So, my Fulbright is officially over.

This year has been incredible– it was hard at times, but I have seen and have learned so much just in this one year. And most importantly– not to sound cheesy– I  learned a lot about myself. I have most definitely become more independent. And although I missed my family very much, I was able to spend time with my family here, in Poland. Visiting them for a few weeks over the summer every couple of years was quite different than popping by for the weekend a few times a month! For this opportunity, I am especially grateful. I always wanted to have a big family–I just didn’t realize I already had one… they were just so far away.

In terms of my project, it may not have turned out exactly as I had imagined, but what I accomplished in its stead was just as great, I think. There were even a few unexpected surprises along the way. My work was part of 4 exhibitions– one in Warsaw, two in Łódź, one in Berlin. I met many accomplished artists (and was personally instructed by two of them), I met with the foremost art historian when it comes to contemporary textile art (Prof. Irena Huml), and was witness to new and exciting work as part of national and international exhibitions. I made friends, who I will be sad to leave. I will miss this city, too, which I have grown to love, despite first impressions. I will always have fond memories of this year: of the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen, the people I’ve known. I count myself very fortunate for this chance and I hope to carry on with the same spirit of adventure in the future.

2009-2010 U.S. Fulbright Grantees

U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Lee Feinstein

P.S. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop posting on my blog… I’ll still be in Poland for the summer– minus a week’s vacation in Italy and a two week stint back to the USA for another student visa– this time to Italy for a Master’s program in Interdisciplinary Research and Study on Eastern Europe (MIREES) at the University of Bologna, at Forli… I smell a change in blog title…

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Today — June 20th, 2010 — marked election day in Poland. After the sudden and unexpected death of Lech Kaczyński on April 10, 2010, the world’s second oldest constitution (after that of the United States) called for the Marshal of the Sejm–thereafter Acting President–to declare an election date within two weeks. The election would then take place within the next 60 days. June 20th marked this day.

Polls opened at 6am and the last votes were cast at 8pm. The initial survey results were then publicized.

As of now, according to TVP (the Fox equivalent in Poland),  Bronisław Komorowski (Acting President, Platforma Obywatelska candidate) received 40.7% while Jarosław Kaczyński (twin brother of the former president, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość candidate) received 35.8%.

According to TVN (the NBC equivalent in Poland), Komorowski received 45.7% and Kaczyński received 33.2%.

Results will undoubtedly change after actual counting takes place.

Without any candidate receiving a clear majority of votes, a second round of voting will take place in two weeks– on July 4th.

With more than 30 million of Poland’s 38 million citizens who are registered to vote, voter turnout was only 54.4%.

Another absolutely amazing exhibition that accompanied the Tapestry Triennial here in Łódź was called “Framework…/W Ramach…”– showing the works of Włodzimierz Cygan. I was absolutely floored by this exhibition. The opening was on Monday night– the same day as the opening of the International Tapestry Triennial, the Polish National Tapestry Exhibition, and the Polish National Exhibition of Textile Miniatures at the Central Museum of Textiles. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day and wasn’t even planning on going to see “Framework.” However, after having dinner with Professor Lidia Choczaj and her visiting textile artist friend, Teresa Albor, I decided to head over to see the exhibition. Professor Choczaj and I got there quite early– in fact, we were the first visitors at the gallery! And since Professor Choczaj is friends with Włodzimierz Cygan (who also happens to be recent addition to the faculty of the Academy of Fine Arts, Łódź), I got to meet him before the crowds descended upon him.

I didn’t know much about his work, except that he had won the Grand Prix at the last edition of the International Tapestry Triennial.  (This year, he was one of the judges of the triennial.) Already an accomplishment in its own right, this solo exhibition was his way of showing the rest of his work– with which people might not be familiar. The exhibition featured his incredible gobelin weavings, as well as digitally printed images of the work. His idea was to see people’s reaction to his exhibiting them together: weavings that took a year to create, next to images that took 12 minutes to print. To which would people be more drawn? For me, it was definitely the weavings. They were so elegant, so quiet. Natural colors: black, cream, beige. But technically they are revolutionary. Włodzimierz Cygan created a new technique–what he’s entitled “circular weaving”– in which the warp is no longer trapped in its stationary vertical position. In his works, the warp has as much freedom as the weft threads; it can run diagonally, sideways, etc. “Framework” was the first time that Cygan exhibited his weavings in the actual frames on which they were woven. And indeed, rather than running vertically as they do traditionally, they run radially. Absolutely incredible. I’m so glad I ended up coming to see this exhibition. Cygan’s works are very important in the realm of weaving.

The weavings were exhibited at Gallery PATIO, in what was once a factory. The raw interiors, with their exposed bricks and high, arched windows were so appropriate for exhibiting Cygan’s pieces. Definitely added to the overall mood. Please check out Włodzimierz Cygan’s great website as well.

I wanted to post pictures from a very special accompanying exhibition to the 13th edition of the International Tapestry Triennial.

“Presence” (Obecność) presents the works of Lidia Choczaj and Andrzej Rajch (1948-2009). I joined Professor Choczaj’s Experimental Textiles Studio at the Academy of Fine Arts at the beginning of the second semester, and have grown to appreciate her unique approach to teaching and creating textile art. Her own work features unconventional materials including glass, fishing line, paper, etc. This experimentation in her own work is then brought into the classroom, as a teacher. I have seen fellow students using balloons, metal nuts and bolts, paper, wooden veneer, etc. The creativity she inspires in her students in amazing and is only encouraged by her positive attitude and warm personality. Her work in this exhibition is being shown together with that of Andrzej Rajch, who for many years worked as head of the Textiles Department at the academy. Professor Rajch passed away last year and this exhibition is a celebration of his creative output. The work of both artists came together spectacularly in this gallery (Ośrodek Propagandy Sztuki).

Lidia Choczaj's jacquards suspended from the gallery's ceiling

Lidia Choczaj's incredible piece made from glass and ribbon

Lidia Choczaj

Far right: wife of the late Andrzej Rajch, to her left: Lidia Choczaj.

Lidia Choczaj

Lidia Choczaj

Lidia Choczaj

Lidia Choczaj

Lidia Choczaj

Andrzej Rajch (in front, Małgorzata Wróblewska-Markiewicz: Head of the Department of Artistic Textiles at the Central Museum of Texiles.)

Andrzej Rajch: gobelin

Andrzej Rajch: jacquard

Andrzej Rajch: jacquard

Andrzej Rajch

So, this week is basically one big textile party. 2010 marks the 13th edition of the International Tapestry Triennial, being held here in Łódź, at the Central Museum of Textiles.

It’s the only kind of tapestry exhibition of its kind left in the world. (The first was in Lausanne, Switzerland and the next was in Kyoto, Japan.) The opening was on Monday and the exhibition, itself, was held in the museum’s ultra-modern wing.

130 artists from 51 countries took part in the exhibition. The Grand Prix winner was Anne-Gry Løland (Norway) for “Monuments.” It was pretty cool– pieces of fabric were stitched into a netting to create one big floating, netted picture. Hard to explain, but take a look.

The two silver medalists were Kari Dyrdal (Norway) for “The History of Jacquard-lingo”

and Izabel Wyrwa (Poland) for her incredible piece, “Something in the air.”

The three bronze medalists were:

Peter Horn (Germany) for his piece, “Orion Nebula”

Dzintra Vilks (Lithuania) for her piece, “A Meeting of the World Torn by Winds”

and Konrad Zych (Poland) for his piece, “Penetration.”

Remember Zygmunt Łukaszewicz? He taught me everything I know about gobelin weaving. Well, he got the Central Museum of Textiles Medal!! His gobelin was absolutely beautiful–so bold. Sort of a Georgia O’Keefe-esque closeup of a flower, but more akin to a landscape of sorts.

The Award of the Union of Polish Artists “Polish Applied Arts” went to Lia Altman (Russia) for her piece, “Clear Sky.” Definitely caught my eye– given my interest in social/political history… well, and technically it was amazing– all those dudes are woven.

The AKAPI Foundation Award for the best debut of an artist at the 13th Tapestry Triennial went to Paweł Kiełpiński (Poland) for his untitled piece.

There were also numerous honorable mentions:
“The Burning III” by Regina V. Benson (USA)

“Towards the top,”  by T. Doromby Mária (Hungary)

“Exploding figure,” by Stephen Hunter (United Kingdom). (This piece was made from wooden dowels bound together/wrapped with black iron binding wire, suspended in the air.)

“Track II” by Andy Klančič (Slovenia.) This was made of wire held together with thread. It was so beautifully quiet– like a floating pencil drawing.

“And afterall, Blue” by Ewa Żychska Latkowska (Poland) ***Professor of the Papermaking Studio at my school!!***

“Spring Love” by Maximo Laura (Peru)

“My road- Relief” by Piotr Rędziniak (Poland)

There will definitely be follow-up posts about the triennial. This is just an intro. The opening was so chaotic and packed full of people– it was hard to give each piece the attention it deserved. Plus, there were 130 of them.

Here’s a selection of pictures from the 3rd (top) floor of the exhibition… more to follow.

This piece was absolutely incredible– embroidered car doors by Severija Inčirauskaitė – Kriaunevičienė of Lithuania. She punched holes in old car doors and cross-stitched into them.

The next piece is by Chika Ohgi of Japan. It’s entitled “Vague Sense of Distance.” Really cool and so powerful.

The next piece, “Eve, Ava, Marguerite, Salome” is by Virpi Vesanen-Laukkanen of Finland. Corsets made from candy wrappers.

The museum also organized the 11th edition of the Polish National Exhibition of Tapestry. Two assistants from my school (the Academy of Fine Arts, here in Łódź) took part in it!! Dominika Krogulska-Czekalska (assistant to Prof. dr hab. Lidia Choczaj in the Experimental Textiles Studio) had her piece, “Creative Disintegration of Structure-Garland DNA” displayed.

And Magda Soboń, assistant to Professor Ewa Latkowska-Żyska in the Papermaking Studio, had her huge black “Sun” exhibited as well. 

I will be posting more pictures from this exhibit soon!

The museum also organized the 9th edition of the Polish National Exhibition of Textile Miniatures. Iza Walczak, assistant to Professor Jolanta Rudzka Habisiak of the Carpet and Gobelin Studio, had one of her miniatures on display!

Look out for future posts about the accompanying exhibitions to the Tapestry Triennial!!!

Leszek Balcerowicz (pronounced bal-tse-ro-veech) is a Polish economist. As Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Poland from 1989-92 he introduced a series of sweeping reforms that brought Poland’s hyperinflation under control and balance to the national budget. However, he remains a controversial figure in Polish history. His “Balcerowicz Plan” was introduced on January 1, 1990 and soon led to a serious collapse in living standards and sparked industrial unrest. Considering him a liability, Lech Wałęsa (first Polish President after the fall of Communism) pushed him out of office in ’92. Nonetheless, Balcerowicz’s ‘economic shock therapy’ program succeeded in stabilizing the currency and introducing the first stage of marketization in Poland. In addition, he had tried something that had never been done before: the first comprehensive implementation of market reform in a postcommunist country.

Having written papers about his shock therapy program, and reading a lot about his economic reform policies, I had to go hear him speak at the University of Łódź. His lecture was called Kryzys: przyczyny, skutki, wnioski (The crisis: causes, effects, solutions).

The lecture was held at UŁ’s Department of Law and Administration building – their newest addition to the university. It’s architecturally stunning. The lecture was very interesting, with the Greek economic crisis as a main topic. As a speaker, Balcerowicz is strong, forceful, organized, but humorous – entertaining and interesting at the same time. One lady asked what managers of businesses can do to safeguard themselves from the crisis. This was actually part of a larger question, and Balcerowicz didn’t end up answering it. So, the lady asked the same question again at the end of the discussion panel- to which he replied, “Mental determination? I don’t know. I’m interested in things that you can prove empirically, with numbers and quantities, so when I get a general question like that, my answer is also general.” I thought this was hilarious… he is such an economist.

But his most important point in the lecture was that Poland’s upcoming presidential election will definitely have an effect on its economy. He said that even though Poland was the only European country with positive GDP growth (1.8%) in 2010, it must make sure to elect a fiscal conservative on June 20th. The most important lesson Poland can learn from the Greek crisis, and what’s been going on in other European countries, is to make the right choice in voting – that voting will make the biggest difference. He warned against “Santa Claus politicians” who will make empty promises; he stressed that what’s necessary in these times is a fiscal conservative.

He also touched upon a subject that I’ve become interested in during my year in Poland: the retirement age. The fact that women are eligible for retirement at 60 and men at 65 is an economic, as well as a moral and ethical, problem. The longer people work, the longer they pay taxes, the more revenue the country receives. I totally agree with this point. Workers of some professions are eligible for a state pension after only 15 years of employment. Ridiculous. Let me illustrate the absurdity of this: a 25 year-old firefighter will be retired at the age of 40.

At any rate, the lecture was very good – slightly oversimplified, but straightforward and to-the-point. I like this guy.

Now that the initial paralysis brought on by the Smoleńsk tragedy has subsided, the sober reality of investigations, conspiracy theories, and electoral campaigns has set in. Yet, there are certain aspects of the plane crash that still need to be sorted out. And 20 days after seems a bit late in coming for most Poles.

Three black boxes were recovered from the crash site, two of which are still being examined in Moscow by Russian investigators and Col. Zbignew Rzepa from the Polish Supreme Military Prosecutor’s Office. Poland has repeatedly pressed Russia to hand over the black boxes, the contents of which contain flight parameters and voice recordings of the last thirty minutes of the flight (including the pilots’ conversations with the control tower on the ground). Needless to say, the contents of the boxes have not yet been released to the press… and as most Poles believe, never will be.

Yesterday, four hypotheses for the cause of the crash were officially presented by Polish prosecutors: 1. technical difficulties with the plane; 2. pilot error; 3. organizational problems with the flight – including miscommunication with controllers on the ground; and 4. pressure from passengers to land, despite atmospheric conditions. A terrorist act was all but ruled out by the official investigation, and technical difficulties were deemed unlikely. This leaves miscommunication with controllers the ground and pressure from passengers as the most likely causes of the accident. However, the validation/discrediting of both of these theories goes back to the black boxes, which would have recorded communications on board. And so (forgive the cliché) – a vicious circle has begun.

In terms of conspiracy theories: can you really blame the Poles? I guess in some respects, yes. I encountered many a suspicious reaction right after the crash, when emotions were still raw and unfiltered by rationality. “The President died in a plane crash? In RUSSIA?!” On the other hand, this is not the first time the dead body of a Polish President has flown back from Russia: Bolesław Bierut died under “mysterious” circumstances during a political visit to the Soviet Union in 1956. (It was widely speculated that he was poisoned.) Many Poles also cite the fact that all cameras and filming devices were immediately confiscated at the crash site. The first offcial images were released when rescue crews were already on-site, hosing down steaming pieces of debris. In response to this, I guess it’s appropriate to cite Saddam Hussein’s execution and the controversy over what a cell phone can capture on video. However, in this case, amateur video was captured at the Smolensk crash site and is being investigated by experts. (Most controversial in the video is the lack of ‘dense fog’ and the gunshots heard in the background.) A Belarusian reporter also took photos a few hours after the crash, capturing uniformed military personnel changing lightbulbs that light the runway strip at the Smolensk airport. Whether the originals were necessary to the investigators, or if it was an attempt to cover up some sort of inadequacy, is uncertain. But once these conspiracy theories begin, they can go on forever…

The investigation, itself, will go on for quite a while. Seventy witnesses are being interviewed, personal items of those onboard the president’s flight are being examined (cell phones, laptops, etc.), pieces of the plane have been reconstructed to analyze and test, not to mention those black boxes…

At any rate, it has been very interesting within the last week or so to witness the uncertainty of how to approach the upcoming presidential elections – scheduled for June 20. According to the Polish Constitution (this Monday, May 3rd is actually Constitution Day in Poland and a national holiday), upon the death of the President, the Marshal of the Sejm (=Speaker of Parliament) becomes Acting President–in this case, Bronisław Komorowski–and is required to declare an election date within two weeks. The election must then take place within the next 6o days.

And so, the late President Kaczyński’s national-conservative political party, PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, Law and Justice) put forth its candidate at the last moment – right before the April 26th deadline: Jarosław Kaczyński, the late President’s twin brother/former Prime Minister of Poland  from 2006-2007/ current chairman of PiS.

His main rival in the election is Acting President Bronisław Komorowski, vice-chairman of the liberal-conservative PO (Platforma Obywatelska, Civic Platform Party)/Polish Minister of National Defense from 2000-2001/Vice-Marshal of the Sejm (lower chamber of the Polish parliament) from 2005-2007/Marshal of the Sejm from 2007-2010. Komorowski’s candidacy has been endorsed by Lech Wałęsa, leader of the Solidarity movement and first President of Poland (from 1990-1995) after the fall of Communism.

[It is important to note that Wałęsa and the late Kaczyński were on bad terms at the time of his death. The two worked side by side during the Solidarity movement, but fell out afterwards. Wałęsa went on to sue Kaczyński over allegations that he secretly collaborated with the SB (Służba Bezpieczeństwa, Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs)– the internal intelligence agency and secret police established in Communist Poland in 1956 mainly responsible for political repression.]

Kaczyński’s candidacy is quite controversial. Many opponents (particularly the PO party) say he will be riding on sympathy votes, politically exploiting the Smoleńsk tragedy. Marta Kaczyńska, daughter of the deceased President has even joined his campaign, agreeing to appear on billboards to endorse her uncle’s bid for the presidency. What seems like a natural choice for president to some (if not many) Poles has unfortunately reawakened the age-old sharp elbowing, ever present (it seems)  in Polish politics.