The projects presented at the Zachęta and the opposite Saxon Garden public park were inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the famous story of a girl who finds herself in a mysterious world, where she experiences incredible adventures and meets peculiar creatures. The story’s absurd dream logic has made it one of the most original and inspiring books ever written.
Włodzimierz Jan Zakrzewski, a painter preoccupied since the 1970s with the definition of time and the changing perception of reality, decided to create in Saxon Garden a sound installation alluding to Wonderland. The participant enters the artist-created world, which undergoes strange transformations. It soon turns out that the music they hear changes unexpectedly, the Playing Cards move, and they have found themselves in a labyrinth that leads them to Kuba Bąkowski’s great roaring elephant and a gravel footpath with laser-controlled sounds. A shrewd observer will notice that changes in sound tempo, volume and pitch are determined by the participants’ movements and can be modulated thanks to a special technique developed by Michał Silski. As in Lewis Carroll’s book, games with scale and distance are of key significance here. Through viewer participation, a new music piece is being created, in real time, and even a small child can become its co-conductor, experiencing unique emotions and the joy of creativity. Jan Zakrzewski recalls: ‘The concept for Alice was born last summer. I was watching on my laptop how the equalizer moves during the recording of King Roger and an idea came-up, to recreate something along same lines in real life, translate what I see onscreen into physical movement. I shared this idea with Michał Silski. He said: “I think it’s doable”. Already in November, after we overcame many technical problems, including programming issues, we were able to begin testing the new technology of reading sound. Alice at Saxon Garden is the first presentation of this concept.’
The installation’s physical form was designed by Jakub Szczęsny, an architect who uses architectural means to shape space but also its sensory perception. The purpose here is to showcase the effect of a direct, organic relationship between man and sound. As Szczęsny says, ‘Alice is a path that, when we tread it, influences the surrounding sounds and our perception of them. Music is most important here, but we also wanted to provide visual stimuli, as well as those bound up with the perception of temperature changes and the movement of air. To produce these sensations, we needed contrasting means: we thus have a tunnel with hidden courtyards, cutting us off from the outside world, we have altitude changes, and a gravel path we suddenly discover upon exiting the tent’.
The installation features Kuba Bąkowski’s Yellow, a temporary sound sculpture in the shape of a super-sized elephant. According to the artist, ‘the work is primarily a copy of a fragment of an air-conditioning system found in a warehouse in Praga, Warsaw – a copy that has been modified by adding several objects: eyes and ears, which, alongside the yellow paint, change the steel shafts into an elephant’s head. Placed on a plinth, the work is an outdoor installation/public sculpture, but also an oversized toy. Presented amid the trees in Saxon Garden, it reacts to human traffic by roaring and using its trunk to play bebop-style jazz solos’.
Music recordings are either from the collection of the National Audiovisual Institute (NInA), which produced the installation, or have been secured by Włodzimierz Jan Zakrzewski.
Włodzimierz Jan Zakrzewski. Alice at Saxon Garden
Saxon Garden - public park opposite the Zachęta building, 12 June – 6 July 2014
sound Michał Silski
architecture Jakub Szczęsny
installation Yellow Kuba Bąkowski
produced by the National Audiovisual Institute
co-organised by the Zachęta – National Gallery of Art
executive producer Stowarzyszenie Artanimacje
partners: Urząd m. st. Warszawy, AG-Complex, Panattoni, Kato
photos: Malwina Toczek/ Narodowy Instytut Audiowizualny, Włodzimierz Jan Zakrzewski