Ryszard Kisiel: Cruising

Place: Gdańsk City Gallery 1, Piwna Street 27/29
Opening: 15th of June 2018, Friday at 8.00 P.M.
Exhibition: 15th of June – 15th of July 2018
Artist: Ryszard Kisiel
Curators: Karol Radziszewski, Wojciech Szymański
Coordination: Gabriela Warzycka-Turak
Graphic desgn: Agata Biskup

At the beginning of the 1980s, Ryszard Kisiel, the future initiator and editor of Filo, one of the first magazines in Poland for non-heterosexual people, embarked on a range of journeys around Poland and abroad. Travelling by trains, Kisiel visited major Polish cities, such as Warsaw, Cracow, Łódź, Katowice and Wrocław, while also reaching smaller and provincial towns: Płock, Radom, Słupsk. He also got to the brotherly countries of the Eastern Bloc: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, GDR, Romania.

His journeys were both real and phantasmal at the same time, and Kisiel profited from them to create series of analogue photographs documenting the places he visited. The images, however, feature none of the typical conventional vistas that characterise tourist photography. While in Prague, he did not take pictures of Hradčany or Mala Strana. His interests focussed rather on bars, bathhouses, parks – cruising grounds where homosexuals met in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kisiel’s photographs were often accompanied by texts with information notes. That was because the thus described images were supposed to form his never-completed grand editorial project planned at the time under the working title Polish Gay Guide on the Europeans Socialists Countries. The atlas is a unique, precious and extremely interesting project. Not only does it provide a map of Kisiel’s itineraries – a record of his Central European cruising, but also documents the already non-existent 1970s and 1980s life and culture of a community from the margins of the society, overlooked by sociological and historical studies. Kisiel’s photographs and notes are the more so valuable that they seem to be the only such comprehensive, complete and preserved record and trace of the hidden practices of the non-heteronormative underground, undocumented anywhere else, perhaps apart from police files.

The contents of the atlas and its title also bear testimony to a more profound project: relating to identity, political and emancipatory, and since it also marks an attempt at self-identification, it precedes its time by a decade and appears as somewhat of a harbinger of the future. The mundane reality of late real socialism witnessed the appearance of a title written in awkward English in which the pioneering use of the word “gay” initiates a new Western paradigm and identity politics characteristic of the era after 1989. We may say that by calling himself “gay”, Kisiel moves forward to the 1990s, a decade marked by an attempt at an affirmative and positive revaluation of sexual minorities. Yet, on the other hand, he does not photograph pre-gay cruising grounds as sites of the past, quite the opposite – he documents them as places that are still alive with a view to creating a practical guide and a manual.

There is yet another aspect of Kisiel’s extensive undertaking – its artistic dimension. Ryszard Kisiel is not a professional artist and, importantly, he was not an artist in the 1980s. That does not change the fact, however, that his project may be interpreted today in the context of conceptual photography and visual-textual works that both document and perform the reality that they represent.

Exhibition organised within the Polish-German-British-Spanish project “Cruising the 1970s: Unearthing Pre-HIV/AIDS Queer Sexual Cultures” (CRUSEV), financially supported by the HERA Joint Research Programme (, which is co-funded by NCN, BMBF via DLR-PT, MINECO, AHRC and the European Commission through Horizon 2020.