We implemented the Objects and People project in a specific quarter of Lublin . We collaborated with the residents of the 31 Lubartowska Street area. Our study participants were from 8 to 68 years old (the mean age was 36.75 years). Fifty-five per cent of the group were women, and 43% were men. The study participants lived at Lubartowska Street for 2 to 59 years (the mean time was 19.82 years). Nearly 29% of the participants lived there since birth.
As part of the study, together we organised open teatime meetings, during which we discussed relationships between a man and an item. The collected stories became the basis for creative activities: they inspired an installation, gradually expanded throughout the project. This is how the Nomadic Workshop became a living organism, breathing the stories enchanted in objects.
Objects carry the energy of people they belonged to, their habits, affection or lack thereof, a sentimental disposition. If we sharpen our senses, we can hear their stories: how they moved from one owner to another, where they were exhibited, when they turned up in our home. We might even find out what time of year it was, or what was served for dinner that day. Objects activate memories that often are associated with people who are not with us anymore. They also reveal the truth about what we leave behind.
In 2016, when I started my work in the former Jewish quarter of Lublin with the Breathing Mountain project, followed by the Nomadic Workshop, I studied the interior of an abandoned tailor’s shop at 31 Lubartowska Street. Using archival materials, stories from the locals and my own perception, I attempted to find the place’s spirit, based on the traces of the past. There were not many left, which enhanced my senses and made me focus on every perceptible sign, such as a crack on the wall.
The space of the workshop itself contained traces of the past left by my predecessors: the irregular structure of the wall, illustrating the struggle against the imperfections of the surface, the carpet worn out by the clients and the tailor, who spent many years sawing clothes on twelve square meters; and, finally, the source of warmth and the heart of this place: an old, slightly cracked, but still working furnace, with rusty stains penetrating through the coat of white paint. All neighbours agreed that Joseph fuelled the furnace until the last day of his work, and that it worked perfectly, attracting people with its heat. They gathered around it in breaks between clients, and had long discussions.
Initially, the Nomadic Workshop comprised two zones, separated with a curtain (as presented in old photographs from the archives). The public zone, visited by clients, was the presentable space, with a window allowing a glimpse of the artisan at his work. The other, private sphere was more complex: one could try a garment there, it served as a wardrobe, but it was also a place where meals were prepared, so it was a private area for both the tailor, and the customer.
Apart from the carpet and the furnace, I found there old drawers and the remains of a sewing machine table, which I managed to put together. The original shutters, woodwork, shelves under the windowsill and the home-like atmosphere let me take the role of a medium, feel the energy of the place, and find the paths trodden in this micro-space by my predecessors. The stories shared, old photographs, small souvenirs brought by the neighbours helped me discover bigger parts of the picture from the past.
It seems that objects can store certain events of emotions experienced by their owners, and that we can feel it, be it in an elusive way. Therefore, I decided to trace back the past and memory of the place where I wanted to work. After a few conversations with older neighbours it appeared that before the war, a Jewish family lived and ran a business in my workshop. I analysed the interior design of the place: the private sphere of the flat, similarly as in the case of the subsequent user, was moved behind the curtain, and the official life took place in the front part. It is hard to imagine how a family could function in such a small space. Such conditions enforced closeness and compromise.
The People and Objects exhibition
The curtain became for me the symbol of the interior’s division into two areas. This was the axis of the exhibition. I hung a piece of white fabric, which visually transformed the space. Using the journals documenting my meetings with the community members, I covered the fabric with drawings of objects described by my guests.
There is something mystical about this curtain. It introduces division on multiple levels. In many cultures, using a curtain symbolises separation of the human from the divine. It separates two different worlds. In the memories of the study participants, however, the curtain is mentioned in the context of fun and the ability to hide behind it. In my installation, it separated the objects used in the exhibition from those crammed in the workshop on everyday basis, personal belongings or waste material from the creative process, usually not revealed. However, as objects in this case are at the centre of the study, I decided to include all the participants of the process in the game. The works and tools, somehow hidden behind the curtain, excited curiosity of visitors. They can find there the mirror sculptures I presented in Lublin during the 2015 Nigh of Culture, plaster forms from the Stubborn Presence exhibition, boxes with fabrics, scissors, photographs, frames, drawing books, scraps of tinfoil, coils of wire, old paints. The visitors gathered before the white piece of fabric covered in drawings, and unveiled the secret by looking at the other side.
Apart from the drawings and collages inspired by the stories collected during our study, the exhibition presented objects related to the 31 Lubartowska Street backyard, as well as my creative activity in the Nomadic Workshop.
One of the items borrowed for the exhibition was a small, glass bottle filled with dark brown liquid. Passed from one visitor to another, it connected the past with the present. In the backyard, on the first floor, right over my workshop, lived Mr Duch. His name („ghost” in Polish) perfectly corresponded to the person who appeared and disappeared from the view. Mr Duch got the bottle from his neighbour, now deceased umbrella maker Nuchym Szyc, who fixed umbrellas in his workshop at 31 Lubartowska Street for over 40 years. Moving out, Mr Duch gave the still full bottle to Szymon, using the workshop at the ground floor. He lent it to me for the exhibition. It appeared that the liquid was formicide. Judging from the amount, the backyard at Lubartowska Street has no problems with ants.
During this project, sometimes as a result of peculiar coincidence, I found various unwanted objects, abandoned or displayed. This was the case with cans filled with buttons, thrown away after the death of Mr Gwiazda, who carried bottles of mineral water up the first floor nearly until his last days. The buttons were of various types, from different periods of their owner’s life. They were crammed in the candy can boxes, as if waiting for someone to take them out and appreciate their beauty. And there is a lot to admire: some of them are uniform buttons, shiny, others are crystal-shaped, as if cut off an evening dress, there are also pink oval ones, maybe from a woman’s woollen cardigan. Some of them came off – fragments of thread are still there, kept just in case. We can almost use them to follow changes in fashion trends, and the progress of their owners’ tastes.
In one of our survey questions, we asked about an important object. A difficult question that requires reflection. For me, as an artist, such object would be an old notebook with yellowed pages, used as a treasury of ideas. It contains all the secret notes and drawings. This is where I get them out, one by one, and copy in various sequences in space. Only rarely the works are created as single pieces, they usually constitute a complex composition, or elements of a problem to be solved. Like a jigsaw puzzle. It is important that the pages are not snow white, that the notebook has a history, and although it is old, I am the first person to put her drawings on its pages.
The aim of the study at the Lubartowska Street was to determine the attitude of the community in this area to a broadly understood concept of object. This term referred to a street, house or flat, as well as to various things: everyday objects, both for practical use and for decorative purposes, those gathered as elements of a collection, things of a special personal importance. I also wanted to see how the citizens of Lublin see material objects, and find out which of them fill their life space, function on the symbolic plane: what emotions they entail, if they evoke memories, are associated with important situations or persons.
The residents of Lubartowska Street in their statements reveal respect for the objects they use to fill their (often very small) rooms. The study participants declared that only the necessary objects are held at home, and nobody appreciated excessive things (contrary to the residents living in other parts of Lublin). The residents admitted that the aesthetics and durability of the objects they use daily is important for them. They demonstrated preference for natural materials, and reluctance towards single-use, plastic objects. It also appeared that they often ponder over the history of old objects left in the street, and that they do not throw away things they are bored with, but try to fix broken or worn out items. Possibly repaired by the owner, objects kept for a long time at home are becoming more and more personal, and new stories are inscribed in them – both these related to everyday life, and to special, emotionally charged situations. As a result, the residents of Lubartowska Street declared that the objects they own represent the type of people they are.
The studied residents of Lubartowska and other streets in Lublin also often revealed that they have collections and so-called personal belongings. They included both old objects (a pre-war wig made of human hair, found at a flea market; a 100-year-old mirror, or rather a mirror frame; old, pre-war teacups; a cigarette holder – inherited from grandma; a seashell – souvenir of a great-grandmother), family souvenirs (portraits and photographs of ancestors), gifts from the dear ones (a ring from grandma to commemorate graduation, a necklace from mother given for 18th birthday, an engagement ring); but, surprisingly, also new things: key rings, toy cars, toys, books, of small financial value, or even items that could be considered rubbish (bottle caps, a doll with a severed head). Personal belongings and collections include toys (the littlest pet shops), clothes (tracksuit), vehicles (bike), furniture (bookcase), tools (wrench), electronic devices (TV set), functional art (glass balls) and jewellery.
Lubartowska Street appeared to be a special place on the map of Lublin. Its residents, emotionally attached to this area, admitted that the street affected their life significantly. Despite its ill fame (a lot has been done recently to change the negative perception of the area), for the residents the street is exceptional and they like it. Interestingly, not only the people living here, but also other residents of Lublin agree that Lubartowska is an important place. Maybe it is due to its rich (and sad) history. It used to be the longest and the most impressive street of the old, Jewish Lublin. Maybe it’s due to the vicinity of the Old Town, the Krakow Gate representative for Lublin, and because it is still an important pedestrian passage? On the other hand, maybe the reason for the street’s special position is its personal symbolic value, individual and specific for each person. In the hospital at Lubartowska Street I gave birth to two daughters, and this is how the street became inscribed in the history of my family. Yes, Lubartowska is one of the most important streets in this city.
 The project was carried out in 2017 as part of the Cultural Quarters programme, run by the Workshops of Culture in Lublin.
Magdalena Franczak, Magdalena Szubielska
Translated from Polish Karolina Bogdanowicz
Magdalena Franczak – born in 1978, an interdisciplinary artist, using various media: painting, drawing, photography and performance. Franczak creates installations and works with site-specific space. She maintains a dialogue with the theatre as a costume designer and scenographer. Member of the Polish-German AOUA group (Academy of Ugly Arts). Franczak co-operates with artists from Poland and abroad: Michael Ackerman, Marcin Dymiter, Ludomir Franczak, Yael Frank, Sara Kurzinger. With Jaśmina Wójcik and Weronika Lewandowska she is a part of Łodygi Collective. In 2014, Franczak received a grant from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. She has exhibitions in galleries in Poland and abroad (e.g. Zachęta Project Room in Warsaw, Arsenał in Poznań, BWA art gallery in Zielona Góra, Labyrinth in Lublin, Biała Gallery in Lublin, Centre of Contemporary Art in Toruń, Art Cube Jerusalem and many others). Karolina Sikorska wrote, „Magdalena Franczak refers to creative work and process as natural growth. This metaphor entails a carefully gathered collection of objects – found, obtained, gaining material aspect; objects which produce meticulous structures of connections, forcing the initiator and creator of the collection to constantly manage and classify the material. For Franczak work is a ceaseless process, dealing with the elusiveness of matter, preservation, recovery, placing objects in the visible realm”.
Magdalena Szubielska – works as a lecturer in the Institute of Psychology, Catholic University of Lublin, where she focuses on the spacial imagination of blind persons, and the psychological aspects of reception of the text of culture. As an independent educator and animator of culture, Szubielska is primarily involved in socially engaged projects, and works in various quarters of Lublin or with people at risk of cultural exclusion.