developments in art. Frequent guests to Berlin’s culture centers include Polish writer Dorota Masłowska, poet Adam Zagajewski and painter Joanna Rajkowska. Polish culture in Germany has its informal headquarters in Berlin venues such as the Polish Losers’ Club, the ˚ak-Branicka Gallery and the Buch I Bund bookstore with Polish and German books.

Polish artists are keen to exhibit their work in Berlin, which is home to almost 500 national and international galleries, according to culture insider and manager Andrzej Raszyk. “Warsaw has no more than 25 such galleries,” says Raszyk. “The Berlin Gallery Weekend is held at 53 galleries, while the Warsaw Gallery Weekend, its younger counterpart, is held at 23.”

Raszyk is the manager of berlinerpool.com, an organization that supports artists. This autumn it has invited Polish visual artist Norbert Delman to exhibit his work in Berlin.

Berlinerpool.com is a partner of the TU Foundation for Public Space Research whose WRSW|BRLN program enables Berlin-based artists to go on study visits to Warsaw.

According to the foundation’s Joanna Turek, Berlin never ceases to inspire people. “We want Warsaw to become a place like that as well,” says Turek. “There’s a lot to be done in this department, and we have been working hard to catch up with Berlin. It is not about imitating Berlin, but about taking advantage of its distinctive feel.” The foundation launched its Warsaw-Berlin artist exchange program thanks to public funding. It has also received public funds for an event called 291: The Dynamics of Chaos, which was held at the Academia Theater in Warsaw in September. The event was inspired by Dadaism and featured artists and performers from both Warsaw and Berlin. Their performances and visual installations will be later brought to Berlin.

Visual artist Marcelina Wellmer, who was involved in the 291: The Dynamics of Chaos project, says it marked her comeback to Warsaw after an absence of eight years. “I was surprised to see how rapidly the city had developed,” she says. “There are many dedicated people here who are eager to make a difference.”

Brought to Warsaw by the TU Foundation, Wellmer created a unique sound map of the two capitals. “Warsaw is the busier one with more car horns and ambulance sirens,” says Wellmer. “But it still seems quieter because Varsovians talk more quietly in the streets and on public transportation. You get to hear women’s laughter more frequently in Warsaw, while in Berlin there is more clanking silverware.”

Polish and German artists alike make historical references in their work, but they are nevertheless most interested in universal issues. They feel a stronger connection with the international art scene rather than Poland and Germany’s shared historical heritage. The Polish-German discourse is usually explored by the “new intermediaries,” who are young German artists of Polish descent.

The 25th anniversary of the Warsaw-Berlin partnership can further stimulate networking within the two cities’ art communities as new funds have been made available for projects from public coffers as well as the Foundation for Polish-German Exchange.

Magdalena Szaniawska from Berlin
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