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Interview with Turkowski & Nowacka, artists from collection of


Janek Turkowski and Iwona Nowacka are artists based in Poland who have been working together since 2013. Annika Hilger, SPRING Academy trainee, interviewed the duo about ‘collection of’.

What has the journey of “collection of” been like for you so far?

“We travelled with 28 boxes of slides to Dresden, Leeuwarden, Brussels, Leiden and Utrecht. We try to feel the weight of the medium we deal with in that project, its material status, which determines the way we watch or share it with others. We try to be open and wait for incidents happening during the process. We collect those incidents and try to take the audience on the road marked by those real incidents, which happened, letting them experience the ‘weight’ and what could come if you follow or decide not to. Every meeting with the audience has a lot of impact on our works and we never finish the work after the premiere. Then a new chapter begins, and the new actions in this chapter will be a consequence of the meeting with the Utrecht audience.”

How do the aspects of “truth” and telling another person’s story come into play when you are given a personal archive? And, because I read it often about your practice, which role does humour play?

“It is actually the first time we are given an archive by somebody who was close to the creator of it who specifically expressed the wish that we as artists would do something about it. Paradoxically it can be more difficult. Of course you have access to the family and can ask all the questions directly, but this takes away a lot of space for speculation. There are also some expectations. Maybe not expressed or projected by us? We try to escape from obvious lines, to turn somewhere unexpected, for us and for the audience. And about humour: well, we can’t really live without it, it is part of our nature. Because we sometimes touch on difficult topics, we try to balance them through humour which doesn’t make them less serious. On the contrary, humour can make them more complex and deeper.”

Why have you chosen the stage as your medium to tell these stories?

“Very often we perform in shops, offices, private houses, markets, factories, and we even prefer that. Everything can be a stage. We always tell these stories in front of very limited groups of people to keep it intimate. So maybe we could say we chose the medium of a meeting. Some people ask us, if we wouldn’t like to make a movie out of some of our projects, but we have the feeling our presence is important there as witnesses of the story, as deliverers, and also as the responsible ones. We take care of the story, every time it is being told. Sometimes we call it a cinema that watches you. Maybe this is a description of our medium.”

Why do you think humans collect? And are you collectors?

“Collecting is a very interesting human behaviour. It can be very rational but also quite absurd. When you ask, if we are collectors, we would say: every person is one. We all collect memories, pictures and other data on our computers and phones. The word ‘collection’ means eventually a group of objects (or even people). So we gain many of such groups over our lifetime. There are collections worth a lot, or not worth anything in the eyes of others, but extraordinary for the collectors themselves. Some collections require displacing things, some collections are not in the right hands and should be given back. Collections age in a different way. Some archaeological studies suggest that already individuals in the middle palaeolithic age had personal collections of valued objects, which could serve as life-support, means of trading, basis for community and communication and a mechanism of self-identity. A collection is also a sign for continuity, what can be some kind of a refuge in this fragmented world.”

If we speculate about the future of performing arts, what does it look like?

“It looks bright! But seriously, we think the performing arts can survive. We don’t believe in these negative scenarios, in which people don’t need them anymore. We can see how many years and obstacles performing arts survived till now and that they were always needed. For sure there will be more challenges, of ethical, financial, environmental, or simply ‘cognitive’ nature. Maybe we can imagine going back to the origins and ask “what is the absolute needed minimum to be able to perform my act?” Maybe due to the scattered, fragmented versions of realities people will seek for more coherent narrations built on continuity or forms. Anyway, the advantage of this medium is liveness and people will long for it even more in this automated world.”


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