PRZEMEK PYSZCZEK

Przemek Pyszczek  Playground Structure (Steps)

source: berlinartlink
In his recent channels of work, Przemek Pyszczek has painted with concrete and ripped apart playgrounds. As hardcore as this sounds, his bright studio in Schöneweide features friendly knots of primary-colored pipes resting in one corner, and opposite, a canvas with waves of sherbet hues leans against the wall. Pyszczek’s use of a variety of aesthetics and materials is the outcome of his recent focus on the contemporary urban landscape of Poland, where he was born.

Pyszczek moved to Winnipeg, Canada with his parents and brother when he was two and a half years old, and the rest of his extended family stayed in Poland. But his first time back wasn’t until he was 15. For the first time, he was seeing some family members and a country with which he was supposed to have some intrinsic attachment. Pyszczek speaks Polish with his family, but there was still, as he says, “this idea of displacement and fragmented memory.” The next time he was back in Poland was eight years later, and two years after that, in 2010, he moved to Berlin.

During his various visits to neighboring Poland, he began to notice, informed by his studies in architecture, the urban aesthetics of Poland. He especially observed the Plattenbauen type of housing typically associated with Soviet-era communism. These buildings come in pre-cut concrete slabs, meant to be assembled quickly. Since many of these Plattenbauen were rapidly constructed during the post-war housing shortage and lacked proper insulation, renovations were increasingly common. With renovation, however, came a strange trend of massive graphic designs on the sides of these buildings.

Pyszczek found himself taking photos of these buildings, interested in their form, aesthetics, and larger cultural meaning in terms of societal structure (this construction method was also used to build hospitals and schools). Pyszczek flips through some of his photos, showing one building designed to look like a ship from different angles, and another with a giant fuchsia butterfly pictured next to a tulip. “It looks like a kid drew it all on Microsoft Paint or something,” he says. “That’s the feeling that I get from them. But then there are also facades that look like modernist paintings.”

Pyszczek tells us an interesting detail: “I talked with my dad about these buildings because he used to work in construction, and he said, ‘Oh I actually used to build those buildings. Four of us would go to work and in one day we could finish one floor of a building.’”

Another fascinating aspect of the randomness of these graphics, explained Pyszczek,
is that this “vernacular aesthetic isn’t planned by designers or architects, but comes from the person doing the renovation of the building — someone like my uncle, who is a contractor.” When he asked his uncle more about these enigmatic, cheerful images and the designing process, he flippantly replied to Pyszczek that they would just whip something together. Pyszczek explains, “Basically, the whole urban landscape is being determined in this haphazard way.”

A strange paradox became clear in these buildings: they are the epitome of factory-made conformity, but from these exterior paintings and the rise in popularity of custom-made security bars in these buildings, people come to recognize their home as distinct. What attracted Pyszczek was that “in a way, people want to essentially lock themselves into this cage to protect themselves. But then they want to express some sort of unique character as well.”

Pyszczek had been making paper collages after these found images of buildings, and this juxtaposition of security bars and child-like graphics led to his series titled Facades, described as a “sandwiching” of the two aesthetics. Two paintings in his studio feature different close-up sections of the butterfly image, the finished one overlaid with smooth white security bars.

Pyszczek was also inspired by the materiality of the building. He began to survey the original standardized concrete slabs and the outermost stucco that came with renovations. He fused linen and concrete, two materials that are opposite in many ways, the former existing frequently in an art context, the other in a built environment. He adds, “When I work with these materials and encounter this physical process, I feel a connection to what my father did in building these structures.”

Pyszczek is most engaged when speaking of others or his surroundings, not himself. When he speaks about his interest stemming from the Plattenbauen, he says, “it’s something that’s part of my personal history and part of my memory, but also part of the fabric of history.” His fresh work is quite personal, but is essentially unselfish and based in the desire to share his curiosity. It’s hard to pinpoint an artist or human who can make research of concrete blocks energetic and compelling. But Pyszczek’s incredible narrative of activating and digging into the meanings of these structures is only half of the amazement — the rest is his art. In seeing how many different creative paths he has forged with a single concept, dead-ends don’t seem to be a possibility for Pyszczek.

With each idea inspired by this sociopolitical and physical structure, Pyszczek says, “it branches off into other areas and explorations of this building typology and this urban space.” For his latest and quite dynamic work, he targeted another structure — the jungle gym.

His fascination stemmed out of a vague familiarity and memory of the simple metal playgrounds — the giraffe, ladder, and spiral shapes — and ordered playground structures from metal workers in Poland. He only showed the workers a photo — no measurements — yet received his playgrounds just as he imagined. Then he began to rip them apart.

It was almost cathartic, he explains, “like pushing the past away.” Comparing it to expressive painting, he describes the deconstruction and reconstruction process: “It’s like picking the petals off a flower. There’s no rationale to it … it’s a reaction that’s invoked from within.”
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source: artsynet
Przemek Pyszczek’s studio is only a 20-minute ride on the train from Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, midway along a line most frequented by the Easy Jet-set on their way back and forth from Schönefeld Airport for sleepless weekends of bad drugs and great music. But the kilometer-long stretch of warehouses in Schöneweide, which once housed East Berlin’s most important power station and now, in part, Pyszczek’s sundrenched atelier, is a Berlin those hoards—and, for that matter, most who populate the city’s increasingly booming city center—rarely see.

This is Ossi country, untouched by the city’s newfound, relative economic prosperity of tech firms and startups of all colors, and thus relatively unchanged since the Berlin Wall came down, save the stoppage of the whirring turbines that employed the micro-region’s residents. It’s a fitting setting for the 30-year-old, Polish-born, Canadian-raised, Berlin transplant to create works that trace his home country’s transition since the fall of the iron curtain and an ongoing journey to rediscover his own past.

Two bodies of work have emerged most prominently in Pyszczek’s practice thus far: his “Facade” paintings that capture the graphically decorated external walls and whacky window bars of communist housing blocks in suburban Warsaw, and “Playground Structure” sculptures, which see the always-varying forms that compose those estates’ play-places cut away at with a circular saw.

To a great extent, the works came about by chance. Pyszczek’s family moved to Canada in 1987 when the artist was only two and a half. He moved to Berlin in 2010 and began traveling back to visit his grandmother and check out the Warsaw nightlife. (The city, at the time, was being heralded as the next Berlin; many others have followed.) But, as he recounted earlier this month, fresh from installing his two-person show with Donna Huanca at Berlin’s Peres Projects (he’s also in Office Baroque’s “RIO” this summer and will have a solo show with L.A.’s Mihai Nicodim in January), “It wasn’t until 2012, when my parents came to visit, that I really traveled around the country. That’s when I started noticing these visual idiosyncrasies and phenomena in the architecture and the landscape.”

Photo by Paul Green for Artsy.
He began photographing housing estate facades, which, since the fall of the iron curtain have been painted as if to resemble a multi-colored boat or a giant butterfly. (The photos were initially used as reference for a series of collages, which replicated the building facades in 2D with strips of glossy, colored paper and have since become the principal reference materials for his paintings.) As Pyszczek explains, “After the fall of communism, they started refurbishing these buildings because of heat loss issues, insulating and stuccoing the facades, and painting these crazy graphics all over them.” A recent set of works pulls from a single street outside of Warsaw, Copernicus Street, whose buildings are appropriately planetary themed. Saturn is a favorite.

Installation view, “Muscle Memory: Donna Huanca & Przemek Pyszczek” at Peres Projects, Berlin. Courtesy Peres Projects.
The dimensions of the basic building blocks that made up the original facades have become a rubric for Przemek’s “Facade” series. The pieces see the graphic patterns from snapshots of building-sides zoomed in on to varying extents, hand-rolled onto Dibond, and covered with fabricated window bars also inspired by those affixed to the high-rises surrounding his infantile home. “Window bars have been a tradition in Eastern Europe going back to communist times as well,” says Pyszczek. “People couldn’t readily import commercial products and so they had to rely on the limited amount of goods that could be imported from other communist countries or make things themselves.”

Photo by Paul Green for Artsy.
Coming from a Western, brand-dominated environment of standardized products, Pyszczek says the bars’ and painted facades’ “kitsch factor” drew him in. “Growing up in Canada, when you needed something like security bars, you would just go to Home Depot and buy it,” he says, noting, however, that his metalworker father would actually build them new book shelves or a TV stand in his company’s shop, borrowing from the traditions of his home country. In Eastern Europe, “not every single thing was commodified into an industry,” Przemek explains. State industries were involved in the production of certain things like cars or other consumer products of practical necessity. “But there were other things that you just couldn’t get because there weren’t companies making them.” Without the ability to import those products from the West, “the solution was just DIY it, then.”

Photo by Paul Green for Artsy.
The remarkable thing that developed out of this practical need is that, contrary to Western Cold War propaganda, which might have one believe that the other side of the Iron Curtain was a place where self expression went to die, it unintentionally fostered a wealth of vernacular creative expression. “This person who’s not a designer or artisan, he’s just a metal worker, ends up expressing some innate creative impulse in this very practical task of making a railing or bars for a window,” says Pyszczek. Come 1989, that expression made its way onto the building faces as well. “A quarter of people in Poland still live in some sort of prefabricated panel building,” the artist explains. “Living in this pod of the system, how do you make it your own?”

Photo by Paul Green for Artsy.
For Pyszczek, this cultural context lays down a sort of background track to the main thrust behind the work. “In the end, it’s really about the process and this social interaction,” he says. “I’ve never felt fully Canadian or fully Polish. I grew up only speaking Polish with my parents and my brother. And so I feel like I didn’t get to have certain aspects like interacting with someone in a work situation in the Polish realm of my life.”
Przemek Pyszczek, ‘Playground Fragment,’ 2015, Peres Projects
Przemek Pyszczek
Playground Fragment, 2015
Peres Projects
Przemek Pyszczek, ‘Playground Structure,’ 2015, Office Baroque
Przemek Pyszczek
Playground Structure, 2015
Office Baroque
This is particularly the case with the “Playground Structure” works and the window bars, which he has fabricated by metalworkers who once made them for functional use. “I don’t want them to reflect something that they’re not,” says Pyszczek. “Obviously, they’re not actually from a playground. But I want to make something that’s as true to what it would actually be before it’s cemented into the ground without using a found object.” The process also reflects the fact that, though giraffes, spirals, and rockets were particularly popular playthings in Poland during Pyszczek’s youth, the physical objects’ appearance can vary wildly from one community’s favored welder to the next.

Installation view, “Muscle Memory: Donna Huanca & Przemek Pyszczek” at Peres Projects, Berlin. Courtesy Peres Projects.
The play structures’ potential for children’s use has been abstracted away by Pyszczek’s cuts, and the bars’ worthiness to fend off a robber has also all but been eliminated. But Pyszczek’s creations manage to skirt the polished finish that might otherwise allow their loaded history and creative process to be sloughed off. The sculptures are not Koons-ified objects powder-coated to perfection but rather industrial tubes with cut edges left jagged, obviously hand-painted in found color palettes. In fact, they are to a great extent an Eastern Bloc foil to the American’s monuments to industrial capitalism’s perfection of artifice, highlighting, instead, the minute moments of creativity possible when necessity favors self-reliance over quality controls.