Interview with Edyta Kozak (Fundacja Cialo/Umysl)
Interview with Edyta Kozak (Fundacja Cialo/Umysl)

The concept of the curator has become in recent years more and more influential. Therefore, apap decided to put more focus on the curators involved in the network and entice a discussion about their views on the role of contemporary performance in art, society and economy.

We already talked with Sven Åge Birkeland, artistic director of BIT Teatergarasjen and Barbara Boninsegna, artistic director of Centrale Fies in Dro / Italy about this topic. In terms of Performing New Europe we are continuing the short Q&A with Angela Glechner, artistic director of SZENE salzburg / Austria and with Omar Rajeh and Mia Habis, artistic directors of our associated partner Maqamat/Beit El Raqs and BIPOD Festival in Lebanon, Beirut and Ludger Orlok, artistic director of Tanzfabrik Berlin / Germnany and Agnes Quackels, artistic director of Kunstencentrum BUDA / Kortrijk Belgium.

This time Edyta Kozak, artistic director of Fundacja Cialo/Umysl, Warsaw, answers the questions.

As a performing arts curator, what do you feel the role of contemporary performance is nowadays in art, society and economy?
There is no single answer to this question as there is a whole range of different possibilities. Art today is just as littered as the Internet.
You can find everything there, so as a curator you need to know how to select – and that requires a lot of work. No algorithms have been discovered so far which would help you to navigate through this rubbish and filter out the works of genius from the less valuable multitude.
This mass popularization of art makes it difficult to embrace it all and easy to get stuck. That is why I perceive my role of a curator as somewhat of a cat that treads on new ground, someone who points out some new phenomena, and turns on the light where there was nothing but darkness before.
Performative arts provide excellent means for expressing oneself, explaining both the inner and outer world, interpreting the language of not only other disciplines and sciences but also politics and social movements. What seems to be of the most importance for me is that they allow you to shape the today’s world, soften the discourse and indicate the less authoritative and forceful models, as well as to act courageously and stand up for freedom.
Contemporary performance is a fantastic medium, at times difficult and yet the most interesting for me. It is extremely capacious and can absorb other disciplines of art such as film, text, dance, visual arts or music, it can also become a lecture or take any other form or shape – that is what makes is so powerful.
Thanks to the fact that I don’t need to build up the identity of one institution anymore, I have greater freedom of choice and can select the works and subjects that are important for me.
Before, I was mainly interested in radical and explicit attitudes. Later on my craving for expression was replaced by a need for contact with some less conspicuous strategies. Today I trust my body and whenever I watch some piece of work which gives me goose bumps, a certain desire to share it with others appears. It is like exchange of goods or sharing economy. I curate in a peaceful way. For me it is almost like providing humanitarian aid for artistic expressions that I find important. I therefore make my choices not as a result of some scheming or manipulations but rather my based on my personal feelings and experience. The manipulation comes only at the time when I start thinking how to present them and make them happen in Warsaw.
I have also asked my children (Kasia, 21, and Filip, 22) why they go to see a performance and what makes it different from any other events in which they participate.
They say that a contemporary performance should fulfill at least one of the five conditions: it needs to emotionally move them, provide a comment on contemporary world, provoke reflection. Having a chance to meet another human being on stage is also important for them, as people are less and less visible in today’s predominantly virtual world. They hope to find beauty, which is becoming so scarce in their everyday lives, in it, too. These are the reasons why they participate in contemporary performances. I myself very much like the fact that they claim to miss beauty in life.

How does the context of PE and C/U produce an added value and impact for the apap network?
I see it in, among others, the presence of Polish artists in apap network. Their work is set within a broader context of what is happening now in Poland. It deals with conservative values and religious upbringing, joins a heated discussion on the limits of one’s freedom. This is one of the key concepts strongly related to the history of Poland that we are especially sensitive to. The artists‘ approach to this issue is unique on a European scale. That is why Marta Górnicka’s choir, for example, can contribute more to the debate on the European values than many political speeches. At the same time, whenever we watch or listen to the foreign artists from apap network performing in Poland, we realize that the things the politicians say to us are not the only truths about e.g. complicated immigration or post-colonial policies but rather some political delusions. So when we meet artists from different cultures or disciplines of art, we make an effort to absorb their creative output that we normally do not come across on everyday basis, we strive to comprehend and interpret it, pass its message on and initiate a discourse on it. I was deeply moved to watch a petite yet muscular Christina Ciupke who danced for a couple of hours every day, for 3 days, on a Persian carpet in the foyer of Polin Museum in Warsaw – museum of the history of Polish Jews. A German with Polish roots was becoming more and more of an intercessor of the absent ones with every hour she danced, she “mediated” and healed the relations. The histories as if merged into one. At such moments we trespass the concepts… we start to notice each other.

How do you feel audiences should engage with contemporary performance?
Today a viewer is a hostage to an artist, who does everything in order to unhinge him or her. That’s why we should ask ourselves a question why we want to engage our audience? Is it a requirement of the institution financing our activities or maybe it results from the joy or desire to verify some kind of closer relation between an author and spectator? All this can sometimes lead to various misunderstandings. The viewers are distrustful since they don’t want to participate in something which may turn out to be “dangerous“ or embarrassing for them. It would be much easier to engage conscious audience, and that is why education is so crucial, although it poses a lot of challenges and demands creative involvement.
One of my favorite forms of engagement is shared participation. The key role in it, as I see it, belongs to the creators and less to the audience. They can appeal to the viewers in a wise manner. A form which in my opinion still waits to be discovered is a “therapy”. That’s where I see a huge potential. No matter how dumb or old-fashioned it sounds. These works that are aware of the spectator’s presence have the greatest chance to engage him/her truly and personally. All this happens on a different, much deeper level. The essence of the relation between an artist and a viewer is the relation of the active dialogue. A viewer is not some kind of a spirit visiting a theatre but a living human being, so if an artist wants to use me, as a spectator, for his artistic purposes, I’ll pass, but if he or she plans to invite me to a sincere dialogue, I’ll let him or her seduce me.

Edyta Kozak is a choreographer, curator, producer. She graduated the State Ballet School and the Academy of Music in Warsaw. A former soloist at the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw and the Stadttheater in Bern. She is one of the most spectacular examples of abandoning classical ballet and taking up  contemporary dance and ist various experimental and non-dance conceptual forms. For over 20 years, she has created, developed and shaken the dance scene in Warsaw.