Sunday, 19 August 2012

Lodz and the Art Book Museum

Small Lodz tram
The city of Lodz has many old factory buildings, some of them being renovated and divided up into bijou apartments. Some still await their reconstruction and are crumbling, and becoming host to a variety of flora. 

The Art Book Museum is in a sumptuous grand old villa, a little down at heel, needing renovation but very far from being abandoned. 

Front of the Art Book Museum

Two metal gates into the grounds are open, but there is no sign up to say it’s a museum. We thought it might be a private house and there was a sign on the gates that said Beware of the Dog. We went in carefully and a dog came out of the building, not a particularly fierce dog, but it barked assertively, guarding its territory. We left. But a woman, alerted by the dog, came out to close the gates. J spoke to her and discovered that it was in fact the museum, and we were invited in.

The woman’s name was Jadwiga Tryzno and she told us the complex story of the building. It was originally owned by Henryk Grohman, a Lodz factory owner and patron of the arts, who died in 1939, leaving no heirs. Since the early 90s a group of artists, Correspondance des Arts leased the building from the company who had bought it but because this company became bankrupt they want to sell it, which is no easy matter and court proceedings have been going on for years. The group of artists have remained as caretakers of the villa, and hope that the building can continue in some way, to house the museum. 

Large room where readings were held
As well as housing artist books, the museum has hosted readings by British poets, with Polish translations, supported by the British Council, Poland. Jadwiga showed us round the rest of the building including the large room where the readings were held.

We then went down to the basement, which was full of old printing presses, trays of type, and other machines involved in paper making. Janusz Tryzno, artist and printer, showed us examples of his hand made paper, and the printed books, including a copy of a limited edition of a book he designed and printed, with illustrations, of poems by Seamus Heaney and Czeslaw Milosz.

Janusz Tryzno

I ask him, through J, who translates, how he makes the paper. He says the stalks of the flax plant is used. The finished product, after it has been put through a hand machine like the mangles that were used for squeezing water out of clothes, to flatten it, comes out as greyish brown. For a lighter effect, the paper is bleached. He says that in his youth, old clothes used to be used in the paper making process. He can still remember people coming round the streets shouting out for old clothes. These would be collected and sold to printers, to make paper.

You can find out more about the Book Art Museum here.

The existence of the museum is precarious at best, and the survival of these rare books as well as the printing presses needed to produce them, not to mention the building itself, is under threat. The history of this amazing venture and the efforts made by the people who care about its existence can all be read on their website. If you feel moved to befriend this group of artists and the museum, you can do so here.

The Museum Garden

Friday, 10 August 2012

More Art Nouveau

It's becoming easy to get used to the architecture lining the streets – a lion's head here, a face appearing out of streaming or curling lines, balconies bulging like ripe fruit. These curving, twisting, spreading layers of art nouveau, its languorous foliage, its plump leaves, its entwined stalks and stems and bowers of the imagination. Here is an arboretum pressed into plaster, memories of gardens preserved like dried leaves, outlined against geometry, sometimes a gridwork of angles, sometimes the lines are softened, melted a little before sculpted into walls or draped around balconies. 


Figures draped in flimsy, flowing robes coiled like morning mist round plants, emerge from stonework, hold up balconies, gaze upwards or to one side, their concentration wreathed in a mist that's garlanded with memories. They swirl upwards, following a different gravity.


Streets like Staszica are the once grand and elegant brick and stone lacework embroidery of the city, crumbling, fraying, with empty gashes in the once magnificent fabric. Enormously high walls look like defensive ramparts, although they are the sides of blocks of buildings, with inner courtyards where there used to be gardens with fruit trees, cherry, plum -
I have coffee sitting outside the exquisite Teatr Novy on Dobrowskiego. It is being renovated and sounds of drilling come from inside. Round-backed wooden chairs with round seats stand by a small round table.

On the way here, walking along Dobrowskiego, a man was pushing a shallow trolley, piled high with cardboard boxes and it was coming straight towards me. At least I presumed someone was pushing it for the driver of this small-wheeled vehicle was hidden from view. I moved to the side but the trolley stopped and the man darted out and went over to the waste bins, had a quick look inside them, found nothing, returned to his trolley and moved on.