Let Us Pause

21 May 2024

In 2024, the International Print Triennial in Krakow (MTG) once again poses questions stepping beyond matters purely concerning art.

International Print Triennial in Krakow 2024

Marta Anna Raczek-Karcz
Holder of a PhD in art sciences (Faculty of Management and Social Communication, Jagiellonian University). Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. President of the International Print Triennial Society in Krakow since 2013. Art theorist and critic, independent curator. Member of the Board of the Polish Cultural Studies Association, member of AICA.

photo from private archive

DOROTA DZIUNIKOWSKA: Held in Kraków since 1966, the international printmaking competition is a forum for exchanging ideas on some of the most pressing issues facing today’s society. The motto of the 23rd edition of MTG, “Momentum”, can be understood in many ways.

MARTA ANNA RACZEK-KARCZ: The competition, and the Main Exhibition which follows it, has been evolving over the last decade, and it’s true that it is becoming a platform for visual discussions on the contemporary world. It is with this exchange of ideas in mind we chose the motto of “Momentum”. Although at first we were concerned that many people from various cultural circles will mainly associate the word with the science of physics, we were quickly reassured. In fact, the submissions we have received revealed that artists all over the world understand the term as a prism focusing on a given moment; a situation which should be discussed and whose meaning we should examine. In contrast with the Red King from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, both the organisers and the participating artists believe that when it comes to the here-and-now we not only can but must pause and examine what is behind us, what is beside us, what we are experiencing and what might be ahead.

Have you seen particularly high number of submissions from specific regions? Do artists’ origins influence their interpretation of the competition’s motto?
We have received almost 400 entries from artists representing 45 countries from all continents. There isn’t really a dominant region, although of course many of the entrants are from Poland. It’s worth noting, though, that they include PhD students from Polish universities representing their countries of origin. I think it’s more important to say that the exhibition itself presents works by 129 printmakers from 37 countries. They still represent all continents – something we haven’t seen since 2009! As I mentioned earlier, most entrants interpret the motto “Momentum” through the prism of contemplation of the contemporary world – the particular instant when we examine the reality around us and draw conclusions from it. From my perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect is that certain issues which have been the subject of widespread discussion in Poland recently, such as border security and abortion, also appear in works submitted by artists from countries such as Canada and Romania.

As we speak, the first stage of the competition has been decided. Do we know what works will be shown at the Main Exhibition at the Nowa Huta Cultural Centre?
We do – the Main Exhibition features highly diverse artworks. For people who mainly associate prints with images reproduced on various kinds of papers, the exhibition is likely to be something of a surprise. Alongside classic prints, we will see performances (especially at the weekend of 25 and 26 May), objects including those allowing visitors to interact with them to create a unique experience, installations featuring sound and animations.
The pieces can be divided into a few themes. The most important include works exploring the subject of borders and migration, including by “undesirable” people, and issues surrounding reproductive rights. Many artists also explore themes of passing and demise, post-memory and the Anthropocene. I think the most interesting aspect is dialogue between works by artists who’d never met but whose entries turn out to be surprisingly similar. The exhibition also features a few powerful artworks exploring themes genocide and the continuing war in Ukraine.

What techniques do the artists use to express themselves? Were there any major surprises for the jury?
The exhibition is highly diverse in terms of technique. In any case, in the 21st century technologies are more of an academic category; for us organisers and the jury (comprising Enrique Chagoya, Tracy Hill, Jan Pettersson and Grzegorz Hańderek), the narratives were far more important. I already mentioned the most significant ones; I think the greatest surprise for the jury were just these unexpected dialogues between artworks created in different corners of the globe. At times, the crossover is the way certain topics are presented, such as using a table in the partially-interactive installation by Bronka Nowicka and Eitvydas Žukas’s project, while at others it is the subject itself which we can examine from opposite perspectives in different artworks. The latter is clearly notable through the juxtaposition of Agnieszka Stefańska’s Pregnancy and Diana Drăgan-Chirili Untold Abortions.

Since 2018, the Triennial has also included the competition transgraphia aimed at Polish artists, encouraging participants to present unusual works in unexpected spaces. Where will this exhibition be held this time, and what will it be about?
transgraphia is a project which avoids typical exhibition spaces, so in 2024 its curator Katarzyna Wojtyga and the jurors bring it to the former Main Post Office building at the intersection of Westerplatte and Wielopole streets. The exhibition and accompanying symposium are held under the banner Who benefits from art? Among many social and economic disputes, we frequently forget that the cultural sector, including visual arts, comprises 3.5% of Poland’s GDP. Together with the artists and the public we aim to consider what this means and explore the impact of culture on our everyday lives and wellbeing.

The triennial focuses on the here-and-now, but it also doesn’t forget other acclaimed artists whose participation in the event has resulted in long-term, close ties with Kraków.
That’s right. We will be focusing on this historic dimension of the Cracovian event in 2026, marking the 60th anniversary of the international competition. Rather than this year’s “Momentum”, we will be exploring longevity with all its consequences, both past and present.

Article published in 1/2024 issue of Kraków Culture quarterly.

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