“What Does Not Die, Does Not Live”, 06.09 — 06.10

Middle Ages celebrated it, Renaissance respected it and Baroque saw the aesthetic side of it. Romantics loved it anew. Modern times ignore it though everyone knows it`s inevitable. Death. Rather than pretending it does not concern us, it might be worth taking a different path. The one shown by photographs presented at the exhibition “What does not die, does not live”.

Romantic fascinations with death survived first few decades of the 20th century and settled quite well, especially in folk mentality. The awareness of passing – permanent element of folk religiousness – also became a motif of art, both that of the conscieous kind and the one which initially was only a way of recording everyday life. This is quite simply and yet poignantly illustrated by an exhibition we can see, from September 6, at  “Canteen XYZ” Gallery. – “What does not die, does not live”.

The exhibition is made of 27 photographs by Jan Siwicki from Jaczno (a village in Suwalki region) and Bogusław Augustis, who ran a photo studio in Białystok, in the Interwar period. The pictures are a record of funeral customs at eastern borders of Poland, in the Interwar period. They clearly show death as indispensable companion of human existance.

I came across a sentence in the exhibition catalogue: `Neither Augustis nor Siwicki took their photographs for artistic or philosophical reasons. Hence their authenticity`. The opinion does not appear fully justified. I shall pay draw my attention to two, easily noticeable, elements. The first one is the awareness of how the scenes caught in the lens of camera are arranged. Most frequently, in the foreground, there is a coffin with a body of the deceased person, around which, family gather. Another is the way mourners adopt a certain, conscious pose. The people gathered around the coffin are not looking at it but rather into the lens of the camera. It cannot be claimed these are spontanous shots devoid of any planning.One might say it is nothing out of ordinary, just a popular convention used while taking funeral photos. It`s true, however each convention is in itself a form created intentionally, which is undoubtedly, foundation for art. Naturally, we might discuss purely artistic merit of the photographs but that is a separate topic. Therefore I shall allow myself a different opinion on the matter.

I believe the biggest asset of the exposition is antopological information. In case of Jan Siwicki`s photos, we are dealing with typically countryside record, mainly of the Orthodox rite. The photographs give information not only about people`s emotions but also their material status. The deceased in Siwicki`s portraits are not wearing shoes and , what`s even more interesting, the mourners, though dressed in their best clothes, e.g. a fur coat, are also barefooted. Not only do the photos prove the people`s poverty but are also a sign of seriousness in the presence of death and respect for the deceased one.

The photograph I remembered most vividly is the one of a peasant woman posing against a decoration imitating cementary gates. The elderly woman is holding a rosary. It`s hard to say whether we`re looking at a widow, mother who lost her son or simply and old woman awaiting death. There`s certain horror and metaphysics in the pricture. Authenticity with a bit of a pose, mystery and ambiguity.

Author: Adam Olaf Giowski
Сurator: Grzegorz Dąbrowski

06.09 — 06.10
“Canteen XYZ” Gallery

14:00 – 22:00, daily


“Canteen XYZ” Gallery, 19:00