– by Alex Roberts, Karina Kaluza, Monika Mysiak, 2-4 November 2016
Despite winter’s sporadic bugs trying to hamper our brief meeting this early November in Katowice – with poor Monika and Karina fleetingly catching something going, during the top and tail of my visit – group Monika, Karina, Alex and our adopted team mascot, special little Karol (Monika’s 7 month-old, second son!) all enjoyed our jam-packed, quality time together. Our 48 hours was filled with lots of chat about our working ideas, growing dialogue, visiting numerous possible exhibition/site-specific locations for our intended collaborative works, while getting to know each other with more depth. Due to the intensity of time, directness was appreciated — and we had great fun!
Monika as our driver, Karina as our tour-guide armed with walking maps, myself acting as the recorder of our experiences and Karol as our good luck charm, we set out upon our investigations! It was amongst Nikiszowiec, our main source point, that we discovered the wonders of the Historical Museum Katowice (a former mining community’s laundry & wash house for women and children). This percolated further discussions about hanging systems for our collective paintings and made us question the possibilities of trialling our painting installation in the temporary exhibition space of this former washhouse itself. Monika and Karina brilliantly wasted no time in sounding out our possibilities.
The museum proudly states:
“Water and soap provide the best cleanliness in the laundry and mangle in Nikiszowiec.
“In what is today Rymarska Street in Nikiszowiec, a laundry was located, used by all the dwellers of the estate. On the ground floor of a large building there were masonry tubs with taps. It was here that women with baskets full of dirty clothes and linen came. They washed the clothes in hot water coming from the coal mine heating plant and boiled their linen in special cauldrons. The wet laundry was hung out to dry in the attics of the houses, or in the drying room available on the first floor of the laundry building. It was also possible to use the electric mangles provided. After a hard working day, women came home with baskets of clean linen. When modern washing machines appeared, younger women used the public laundry more and more infrequently, while older ones found hand washing too tiring for them. However, the facilities were in use up till the end of the 1980s”.
— Informative text provided from the Historical Museum Katowice
What had these bars of soap cleansed? What stories could the mangles tell us? What did these practical, daily routines witness? Histories clean and unclean, personal, public and political information had regularly filtered through this everyday, commonplace, domestic set up. As I had previously stipulated about the Connect: Katowice project in general, Monika, Karina and my shared interest in artwork’s materiality (here our fabric) and our human trace, was leading us to acutely
“re-look at local heritage, ancestry; British-Polish past relationships and our present, common European concerns”
with, for us, fabric being the go-between.
We equally learnt at the museum, about the miners amateur painters guild, which still annually displays an art festival of local works, inspiring many others to join to exhibit, or flock to view from additional districts. Similarly the Nikiszowiec community has a living musical group, akin to the existence of the Pitmen Painters and Colliery Brass Bands of mining societies back in the UK. Coming together for the everyday, sharing art, music and the overlaps of union were assimilated.
The sense of suggested narratives, the domestic and close-knit community was pleasurably reinforced by our enjoyable pit stop and sampling the delights of the Byfyj Café.
Although, in recent times this old-style eatery had become a small part of the Nikiszowiec tourist trail, locals were still using the place for their weekly chinwags! While we three females chatted, feasted upon on homemade pastries, Karol patiently listening, we noticed the joys and tête-à-têtes shared by next-door’s table where a group of older local ladies were gathered. They too clearly were nattering about their memories and day-to-day woes.
Another experience that added to our collecting of encounters, sense of resonance, researching identity, communication and unity. The community estate of Nikiszowiec, the museum, and this a-typical food dwelling continued to keep offering insights into our personal and public worlds of daily life. Close ‘words of mouth’, relaying of present news and stories handed down clung to the atmosphere with more fabrics constantly being present; tablecloths, lace curtains in the many terrace houses windows, all witnessing the human trace of a plethora of meetings.
Monika, Karina and I as we work, toil with fabric, are also intrigued what conversations and shared (or not) shared identity may come to light for our present times. Like the past we viewed, we are amongst an era of European and global concerns. We hope championing our personal, public and political observations via the use of fabric, as our predecessors did will open up more social exchange and dialogue.