In midwinter, on a day of ice, sludge and relative warmth, I head off to the Centre for Contemporary Art, housed in Ujadowskie Palace, which oddly doesn’t feature in my bible of Warsaw Palaces.
I’m not a great fan of contemporary art as a rule: it taxes my capacity to comprehend. But the palace fits nicely into my putative trail for the day: an 18th century palace theatre (closed for an hour at the time I arrive), and then the tourist information office in the Old Town to stock up on maps and leaflets for the visitors.
The main exhibition is called Slavs and Tatars. One of the mediums is carpet woven with cartoon-like images. There is a large horizontal bench covered with such carpet, a book at each corner in English. I stand devouring familiar words, and getting a sense of the nature of the exhibition – language is important and most carpets feature Cyrillic and Arabic letters. The tongue is a central image – the tongue behind bars as the enemy of the state; the tongue speaking the same word in different languages with completely different meaning; the dilemmas faced changing scripts. I’m quite happy browsing on my feet, but I must look a bit decrepit because pani forsakes her watchful pose at the door and comes over to tell me that I can sit.
The second gallery has a decorative and provocative projection onto the wall and a number of speakers on the floor. As you walk around the space they enclose, voices envelop you in a kind of horizontal Tower of Babel.
The third gallery is a journey into darkness, where I keep tripping over stools surrounding a central table with illuminated melons glowing through their stripes and splotches. Their label translates as “Aromatic de factos from the cycle Uprising Power”, just in case you need to know what they signify.
I see a doorway that reminds me of a James Turrell installation at the NGA in Canberra, all angles and colour.
I walk into a small room with a high ceiling and a reflecting floor. Hanging from the ceiling are mobiles with a central Asiatic feel. The air is full of colour, the walls are patterned with shadow, and there are blurred reflections in the beaten metal floor.
The final galleries contain more carpet and an odd pairing of books stabbed in the heart and a man riding a donkey backwards.
This might give you some idea of the spirit behind the exhibition.
Incantation by laughter
O laugh, laughers
O laugh out laughers
You who laugh with laughs, you who laugh it up laughably
O laugh out laugheringly,
O belaughable laughterhood- the laughter of laughering laughers
O unlaugh it outlaughingly, belaughering laughists!
Uplaugh, enlaugh, laughlings, laughlings
O, laugh, laughers!
Oh laugh out, laughers!