The haze of colonial gold, the arabesques of cigarette fumes. A dreadful soup brewed from smoke and stuffiness, the abyss – as Gombrowicz would have it – with gęby: mugs peeking out, shouting, and posturing. Dolls, intellectuals, and slackers. Gossip and gibberish. Conversations that never end, and conversations that have not yet started. This mythology, like so many others, is jotted down on paper napkins. To drink coffee. To light a cigarette. To order a cake or – as in the movie “Dziewczyny do wzięcia” (“Single girls”) – the “Sultan’s cream”. To read a book or simply to sit, eavesdropping on the conversations at the next table. To blend in with the crowd and to soak in the atmosphere, this sticky aura, marinated existential juice, vibrating with guttural laughter. To feel like the protagonist of Tyrmand’s novel, “Zły”. To feel at home. At home, which is the café.
The café is a watering place as black as ebony, it is a cabaret, a pastry shop, an intellectual salon. A musty cellar, a bohemian phantom, and a spectre – of modernity that one had slept through. It is a place of meetings, and space where opposite factions coexist. According to Peiper, the avant-garde is born in a café. Revolution is also born, and it is here that the revolution freezes, like a curiosity preserved in formalin. Ideas circulate, a bit like regulars wandering between the tables, practicing their unpretentious Robinsonade. They hatch, mature, and die before they can be written down. When inhaled and exhaled along with the thick air, they cease to belong to anyone in particular.
The celebration of drinking the beverage brought from the colonies in Arabia seduced Kraków’s Bohemians at the turn of the twentieth century, and then, for good. This is when the café became an artist’s studio. A place of long-lasting get-togethers. And then the artists began to leave their mark on the place – spilling their guts onto café interiors. Henryk Uziembło painted Art Nouveau frescoes in the fashionable Rehman’s cafe. Fin-de-siècle jet setters hauled a huge canvas into the Paon, only to scribble and paint all over it chaotically, creating one collective and indigestible picture. Tytus Czyżewski and Leon Chwistek added a futuristic mise-en-scène to the oval room at the Esplanade. Meanwhile, the members of the “Green Balloon” cabaret (café-theatre), armed with black felt-tip pens, mounted an assault on the walls of the famous Jama Michalika. Sometimes they just marked their territory, at other times they designed entire interiors. After World War II, they colonized new places, dragging the utopian spirit of coarse modernity behind them. At the café of the Dom Plastyka (House of Visual Arts), Maria Jarema painted an abstract frieze and installed a geometric curtain sewn from fabric remnants, while Wiesław Dymny decorated the Jazz Club’s bar at św. Marka street with a mural. Tadeusz Kantor arranged his own table at Krzysztofory, decorated with paintings by the members of Second Grupa Krakowska (Kraków Artist Collective), and mannequins from Cricot theatre performances. Artists not only sit in cafés. Artists are the cafés.
The café is a kind of non-obvious performance, with no specific beginning or end. It is a theatre that can be watched – either from the street outside, although this is more like window-licking, or from the inside. The café is also a text, read somewhat casually, like a morning paper with your coffee. More than a palimpsest, it resembles a sgraffito – a piling up matter – in which everyone scratches whatever message they want. Rather like the graffiti on the restroom door. Nothing happens, even if everything is happening at the same time. Tadeusz Kantor is still sitting at the bar, ranting about Café Europa. He raises an empty cup to his mouth, while explaining what constitutes a “happening” in performance art. He pretends to drink coffee until you believe that he is really drinking it. Janina Kraupe-Świderska draws horoscopes on the stained paper napkins – she divines the future from the coffee grounds settling at the bottom of the cup. Witold Gombrowicz chooses a table by the window. He orders a half-cup of black coffee and writes his “Polish Memories”: “A café can become an addiction just like vodka can. For a real habitué, not to go to the café at a designated time is simply to fall ill.”
We would like to welcome you to a place where coffee can still be had – even if it is only pretending – to the café that we have opened in a dollhouse. In the wonderland, where the door is always too small and you are too big, or vice versa; in Ibsen’s doll’s house, where the reality is intertwined with madness, and this world here connects with the netherworld. Owls are not what they seem, and the café – to paraphrase Gertrude Stein – is a café is a café is a café.
This event in a part of ‘A Thing for Art. Design in Kraków’ visual arts festival (Sztuka do rzeczy – design w Krakowie).
The exhibition was co-funded by the Municipality of Kraków www.krakow.pl
Artists: Zuzanna Bartoszek, Agata Kus, Małgorzata Markiewicz, Dominika Olszowy i Paulina Włostowska
Curators: Ania Batko i Aleksander Celusta
Coordinator: Mateusz Piegza
Translation: Dorota Wąsik
Record of the exhibition: Paweł Wyląg
Media Partner: Współczesna