After arriving in Lviv, we met our hosts in a cafe where among the portraits of the old Armenian city dwellers, we go through the details of the schedule. Though many people describe Lviv as one of the most Polish cities in terms of atmosphere and character, the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are still very deeply rooted, not least in the strudel. Under the gaze of Siergei Paradżanow, we discussed the forthcoming presentations and participant project proposals, some seventeen in all. This area was known as a strong Armenian neighbourhood, with the Armenian presence in Western Ukraine dating back nearly 1000 years. The Armenian Cathedral in the city dates back over 600 years, just one aspect of the rich multicultural aspect of this place.
The opening session in the evening was held in The Centre for Urban History of East Central Europe where Krzysztof Czyżewski presented the ideas behind the work of Borderland over the years and good practice in terms of building community.
You can view a film of the lecture here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQiWe0vMyOE&feature=youtu.be
You can find some other details in this Russian text: http://zbruc.eu/node/14906
He explained in some detail how, as theatre practitioners, their original inspiration came their experience of working with alternative theatre – in particular, Jerzy Grotowski’s experimental theatre and the theatrical laboratory of Eugenio Barba, as well as in the Polish avant garde theatre Gardzienice.
Some key concepts and contexts he covered in his presentation:
The idea of the counter-culture – as for many European artists, inspiration could be found in the strong counterculture of 60’s/70’s America. Much of it emanating from migrants – as an example Krzysztof gave the work of Jonas Mekas and his work in Soho which was born in that area of New York, concentrating on small communities and neighborhoods – “an archipelago of islands” – looking for a dimension of commonality, and of narration.
The idea of the Borderland – as a place where diversity and memory are still alive. In the particular context of Borderland as a group, in their early days as theatre practitioners they went out from the cities into the rural fringes of Poland, searching for the remnants of authentic culture and hidden and almost almost forgotten stories – those aspects to uncover, preserve and revitilise through performance.
But a problem they encountered was the very framework of the expedition itself: going somewhere, staying for a short time, collecting stories, performing, leaving. For the Borderlanders they eventually made a conscious decision to stay in a concrete, chosen place – this was Sejny – working for a long time with the local community. “We did not want to be a museum but an alive place”. Krzysztof stated that their experience over the years showed that you do not have to compromise quality or high artistic level while working with local community or with children and those who do not define themselves as ‘professional artists’. For example, Kroniki Sejneńskie – Sejny Chronicles.
Krzysztof then spoke of some initiatives of the Borderland Centre and Foundation:
– as a centre of documentation where important, sometimes painful works are produced. For example, Jan Tomasz Gross’s book on the Jedwabne massacre.
– as publishing house, producing journals such as Krasnogruda, Almanach Sejeński.
– as a musical centre with Sejneńska Spółdzielnia Jazzowa.
– as a theatre workshop for children and young people, with Sejny Chronicles.
– as an International Centre for Dialogue in Krasnogruda, bringing together a wide range artists, cultural practitioners, academics, educationalists, creating new and vital networks.
He then spoke about the concept of “deep culture” and its significance in the context of large urban realms. Krzysztof expressed his conviction that the kind of work done in Sejny can and should be undertaken in these city environments and that this would help neutralise the oppositions between the high and low culture, official and unofficial culture, resistance and working within the system. He spoke of the work in this respect in Wrocław, where the city was collaborating with artists in order to create a new space for social renewal, creating a vehicle for change.
The presentation ended with a short introduction by Weronika and Agnieszka about the ongoing work of the Borderland School and the potential project developments for 2014. These local workshops are dedicated to working with small teams of people to help develop and define both realistic and exciting cultural projects. Participants then took part in an inaugural dinner at Hotel George where they got to know each other in the special atmosphere of the century old ball room.