Hanna Liis Kont: You were born in Poland, Krakow, at the moment you are living in Berlin and you have just spent your summer in New York. How do you position yourself as an artist? Do you think of yourself as a Polish artist?
Zorka Wollny: I think about myself not only as a Polish artist. Of course, usually home ground is the first you have to conquer before you expand so I’m still a Polish artist but I have widened my perspective exhibiting more abroad and gathering more experiences. It went quite naturally.
HLK: Going back in time to when you were studying to become an artist – what kind of works did you make then and what motivated you?
ZW: I studied oil painting. Traditional, serious stuff. At the time, new media started to slowly grow and I was one of the first art students to take a computer class, who learnt to edit movies, who went to performance workshops and so on. But even painting was always interesting for me mostly due to the composition issues.
During the second year of studies, I started to create site specific sound pieces and collaborate with people from the Music Academy, especially Anna Szwajgier. The first sound piece we’ve made together was the famous Concert for High Heels (2004). It was so well received that we started to travel and re-arrange the idea in different buildings; a museum in Germany, a city hall in England. I did a couple of site specific concerts before I became interested in choreography.
In 2006 I was invited to develop a new work in the National Museum of Krakow to critically analyse the museum. I was going to the museum every day for a month wondering what I can do and I noticed that actually there is hardly any sound in the exhibition spaces because it is requested for people to be quiet – not to move too fast, not to talk too loud. This is a sacred place. You really start to be very conscious about your body. I wanted to explore this – this is how instead of a sound piece I prepared a silent choreography.
HLK: Could you describe this work that you did as part of your Master thesis in 2006 in the National Museum in Krakow?
ZW: I invited 7 dancers to work with me and it was all about awareness: do you know what the architecture and the situation do to your body? I decided the performance will be played during the museum’s opening hours among regular visitors. We had two kinds of audience – the people who were invited to the performance and they had to decide for themselves what the performance was, and then random people who would visit the museum. I had 7 dancers in 3 different rooms among regular visitors. The only difference between the regular visitors’ movement and the dancers was that the latter were, for example, doing things simultaneously but on the opposite corners of the room, or stubbornly keep one rhythm of walking, or put a few ballet moves into the walk . It was very hard to notice, one had to be very curious to notice it.
HLK: You work very often with a group of people. Why do you prefer to work collaboratively?
ZW: It kind of became my medium – collaborating and improvising together and then putting it together – it gives so a lot of energy. I take a few steps back like a painter and I see the whole composition and then I give it the final touches. There is a tricky line between collaborating in a very open democratic way and creating a place for people to express themselves and still feel safe. And that is especially important when you work with amateurs, I have to be super self-confident and secure, give them energy and feeling of trust, so that together we can do something beautiful.
HLK: Comparing the previous works that you have done in museums to the work you have been doing in Tartu, what would you say are the main differences?
ZW: I did a piece where the dance was based on the movement of the visitors of the museum, where dancers were performing among regular public (Museum 2006), and I did a piece where the public could observe dancers through the window in an empty museum after opening hours, so the dancers were left there as aquarium-like creatures to be observed from the outside (Sic Silhouettes of the Backdrop of the Collection 2009). But I was also tempted to show a more stage-like perspective, take it a bit out of context, show a pure beauty of visitor’s dance. This is what we’ve made in Tartu. We called it a Tartu Art Minuet – the minuet is a very elegant dance, but it doesn’t have many exploding elements, it’s even predictable and the most important thing is a super smooth and calm feeling and walking around. Working on this piece was for me an opportunity to look if my idea of this dance fits in with the museum.
HLK: And did it fit?
ZW: Yes. When you watch the piece it comes together and you can absolutely read it as a museum dance. And here the working process was also quite open so the choreography is not really done only by me, it was also proposed by participants. The elements came mostly from them and the general form from me.
HLK: As with a lot of your other works, this piece is very site specific – it is very much connected to and inspired by this museum. In the exhibition the video is going to be in the context of several other works using choreography to explore the art museum. What is your hope or expectation for the visitors who come and see the video?
ZW: Mostly pleasure. And then looking around and watching each other and feeling this nice common rhythm. Just to move their attention from the object to the person who is watching the object. And asking oneself why am I in a museum and how do I feel here or how would I like to feel. What kind of art would trigger different behavior from me?
HLK: Some of your works deal with museums which is a very specific institution that many people don’t relate to but many of your later works deal with broader social topics that are maybe more relatable also to those people who don’t go to museums. Would you describe some of these projects?
ZW: I live in a country of great transformation – with so many buildings that have changed their function – they used to be something else, now they are useless or a different thing. I was interested if the history of the place is still there and how can people feel it. So I started to work in abandoned factories. I did a concert with shipyard workers, listening to how they work, how it sounds and bringing it back to this place that was later used to exhibit art. And from there I started to work with different communities in different places, looking for buildings that are interesting or had some importance to the people who live there or used to have an importance to them.
HLK: How do you use choreography in these works?
ZW: Choreography is with me when I’m working with music and also when I’m working on demonstrations with sound. I’m using it a lot because when I’m composing for a certain building I have to plan every move – where people are at a certain time and what actions they take. For example the Composition for Factory where the public was walking through the factory while the musicians were playing around them – it needed a lot of organizing, counting and planning where and when people would be.
HLK: How do you separate choreography from dance in your practice?
ZW: It’s clear that I can deal with choreography but I do not necessarily work with dancers or connect it to dance itself. For me it is more about thinking about the structures of daily life or underlying something that has suddenly become visible. You can say it’s all connected to dance because you think about it as a dance, but actually it is choreography. Choreography is something that takes over. It’s whatever you do, you can not even be aware that you are part of choreography.
Published in Estonian in Muurileht, 25 September 2017