Tag Archives: Poland

Leaving for Poland – Part 2 of 2

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It is roughly 8.50am and I am rising steeply and quickly into the sky.

The air outside my window is foggy and as we take off the land becomes almost completely invisible in a matter of seconds. Instead of the land then, I focus on the wings of our craft. Its simply incredible that these flimsy pieces of metal can lift and then hold us miles above the ground as they do. Watching them move and retract in that mechanical, robot-like way, I can’t help but visualise a Gundam model kit that I’ve been working on at home. It’s that sort of high-tech/lo-tech aesthetic. Something that came from the future but looks a hundred years old.

After a few minutes of grey wind and turbulence the sky suddenly brightens and the air clears. Blue sky reflects off of the wings and sun beams through the windows. I peer down out of the window and all I can see is an impenetrable ocean of cloud, a sheet so dense it looks as if you could walk on it. Above us, there are yet more aircrafts flying even higher than us, leaving a trail of visible air behind them.

I love flying. I don’t think I could ever grow tired of looking down at the clouds and feeling as though I’m a part of another world previously forbidden to humans. Or looking through the occasional breaks in the cloud cover at our land, which looks like a strange collage from way up here. A patchwork blanket of field, woodland, city and lake. I always sort of imagine myself, at this point, dissolving through my chair and the plane floor and tumbling back down to Earth. Through cold, wet, tangible cloud, cushioned by the speeding air and brought down, in free fall, to the soft ground. In my head this is a calming, meditative and almost enlightening experience, I suppose in actuality it would be kind of weird, then terrifying and ultimately very messy…

Just now I saw a wind farm in the distance. Obscured by cloud and mist I couldn’t see the land or sea that they emerged from, only what seemed like hundreds of tall, majestic structures, barely visible, spinning rhythmically miles and miles below.

I have been on the flight for about an hour now and have no idea where I am in the world. Ryanair doesn’t have one of those computer screens to show you what county you’re passing over and I couldn’t begin to guess.
So for now, I think I will sit back, close my eyes and just enjoy the strange sensation of levitating.

Leaving for Poland – Part 1 of 2

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It’s 4am and Stansted airport is heaving with activity.

The shops and currency exchange stations are open an doing good business, the overhead announcements are chiming in from all over the place and there are endless queues of people lining up to drop in their bags. Around me several other bleary eyed passengers are waking up and frantically checking their phones or watches to make they haven’t, by some cruel trick of fate, slept through the morning and missed their flight. Upon realising the time they look up, just as I do, and look slightly perplexed.

When had it gotten this busy?

I was awake, deciding to catch a moments rest only half an hour ago and the atmosphere had been almost the exact opposite of how it is now. Of course it had still been light, stuck in that perpetual artificially induced daylight that makes airports seem like another world altogether, but there had been no rush, no bustling travelers and excited holidaymakers.

In fact there had been almost no activity at all when I arrived at about 1.20am through until 3.30.
It had been quiet, the only sounds being the buzz of electrics and hushed voices emanating from a Pret at the back of the airport. Bodies had lined all the walls as people slept or waited or hid themselves away. It seemed to me as if there was some unwritten rule that no one would (or should) invade the centre of the vast space. Instead everyone huddled, either alone, in couples or even in the occasional group, close to the walls. Or they  lay underneath signage, behind bins, computer terminals or in any other nooks and alcoves they could find.
I remember feeling exposed walking through the centre of these low down, silent crowds as I searched frantically for a plug socket. Most of these had already been claimed by other creatures like myself who marked their territory by setting up whatever piece of technology they had, making that area a temporary home. Like them, I too retreated to the corners and edges of the room, found somewhere suitably safe, and buried myself between bags and under clothes.

But now, as I awake to find the place alive and bustling, again I feel exposed, this time for the exact opposite reason. Because I am not a part of the noisy eclectic crowd rushing around. I feel exposed as those tall, noisy crowds loom over me, throwing dark glances my way.

Shocked by this sudden change of atmosphere, as if I had just tumbled through a looking glass or stepped into a magic wardrobe, I stand, collect my belongings and slyly join the crowd, getting caught up in the tide of people searching for cheap coffee and tax free chocolate…

Open Class: Stanislavski Continues at the Moscow Arts Theatre

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The first thing I noticed about Moscow is how big everything is: The buildings are massive, the roads huge and the beards impressive. The next thing I noticed is the total lack of English, that is, the lack of even a Latin based alphabet. Now, this might sound obvious, but for those of you who don’t know, Russia uses a Cryillic alphabet which is very beautiful but very different from our own. Again, this may all sound pretty obvious but it surprised me just how much having a different alphabet would affect me. I’ve been travelling quite a lot this year but Russia is the first place I’ve been that I was unable to at least guess the road signs. Every now and again a word might jump out at you, but it’s rare. This turned out to be rather daunting and somehow exhausting. It makes things such as taking the Metro an intimidating task, but more about the Metro later.

What also didn’t help, was the amount of horror stories one hears before going somewhere. Endless warnings were given us about how harsh everything is, how we shouldn’t smile and how dangerous the streets are. All these things travel with you, and you enter the country on guard. Well, surprise surprise, it turns out that most of this is wildly over exaggerated. Sure the streets are dangerous; as dangerous as any big city. It is true however, that no one really smiles! At the beginning of the week we took part in a cabaret of sorts. During the introduction the hosts made comic remarks about the “Russian face” – a sort of lifeless, fed up expression. They told us we could use this anywhere we went – and it seemed kind of true. Our hosts then made jokes about how foreign men could find and woo Russian girls: “Hello.” Says one of the hosts pretending to be a foreign man approaching a Russian girl. “Ah!” cries the other, taking on the role of the female, “Ah! I love you! Please!” He (she) thows himself onto his knees and embraces the other around the waist. “I’ll be the best wife you can ask for! Just please, take me away from this country!”

But it’s harder for girls to meet Russian men we are warned: “Hello.” Says the foreign girl. “Oh! Oh you are beautiful! Please take me with you! Get me away from this country!”

In this humour, one can sense a bitter irony, I suspect that as much of a joke as this was, a small amount of truth can be found in it.  Perhaps more so for the older generation, as younger people felt a bit more free and weren’t so fond of the “Russian face”.

This “Russian face” was very popular indeed on the metro, and as promised, I’d like to spare a word for the Metro.

I’m pretty sure this was the station next to my hotel

It. Is. Amazing. Words cannot describe it. You’re on an escalator and already you begin to notice how big everything is, how high the ceilings are, etc. You get to the bottom, walk around a corner and notice hundreds of chandeliers lighting your way!

The Moscow Metro was first opened in 1935 and is apparently the third most used underground rail system in the world. It was made over a large number of years and was delayed by WW2, also, the art deco style at some point met with more Soviet themes. Then in the cold war, more stations were opened to act as shelters in the event of a nuclear war. Due to all this, every station seems to have its own distinct and individual style, and whilst one can defiantly notice that what we’re in is a glorified bomb shelter, you cannot help but marvel at the architecture. The trains themselves are fantastic, again from different times. My favourite ones being these wonderful art deco things that must date back to the 40’s or 50’s. They threaten to slice you in half if you don’t clear the door in time, and they rattle along quite noisily. I really could have spent hours going from station to station looking at the decor. Interestingly there is a book called Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky in which people are forced to live inside the Moscow Metro system after nuclear bombardment. I’d quite like to read it.

How cool looking is the Metro map?

Moscow, as a city, didn’t feel especially hospitable, what it is though, is beautiful and fascinating. I really felt like it was a city of opposing elements, in certain parts of the city you can really feel hung over Soviet influences fighting with more capitalist elements. As everyone knows, Russia has a fascinating, rich and tragic history, and all this is immediately noticeable in the city. Remnants of the past are to be found everywhere. Architecturally the city is stunning, as I said the buildings are huge and beautifully extravagant, some of the more wondrous buildings can be found in the marvellous Red Square, such as St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. Monuments and statues from various moments in history are scattered throughout the city. For me, some of the most impressive pieces were left over from the Soviet era; large, imposing statues of Lenin, fantastic tributes to the working classes, etc. I wont try to describe much because it really all has to be seen first hand. I can not overstate how fascinating it all is though.

Monument to the conquerors of space

My favourite thing I saw in the city, and probably my favourite piece of architecture ever, was located near our hotel (and more on the hotel in a bit!) in Prospect Mira. It is called ‘Monument to the conquerors of space’ and it’s a 110 metre tall, titanium spaceship taking off. The monument was built in 1964 to celebrate the achievements of Soviet space exploration. But actually, it wasn’t the spaceship that impressed me so much; around the base of the monument are two absolutely stunning murals telling the story of space exploration. It’s almost like something you might dig up in an ancient tomb, albeit a bit more sci-fi. The images are rendered in sharp, almost comic bookish style, which was typical of Soviet art. It depicts scientists working on new technologies and astronauts climbing stairs into the heavens, all under the watchful eye of Lenin. It’s completely fascinating and totally beautiful. The monument was located in a park, which was all space themed with metal statues of the solar system and constellations, etc. Even our hotel was called The Hotel Cosmos.

And just a very quick word on the hotel. If you have seen the film Day Watch by Timur Bekmambetov, then you have seen our hotel. You know the bit when the car drives across the side of the building before crashing though the windows – that’s our hotel! And that’s about the coolest thing about it. It was built around 1980 by French and Soviet architects for the XXII Moscow Olymics. The place was huge, our room being located on the 22nd floor, it was also, for lack of a better phrase, a bit tacky! The sort of place for wealthy businessmen looking for cheap thrills and expensive entertainment. Everything was overcharged and the place was teeming with prostitutes, who actually seemed like nice girls but they didn’t bother talking to us, I presume because of our unkept, slightly scruffy attire. I think they were probably catering to a different (read: richer) class of man. Either way, it was an experience, and it was very kind of the Moscow Art Theatre to put us up there. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a proper hotel like that before.

Now imagine it flashing around the sides and top every night…

And look at this, almost 1000 words in and finally I mention the Moscow Art Theatre! Now lets talk about the actual reason I was in Moscow in the first place!

Anyone who has studied acting or performance should have heard of the Moscow Art Theatre. It is the theatre that was founded by Constantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898. The theatre was first created as a place to break away from the melodramas that were popular in Russia at the time, and to instead showcase a more ‘naturalistic’ theatre. It goes without saying, that here, for the first time, shows were put on regularly using the Stanislavski acting method. The MAT soon became one of the most well known and respected theatres in the world. Obviously it’s not quite that simple, and the theatre had many ups and downs, but I’m not going to go into its history right now.

When you walk into the MAT there is a family tree of all the people involved, from Satislavski and Danchenko all the way up to now. Just glancing over this makes you remember just how important this theatre was and just how exciting it is to become part of its history. One can find on this family tree impressive names such as Anton Chekov, Mikail Bulgakov (whom we visited the house of…and it was wicked cool) and Vsevolod Mererhold (personally my favourite theatre practitioner) just to name a few.

This year the MAT are celebrating their 150th anniversary, and as a part of these celebrations they decided to hold a week long festival earlier this month. Invited to perform in the festival were 9 schools from San Francisco, Italy, France, Hungry, St Petersburg, Poland, Germany, the MAT itself, and of course England. Our show ‘Pages from the Book of…’ based on the life and work of Bruno Schulz, was selected to represent England in the festival. The festival itself was given the name ‘Open Class: Stanislavski Continues’. By calling it an ‘open class’ the MAT are attempting to open a forum for discussion in which each of us could watch one another’s work, discuss and see what is being done on the world stage. There was no competitive element to the festival like in the Istropolitana Projekt in Bratislava, instead we were just encouraged to meet other theatre people, discuss ideas and see how Stanislavski’s ideas have evolved, changed and been adapted over time. Suffice it to say, it was a huge honour to be a part of such a prestigious festival, and it was uber-cool to perform on a stage in the MAT!

Some of the work was great as well. What surprised me was how little of it was naturalistic in style, I was expecting to get there and be one of the craziest things on stage, but actually this wasn’t at all the case.

Without a doubt the best thing I saw, was a show called “FUTURISMVISIONS” by the school in St. Petersburg. The work was developed from a class project and made up of 22 etudes based on Futurism poetry. Linking these was a fantastic band made up of industrial, found (may I venture to say MERZ) objects, which set up the world perfectly. Here, we were presented with an industrial hell in which the upper classes were the denizens and victims of war its public. This was 3 hours of abstract Russian poetry which had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Obviously, I didn’t understand a word of it, but the visual, musical and performative elements were just stunning. Luckily, I know enough about Russian history and Futurism to grasp onto some of the basic ideas if nothing else. Even so, this was one of the finest performances I’ve seen in a while.

As I said, it was an honour to make up the English contingency of this festival and I was very glad to see how well our show was received. As usually happens I had people approaching me saying “Where’s my father?” which always makes me very happy. You see, in the show my character is forever searching for his father with little to no luck, so this has sort of become my catch phrase! In general, people were very appreciative of the show and seemed to enjoy it greatly.

Also, on a slightly unrelated note, a lovely hungarian girl approached me and told me that I am the spitting image of her fiancé! So much so, that she had to double take at me when I walked on stage. So, not only is there a Slovak Jack, there is also a Hungry Jack out there in the world somewhere. Also, one of our guys found his Russian double and the likeness is really very strong. This always seems to happen when we travel abroad!

Anyway, if you would like to know a little more about the Open Class: Stanislavski Continues festival and about old Stan himself, here is an interview that the head of my school Michael Early gave on Russian TV. There is also, floating somewhere on the Russian digi-sphere a news report with me being interviewed! Although I can’t seem to find it right now I know it exists, because it was on the Russian Channel 1 at about 10am! We saw it on the hotel lobby tv! How very exciting.

In fact, this whole trip was very exciting. I never thought I’d go to Russia, and god knows I never dreamed I’d be performing in the Moscow Art Theatre! I really cannot thank the organisers of Open Class and of course Rose Bruford College enough for making this possible.

Now, I have realised that I’ve spoken about this show quite a lot on this blog, and hopefully, will do many more times. However, many people who don’t know me and haven’t read any of my older posts probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Obviously I can always link you to our website, but I think it might be nice to have something a little closer to home too, so, in the next few days I’m going to make a new page on this blog about the show and the company. Maybe I’ll continue to do this with other projects too, and make this blog a little hub for myself.

Next time I’ll hopefully have news about my other theatre group The Same, But Different, and some novel related news.

Two weeks in Edinburgh

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 It was seven am by the time I arrived in Edinburgh. The night of travel was mostly sleepless, but filled with momentary excursions into half lucid dreams. From these, I was usually awakened as the coach lurched and sent my head crashing into the window, knocking the oncoming dreams off course. If anything can be said for the Mega-bus, it’s that it is at least persistent in keeping you as uncomfortable as possible. Unfortunately, the time is nearing when I have to get back on this miserable bus for another 9/10 hours on my way back to London.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, surrounded by rolling hills and with its very own castle on top of a mountain, situated right in the middle of the city. It has a very rich history and is also an incredibly important cultural centre. One could be excused for saying that the city has a distinctly European feel about it. Much more so than most British cities I have been to.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh during August though, is not just a city, but is a city-wide event in which people from all walks in life come together to celebrate art in all its varieties. Home to the Edinburgh International Festival, the city is alive with theatre, literature, dance, opera, comedy, film, music, visual arts, circus and every other art related activity known to man.

The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) was first set up in 1947 and has two named beings to thank for its genesis. One is a horse called Ocean Swell. Ocean selflessly gave up its winnings from the 1944 Derby and the 1946 Ascot Gold Cup to the wife of his owner, who helped fund the first EIF. The other is Rudolf Bing, a refugee from the Nazis, who as soon as the war ended, set up the EIF as a way to connect people though our mutual love of art, after the fragmenting affect of the war.

From then, the EIF has only gone from strength to strength, and has gotten much larger. It now encompasses a number of other festivals, including the International Book Festival, the Military Tattoo and of course the Festival Fringe.

 The Fringe Festival apparently began in the same year as the EIF, when a bunch of theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform. Since then, the Fringe has grown so large that most people think this is the festival. Apparently, it’s now the worlds largest arts festival. This year, there are 2,695 shows from 47 countries. These take place all over the city in 279 venues. The Fringe doesn’t disallow any performances, meaning there is a varied degree of talent, styles, genres and forms to be had.

It all sounds pretty awesome, right? But not everyone thinks so. In recent years, the number of stand-up comedy acts have dwarfed most other genres, and even though these have now become the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, many people seem to consider the Fringe bastardised. In The Arts Journal Allan Massie writes;

“Edinburgh in August has now become a place for stand-up comedy, where reputations are made and prizes are won. This is a far cry from the ideals of 1947, an expression of culture more consumerist than uplifting. But that’s how it is. That’s where we are.”

Massie certainly isn’t alone when he calls for a reassessment of the festival, looking back at the ‘why’ behind the first EIF.

Now, I’m not really a fan of stand-up comedy but I do think some stand-up comics are very smart indeed, and sometimes, just sometimes they say something that matters. I certainly wouldn’t blame them for the downfall of culture in Edinburgh. What I will say though; walking down the royal mile, one is made very aware that the whole thing is a bit of a money making machine at the moment. Art has been commercialised to an extent I’ve not encountered before. It’s also super bitchy…But maybe that’s just what happens when you put this many theatre people together…

Whether you buy into it or not, this conflict of opinions does exist, and through it, a few pockets have appeared throughout the city, which wish to keep the spirit 1947 alive. One such pocket is the Summerhall venue.

Summerhall is Edinburgh’s newest arts venue. Bought for a pretty reasonable £4 million by one Robert McDowell, the former ‘Royal Dick Veterinary University’ has been turned into a centre for the arts. With over 500 rooms, Summerhall is home to a number of performance areas, art exhibitions, an in-house printing and publishing office (where the Arts Journal came from), a brewery, its own tv station and much more. What’s beautiful about Summerhall, is that because it’s privately owned the building is being kept pretty much as is. It’s not being made up to actually look like a art gallery, but is being aloud to keep its character. McDowell says that it is still a vet school. It’s important Summerhall keeps this character because it ” is to be both a forum for interdisciplinary experimentation and a venue for research and education as well as performance”. This shows in the fact that Rose Bruford College is about to open it’s first ‘campus abroad’ at Summerhall.

I was here last year, the first year for Summerhall, and thought it was a pretty cool venue then. This year, it has come on leaps and bounds, and there’s still work to be done. Of course, what makes Summerhall stand out is the quality of the acts. I have seen some truly great shows in the last 2 weeks. So many, that it would take far too long to write about them all here – and this post is already about a week late!

Instead, I’ll talk a little bit about the Polska Arts season here.

Polska Arts is a fantastic season of – guess what? Polish Art. Put together by the Adam Mickiewics Institute in Poznan (which I visited earlier this year), Polska Arts showcases a huge variation of works at Summerhall. Here we have the likes of Teatr Tsar with their show Caesarian Section: Essays on Suicide (which was awarded a Herold Angel Award last week) and Song of the Goat with Songs of Lear and much more.There’s also some spectacular outdoor shows from Teatr Biuro Podróży and KTO theatre in the Old College Quad.

The two shows I have enjoyed the most from Plska Arts are:

neTTheatre’s Puppet: Book of Splendour

Like my show Pages from the Book of…, this work was inspired by Kantor. Likening the story of The Book of Job to the life of Kantor, the show was visually stunning and incredibly dense. Perhaps too dense at times, as the narrative (if such a thing existed) was lost, twisted, ripped apart and scattered to the wind before the end of the show. Puppet: Book of Splendour is a highly visual and intelligent show. The director, a disembodied voice guides us through the production and makes light of the seriousness of the production. He also subverts what is considered to be trademarks of Polish art, in a highly intelligent and funny way. At one point he jokes saying “People have said the second part of the performance is boring. So, when you are bored you know it’s the second part.” Unfortunately, he was not joking, I did get bored. Very much so. I think the biggest problem with this show was that it was not edited well. There was so much going on, so many images and metaphors that it lost the attention of the audience. Through its flaws though, I really found the show very interesting and I’d love to connect with neTTheatre at some point.

Future Tales: Sierakowski by Komuna//Warszawa. 

Future Tales was absolutely mad. It tells the story of four possible futures for Sławomir Sierakowski, the most significant contemporary Polish left-wing intellectual, according to different writers/philosophers. For example, in one possible future, Sierakowski will become a Buddhist in 2019 and die in 2074, in another future according to H.G. Wells, Sierakowski will survive a Martian invasion and later be digitally immortalised. The show is highly political and very satirical. It’s an absurd lecture interspersed with bizarre punk rock songs, where what is being said doesn’t always correspond with what we are seeing. Something to note is the use of the language in this piece. Polish is a very beautiful language, and in this work I realised just how musical it can be. Just repeating a single phrase seven times becomes poetry.

It’s a great show. Utterly bonkers. But great.

The Polska Arts program is soooo good! So good in fact that I’ve been cheerfully collecting badges with the Listen, See, Touch logo’s on, pretending to be part of the program.

Other honourable mentions at this years Fringe:

Don Quixote! Don Quixote! by Panta Rei Theatre Collective.

Telling the story of Don Quixote, the show is a spectacular excursion into a world of madness and hallucination. This modest show is full of visual flare and some stunning performances. Despite being told in two different languages through the lens of a delusional mind, the story is never lost on us and is at once funny, touching and at times haunting.

Dead Memory House by Theatre Corsair.

This three woman company creates a space in which we are allowed to feel comfortable and then almost instantly make it known that we are not welcome. The show, set in a house belonging to these three girls, gives us an insight into the lives and psychology of the girls. The audience are included in the action, but are made to feel that they are witnessing the ghosts of the past, some well known, some secret. This is a cleaver and innovative character study in which we are given a brief glance into the lives memories of these girls.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour.

Well, I’m not sure…but this might be one of the most important plays I have ever seen.

I think the best justice I can do for the show is to keep quiet about what it is. Instead I will just tell you that you should go and see it. I suspect that one day, given the right circumstances, this play could change the lives of an entire audience.

Well, I hope this has given you a bit of an insight into my experience at the Edinburgh Fringe. Our show has been going well, and we have gathered a nice collection of 4* reviews. Find the links below if you’re interested and a link to a video about us.

TV BOMB

Broadway Baby

Three Weeks

This one is a bit special, written by the lovely Jane Frere who interviewed me about the show.

The video

I’m feeling nice and inspired after this trip, so I’m hoping to get on this blog a bit more next week. Tomorrow is my birthday, but considering I will be performing for half the day and fighting with the Mega-Bus for the other half, I’m going to postpone it to the 25th. I plan to spend this day be at home, in bed, preferably with my beautiful girlfriend. So after this, I will attack the blog and start trying to make a dent in my book. See you next week.

Jack.

The Age of Genius

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Finally back on track! So, I was going to make a hilarious joke about getting ready to ”embark and go’ on my journey to Bratislava. However, due to my slow typing I am now already in Bratislava drinking beer and eating pizza. But why am I in Bratislava? Myself and my 50 letters comrades are performing as part of the Istropolitana projekt 2012. “Oh, how interesting Jack!” I hear you cry, “Please tell me more.” Well….if you insist.

Earlier this year we devised a show called Pages from the book of… as part of our curriculum at Rose Bruford College. The show is based on the life and work of Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and was created using the theatrical works of Tadeusz Kantor. But actually, I’m not going to talk about that right now. For now, I’m going to try to contextualize the whole thing for you a bit by giving you a very brief introduction to Bruno Schulz. Later in the week I’ll tell you a little more about our show and of course all about the Istropolitana festival. So keep checking back.

The ‘Age of genius’ is what Bruno Schulz describes as the period of youth in which people are at their most joyful and are full of artistic vision. For Bruno, his age of genius ended when he was 22 with the death of his father. But Bruno’s artistic vision didn’t falter at this point – It may have changed and took on a somewhat darker, more ironic tone, but then this should be expected seeing some of the things that defined his upbringing.

Bruno Schulz was a Polish-Jewish writer and artist. His work is known across Europe and he’s often cited as one of the greatest writers in recent history…or more accurately, he could (or should) have been one of the greatest writers in recent history were it not for his tragic death which cut his artistic career short. But we’ll get to the morbid bits later!

Bruno Schulz was born in 1892 in a Polish town called Drohovich, which is now part of Western Ukraine. According to records he was a very  sickly child. His bad health followed him throughout his entire life and later he developed serious problems with his heart and weak lungs. It is possible that these health issues were hereditary, as his father also suffered from serious health problems leading to the cancer that killed him. Their illnesses combined made life in the Schulz house quite a depressing affair. Unfortunately, things would only get worse for the Schulz family.

Often subjected to anti-Semitic attitudes Bruno grew up a very quiet and shy person and this didn’t seem to change throughout his life. If we look at some of his self-portraits we can see that he often paints himself in a rather negative or some say masochistic manner. I’ve read that another possible reason for this could be that he was subjected to ‘punishment’ from his nurse when left alone with her, but let’s not consider this is a sure fact.

A self portrait

In general, living was not especially easy for poor Bruno and his family. As well as these more domestic problems. The ever-present spectre of ill-health had terrible repercussions for the family (Bruno’s brother in law committed suicide rather gruesomely after being diagnosed with a terminal illness). Of course, there was also the issue of politics in turn of the century Poland. Many of this being due to discriminatory behavior aimed towards those of Jewish heritage. Apparently, in 1911 Bruno witnessed a political rally outside of his home in the square in Drohovich. In this rally Bruno saw one of his friends murdered. It’s possible that this scene made it into some of his stories in the form of the unidentified military squadron which make their way through the village square in Sanatorium under the sign of the hourglass.

Of course this wasn’t the last time Bruno would come into contact with violent military behavior. Now, actually that was me trying to avoid the morbid bits…and unfortunately there’s more to come, but again we’ll put this off for a bit shall we?

Photo time

Now lets talk a little bit about his writing. Of Bruno’s, two books survive. Cinnamon Shops (also known as The Street of Crocodiles) and The Sanatorium under the sign of the hourglass. Both books are collections of stories of various lengths. These stories are all linked closely to his real life and could be described as a series of dreams and memories in which he mixes fact with fiction in order to reminisce on his family and upbringing. Bruno’s world is a mythic one. A place where people may transform into different beings, be in two places at once, where objects may attain life, and, the absurd is a reality. For Bruno, Myth was the root of all creation – in an essay called The Mythicisation of Reality he wrote that “there is not one grain among our ideas that has not risen from mythology, that is not a mythology once transformed, mutilated and re-moulded.” To him, using words in any manner was like using fragments of mythology and stories to piece together something new, or as he writes; “we are building, like barbarians, our homes from fragments of the sculptures and statues of the gods.”

Myth then becomes an important part of Bruno’s writing, and one could see his stories as the myth of his family; twisted, transformed, re-evaluated and reinvented by the ancient words that Bruno used to sculpt his masterpiece. This becomes especially noticeable when we consider the treatment of Bruno’s father in his fiction. One can clearly see that Bruno was deeply affected by the death of his father when reading his work. Often in his stories, his father will die or transform into creatures and yet reappear later in another story. Many people have stated that throughout his writing Bruno wished to revive the spirit of his father, so that his existence would continue on in some way. Interestingly, his mother didn’t gain the same treatment, and does not have a fictional counterpart in Bruno’s stories. I don’t know why. This idea of reviving and reliving is very important in the work and reading Schulz is like journeying into his (and by extension our own) ‘age of genius’. As the closing lines of The Book from Sanitarium state;

“Have we prepared are reader to some extent for the things that are to follow? Might we now hazard a journey into our age of genius?…Then, in God’s name, Let’s embark and go!”

Cover art for Sanitarium under the sign of the hourglass

Bruno’s writing is without a doubt wonderful. It’s poetic, touching, humorous and chilling all at once. If his writing was the only thing we had left of Schulz it would be more than enough to be thankful for. However, Bruno also left a large number of etchings and sketches behind.

His method of drawing was quite complicated: Firstly he would cover a sheet of glass in black gum or pigment and scratch his images into the surface with a nail. After this, he would place photosensitive paper on them and develop them in the sun. The method is called cliche verre and I think you can emulate it with OHP paper and a computer scanner nowadays, if you wanted to give it a go!

The art of Bruno Schulz is very bleak and quite morbid at times. His art is full of erotic and sadomasochistic images with a focus on the concept of ‘Woman as Goddess’. In his images men gather on all fours, gawking and panting as they look up at woman, the object of their admiration and lust.

Do you understand the terrible cynicism of this symbol on a woman’s foot?

Another common thing, found in a lot of Schulz’s drawings, is the imagery of fellow Jews. In 1941 after Drohovich was occupied by Nazi forces. Bruno was put under protection by a Gestapo sergeant called Felix Landau, who was in charge of organising labour for the Jewish population of Drohovich. Landau, admiring his work, put Bruno to work decorating his child’s nursery walls with drawings, and later the walls of a riding school. Into these images, Bruno inserted images of himself, his father and other Jews. For example, in a piece depicting Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs he painted many of the characters with the faces of his Jewish companions, and he lent his own face to the witch (a possible comment about the witch hunts that were being conducted against the Jews).

Apparently, Landau was a madman. He used to enjoy tormenting and killing Jews and apparently walked around with his weapons drawn ready to inflict random acts of violence. I read somewhere that he used to sit on his balcony and randomly shoot Jews as they passed. In 1942 he murdered a Jewish Dentist who happened to be under the protection of another Gestapo officer called Karl Günter. According to legend, Günter then personally sought out Bruno and put two bullets in his head saying to Landau afterwards; “You killed my Jew, so I have killed yours”. This shocking and tragic story may or may not be factual, and it is possible this did not happen at all. However, what is fact, is that Schulz was shot dead in the ghetto in Drohovich. And just like that, Bruno’s life and art ended.

Even though the exact details of his death are questionable, I think it is quite fitting that such a story has arisen, giving his demise a certain legendary or mythic quality.


Portrait by Drew Christie.

Well, this concludes my short and by no means exhaustive introduction to Schulz. Obviously, I urge you to buy and read his books, but if you’re a cheapskate you can read a translation of his fiction for free on Schulzian.net. Also, much of Bruno’s art is available on the website The Art of Bruno Schulz.

You should also check out the wonderful stop-motion film about Schulz, made by the Quay Brothers, available here and here.

Check back later in the week for info about our show, and about my experience in the Istropolitana festival.

Jack.