The relationship in the field of art between Poland and the Basque Country began in 2014, as the two were readying Wroclaw and Donostia to be the two European cultural capitals in 2016. The relationship continued after 2016, one example being the AIR WRO programme (Artist-in-Residence Wroclaw). Eleven Basque artists have participated in the programme since then. The most recent artists selected to take part in the artist-in-residence programme were Mario Paniego and Amaia Vicente (referred to as M and A below). We caught up with them after their residency in Wroclaw to talk about their projects.
Did you know about the AIR WRO programme? How did you find out about it?
M: Yes, I knew about it. In 2016, coinciding with the Donostia European Cultural Capital, I took part in an artist residency in Rijeka, Croatia, the city named the 2020 European Capital of Culture. On my return, I was in a group exhibition at Tabakalera together with other artists who had been working with AIR WRO in Poland. I liked what I saw, so I started paying attention to the calls for applications.
A: I learned about the residency on the Etxepare Basque Institute website and from other people who’d participated in the programme before.
What was it about the programme that attracted you to apply?
M: Carrying out a project in a different place, with a limited timeframe, and with financial and production backing was very attractive. Especially when the call for applicants coincides with the theme you’re working on; I’d just done a project in the centre of Bilbao that questioned the use of advertising in the city based on visual games. The guidelines asked for projects that stimulate thought and question how cities are and should evolve. As I was looking around, I discovered a major problem with the use of advertising in the urban area in Wroclaw.
A: I was interested in an exchange with a country like Poland, where I’d never been before. I was mainly attracted to its recent history, culture and the fact that it has been in the European Union since 2004. I was also interested in the experiences of other artists who’d been working in the same city and had shared good references.
What was your project and your objective?
M: My project focused mainly on advertising media in three different spaces in the centre of Wroclaw. The first was a ‘city lights’ project (a backlit advertising display at street level) located in garden area; the second, a five-meter-high billboard on the facade of a building; the third was a ‘mushroom’ (cylindrical advertising column) set in the middle of a sidewalk. I photographed what was behind all of them to draw attention to what is hidden behind these displays and create the illusion of continuity between the installed image and the real background. The purpose was to use an attractive visual game to encourage viewers to think about how advertising is employed in our cities and our lives.
A: My project consisted of recording binaural sounds to create a city ‘sound landscape’. I have contacted musicians and artists who collaborated in the project. I also led a workshop to present my work, and explained how to design a binaural recording microphone.
What was it like to get ready to set up your projects in Wroclaw?
M: A lot of work. It began with several interviews with institutions and activists involved in the issue of city advertising. Next, I looked for the right places, availability, budget, good light for photographing, getting the correct tones in the prints, documenting all the processes, etc. I also had problems meeting deadlines.
A: I want to thank the programme organizers. From the first day they ask you what you need to develop your project, and they give you their full support and put you in touch with people that share your interests. In my case, my first contact was with groups who play different styles of music, either in their rehearsal rooms, music schools, or at concerts. They also put me in touch with a series of people to conduct interviews, which proved to be important for constructing the sound for my project: their voices place them in their own social, economic and political context and define their relationship with Europe.
How did the Wroclaw public receive your work?
M: The project was well received, and the result very satisfying. It’s made the rounds on social networks both instigated by the organization and people who photographed the projects on the street and shared their pictures. Even Polish television TV3 contacted us, interviewed us and featured us in a morning programme, launching the phrase "Imagine the city without advertising". There was a good crowd at the project presentation, many of them people who don’t usually take part in these initiatives. Discussion about imagining not only the city, but a world without publicity, generated many comments.
A: The piece received a good review from the public. We should point out that it was exhibited at the WRO Art Center, which is dedicated mainly to the subject of art and sound, and coincided with a piece called ‘Polish Soundscape’, a sample focused on the work of Polish artists work on sound landscapes. So, the audience was familiar with sound art and found this audio recording of their own city interesting.
What are the highlights of your time there?
M: Above all, the research work and interviews I did at the beginning of my stay. It’s the least visible part, but it encouraged me to compare my concerns about advertising in our lives with those of people interested in the same problem but from other points of view and with other sensitivities than mine.
A: The people I met through AIR WRO, the city’s warm welcome to me and my work. They know how to work very well in Poland and that has an impact on the quality of the work you present; contacts were essential for working collaboratively and being able to develop this kind of work.
Did your residency in Wroclaw teach you anything on the personal, social or artistic level that you would like to see mirrored in Basque society?
M: Surely it has made more of an impact on me than I realize right now because it is so recent. But something I think is important to highlight is the increasing sensitivity there regarding the use of advertising in public spaces. Their excesses in the past are turning the tide. For example, there’s a ‘Cultural Park’ law that aims to eliminate practically all advertising in part of the centre. In contrast, here (I’m thinking of Bilbao, the city I know the best), the amount of advertising in public spaces is on the rise. In recent years it has become overwhelming in the metro or tram, for example, which in my opinion were once very attractive means of transport. They seem to have gone public transport to advertising displays. I hope we become increasingly aware of this problem and that the authorities become more sensitive to this issue.
A: On the artistic level, it helped me to tackle a project that depended on the collaboration of certain people. In that regard, AIR WRO understood my needs and was there to help.