Primary Forms is a periodic programme designed for pupils from the fourth through the eighth grade of primary school, carried out by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the Roman Czernecki Educational Foundation. This year sees its second edition. This time, the programme once again features a box that contains a “dormant” exhibition, which can materialise at any moment in a form chosen by pupils with the support of their teachers and the Museum’s education team.
The boxes are sent out to selected schools in different parts of Poland. During the first edition in the school year 2021/2022, they travelled to Szczekociny, Pogorzałki and Rozdrażewo, among other towns. The artworks created in the local primary schools served as teaching props (Goshka Macuga’s piece), transformed the interior decoration of classrooms (Kasper Bosmans), helped organise reading clubs (Slavs and Tatars), initiated happenings (Sharon Lockhart), and changed the school regulations (Mikołaj Moskal).
The box from the first edition of Primary Forms contained exercises, tools and instructions created by the above mentioned artists as well as Paweł Althamer, Gabo Camnitzer, Ramona Nagabczyńska, Agnieszka Polska, Katarzyna Przezwańska, and Olga Micińska.
The second edition box, prepared for the school year 2022/2023, will once again be sent to ten schools across the country, and – as part of broadening inter-institutional collaborations – to five cultural institutions, which will work on site with teachers and pupils. Joining the project are: Municipal Art Centre in Gorzów Wielkopolski, BWA Ostrowiec, Goyki 3 Art Inkubator in Sopot, Kronika Centre for Contemporary Art in Bytom, BWA Tarnów.
This year’s edition comprises works by Tarek Atoui, Maximiliane Baumgartner, Alicja Bielawska, Katya Buchatska, Dora Garcia, Prabhakar Pachpute, Joanna Piotrowska & Bożena Rydlewska, Raqs Media Collective, Jaśmina Wójcik, and the Zakole collective.
Designed in the form of artistic exercises and objects placed in the box, the exhibition refers to the tradition of art history: to Marcel Duchamp and his travelling exhibition-in-a-suitcase, as well as to “Fluxkits” – boxes prepared by artists affiliated with the Fluxus movement, containing scores, models, audio recordings, games, puzzles, and stencils, among other items. Primary Forms also alludes to other experiments in the fields of art and education undertaken in the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Pure Consciousness – the series of On Kawara’s exhibition in kindergartens, initiated in 1998. Paintings by this Japanese conceptual artist could be used as teaching props helping to learn the days of the week and numbers.
The programme is carried out in classrooms and corridors, gym halls and schoolyards. The exhibition in a box can be executed numerous times and interpreted in various ways (through the selection of different fragments, scale, colours, etc.). We use it to ask the following questions: what can we do with art? What can an exhibition be? What can we learn from artists? Is knowledge created through contact with art? And finally, how to understand art or enjoy not understanding it?
Primary Forms was inspired by the School Prints initiative, carried out for a brief period in the UK right after World War II. On that occasion, a set of lithographs created by a group of esteemed artists was sent to primary schools. Those artists included Barbara Jones, Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, John Nash, and Pablo Picasso, among other figures.
The Primary Forms programme is developed under the curatorial supervision of Sebastian Cichocki and Helena Czernecka.
Curatorial team: Sebastian Cichocki, Helena Czernecka
Box design: Michał Sikorski TŁO
Graphic design: Zofia Kofta
Production coordinator: Marta Wójcicka
Conception and coordination of educational process: Anna Grajewska, Marta Przybył
Substantive consultation: Aleksandra Saczuk, Urszula Arciszewska (Fundacja EFC)
Texts: Sebastian Cichocki, Helena Czernecka, Jakub Depczyński, Bogna Stefańska
Editing Kinga Gałuszka
Translation: Joanna Majewska-Grabowska, Łukasz Mojsak
Communication: Józefina Bartyzel, Marlena Dudzic, Weronika Regosz, Anna Szałas
Artists: Tarek Atoui, Maximiliane Baumgartner, Alicja Bielawska, Katya Buchatska, Dora Garcia, Prabhakar Pachpute, Joanna Piotrowska & Bożka Rydlewska, Raqs Media Collective, Jaśmina Wójcik, kolektyw Zakole
Educators: Alicja Czyczel, Aleksandra Górecka, Agnieszka Kowalska-Kucharczyk, Magdalena Kreis, Aleksandra Kubisztal, Justyna Łada, Dominika Malska, Barbara Mołas, Katarzyna Solińska, Katarzyna Szul, Aleksandra Trościankowska, Marta Węglińska (Kobalt Migrating Platform), Katarzyna Witt, Hanna Zwierzchowska
Teachers: Agnieszka Dąbrowska-Woźniak, Marta Dobrowolska-Wesołowska, Małgorzata Dyrkacz, Ewa Kempska, Bogusława Kostka, Agnieszka Kutera, Mariola Kutyła, Danuta Przybysz, Małgorzata Sokołowska, Agnieszka Świerblewska, Katarzyna Tamulis, Magdalena Trusz, Katarzyna Waluda, Kinga Wiecha, Kinga Zaleska
Niepubliczna Podstawowa Szkoła Montessori z siedzibą w Warszawie,
Szkoła Podstawowa nr 5 im. P. Maciejowskiej w Bytomiu,
Szkoła Podstawowa im. A. Skupnia-Florka w Gliczarowie Górnym,
Zespół szkół im. W. Kochowskiego w Goleniowach,
Szkoła Podstawowa nr 13 z Oddziałami Integracyjnymi i Oddziałami Sportowymi im. A. Fiedlera w Gorzowie Wielkopolskim,
Szkoła Podstawowa im. Św. Królowej Jadwigi w Maćkówce,
Szkoła Podstawowa im. J. A. Maklakiewicza w Mszczonowie,
Szkoła Podstawowa im. A. Fiedlera i Armii Krajowej w Raszkowie,
Publiczna Szkoła Podstawowa Nr 5 im. S. Żeromskiego w Ostrowcu Świętokrzyskim,
Szkoła Podstawowa z Oddziałami Integracyjnymi nr 9 im. Gen. W. Sikorskiego w Sopocie,
Szkoła Podstawowa nr 3 im. M. Konopnickiej w Tarnowie,
Szkoła Podstawowa im. bł. ks. J. Balickiego w Ujeznej,
Szkoła Podstawowa nr 351 im. B. Prusa w Warszawie,
Szkoła Podstawowa nr 128 im. M. Skłodowskiej-Curie przy zespole Szkolno-Przedszkolnym nr 9 w Warszawie,
Szkoła Podstawowa nr 77 im. W. Zieleńczyk z siedzibą w Warszawie.
Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych w Ostrowcu Świętokrzyskim,
Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych w Tarnowie,
Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Kronika,
Goyki 3 Art Inkubator w Sopocie,
Miejski Ośrodek Sztuki w Gorzowie Wielkopolskim.
Tarek Atoui was born in Lebanon, he currently lives in Paris. He defines himself primarily as a musician and composer, and only secondarily as a visual artist. Atoui experiments with sound – he performs in public, builds musical instruments and sound installations, researches musical traditions, and organises concerts, which also feature non-professional performers. His instruments are akin to sculptures: refined objects set in motion by touch, breath, wind, dripping water, or little engines.
His designs often borrow inspiration from traditional instruments preserved in museum collections or still used in rural communities. Atoui looks for new ways of experiencing sound, also by means of senses other than hearing. As part of his project WITHIN, he created special instruments for people with hearing disabilities, who could activate them and hear them through touch.
He also takes an interest in the sound of materials not commonly used in music-making, such as ceramic tiles, stones, steel rods, or wooden structures. Not only does he record the sounds they produce, but also makes them vibrate and uses them as speakers. Atoui himself says that at home he listens to music from a gramophone connected to underwater speakers placed in an aquarium – it’s enough to add or remove a bit of water to change their sound.
Maximiliane Baumgartner lives in Munich. She is a painter, although her works are far-removed from a typical rectangular canvas in a decorative frame. She usually paints on wooden or metal panels cut in various shapes, from simple, acute polygons to complex, soft, rounded forms, which is why her works function like spatial objects and reliefs. She often presents them in public space, especially in cities – on building facades, streets, or in parks – referring to the history and architecture of specific locations.
Baumgartner installs her series of paintings on geometrical frames and racks, staging painterly installations that resemble strange gardens or playgrounds. As for her individual works hanging on walls and facades, she composes them like jigsaw puzzles, matching their shapes.
The artist takes an interest in the social function of painting – she researches the potential use of paintings hanging on a street wall, a trailer in a parking lot, or integrated into a playground, and the actions they make provoke.
Baumgartner is also active in pedagogy – for two years, she co-headed an artistic socio-educational centre in one of Munich’s parks, and currently lectures at the university; she works with children and publishes books and zines devoted to learning through art and play.
Alicja Bielawska studied art history in Warsaw and fine arts in Amsterdam, where she took an interest in sculpture and fabric. She appreciates the ordinary and the everyday, and instead of “sculptures” she prefers to call her works “objects”. As she explains: “When I call them objects, less is expected from them than if I called them sculptures. There’s one more important issue: when I talk about an object, I emphasise that it has the same rank as the table at which we sit.”
The artist uses materials sourced from home or DIY stores: ordinary linoleum, wood-like veneers, floor panels. She comments on them as follows: “There’s nothing personal about them, they have virtually no character, they are neutral in themselves. But they give me the possibility to build forms that to a certain extent connect to our everyday lives …”
Bielawska also likes working with textiles, which are the closest thing to human skin. The artist explains: “Fabric is something that accompanies us throughout our whole lives. It is the closest to our touch and body, which is why it evokes memories and influences our memory. … Whether it’s a dress, a tablecloth, or a tent, fabric easily adopts the shape we want to give it, and despite its delicacy, it is surprisingly durable.”
Katya Buchatska lives in Kyiv. A versatile artist, she draws, paints, writes, creates sculptures and objects, collages, photographs, video films, and designs exhibitions. Already during her studies she was active in many fields, such as printing, graphic design, illustration, icon writing tradition, murals and frescoes. She is methodical and modest at work: instead of lofty words and spectacular gestures, she concentrates on careful research on issues of interest to her and little activities that allow for seeing the familiar in a new light. Buchatska takes an interest both in personal stories and the geological history of life on Earth. Akin to an archaeologist, she digs through subsequent layers, seeking to articulate individual traumas and memories through prehistoric fossils, imprints, and casts.
Buchatska also makes use of the wide array of her skills for educational purposes. In Kyiv, she runs classes for children and works with adult individuals in the autism spectrum.
The Spanish artist Dora García claims that fiction is the only tool that allows us to understand the surrounding reality. Fiction is the propeller of her work. The artist makes use of imagination and creative workshop to construct in public space stories, situations, and events that balance on the edge of reality and fiction. Based on conceptual ideas and lengthy research process, her works adopt complex forms, sometimes difficult to grasp.
García often works like a director – she creates the concept, draws up scripts and instructions for action, which are then executed by actors, performers, audiences, and even random people. The artist has staged performances in galleries and museums, organised live theatrical activities in urban space, television broadcasts, stand-up performances, among other projects; she also opened a café, affiliated with the anti-psychiatry movement, for people hearing voices. What’s more, García has created numerous online works in the form of blogs, Tumblr profiles, online content generators, interactive novels, and enigmatic websites.
She is an eager educator, who runs classes and workshops, as well as lectures at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. One of her students says: “The most important thing I learnt from Dora is that it’s the best to become mature as late as possible.”
Prabhakar Pachpute comes from India. His artistic work is founded on the experience of living and working conditions in a region dominated by industrial exploitation of nature. India’s economy is based on coal. Called “black gold” in the country, this raw material is not only a source of electricity for millions of people, but also one of main export products. At the same time, its extraction leads to the deforestation and pollution of vast area, which degrades not only nature, but also large-area cultivation of cereal crops, rice, and cotton. For all these reasons, famine is an enormous, regularly recurring problem.
Pachpute admits that his drawings and paintings combine memories from his childhood days in a mining community with surreal visions, such as mythical figures and animals inspired by traditional Marathi literature (written in Marathi language in western India and significant for the Maharashtra region, from which the artist originates). He creates large-scale drawings with coal applied directly on walls and murals in which surreal motifs (for example, a human figure with a headlamp or binoculars instead of the head), afterimages and memories are combined with commentaries on the current political, social and ecological situation.
Joanna Piotrowska and Bożka Rydlewska
Joanna Piotrowska is a photographer, who mainly lives and works in London. Bożka Rydlewska is a graphic designer, illustrator, and painter. The artists are friends and they jointly created the work included in Primary Forms.
Piotrowska approaches photography as a tool to research interpersonal relations and tensions related to them. She draws inspiration from seemingly simple gestures that generate larger, complex stories. In her photographic series titled Self-Defence, the artist shows how adolescent girls learn self-discipline and conformity to norms imposed by society. We see young women striking uncomfortable poses and performing gestures from a self-defence handbook.
The photographer often employs old techniques, such as gelatin silver prints, popular in the first half of the 20th century, and 16 mm film stock, which she uses instead of a digital recorder. Her works have been shown at Tate Britain in London and Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, among other venues.
Bożka Rydlewska’s work is inspired by fairy tale and natural motifs. She draws from botanical atlases, but many of her pieces are fuelled mainly by her own imagination. The artist is also active as an interior designer and grows orchids in all possible shapes and colours.
Raqs Media Collective
In Persian, Arabic and Urdu, “raqs” is the trance-like state experienced by whirling Dervishes. It is also an acronym for “Rarely Asked QuestionS”. For Raqs Media Collective, it has become a metaphor that characterises and indicates the directions of the group’s artistic activity.
The collective comprises Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, who met during their studies in Delhi, the capital of India. Since the establishment of Raqs in 1992, the city has often been a source of inspiration for their works and projects.
Raqs are active in many fields, often going beyond what we usually understand as art. They create documentary films and video-essays, as well as installations, collages, photographs, and digital works. They also operate intensive research and scholarly activity, publish books and texts, organise exhibitions, meetings, and events.
Raqs are also active in the field of experimental education. In 2000, they were among the co-founders of the Sarai programme as part of the activity of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi. It functions as a residency centre, design and digital media laboratory, café, publishing house, and urban research centre. Sarai works with youth from slums interested in photography and poetry, among other communities.
The Raqs artists love philosophical speculation – they often employ artistic and scholarly methodology to imagine alternative scenarios, (im)possible worlds, and (im)probable visions of the future.
Jaśmina Wójcik is an artist who works in collaboration with various groups and communities. Her most famed piece is Symphony of the Ursus Factory, a documentary film shot with former workers of the now-defunct Ursus tractor factory in Warsaw. Wójcik also enjoys working with children, happily offering them cameras and microphones to record their own fantasies. She is the originator of Gazeta dzieci [Children’s Newspaper], a magazine whose authors and editors – in line with the title – are children themselves, and the spectacle King Matt the First, directed by children. The artist’s work is based on what matters to her the most, that is giving children agency – by creating a magazine or a spectacle, they turn into active participants, and not only passive readers and viewers.
She describes her experience as follows: “I interpret being an artist as playing the role of a transmitter, a person who lets others speak and offers them space. I’m an artist, educator, activist, director, pedagogue, and mother. All these domains are constituent parts of my identity, between which I move freely without separating them, without building barriers and borders. The most important thing about them are relations, cooperation, mindfulness, empathy, learning from each other, but also having an influence on others. Cooperation is fundamental for me – as an artist, I never put myself on a pedestal as a privileged figure who knows more, but I actively exchange, listen, set into action, think critically (also about myself). I’m attached to the ideals of care, well-being, sharing, building trust, creating spaces of mutual relations.”
Zakole Collective is a group comprising artists and scientists from various disciplines, such as media art, biology, hydrology, and anthropology, who took under their care Zakole Wawerskie – a unique wetland of high natural value, located almost in the very centre of Warsaw. Few cities in the world have within their borders such amazingly preserved marshes and meadows of outstanding natural wealth, overgrown with alder cars, reed beds and grass, where so many bird species, beavers, frogs, and other animals live so close to people.
The collective combines scientific and artistic methods, which have much more in common than it might initially seem. For example, they organise walks guided by a biologist and an artist, who share with participants their approaches to experiencing reality.
Zakole takes an interest in the life of insects, small mammals, arachnids, organisms living by water and underwater – everything that requires a change of perspective, leaning over, bringing one’s face closer to fragrant, humid ground, and activating all the senses. One of the favourite games proposed by the group is “mindfulness cube”, during which attention is focused on one cubic metre of soil in order to see from up close the life of ants and beetles: Stenurella bifasciata, lined click beetles, sulphur beetles, acorn weevils, as well as hymenopterans, butterflies, fairy longhorn moths, March flies, leaf beetles, and snails.
Members of the collective also emphasise that they gain knowledge about wetlands not only form other people, but also from animals, insects, and plants inhabiting this half-wild area. They define this way of discovering the world as “poly-knowledge”.