Michal Kaczynsk (left) and Łukasz Gorczyca (right) at Raster’s booth at Frieze Art Fair 2011
Raster is an independent art space based in Warsaw, Poland, founded by art critics Łukasz Gorczyca and Michal Kaczynsk. Originally started as a magazine, Raster has since evolved into a gallery space and is generally seen as a provider of contemporary art culture, not only for the local Warsaw scene in Poland, but also internationally. Their project “Villa Raster” for example, provides an innovative platform for sharing cultural experiences and exchanging ideas. M-KOS interviewed Gorczyca and Kaczynsk at this year’s Frieze Art Fair.
M-KOS [MK]: How did you start Raster?
Raster [R]: The name Raster originally came from the magazine, a kind of informal magazine we used to publish when we were art history students at University of Warsaw. The idea of the magazine was to promote young generations of artists and writers. So we started doing the magazine to understand how the contemporary art scene works and how to promote new generations and new ways of understanding art in Poland. So the magazine was pretty much focusing on the questions of language, how we could develop the language of criticism to be understandable for the wider and younger audience.
MK: When did you start?
R: We started the magazine in the mid 90s, around ’95 or ’96 and then there was a natural evolution of the project, as soon as we got in touch with some younger artists who were very interesting and promising and shared similar ways of understanding things. Then we decided to open the space, a gallery to promote them in a commercial field as well.
MK: When did you open the gallery?
R: We opened the gallery in 2001. Before opening the space we were active in publishing magazines and also contributing writings to other magazines.
MK: While you were working on the magazine, did you also have different projects or events?
R: We organized some informal exhibitions from time to time, for example, at our own house and so on, so it was more about events.
MK: Now you are in Frieze’s main section. How many times have you participated in Frieze since you opened the gallery?
R: This is our fifth time. It all happened very quickly. I think we started working at a very important moment and representing new generations of artists who proposed totally new way of doing art. And also there was a coincidence to catch the timing when there was a growing international interest towards the former Eastern Block and other parts of the world, South America, China etc… Suddenly we became a part of that.
MK: Is there any younger galleries following your path?
R: There is one young gallery from Warsaw called Kolonie in the Frame section this year. They actually have a similar story. He started as a writer and established a small publishing house, publishing series of books about art and then he opened the gallery with a new generation of artists, even younger than ours. So this gallery somehow followed similar strategies and shares similar experiences as us.
MK: So do you think you have influenced many emerging galleries in Poland or that they look at you as a successful model?
R: Perhaps. But the fact is that we are living in a very specific environment and circumstances so we always need to look for the alternative model of activity. We can’t adopt easily or automatically such universal model of Western galleries because our local situation is different, we don’t have such market potential yet, we don’t have the same kind of infrastructure in contemporary art developed in Germany, UK or United States. So we need to be creative to find other ways to communicate with people not only in Poland but also surrounding countries like Czech, Slovakia, or even Mexico, India or China, all these different countries that recently emerged in the international art scene and yet have totally different cultural background and social situations. So that’s why there are a lot of projects that already combine different kinds of activities. The galleries are very often focused not only on selling and presenting artists but also combining publishing or not-for profit activities with commercial ones. Because this is specific to our society and the development stage that we are on. I also think that the global situation is changing, and that means even international galleries or western galleries will need to rethink their own strategies, for example, the financial situations are getting more critical and they also need to ask themselves how to make their activities more stable and how to handle difficult times.
Rafal Bujnowski “Lamp Black. Pentagon” (2008) series of paintings, oil on canvas. Exhibition view at Raster Warsaw. Courtesy of the artist and Raster.
MK: You are having a solo presentation in the main section of Frieze where most of the galleries are showing more than two to three artists.
R: We like to have solo presentations. There is a good possibility to make a statement and promote a certain artist. For this particular artist [Rafal Bujnowski], he works with diverse media so that the audience doesn’t recognize that all the works are done by just one artist.
MK: Can you tell me about your upcoming project “Villa Tokyo”. Is Villa Tokyo an art fair?
R: It’s not exactly an art fair but it is something connected what I said earlier about specific situations, like looking for something a bit different, an alternative model of activity. This is a project that we started in 2006 in Warsaw [Villa Warsaw]. And the idea was to bring a group of international galleries to Warsaw, to show contemporary artists to the local audience, it is pretty much about international exchange. And also running the gallery is not exclusively a commercial activity but also a group of creative activities, bringing together new artists and ideas, bringing new models of activities. We decided to develop the project and moved onto other destinations. We are more interested in places that are not art market centers but a bit on the margin, and at the same time that have a specific and strong identity. Last year we did it in Reykjavik, Iceland, it was called “Villa Reykjavik” and we invited a group of international galleries to come to Reykjavik. And we had a space for each of the galleries so we established a kind of district for international galleries for a month. It was like a meeting of galleries but not really a commercial meeting, it was much more about sharing different experiences, and meeting a totally different audience there and trying to get them to understand or reflect on our own activities. Collaborating with the local galleries is a very important part of this project in order to maintain the channels of communication as well as understanding what the local situations is.
“seashore at Ægissíða”, performance by William Hunt (UK), at Villa Reykjavik in 2010. Courtesy of Raster.
MK: So, Villa Tokyo is going to happen in Tokyo.
R: Yes, Villa Tokyo will be in Tokyo in November, inviting local galleries, Taka Ishii, Tomio Koyama and New Tokyo Contemporaries which is the association of seven emerging contemporary galleries in Tokyo. This project will last for a week and will contain exhibitions, screenings, artist’s talk and concerts. We hope we will have a great time there meeting new people, sharing the new experience. It’ll be a more relaxed atmosphere especially after working hard on these commercial art fairs, and doing business.
MK: It sounds like a huge project to organize. How did you finance the project?
R: For Villa Tokyo, it’s supported by the Polish government. Poland takes the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, each of the EU countries takes the presidency every six months. At this special occasion, the Polish government put special programs to promote different cultural activities in Europe, they are interested as well in doing something in Asia. So we proposed the project in Tokyo in collaboration with other European galleries. Most of the budget is coming from the Polish government and there are also other smaller partners like the City of Warsaw. All the participating galleries have to cover costs such as travel, accommodation, transportation of the art works and so on, but there are no participation fees like the normal art fairs. It’s a friendly based project and is meant to be non-profit.
MK: Are you working on any other projects?
R: Yes, we are now working on a series of books about the artist we work with. Also we have a special project to publish a book about culture and artistic identities of the city of Warsaw, focusing on the historical tradition of 20th century architecture, visual art and literature that is very specifically addressed to our local community. Most of our publications are bilingual, Polish and English, so this way, we can bring our local situation or activities into an international context. I believe that there is no other way to develop a local culture without developing it internationally, otherwise the local culture will quickly die away. ■
11-18 November 2011
at 2-3-15 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo