|dc.description.abstract||In a reflection dedicated post-modernity Fredric Jameson notes, that: “the basic feature […] of postmodernism is blurring of boundaries between high culture and so-called mass or commercial, and the emergence of new types of texts, inspired by the forms, categories and the content of the cultural industries”. The marriage of art and popular culture not so long ago – at least in Poland – caused emotional reaction of conservative spectaors. Now it seems to be obvious and natural phenomenon. This new situation is confirmed not only by the reactions of the audience and reviews of performances, but also by the expression of artists. Popular culture has became an important element of theatrical language for artists debuting after 1989 in the new political, social and economic reality. Young directors quickly opened up to new aesthetics. Weronika Szczawińska, theater director and dramatist, a few years ago in the text published in the theatrical magazine “Teatr”, declared: “Pop culture has ceased to be a negative point of reference, a radical contribution to the diagnosis of the whole impoverished culture, which has become full of stereotypes […]. Pop music, associated with a radical social message, in many cases is today treated more seriously, because it allows you to experience moments of truth”.
Polish theater after 1989, especially in the mainstream, consistently seeks to blur the boundaries between high and low culture. Flirting with popular culture, incidental in times of Polish People’s Republic (1946-89), now turned into a wide stream of exploration, games, borrowings and interferences. One can even say that it led to a conventionalization of aesthetics that at the turn of the century was still very controversial. The artists play with popular culture at different levels, inspired by colloquial reality and virtual media. The horizon of their research is marked by playing with convention, eclectic forms, changing the context, irony and a joke.
Popular culture has came to the theater as an obvious element of reality of present day. use the aesthetics of popular culture not only to get in touch with the audience through common cultural codes, but also with the need for a reflection on the modern world. Constructing semantically dense texts, artists aim in the emotional involvement of the viewer as it happens at rock concerts or folk entertainment. They create an aesthetically attractive spectacle that must meet the expectations of today's consumers, whose perception is shaped by new media.
The aim of my work is an attempt to bring closer this phenomenon in relation to the contemporary Polish theater. For several years, the artists have been inspired by the aesthetics of popular culture, including its elements in the structure of their performances. The presence of pop culture in theater shows different faces, in terms of both: the form and the content. In my reflection I skip specific issues of popular theater and mass theater, focusing primarily on the so-called artistic mainstream. I try to discuss the artistic strategies of the directors for whom pop culture is an important point of reference, e.g. Grzegorz Jarzyna, Maja Kleczewska, Jan Klata, Monika Pęcikiewicz, Monika Strzępka and Wiktor Rubin.
Describing the artistic strategies and the poetics of different art directors, I've tried to have a look at the reception of their performances, which in case of this kind of art is very important. I do not avoid the comments on their image creation by media, especially when their presence in the public sphere translates into art.
Directors who appeared after “patricides” generation (in Polish “ojcobójcy” – a group of directors who made their debuts in the second half of the nineties; the term was invented by theater critic Piotr Gruszczyński) on one hand, create theater engaged socially and politically, but on the other – use elements of popular culture, which leads to a kind of collective vivisection. They expose language that affects our receiving of the world. “Patricides” were interested in marginalized areas of power system (mainly in area of manners) – although in the works of Grzegorz Jarzyna (who belongs to this group) we can see fascinations of the culture of a big city, popular culture and mass, and recently the human condition in the post-modern, consumerist western world. Younger directors don’t avoid topics related to politics, economics and new media. Especially Jan Klata or Monika Strzępka & Paweł Demirski tandem identify their theater with political action.
Maja Kleczewska is interested in contemporary man living in consumerist reality, but avoids direct references to the politics and social reality in her performances. Monika Pęcikiewicz has brought a critical look to the theater focusing on reality infiltrated by the media. She reveals patterns in which femininity and masculinity is entangled, discovers the roles we play in our life. Wiktor Rubin is interested in exploration of connections between power, violence and “the society of the spectacle”. His performances resemble vivisection of violence, that often manifest media manipulation. Jan Klata uses figures drawn from popular culture to criticize historical narrations, undermines national myths and symbols, and describes the modern democracy and society immersed in consumer culture. Finally, Monika Strzępka, who explores cultural and thematic peripheries of theatre (healthcare, railways service, privatization, ideologies of the historical discourse). She juxtaposes incompatible elements in her performances, one example of which could be a musical theme inspired by social campaign “Childbirth with Dignity” (conducted by popular Polish daily newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza”), whose action takes place in the maternity hospital St. Sophia. By introducing to high culture such unwanted elements as fairground art conventions, comedy genres and themes, low culture characters and aesthetics and enjoying the popular iconography, she discovers repressed areas of our identity.
Today, when we follow discussions about the aesthetics of theater immersed in pop culture that took place in the nineties of the twentieth century and early years of the twenty-first century, it’s hard to believe that they aroused such strong emotions. Maybe because popular culture – as a permanent part of the surrounding reality (also symbolic) – has undergo a positive revaluation. It became an obvious element of aesthetics of drama by many artists. It appears in various types and forms, not only in the performances of artists presented already, but also in works of directors not introduced in this study, and between them: Krzysztof Warlikowski, Piotr Cieplak, Marcin Liber and the youngest: Ewelina Marciniak and Paweł Świątek.
An excellent example of changing the status of popular culture in art is staging “Dziady” (“Forefathers”), directed by Radosław Rychcik in Teatr Nowy in Poznań. Rychcik settled the well known drama written by Adam Mickiewicz (the main author of the Polish Romantic period) in American history and pop culture and his interpretation hasn’t caused critical voices. The artist has been awarded many times for an original reading of the drama on different festivals. In his production pop culture receives the status of one of the contemporary mythology that builds awareness of contemporary Pole the same as current identity obsessions and historical dilemmas. In this interpretation Rychcik brilliantly combined Polish and American culture, juxtaposing the situation of Polish political prisoners of the nineteenth century under the Russian occupation with the situation of American slaves from the same period. How did he manage to introduce American pop culture elements to polish national drama? Chained Polish prisoners sing anthem “Revenge on the enemy” to the tune of gospel in the final scene. And consequently: a black woman (Mrs. Rollison counterpart) working for the Senator being a landlord from the south of United States, members of the Ku Klux Klan sitting at the dinner table, all assassinated during dinner by Aunt Jemima (stereotypical definition of thick black maid). Finally, the famous speech of Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” gave during the Washington demonstration against racial segregation is recalled. The sentences treating about the right to freedom of each individual uttered by Konrad sound like the Great Improvisation. Whereas, this important part of the Mickiewicz drama is not articulated by any actor on the stage. Instead, we can hear the off-screen voice, which belongs to Gustav Holoubek (one of most famous interpreters of Mickiewicz drama) and expresses his interpretation of the Conrad’s monolog, quoted from the “Lava”, movie based on “Dziady”, directed by Tadeusz Konwicki.
In “Dziady” Rychcik reaches for major contemporary mythology: national, cultural, and popular. In his spectacle low culture becomes the element of contemporary mental reality, which shapes imagination, identity and understanding of the world by modern audiences in the same way as cultural stereotypes, or archetypal stories of local and national myths. Popular symbols, significance and form mingle with figures from high culture, which is symptomatic of the present and in which there is a circulation of high and low orders. It’s following the process that occurs in non-theatrical reality where popular culture mixed with high culture and even – says Marek Krajewski – is now the dominant culture, which imposes lens through which we view and interpret the world around us.||pl_PL|