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Mail from Grzegorz #3


A monthly blog by Grzegorz Reske, the new artistic director of SPRING

A monthly blog by Grzegorz Reske, the new artistic director of SPRING

It has been quite a while since I planned a new entry for my SPRING blog. And the topic I’d planned was completely different. But 24 February changed the scope and dynamic of the topic, and my perspective on it.

I am writing these words as the invasion of the Russian Federation army on Ukraine moves into its third week. I don’t know what the situation will be when this text comes back from translation, or when it is published on the website. I can only pray that Ukraine will stand in resistance, and that there will be no more grim news from there.

I have spent these last two weeks in growing schizophrenia between the reality on my social media and the reality outside my window. I moved to the Netherlands from eastern Poland, and over the past years I’ve travelled across Ukraine many times, for art related reasons and non-art related ones. The reality of war takes on a different dimension when the pictures of ruined buildings are actually places you once visited; when the faces of the people fleeing the horrors of war, or those of the unfortunate victims, are the faces of your friends. Your response to the violence of the invasion, to the horror of the refugees and the absurdity of war – all of these are much more personal. And between anxiety about the lives of friends, and anger towards the aggressors, reflection grows. Did we do all we could to avoid this war? ‘We’ meaning European society, the artistic community? Is our response today different from our responses to other wars that we’ve observed from a distance over the last decades? Is our fear bigger this time, because the bombs are falling much too close to our safe and comfortable houses? Is this war any different from all the other wars? Or is it rooted like all others in the still-not-accomplished postcolonial reality and the comfortable wealth of the western world?

I don’t have any smart answers on how to react to today’s tragedy. As much as we manifest our partnership with the Ukrainian community and stress the place of Ukraine in European society – we did not listen carefully enough to Ukrainian artists. If we had, we would have heard their fear of the coming terror. And also, had we looked carefully into Ukrainian culture, we wouldn’t be so surprised by their determination and resistance.

We turn away from misery and terror, yet war is more a reality then an exception. Who wants to remember the victims of the Balkan Wars? The annexation of the Crimea? Or the underground terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and London, or state terrorist actions in London or Berlin (the last two orchestrated by the same decision makers sending troops to Kyiv today).

No matter how difficult it is to think about art in times of war, I believe art hasn’t lost its transgressive power. We may have forgotten how to use it, but it is still there. We desperately need to look for narratives that explain, warn and offer solutions. And we need artists who are deeply rooted in our communities, to help us name the dangers and practice hope. They will help us understand ourselves, by understanding our neighbours. Partnerships with such artists have always been among the goals of SPRING, and I truly believe we need even more such partnerships in the near future. We need to understand what Europe is, what the world is, today when Ukraine is fighting to hold onto European values.

And even though we cannot predict the state of the world within the next eight weeks, I hope the upcoming SPRING festival will also be an opportunity to discuss how to do it together. For the sake of those values, people in Ukraine (as well as so many other places around the world) are giving too many of their lives.

Picture by Anna van Kooij


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