Thank you, in Polish, is something like JIEN-KUYE and I systematically forget it. I have to admit I find the language a bit forbidding, and I feel rather lost in translation, like when I was in Japan and I had to resort to sign language. The people are really nice; I especially like their pride for this city, which is still just outside the mainstream tourism circuit. Believe me if I tell you that in two years’ time you will be hearing the (mispronounced) name of Lodz (repeat with me: WOOCH!) way more often.
Here everything is a work in progress, everything is being slowly restored. The same high street, Piotrkowska, is halfway restored and charming; the other half still under construction. As I have already mentioned, all the factories are being renovated. The severe, bright spaces that are emerging, with their wrought-iron and brick charm, are simply fantastic. This city is doing something more though: it is placing itself, it is forging its character – which used to be strongly defined by industry – toward a new artistic and creative direction. Today I had the chance to notice three important things about Lodz. The first is its unstoppable development; the second is the decisive encouragement and support the city offers to young artists and designers; and the third is the way local artists work, not just for themselves, but to artistically define Lodz. I am won over by this invisible electricity that run through the city and promises in a few years to deliver fireworks.
But let’s start from the beginning. Walking through a beautiful park, the Zdroliska Park, I am going to see another ex-factory called Priest Mill (Ksiezy Mlyn), Lodz’s biggest post-industrial complex, which in the 19th century belonged to Karol Scheibler, the richest entrepreneur in the city. Along the way, we pass by the renowned Lodz School of Cinema, where Polanski and Kieslowski, amongst others, studied. The Priest Mill used to be a completely independent complex; as well as the factory and the workers’ lodgings, it hosted shops, a school, the fire station, the doctor etc.
Today the many buildings of the Priest Mill are being restored; some became flats and lofts, others host, as I said, young creatives. What happened is that the City Council opened competitions to assign these amazing spaces to artists, creatives and designers. I had the pleasure to meet with Natalia Kalisz, a young resident artist at the Priest Mill. I had the chance not only to appreciate her work – a mix of photography, painting, print and lithography – but also to see her at work.
In adjacent lofts, the Council has given space to another five artists and five more will follow. Once a month they hold an exhibition together and they sell their works. In the City Council’s plan the Priest Mill area will become a sort of Lodz’s Montmartre, an area of creatives and art studios, as well as of workshops and art incubators. I discover that the City Council’s support for young creatives doesn’t end here: there are many open competitions for discounted spaces on Piotrkowska, the main street. The important thing is that the proposed idea, business or gallery is a creative one. Creatives of the world, or at least of Europe, take note.
I then move on to EC1, a place that proves to me that the city will undergo an incredible development in a few years, the basis of which is under my eyes. EC1 is a multifunctional centre for science and technology, hosted in the buildings of Lodz’s old Power Station, built in 1906, and the second biggest in Poland.
Many things will be built in this amazing space, flooded by the light of the big industrial windows and full of historic references to its industrial past: a planetarium, the museum of science and technology, two restaurants (one hosted in the majestic room where once upon a time the big generators lived), conference rooms, a sound theatre, a jazz club, banquet halls, a cinema, a pub, a children‘s area and a lot more. EC1 will open in the spring of 2015 and I had the honour of previewing its spaces and going up to the panoramic terrace.
And guess what’s underneath? Another construction site!
This time it is the new train station, as we are a stone’s throw from the city centre. The guide also tells me about a Council’s project aimed to restore a hundred houses every four years. In fact, even if many buildings remain abandoned, you can see a lot of scaffolding.
While we carry on, I ask the guide something more about the standard and cost of living in Poland. He says that the country has really improved in the last few years, the unemployment rate is down to 12% (compared to 20% ten years ago) and the cost of living, especially in Lodz, is manageable. An average salary is about 800-900 Euro a month, while the rent on a two-bedroom house is about 300 Euro.
And so the time comes for a meeting that makes me doubt my outfit, a combo of shorts, t-shirt and sneakers, the meeting with the director of the Fashion Week Poland Magdalena Christofi. That’s right: the Polish fashion week happens here, in Lodz, twice a year. In this meeting it comes out that even Fashion Week doesn’t have a simple aim – namely, catwalks and showrooms. It also wants to be the reference point for young Polish designers, through educational conferences, seminars and training aimed at helping them to better navigate the world of fashion. At this point of the day, already full of interesting ideas, I am still unaware that the best part is yet to come. And come it does with Urban Forms, a fantastic, I daresay exciting, street art project aimed at enhancing urban areas, adding more colour to the city, bringing valued artists to Lodz but most of all to push it in the right direction: creativity.
“We don’t have the sea or the mountains and our buildings are mostly industrial,” the training manager, Michal Biezynski, tells me. “This is why it is important to bet on the great creative resources we have, for the tourists but also for the residents, who are always happy when a new painting appears on a wall. We wanted an art collection, but a public one, in the city and for the city. And we chose different genres so that every citizen can talk about it and choose their favourite wall.”
Only the best artists, only the best walls, capable of withstanding time. This is the recipe to make Lodz a place able to surprise literally at every corner. Amongst the artists that have worked here, there is the Polish Etam Crew, with artists like Sainer Aryz, Spanish; Inti, Chilean; Os Gemeos, Brazilian; Tone, Polish; Roa, Beligan; Remed, French; and many others (an Italian as well soon!). This open air gallery now has 30 walls, and more will follow. It is time for a more classic, or institutional backdrop, like the City of Lodz Museum, housed in the palace once owned by Poznanski, the second richest industrialist after Scheibler and meticulous about appearances. The furniture is not original vintage but the atmosphere you breathe speaks about luxury, big parties, ladies in full dress and men with top hats and a cigar in the mouth. Very evocative.
In the museum there are also two rooms dedicated to the very famous local poet Julian Tuwin. Another one is dedicated to the well-known pianist Arthur Rubinstein, about whom I discovered two amusing facts. Not only was he a party-animal, a jovial and friendly chap and with lots of (famous) friends; not only at 80 he left his wife to date his 40 year old secretary; but at one point he was so busy and on demand that he started to play exclusively for accolades. Once on stage, he would “casually” find a piano and he would then consent to play something. In the room there was something like a hundred honorary cross, Knighthood stars and many such things.
I’ve also discovered the figure of Karski, a Polish diplomat who became a spy against the Nazis during the war, revealing the atrocities of the Holocaust to the world, after voluntarily experimenting them himself, first in the Ghetto, and then in a transit camp.
Last stop of the day: Lodz museum of modern art, the MS. Three storeys full of 20th century art, in an unusual and interesting itinerary. It is curious to discover that many of the works ended up in Lodz thanks to a group of local artists that called themselves the AR, Artists of the Revolution. It was a group of socially-conscious utopians and radicals, that started to exchange artwork with their French counterparts, collecting as many as 111. This collection didn’t have just an artistic aim, but also an educational one. In fact, they organised exhibitions of avangard and modernist art open to anyone, including uneducated workers. They were especially keen on the rationalist movement, presenting it as the peak of artistic development. In the museum there was also some propaganda art and some more recent artwork. I also take the chance to have a peak at the wonderful hotel Andal, housed in one of the building of the Manufaktura factory. An excellent example of past and present.
My day ended where it started, in Piotrkowska, while the sky becomes black, but the many people sitting at the outside tables of cafés and restaurants don’t show any sign of wanting to go home.
There is a bit of art even in the way the violet sky spreads out on the top of the buildings, in the girls’ colourful skirts fluttering with their steps, in the lights of the restaurants.
All photos above have been shot with the Samsung Galaxy NX30, which has been provided by Samsung Electronics C. Ltd