This desire to catch up with the West means that we run very fast, we are released from the formal limitations, and we run a marathon at the sprint pace. And we bear the consequences.
There is a trait that fascinates me the most in people – which allows you to survive difficult moments, jump across impossible boundaries, and follow an unmarked path. For some, it can be called stubbornness, by others perseverance, for me it is expressed in the slogan “despite everything”. Stubbornness and persistence are associated with the pursuit of the goal, and “despite everything” – this is a development without a specific effect, for the general value.
Despite not being on the map, Poland continued to develop despite poverty, despite shortages of products on shelves and it operated despite prohibitions. Our creativity has been developed and stimulated for generations in a completely different way than in Western Europe. The skill of resourceful thinking still distinguishes us from others. Thanks to this we have achieved the impossible. Over the last 20 years, the development of our economy has almost caught up with the Western standards (according to the FTSE Russell index agency, Poland has ceased to be a developing country and advanced to the 25 most developed markets in the world, placing it in the 21st place), and the last decade allowed our designers to create lines of products with interesting design.
We are not only producers and reproducers anymore. Last year it was a huge pleasure to be able to see a summary of the last decade at the Warsaw Home markets (not intended by the organizers) and a leap made from the exhibition “House of Poland” organized at the first design festival in Łódź, where it was difficult to find furniture of Polish designers available at the market. The number of products, the quality of products, the design awareness, as well as the increasing understanding of Polish consumers – prove how much we have done. Our products receive prizes in international contests, which seemed impossible, not so long ago. And all of the above has happened despite everything, without money, without great supporting programs, without dynamically working state institutions. In most cases, this success was supported by bottom-up initiatives and stubbornness – because “we have to, because we should as a country, because others already have it and they are already there”.
Marathon at the sprint pace
This desire to catch up with the West makes us run very fast, released from the formal limitations, we run a marathon at the sprint pace. And we bear the consequences. The road is exhausting and we pay the highest price for it, the price of a burnout of a creative community. One can sense the exhaustion of this tissue, and there is still an enormous amount of things to do with limited support resources. Our romantic soul that has always united in the face of a challenge slowly looses with pragmatism. Is it worth doing a research that nobody will pay for, is it worth to create new programs of lectures that universities will not appreciate, is it worth to pass knowledge to students from the level of prestige and not profit, to write articles inspired by excursions that nobody refunds?
The process of self-motivation is becoming increasingly difficult and it concerns not only designers but also animators – for can a mention in the press be comparable to the uncertainty that a new project is implemented? Every success makes us happy, however hypocritical articles about conquering Milan, London or Paris worry, as they are compared to international projects in the real context. We are aiming at innovation but we don’t trust our innovators, we kill the initiatives long before they are born.
“Our products receive prizes in international contests, which seemed impossible, not so long ago. And all of the above has happened despite everything, without money, without great supporting programs, without dynamically working state institutions”.
Our market has significant gaps regarding events from the sector of creative industries. I have the impression that today there are less exhibitions than few years ago, and the last mainstay of yearly design presentations is BWA Wrociaw, the rest of them are based on festival life. I am glad about this year’s comeback of Łódź Design to the production of own exhibitions, as well as the perfectly developing program of the subject matter of Gdynia Design Days, or the festival Przemiany taking up scientific issues – yet, it’s not enough. During these ten years we have almost completely lost critical projects, experiments made independently from education process or those using joke and cunning, which have guided us.
The exhibitions are mainly organized as road projects showing clear thematically and esthetically beautiful collection of predominantly well-known objects. It should be noted, that the organizers of events minimize the costs of accommodation and wages of trustees to the minimum, not to mention funding of new works (hence the constant, narrowly restricted package of objects with significantly limited critical research, as this demands time and resources, and it is difficult to sell after the completed project). We also have no industry meetings, during which we can exchange knowledge about problems and implemented enterprises, and the time of discussion during lectures is reduced to minimum. Support for educators in their work is also complicated. The lecturer is rarely praised for his extra-curricular activity, let alone for grants or free time for design and research work. The above brings about lack of information about the development of Polish design that would be the starting point for strategy of further actions.
Time for mistakes
If there’s a will, there’s a way; the last years have shown that perfectly. The thematic variety of initiatives proves their grass-root character. But what is the Polish design of today? After many years of conscious financing of the industry, which almost didn’t exist, should we think about answering this question? The fact that we are professional can be proved by projects of: Krystian Kowalski, Maja Ganszyniec and studio Kabo & Pydo, among others, however, this professionalism is based on a well-done project work, but we perfectly know that the world of design is much wider. The Adam Mickiewicz Institute has the greatest merit in promoting Polish producers, not the Institute of Industrial Design or festivals. Perhaps it is time to appoint a unit that will start to understood design in an integrated way, without neglecting fashion and applied graphics?
The implementation of substantive tasks in Poland is still categorized in terms of passion, not work. It is worth that the need for constant proving of competence turned into support of action. Today, we can afford the process. We no longer have to run in a murderous race, we have time for research and mistakes – we should let ourselves to make them. Maybe once again it is worth to unite and choose a common strategy, despite everything?
Dorota Stępniak – member of the Gdynia Design Days 2018 Program of Board. Curator and manager of events in the creative industries sector. Author of numerous texts, journalist, juror and conference moderator. She currently works for the International Design Center (IDZ) in Berlin and lectures at the VIAMODA University in Warsaw. The originator, curator and manager of Łódź Design Festival, associated with the event until 2010. The creator of the O! To Design project.