The starting point for the works presented on paper was wastepaper. But how beautiful it was!
In 2017, Jacek Łydżba came across a stack of old opera programmes and music notebooks at a used book shop. Yellowed, ragged, nibbled by time, visually magnificent, they additionally provided a record of history.
Impressed by the beauty of the prints, the artist treated them as a base for paintings, using tempera and watercolour crayon.
The old is equally as important as the new.
I wanted to escape the painting, jump out of the frame, leg it from the museum. Play them that other overture. But there is no opening here, I remain frozen in a cage, restrained in flight, an insect in amber, a winged creature in formalin. I do not have a moment to myself, but I have eternity instead. Oh, Chagall, you Chagall!
I wanted wings; I played at making their noise a hundred times, two hundred, a thousand. On the clarinet, on the pianola, on the viola da gamba. But I have only a background, a bright sky for the angel in me.
“Woman, how did you carry a tonne of flour by boat across the Red Sea and bake a hundred thousand croissants? How did you cut through the desert with a turbulent river? How did you manage to build a pyramid out of sand and take to the skies from its peaks? How did you make the pebbles turn into seeds to feed all of the people?”
“You see, Lord, I am a woman of the opera.”
By day she wrote poetry, by evening she sang in an operetta. She won an award for best voice and for the best performance of the Madame Phidias aria, but none for her verse, despite so many competitions. So one evening during a performance, she sang her poem, written in octostich. She hoped to cause a scandal, but no one noticed, and the evening went on as if nothing had happened. The following night, instead of an excerpt from the libretto, she sang a poem by Baudelaire. And nobody noticed. Operetta is still alive, she thought, but what about poetry?
My grandmother ran away from home to play to her heart's content. She had a fiancé, but he wanted to make a house cook out of her. And she was a trained musician. I’ve taken on a handful of her genes. Black hair, a so-so talent and a nomadic character. She wandered around the world, played cello classics here and there. In Paris, she met Django Reinhardt; this was after he came out of hospital and, despite two numb fingers, invented a new way of playing the guitar; they performed together for a short time. I don't know if my grandmother knew that Django means ‘I awake’ in the Manouche language. I think to myself that Django woke her to different music. No more Franck, Gabriel Fauré and Debussy, we play jazz, syncopated, and for the people; guitar, accordion, clarinet – Grandma went through them all. She may even have learned to kick up her heels. And dance flamenco. I remember from my childhood that she started playing the saxophone shortly before she died. ‘What a ride,’ she'd say and wink at me. When I go to the cemetery on her birthday, I also sometimes play. Coltrane and stuff like that. The golden glare of the saxophone falls on the grave, and we go for a ride.
The hardest thing about all this is bowing to the audience. At the piano, the body is free to move as it pleases; it soars, sways, bends according to the rhythms played, it is a cobra and a flute at the same time. But later? It was free, now it’s bound, on a leash, awkward. To bow like a young girl, shyly and innocently, slightly lifting the folds of her dress in her fingers. Or, like Marilyn Monroe singing for the President, cover herself in pearly laughter and embrace the whole room with her arms? Every pose is awkward, the bow always clumsy, only the music just right.
I brought her red roses, she preferred black artificial ones. I brought her Schubert, she wanted Arvo Pärt. I cooked her some classic Rossini tournedos, “but, Kendall, I only like meat sous vide,” she said. I invited her to tango; she blew me off: “are you kidding, only reggae will get me moving. Possibly twerk or shuffle. Not to mention a Tik-Tok dance.” I proposed, but she chose Ildefons Chrysostom.
I’m not the one who’s crying, it’s the whole world that has dissolved and blurred.
You have to start all over again to live allegro once more.
Stop the ink, stop the blood, stop the lipstick.
Some say that music is the sobbing of death, others that God is the one who owes the most of all to Bach. Or perhaps music is simply God weeping over us, and this woman, Vermeer’s sister, a basin for those tears.
Yes, I too have sung, I too have loved and been loved, I too have suffered and hoped. Shall I go on?
Behold, I stand before you and speak. Hear the whole truth. The whole truth about me, o lah-ti-doh. Lahtidoh is the name of a girl from the paradise land of A major. Lahtidoh dreams of transparent hearts, bodies lighter than feathers, walks on water, and dishes of blue pebbles. Help her.
She was a lovely cellist, sure, but it was not her beauty that seduced me most. The hot night was falling, the air lapping at us like a lazy, sated cat. The last sounds wafted out, she stepped out onto the porch in that famous white dress of hers. And then the gesture happened. She would stop, soak up the warmth, spread her arms slightly as if floating with delight – a happy Ophelia – and suddenly turn her head. As if something off to the side caught her eye. I never knew what; there was no one there, nothing but the night. And it seemed to me that an invisible gate opened before her, which only she knew existed and which she would one day finally enter. We practised every night, but I was never sure if she would turn up the next day and if I would be left at the piano with my own solitary music.
In the green woods – white does
They fall into an ever quieter dance
In the starry night – white ladies
Roam the arbour alone
On the golden Rhine – a blond maiden
Paints rocks like faces
By the dark river a white figure
Takes souls, even more gladly bodies
The whiteness of a woman calls us tenderly
Into the deep night: first I, and then you
Two songs, two possibilities:
Hey ho, hey ho
It’s to the field we go
Hey ho, hey ho
To cut the wheat oh ho
Hey ho, hey ho
It’s to the ball we go
Hey ho, hey ho
Glass, caviar, tango
But there is a third possibility. Not going anywhere; this wise woman knows she is in control of her own life. She can become different people, but she watches over herself like a mother watches over her daughter.
Take my voice and take it far away and sing, dove, to heaven, to men, to mountains, to oceans: ‘On the thorny bush the roses bloomed’, ‘in the valley by the lake a grove rustles,’ ‘the wind swooped up from the earth with the clouds.’ Above all: ‘after all, my blood is not ice either.’
You know, man, things are always different than people say. Yes, I was in Breathless, but Belmondo didn’t smoke Gitanes, only menthols, after which he didn’t cough. Yes, Romain Gary was my second husband, because the first one was hoping he married a boy. Yes, I was with Clint Eastwood for a while, but let me tell you, he was a poor shot. And Carlos Fuentes didn’t want me, he wanted inspiration. I have not read any of his books. Yes, the FBI played with me, but only for the press; we had a deal, you know. They ask me here in the land of pure light what my name is. My name is Jean. And my surname? My surname remained on the ground.
That I could be an icon of Melancholy? Because my eyes are appropriately sad and my face pensive, gazing into the void of self and the void of the world? And that my hand touches my chin, supports it slightly? Well, I have to tell you that my Melancholia is Cholia Mela (by the way, Cholia is a nice name, I’d love to take it), everything about her is backwards, a mishmash, a veritable potpourri. Sport, dancing, going out, constantly on the move, and more laughter than tears. There will be plenty of those, too. Anyway, it is better than you think: that is not my hand.
‘Beside him a young woman bent over the Book of Life
Like a frightened dove, raised the spirit of faith
To the gates of brightness; and with trembling wings
Sought her nest far from the earth.’
Antoni Malczewski, ‘Maria’
He sees with the eyes of his soul, but does he hear? That boat sailing around the island, those tables on the wooden platform by the beach, those two glasses filled with lemon liquid are like dumb cut-outs, papers without value. For where is the splash, where is the clang, where is the waiter’s voice? No live contact with them, we carry within us a museum of photographs. Or wax figures. Memories, even those of Capri, are as dumb as a post, as paper, membrane, wax. This makes them somewhat rounded, like bodies pulled out of the water. Music, on the other hand, is always here. The same serenade as then… Only through it do we get in touch with who we were. The music wounds beautifully, like nails through Christ’s hands. There are, therefore, also resurrections.
At a recent show of the Gypsy Woman fashion house, the autumn collection was presented to the sounds of flamenco. As always, this designer’s presentation surprised the large audience. Parrots and crows flew over their heads, and at the end of the unforgettable show, a shower of perfume fell from the ceiling.
However, what attracted the most attention was the model, who assumed poses expressing thought, discouragement, weariness, anxiety, nonchalance, and even disgust. All of these states suited her remarkably well. Find out more at www.gypsywoman.org
The rocking of a cradle, the rocking of the hips, it’s time to wake up, princess, and go to your first ball. Decorate the body with the first red. Lose the slipper to go far away.
This is what the final shot will look like. Magda will turn her head, we’ll see her face again. Silence. The camera zooms in, a slight close-up. Her eyes turned towards us. A goodbye. Now her face will express everything we learned about Magda from the film. Her will to survive and determination in the most difficult of circumstances. Her appetite for living life to the fullest. Her secretive impishness and sense of humour, with which she knew how to amuse any company. Her sense of rhythm in every situation, that special flow when she walked, talked, danced. Her readiness to continue, a future to which we, the audience, will no longer have access. But also a shadow of regret that things could have turned out differently; that the whole extraordinary story with Alex could have had a different ending. The camera zooms in even closer, Magda’s face slowly blurs into white until it finally disappears. Music. (Lyrical, but not sentimental; reflective and ruthless, something in the style of Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West).
I don’t remember dancing the waltz with you
I do not remember how we sailed the Danube to Vienna
I don’t remember how we rode, one, two, three, on the merry-go-round in Prater Park
I can’t remember when we had dinner at Schnitzel Paradiso
I remember a snail in an alley, a small plasma monument
I remember the smell in the museum, a combination of ether, dust and silence
I remember a jumper of a woman singing in the street, ten colours like ten commandments
I remember the face of the girl with the candy, her gaze at me from the depths of the future
Cracked, bent over the poem's words
Delighted, shocked by this sentence melody
Awake, restless from the break of dawn
Bored and weary with mobile memes
Concerned and hungry for true beauty
Longing, even thirsting for her own days of expression
Naughty, liberated. No injunctions!
Moved, urged by the question ‘why?’
Changed, swayed by a sonnet that is not her own
Bored and weary of the inter- and omni-net
Renewed and stitched with red fibre
Awakened, sleepless, feeling the wind from the sea
Reluctant, indifferent to his voice from the bed
Cracked, bent over the poem's words
On the Blue Sea
An orange bundle of lips
Undulates and drifts
I am not Immaculata, I am Immodulata, the one who hears the same sound over and over again. You do not want to believe me, but this is also how holiness is born.
What does a selfie include?
Lips without lipstick, clear of grief
the first three bars of a tango
the red of unnecessary feelings
a wreath from a jester as a reward or punishment
a bit of truth, so far suppressed
a look that can take it all
Rachel Eisenstein of Odessa, daughter of merchant Izak and washerwoman Sarah, is being sought. She is of medium height, drawn face, light eyes, small nose, chestnut hair, there are no distinguishing marks on her body. The wanted woman is suspected of kidnapping a pram along with the infant sleeping in it. The wanted woman intimidates men, she is determined to do anything, and she can kill with a look, a dagger, a hand. She presents herself as a Moldavian princess abandoned by an oil king. She has a beautiful voice with which she attracts birds. The wanted woman should be tracked, and once spotted, detained and handed over to the nearest local government office.
Oh, I would like to, but I cannot forget. About this profile of the queen being transported by cart to the Place de la Révolution, where the guillotine, the Black Widow, is already waiting for her. About those few lines of her face that David, mingled with the crowd, hastily, in black inspiration, sketched. And now I know that in every woman’s face lurks the profile of Marie Antoinette being taken to the beheading. (Yes, there is music, life, travel; that view needs to be painted in. But it always comes out red).
‘And what do you say about her, brother?’
‘She is the bright side of the moon. The muse of T. Rex, not Pink Floyd. A child of the revolution, not a daughter of darkness. She brightens the cosmic night but spromises nothing. She smiles like a man, walks away like a goddess. Or like a cheerful Alien.’
‘God, then who is this girl? Whose incarnation?’
‘Ask the oracle of Delphi. I do not know.’
I am almost from the Land of the Cherry Blossom, I have almost two Japanese flags on my cheeks, I am almost a musician, I play almost Chopin. I love him wholeheartedly.
She met Constantine while studying at the National School of Fine Arts in 1899. She didn’t like those wooden sculptures of his, but she could see that there was something in them; he in turn spoke well of her paintings. They went for long night walks in Bucharest, along its Haussmannesque, so “Parisian” avenues; they talked about more than just art. One Sunday, he took her to the countryside to his parents’ place, took her to see the folk artists. She enjoyed it, but felt far from herself, as if her body couldn’t keep up with her head. He said he would soon set off on foot for Paris. He was not joking. Was she in love? Probably. And he? He did not write, but one day he sent her a photograph of his latest sculpture. Perhaps the most beautiful of all. She recognised her own face, the shape of her head. She cried, but I was not jealous. When she went to his grave in Paris many years later, I waited for her at the gate. She always called him Constantine. But the gravestone said Brâncusi.
The past marched through the right side of her head. The side stretched beyond the border, through which she did not look; she only knew that there lay her enclave, which had once been conquered and burned. Before falling asleep, she thought, I will now only be on the left side, my side, the proper side; I will not look there on the right side. I will be here, at home, much more at home, and nothing will disturb me being here. But at times there was a fight between the two sides and she felt her own heavy gaze on her. Then some wave from her head slid through her neck into the interior of her body; she felt it strongly, a steamroller flying through her lungs and stomach. After a while, she could reverse the wave, prevent it from recurring. She concentrated hard, tensing the muscles on the left side of her face; sometimes, this worked. She needed some good images then; a good image should come, take up the whole left side and start the sequence; a smooth, soft montage would bring a new image to replace the previous one, until finally sleep would come like quiet music and a choral, soft singing whisper.
See five differences between these faces.
The first is more distrustful
The second already knows more
The first is still hesitating
The second has decided
The first is waiting
The second has compromised
The first prefers louder
The second prefers quieter
The first rarely cries
The second often sobs in the morning
And where is your face? You have no face
Your face is wherever I dream of it
Where my hands are building an airport
Tenderness is ever closer
The coils of my fingers from a thick circle
Did you have hair? Today it is mine
In the depths of your pupil you no longer have images
The cup of my hand suffocates them at once
Your skin embodied, your eyes absorbed
It bled what now bleeds in me
A winding road led from your lips to your forehead
Did you have features? You don’t remember anything anymore
Why then do I hear your cool ‘Consider!’?
Do you want to go on alone? Fine, take your face!
We will not tell you everything, our story is well known. Anyway, after we were kicked out, we found a nice job in a library, and took turns taking care of the kids. It’s funny, but when we look at your faces like this, we can see that you are all strangely similar to our children.
We leave the barcarolle to the gondoliers, but it is high time – although we do not all pronounce the ‘r’ – to invent the velorolle, the song of the cyclists rhythmically pressing on the pedals, just as the gondoliers rhythmically plunge the pole into the water. But what a match for Sunday outfits, like this white dress, how much better for the eyes than bikers in tight knee-length half-leggings and shirts with back pockets. The dress sublimates the bicycle and reveals the beauty of its former version, called a lady’s bike. A lady on a lady’s bike, singing in the sun. And another thing: now it is easier to understand where Miron Białoszewski’s ‘Trainolle’, the song of a passenger on a passenger train, comes from.
Hey, ho, hop, la
Ha, tra and la
We have yet to see an ugly bridge; they all have something beautiful, irresistible in them. We were particularly keen on this one. You couldn’t even see if it reached the other shore. Each time, we stood in front of it like a gate leading into another world, Where there are no more faces.
My nights are more beautiful than your days.