Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

Bogusław Bachorczyk creates sculptures made of waste found on the Baltic Sea

The sea throws up: children’s toys, bottle fragments, fishing floats, bent metal sheets, fragments of tree branches. Items disappear quickly. In the morning, cleaners go along the beach, packing them into black bags, restoring the semblance of pristine nature to the sea. It’s good for the environment, even better for peace of mind, but it’s troublesome for him, who would like to sort through the objects thrown up by the waves, pick them up, combine them, arrange them into new combinations. For him, for whom the sea is a co-creator, collaborator, supplier of material.

– After the storm, there are more objects: nicely polished glass, pieces of wood, pastel plastics covered with coral, all of it already processed and polished by water – explains Bachorczyk. – The sea is a serious co-creator, a specific artistic partner, not only visually, but also sonically. Being on its shore is an almost therapeutic experience. We defend ourselves against its interference, but we are powerless, it simply consumes us. At the beginning, while working on the beach, I was still putting my thoughts into words, analyzing them, making some arguments in my head, but then I stopped and just listened to the sea. I surrendered to him.

Bogusław Bachorczyk is a painter, sculptor, multimedia creator, professor at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts. In his biography on Wikipedia, you can read that “in his work he often deals with issues of memory, time, identity; an important motif in his work is also the relationship between man and nature.” For his artistic activity, in 2019 he received the Bronze Medal for Merit to Culture Gloria Artis.

His seaside project is carried out as part of an artistic stay in Ustka. – The regulations of the scholarship stipulate that the works created during the stay should concern the place where they are made: nature, people, relationship with the sea – says Bachorczyk – My concept was quite simple: I wanted to create sculptures by the sea, but in such a way that the Baltic Sea was their co-creator. When the sea washes up something, I will take it and think of a way to make a sculpture out of it.

He started his seaside expeditions after the season, last fall. As he says, he went to the beach with a large bag into which he packed the most interesting objects washed up by the sea. When they were particularly large, he put them aside for a few days, after which he came back and checked whether taking them with him was really worth the effort. And it also happened that objects turned into sculptures in the place where they were found. The beach was becoming a studio.

– I placed sculptures in the sand, on cliffs, and after a few days they disappeared, but for me they didn’t have to be permanent, a gesture was enough for me – says Bachorczyk. – These types of activities are close to all of us. People on the beach very often arrange things out of stones, make totems, and construct tiny or – on the contrary – huge sculptures several meters high. Sometimes, while walking along the shore, you notice such an object and think: it must have been someone very sensitive, they did a nice job.

The exhibition at the ICC consists of three rooms, each different. Once you enter the first one, you can’t help but smile. Because – tiny, pastel funnels from which grow tubes armed with pins, towers covered with strange, organic structures, colorful balls, piling up like grapes in bunches. Next – videos with recordings of the sea, displayed in circles, as if viewed through the windows of a ship. Next to it – collages, also round, and fabrics, colorful like beach screens. All of them are like sunny holiday postcards, or better yet – a treasure box in which you keep souvenirs from the summer, supposedly worthless, but yet liberating memories.

In the next room – anxiety. Charred pieces of wood with thin wires blooming, shards of bent metal sheets imitating corals, plastic balls caught in sea nets. A struggle – maybe with the element of the sea, or maybe with yourself, trying to translate the sea landscape into the language of art. In the third room – tropics in the form of collages, pine cones painted with bright paint, and notebooks filled with sketches. A fleeting paradise that cannot be preserved.

Everything is colorful, unpretentious, giving the impression of being temporary, but also intriguing and deceptive, because it is not clear what is a “gift of the sea” and what is a human creation. What was created in the studio and what outdoors? What was brought from the Baltic Sea and what from distant seaside lands. – The sea provides great, non-obvious materials. I supplemented what I found on the beach with simple purchases: common kitchen items, accessories from stationery stores, DIY tools – says Bachorczyk – I played with associations and forms. For example, a circle whose shape brings to mind planets, round ship windows, or the lens of an eye under whose eyelid the sea landscape can endlessly replicate itself.

On the one hand, there is lightness in Bachorczyk’s works. The kind of carefreeness that accompanies free experimentation with materials, testing new combinations of material and context, and exercises in aesthetics and imagination. On the other hand, this freshness and originality can easily be included in a long chain of artistic experiments.

The most contemporary ones are “trash art” – a trend that treats waste as an artistic material, and the gesture of creation itself as a commentary on consumerism and the problem of environmental degradation. Reaching back to earlier decades, one could think of Władysław Hasior’s assemblages, where the products of civilization and nature met in one work, together creating a disturbing whole. About pop artists who sought fascination in what was mass, commercial and consumer, creating art that “takes its form from the line of life itself and is sweet and stupid like life itself.” About the French New Realists with their passion for using in art what is worn out, discarded, no longer suitable for consumption. And going back even further (although for some it will be the first and most obvious association) about Marcel Duchamp, who over a hundred years ago revolutionized thinking about creativity, showing that the most trivial, mass-produced everyday object can become a work of art, if only the artist will raise it to that rank.

– People react in surprising ways. They tag me on social media, write that my works are close to them, that they didn’t know they could do something like that – says Bachorczyk – As you can see, I am not alone in wanting to bow to a world that is usually considered less important. A world that requires attention, is hard to see, and is fleeting.

In search of contexts, one could go back even further, not to the 20th, but to the 19th century, when artists for the first time left their studios to go out into the open air, capturing nature as they saw it at a given moment. Such a dialogue with tradition, on the one hand, is a beautiful continuum, but on the other, it can become an aesthetic trap.

– Making a simple interpretation of what I see, recreating the landscape, was a threat that I tried to avoid – says Bachorczyk. – There is still a belief that if an artist works with nature, he will paint a landscape. In my case, yes, it was a 19th-century encounter with nature, going outdoors, but the aesthetics of this experience are contemporary. The stay in Ustka was an opportunity to make a sculpture, an object, a visual work that builds a certain message and creates a portrait of us as a community.

So what are we like? What do we see when we look at these works? Consumeristic, fleeting, superficial on the one hand, and prone to reflection on the other – these are the first associations that come to mind. Is it appropriate? It remains to decide for yourself.

– The artist does not impose any interpretation, his works are open. They have their names, but they are titles that suggest little or nothing – says Monika Rydiger – We, as curators, also try not to impose anything, at most to break the association patterns.

So all that’s left to do is stroll through these small rooms just like you used to walk by the sea. Look, listen, give your thoughts the freedom to come and go. Let interpreting, naming and classifying give way to feeling for a brief moment.