Günter Grass, Encontos + Bianka Rolando, Drummer

Exhibition: Günter Grass, Encontros
Annex: Bianka Rolando, Drummer
Günter Grass Gallery, Szeroka 34/35-37, Gdańsk
05/07/2019 – 14/09/2019
05/07/2019, at 6 p.m.
Hilke Ohsoling, Marta Wróblewska
Opening hours:
Tue-Sun noon-6p.m. / free admission
Co-organized by Günter & Ute Grass Stiftung

Encontros means ‘encounters’ in Portuguese. Originally directed at Portuguese audiences, the Gdańsk version of the exhibition addresses the title motif on more levels. Firstly, we encounter Günter Grass in his Portuguese environment, which, though seemingly exotic, won’t cut itself off from the northern scenery, so well-known from the writer’s work. Indeed, staying in hot and sunny Portugal, Grass’s thoughts would often escape elsewhere, for instance when he composed speeches for the sake of current political campaigns, wrote polemical essays or kept his diary whose excerpts were included in the novel From Germany to Germany. The motifs found in Grass’s numerous watercolours, drawings or graphics of the time, often turn into vanitas-related still lifes, reminding us about the fragility of our existence. Grass is fascinated with grilled fish or their skeletons placed on stones. Another time the corpse of a gutted rabbit suggests his delight in expressionist turpism. On the other hand, his Portuguese landscapes often adopt cool colours and shapes of the North, so intensely present in Grass’s iconography.

Still, the Gdańsk encounters are not only Grass’s encontros with Portugal. It is also about transferring the context of that secure southern retreat to the northern, Gdańsk reality. Hence the presence of the Polish poet and visual artist Bianka Rolando, whose latest multi-element installation called Drummer was specially made for the Gdańsk exhibition. This is an invitation to an intergenerational, international, interdisciplinary dialogue with memory, identity, bearing witness, tangibility and intangibility of experiences. The key to it is applying the right communication register, which includes empathy (not without a dash of criticism) but also a significant dose of solidarity, understanding and acceptance. Grass used to write about what needs to be said. Rolando claims everything has already been said. The artist creates a multidimensional installation which comprises both visual and poetic elements. She also attaches a great significance to the materiality of her objects, made up of old wood, sand from a Baltic beach, ash, coal. Their sensuality builds a certain sensual bridge, which leads to the deepening of that artistic dialogue. The double interlocked boats arranged by Rolando are an element of negotiating an interpretation of memory, forgetting, confessing or leaving things unsaid. With reference to difficult truth and fluid memory in Grass’s work and life, the artist quotes the notion of “self-designation of the speaking subject” defined by Paul Ricoeur. As she puts it, “Self-designation means that the speaker is read together with the whole story of his life, with all his experiences. Then his account can be interpreted as true, particularly when it stems from voluntary purgation of what was evil.”

In accordance with the German idiom, in einem Boot sitzen, the two artists meet during the Gdańsk exhibition in order to sit in the same boat and be able to look in a mutual understanding towards a common point on the horizon.   

Marta Wróblewska

In May 1976 Günter Grass travelled to Portugal for the first time to give several readings that were accompanied by small shows of his art.

Grass′s private visits to Portugal started in 1981, and it was Algarve that particularly delighted him. Soon Grass and his wife bought a small house which they kept for seven years. After selling it in 1989 they built their own house. In those early years Günter and Ute Grass came to Portugal several times a year, often in the company of some of their children and grandchildren. In later years they used to make the trip twice a year, usually in February and March, then again in October and November, to enjoy the more clement temperatures of Portugal.

During these sojourns Grass produced a large number of drawings and water colours. He also enjoyed forming Terracotta sculptures. As always there was a high desk where Grass worked on his manuscripts, either writing in longhand or using a mechanical typewriter. Many drawings and texts bear evidence of what it was that fascinated Grass in Portugal – fish, the beach and the coastline, the vegetation, and a multitude of trouvailles. In our exhibition you can see motifs Günter Grass encountered in Portugal.

Hilke Ohsoling