They call me Gypsy... /The more you trim, the bigger it gets
Dates: July 16 – September 26, 2021
Venue: GGM1, Piwna 27/29, Gdańsk
Artist: Krzysztof Gil
Curator: Ania Batko
We remind you that on August 15, all branches of the Gdańsk City Gallery are closed.
The more you trim, the bigger it gets it is part of collective exhibition They call me Gypsy but that’s not my name.
When the 19th century painter Antoni Kozakiewicz painted Artysta w plenerze (The Artist in the Open Air), he actually painted the portrait of himself. In the picture, he is dressed like a dandy straight from Munich, busy with a painting. In front of him there is a wooden cabin, against which a dark-haired woman is posing with a child in her arms. Behind him, a group of Gypsies are curiously looking at the scene. Many years later, the Tygodnik Ilustrowany weekly will caption the photo of the painting with a short comment: A brave artist.
In Władysław Reymont’s Chłopi (The Peasants) the Gypsies come to the village in summer. The villagers rush to hide everything they can. The Gypsies, the Gypsies are coming! At night, the village women quietly sneak out of their houses to meet the fortune teller. Then they tell stories how Gypsies turned a peasant into a pig and how Gypsy women bathe stolen children in an alder-tree cauldron to turn them into devils. For them, Gypsies are a magical tribe endowed with supernatural powers. Mythical creatures like unicorns or elephants.
During the 1878 international exhibition in Paris the Gypsies, their tents and tools are to be exhibited to the public for the first time. The author of the idea, one Paul Bataillard, is an expert in Gypsies fascinated with the life of the Kalderash and the Ukrainian Roma, who has been popularising the idea of a museum devoted to Romani culture for some time. Just before the big opening, it turns out that the artefacts are scarce and the Gypsies themselves have disappeared in unknown circumstances.
Poet and writer Jerzy Ficowski issued his first book on Gypsies in early 1950s. He wrote among other things about Gypsy magic rituals – the single-eyed devils, hairy crosses, magic dice and the fantastic bengoro dolls. To make a doll, a Gypsy woman must sew together a pair of hen’s eyes and use its claws to make the crooked legs. Sometimes she would make the doll from paraffin wax, add a tail made of her own hair and put the doll into an empty egg shell. She would make the eyes from red beads and covers the doll with a generous amount of soot. The doll, the demon of the human fear, is a little corpse worth the amount of fear it induces. Usually hatched during fortune-telling, it emerges from a chicken egg or an inverted glass tumbler.
In the same book Ficowski quotes the Romani poetess Papusza. In his letter to Julian Tuwim, Ficowski mentions the ostracism suffered by Papusza for the alleged betrayal of the Romani people’s secrets, painting a romanticised picture of a doomed artist. This is what Papusza says in a 1970s recording:
When I read cards, I make a serious face and use serious words. Like a poet, I think. There is this spirit, this inspiration, and you know everything in an instant. The inspiration depends on many things, but most of all on money. When I see money, something moves inside me and then I learn that all I told is the truth.
Fortune telling resembles a visit at the analyst’s office. The one who is told his fortune must be sensed. The one who tells the fortune must be paid.
This exhibition shows an inside of a tent, a studio of a Gypsy woman travelling with a circus who uses her own Otherness as a theatrical prop. She takes advantage of the myth poisoned by Romanticism. She shows what you want to see: the craving, the pain and the pleasure. The meanings are chosen at random, like cards. A little bit of the unsophisticated Orient, the dirt powdered with gold and a ghostly hole leading to places outside the map. It is an omen stretched between the past and the future. A cabinet of curiosities, a tight hollow of Julian Tuwim, the grotesque sorcerer and collector of exalted myths and souvenirs from imaginary journeys, who had never been in a Romani camp himself but, inspired and tired of his own euphoria, created the Gypsy Bible from dreams and old book pages. A small grain of truth drowned in a bloated halo, to quote Ficowski. Or a drawing room of a bohemian poet from Warsaw, who like Cyprian Kamil Norwid idles about in his tailcoat and a leaky hat, wooden stick in his hand. The dirty and worn things. He loves to flaunt poverty and laugh at the bourgeoisie. He is drawn to the forest. He spills out soil in the drawing room and plants trees. He drinks wine, talks about serfdom oppression, sleeps on a couch and feels free as a gypsy. This is a cage with colourful birds flying and sneaky snakes writhing. The enchanted souls of defiant Gypsies, drawn to the flame like moths.
It could be an illustration to a Romani fairy tale: the Dirt and the Carelessness come to the country where the sun always shines. They eat leeches and mushrooms and drink dirty water from a puddle. Instead of dancing, they rub their backs against tree trunks, and instead of signing, they yawn happily. She is covered with old dirt while he resembles a rash of smoked bacon. If people chase them away with wooden sticks, they will walk away into the world. Everything is bathed with the choking scent of Datura stramonium, the devil’s snare secreting a sweet and mousey smell that irritates the nose. The smell is seductive and suffocating. It is tempting and nauseating. Eluding. Lying like a gypsy. In Polish, the plant is also known as the devil’s flower or the gypsy flower. In Romani the word “to charm” means “to give herb”. A poisonous remedy for all conditions, a hallucinogenic drug that allows you to grasp the future. To immerse in a non-heterogenous conglomerate of bones, fat, broken shells and hair. A hairy doll suddenly jumps into the boiling water. It drowns and melts, and reappears as a bengoro. It dances like a bear on a chain walked by a gypsy through the village. It dances as they play. Play for us, our handsome Gypsy! Play us the love song because it may be our last one.
The Gypsy women are shaking their ringed hands. They are whispering, laughing, dancing. Morkosh! The word meaning love is put in their mouth by the poet Gałczyński. This is not what it really means but it will do as a spell. Several months earlier Gałczyński asks a Gypsy woman met in the Bielański Forest how to say love “in gypsy speak”. Her son Miłosz is playing nearby. Miłosz sounds like miłość, the word for love in Polish. The Gypsy woman tells the truth. She will not tell you your fortune. She will create it.
The Gypsy men and women, the relentless bohemians are being watched from a distance by a masked man*. Two women are putting a sticky substance on his face. He cannot talk. He is watching. Well I realize that I’ve been hypnotized I love your gypsy eyes. The Gypsies play to survive. They sign, dance and tell fortune. Gypsydom is a performance, a theatre played on here and there. A looped ritual. Appropriation and expropriation. Mimicry. Each thing pretending to the another thing. Ideas are not followed, they are used.
We cut and trim. But the hole gets bigger. This one is not black. Quantum physicists say that the black hole is always surrounded by another hole like a halo, and that the other whole is white. While one shrinks, the other one expands, as if they were taking turns. The Universe abhors a vacuum. There is a legend of a Gypsy man sent to the moon as a punishment. He eats the moon’s cheese layer, for when the moon disappears, the cunning Gypsy will be able to come back to the Earth. But every time when he almost finishes eating, the yellow matter grows back. Can you be a Gypsy and a moon at the same time? The rising moon is the best. It’s pink and juicy and sweet like a watermelon.
*Sophie Ehrhardt making a cast mask for the Research Institute of Racial Hygiene, Germany, 1938, photograph, courtesy of Bundesarchiv
Content cooperation: Krzysztof Gil
Graphic identification: Marcel Kaczmarek
Cooperation: Andrzej Zagrobelny, Gabriela Warzycka-Tutak, Andżelika Kliś, Barbara von Zmuda-Trzebiatowska
Lending institutions: Państwowe Muzeum Etnograficzne w Warszawie, Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich, Fundacja Sztuki Polskiej ING, Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie, Muzeum Kultury Romów w Warszawie, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Muzeum Krakowa, Polska Akademia Umiejętności (projekt PAUart), Agencja Gazeta, Ośrodek Dokumentacji Sztuki Tadeusza Kantora Cricoteka, Filmoteka Narodowa – Instytut Audiowizualny, Biblioteka Cyfrowa Politechniki Warszawskiej, Małopolska Biblioteka Cyfrowa, Bundesarchiv, Muzeum Narodowe Ziemi Przemyskiej, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Piktogram, Muzeum Tatrzańskie im. Dra Tytusa Chałubińskiego w Zakopanem, Galeria Plakatu The Art of Poster Piotr Dąbrowski and private collections
Thanks: Adam Bartosz, Delain Le Bas, Aleksander Celusta, Piotr Dąbrowski, Adam Gąsianowski, Mariusz Gąsior, Piotr Grdeń, Andrzej Grzymała-Kazłowski, Michał Harat, Kamil Kuitkowski, Małgorzata Kunecka, Paweł Lechowski, Jakub Łapawa, Ewa Łączyńska-Widz, Martyna Sobczyk, Kola Śliwińska, Natalia Zarzecka
Special thanks to Osman Djajdisaster for supporting the exhibition