A project about communication between students from warsaw and leipzig – or: letters to friends.
Initiated by Monika Masłoń (The Maria Grzegorzewska Academy of Special Education, Warsaw) and Andreas Wendt (University of Leipzig)
Monika and Andreas know each other for some time. We met in Scheersberg during Winter Academy where we are, conducting workshops for german and polish students once a year: Andreas – Typography and book, Monika – Experimental photography. Because both of us work in Institutes of art education we decided at some point to do something together by using the academic structure a bit. As a combination of our interest we decided to make a photographic-typographic project. We also wanted to create a possibility for students from our Institutes to get in touch even without physical meeting each other. Of course nowadays it’s really easy to do that. New technologies totally changed the way we communicate. It’s much faster and more accessible to contact someone from a distant land. During discussions on this issue Andreas thought of a conversation book for children from GDR times called “Letters to friends”, and about that slightly surreal situation in which you write to someone you don’t know and whom you are never probably going to meet. Monikas first thought was concerning the question: what would she write and what would she ask that stranger? For her it was the most interesting part of that situation. To choose something that is on one hand something really basic, connected to the context of everyday life (like where are you from and what does it mean) and on the other hand says something about you (because without any limitations you decide to write about something specific for a certain reason). And what if that situation would take place only once? If the number of letters would be limited, like in a telegram? We had in our mind situation like that. Difficulties and limitations started to be opportunities.
Creating such a situation for our students seemed to be a perfect solution. They are complete strangers, but at the same time they are in the same phase of life, they chose to study the same thing, but at various universities, in different cities.
We encouraged them to think of words that they would like to send their fellow students in the other city, and then to cut the necessary letter from cardboard. We thought about choosing specific places for presenting each statement in public space. Word at a chosen place gave the second group some kind of information about the context and a possibility to interpret the first group’s intention. Of course we also had the vision of walking with huge letters through the city. Letters that have potential to create something.
In this way we created a structure to fill.
First, think about people from the other group. What do you want to communicate to them? Choose words. Think about a place for each word. It can be a good illustration of that word, but also something that can help to interpret it and reply. The chosen place can also give more information about your background as a resident of the specific city.
Prepare the letters you need and take them to the chosen places. Build a word.
Document your action. You can use pictures, video and sound. It can give you the opportunity to say more. But still use only one word at one place.
Communication is a key word in the project. Of course our main intention was to encourage communication between students from different cities, but also to act as a group and check how relations between the letters influence the statement, and get to know the reaction on the action right on place. Using video documentation got us also closer to making some kind of video performance, to act with letters in different ways, to use movement and stillness as a tool.
PARADOKS engl. paradox – STRITTIG engl. debatable, controversial
JESTEM engl. I am – LAUFSTEG engl. catwalk
KREACJA engl. creation – KOPIE engl. copy, replica
plus in the Polish Institut Leipzig: WITAMY engl. welcome
In Warsaw we started with the question »What thought would you like ask or send to the students in Leipzig« and we agreed on single words. In the end we had a long list from which we chose six words at random and discussed which of those were the strongest – “Paradoks”, “Jestem”, “Kreacja”. There were some places in Warsaw (see the map) that the participants perceive as a paradox or strange. “Jestem” is connected above all with the individuality of people in a metropolis – so the public space with a mass of people seemed most suitable. “Kreacja” of course is a keyword for artistic students and the Art Museum a perfect place.
The first question in Leipzig was about where to start: are the places or the words more important for the reply to warsaw. For example in Leipzig no bears live but there are a lot of wild boars in the wildlife park … The list with places was long, but which word would do it? Again we started a list of words to find ones. In the end, the combination of words and places from Leipzig in connection to the places in Warsaw gave the answers. We chose the controversial monument of the controversial personality Richard Wagner, the copy of the old, in GDR-times demolished church of the university, and places where people show their individuality like on a catwalk or use the place to have a distanced view on others.
And “witamy”? Across from the Polish Institut in Leipzig there were printed banners at the town hall with the word “welcome” in different languages. But they forgot it in polish …
While looking for the right words, we start to communicate about the current city life, what it feels like, going to certain places. And that life might be quite similar in those two cities.
We produced the letters in the workshops of our art education institute in Warsaw and in Leipzig. Projection made it easier for us to draw signs for the construction and for cutting out the single letters.