Article | Jan 2016
Krzysztof Maniak reflects on his RU residency
The Hestia Artistic Journey Foundation was established to conduct activities promoting young Polish artists, in particular by organizing "Hestia Artistic Journey," a cyclic fine arts competition for students and graduates of art schools. In 2015, Krzysztof Maniak won the prize and spent a month at RU. Here is his account of his trip in New York:
One week after my return, I decided to describe my impressions related to the month I spent in New York. It turns out it’s not an easy task.
I could write on and on about my stay, analyzing details such as the smell of the ocean at Coney Island beach, the shifting shades of the brown tenement houses in Brooklyn, the taste of Tom Kha soups in one of the Thai diners in 2 Avenue, or the August temperature, comparable to the sauna heat, when nearly burning air hits you as you leave the air-conditioned subway. The unfulfilled dreams, hopes, images and tastes, which forever will remain associated in my mind with the first time I visited New York.
However, I prefer to leave such a description for the future. To wait, for time makes some observations more objective, while it sharpens and saturates others, forcing me to return to New York, or never to visit the city again – as one could not step twice into the same river. I don’t know it now, it seems safer simply to report on my stay, preferably in modules relating to the key words of my visit:
Anyone who has visited New York will agree that the scale of the city is truly impressive. Scale is a very important issue for me, both in creative work and in my everyday life. So far, it was limited mainly to Tuchów, a town of seven thousand inhabitants, where I spend most of my time. Now even Cracow (where I studied and which always seemed large to me) seems small, surely only slightly larger than Brooklyn, and let’s not forget that the district, despite being the largest one, is only one of five in the city. It’s not just the span, but also the height and probably the depth, which give the impression of density, of being packed with millions of routes, labyrinths, crossed every day by a crowd of beings which are foreign to me. In fact, if I hadn’t travelled to New York with my girlfriend, I wouldn’t have known anybody in the city, while the “lives” of people I eventually met unfolded in parallel throughout that period. Simple awakenings at the verge of banality and stupidity accompanied me throughout the journey. They were illuminations, such as moments when I started to recognize streets, places, and eventually to modify them timidly, to take risks by taking shortcuts. The apparent harmony, constructed while I travelled by subway, melted as soon as I left the station. In the hecticness which surrounded me I had no time to stop, while I ran, I pondered upon the idea of residency, upon the possibility of creating and the notion of rest.
Several iconic museums which everybody has to see while visiting New York. This “obligation” makes the museums filled with visitors all the time and it was difficult to contemplate art, while rather glancing at it sloppily, over the shoulders of other people who took photos incessantly. For how could one miss the beautiful collections from Ancient Egypt at the Metropolitan, when you get the chance. Fashion inspired by Chinese art, three parallel exhibitions by Basquiat, Warhol, as well as Polish art hosted by the best museums globally during this season. I was mainly surprised by the architecture of those places, their infrastructure and momentum. The momentum also in the commercial sense, hundreds of souvenirs to be purchased in special shops resembling supermarkets. Plates, salt shakers, lemon squeezers designed by current art stars in limited editions, were tempting not only due to their sublime design, but also the artists behind them who fulfilled their “American Dream”, so fashionable in the New York context.
The second pillar are the countless galleries. In one street in Chelsea there are more than in the whole of Warsaw, not to mention other streets and districts such as SoHo – although we rather see art shops there, offering works by the best artists, but usually in huge editions, as it was the case with works by Hirst. You can also find many galleries in Harlem, Bushwick, parts of Queens.
Obviously, we didn’t visit all the places we wanted. That is something you need to accept from the beginning of a monthly stay. Every day means two-three places you can reach and enjoy, if they are not far away. On a day filled with meetings, for instance at the residency centre, plans for the afternoon need to be reduced to one visit, preferably to a place located along the subway line we usually take. In fact wherever we get off, we always find something interesting – in the sense of “recommended in the guide”. After three weeks, we already had several favorite places. Prospect Park, just one street away from our apartment, Central Park, where we could lay down on the cool grass among trees, watching the skyscrapers visible behind. Greenwich Village, Williamsburg, Little Italy, where it always looked like rain, as well as “our” estate at Fort Hamilton Parkway in Brooklyn. However, we visited most places only once, as Cloisters in North Manhattan, the mediaeval European cloisters moved from France to the USA, Coney Island, Roosevelt Island, Highline, or the sad but hipstery Greenpoint, where we drank one of the best coffees served by a waiter looking like Hugh Jackman with a tattoo on his neck. It is hard to list them all, there were too many of them, libraries, squares so small that they hosted only one bench, cafes and restaurants, every day something new, and when anything became routine, it was only in the positive sense.
The direct flight to New York went smoothly. According to schedule, quickly, arriving in the evening. I remember several images from the plane which impressed me and became number one when talking about the journey. In the late-afternoon sun (local time) we saw people rising from their seats. Most passengers moved to one side of the plane, it seemed that the plane would definitely shift to the side. The view from the window was stunning. I wish I had sat at the window, instead of a middle seat, where I had to watch the show from behind other passengers’ backs. An Italian took a picture for me. We were flying above Greenland. After a while, I found a free window near the toilet and I could finally enjoy the view, the onboard computer showed -50 degrees Celsius, and an altitude of nearly nine thousand meters above the ground. The horizon was curved, it was the end of the world. I was waiting for a running penguin, as in Herzog’s film, although it was the southern hemisphere in his case. The afternoon sun lit the snow with slightly golden glitters, the sky was azure while the rocks visible in the distance were dead, the colour of the sea, ice-bound. During our descent we came full circle, with the ocean at our side. Then all the windows were filled with the sight of water. One mass, no horizon, no coast. The dark waters took a slightly violet shade, the seemingly small threads of the waves were of a sandy colour. The day was coming to an end. On our way back, the view, though comparably magical, was however more foreseeable. The white globe of the sun rose above the red sky. When travelling in the city we usually took the subway. We saw little, as it moves mainly underneath the ground. Everything seemed the same, black behind the windows, the white light, unsophisticated colours. Only several stations were located above the ground, including Smith-9 strs, where you could always see the Port and the Statue for a moment, for the last time as well. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to leave the town.
The apartment and the residency:
I must admit that the journey would not have been possible, if it hadn’t been for the APH competition. One month in New York is a privilege which few people can afford in their adult life. A beautiful, well-located apartment in a calm estate with all facilities. A prestigious residency at RU, one of the most dynamic centres, offering many contacts and opportunities, is a dream of every young artist. I have to say that in the beginning I doubted whether I needed that stay, but now I would be glad to repeat every day of the visit. I don’t know what “material” profits I can draw from the visit for the future, whether new contacts will bear fruit, whether the photos taken in new York will be appreciated, it is not very important right now. The sheer experience of changing places, of immersion in a different hectic rhythm, will remain a precious recurring experience for a long and symbolic period of time.