Kaja Pawełek
"A fish called Warsaw - how to regain the view?"

Try to spray a slogan “Intense stories. Real life” on a facade of a building on Warsaw’s plac Konstytucji. As soon as the word “life”, your hand will be grasped by a policeman that came out of nowhere.

But if the sign like that, was printed on a mesh print and was few dozen meters long, no policeman would show up – though the sign is as much illegal, like the one scribbled with paint. This slogan, promoting a certain TV channel, sounds incredibly cynical in those circumstances, just like a slogan of a certain bank printed over windows of a different Warsaw’s building said “a view with a window”.

I don’t want to deliberate once again about who allows those practices, and why they are still repeating. Those issues were described by Warsaw’s local press many times, debates were organized, town clerks were interrogated, statements of the spokesmen of housing associations who decide about hanging mega-advertisements on buildings were quoted. Also the voices of the most interested were brought up – like one lady’s which in here own apartment, filled the whole night with halogen lights from the building next door, feels like “corps in a dissection room”. Simultaneously a different point of view is necessary – the one that shouldn’t be mistaken with nostalgia for mythical perfect city from the past (which never existed). This view on a house tightly packed by an advertisement, and on residents imprisoned in this bizarre cocoon, leads to a question - how is that possible, that an incapacitation of a citizen happened right in front of us?  

In a discussion about outdoor advertising and public space in Poland, the main focus is on the visual and legal chaos. Yet the view is important not only as a movable urban frame, which has it’s own soundtrack, “smell-track”, “emotional-track”. Urban sight also means something, and this announcement seems to be fundamental.

Is it a part of a city dweller’s multicomponent story, linked with their everyday life, dreams or just a stream of statements propelling the consumption?

Where public and private spaces meet, there are regular acts of violence, limiting the freedom and interfering in the intimacy of inhabitants’ lives. This violence is based on an alibi shaped in form of an agreement between the housing associations, and of the mantra-like argument about the obtained resources for renovating the buildings. This is of course a classic TINA (There Is No Alternative) – exposing a situation, which has no other option. Choose: either a falling down facade, or a window covered for eighteen months. All this is humiliating – even if majority of the habitants has agreed to live with it.

Advertising companies “tame” them, first hanging a brighter advertisement, just to hang another one – colorful and not as much see-through. Just few rebel. There was one person who constructed a roller blind to gain access to the day light. It lasted two weeks, until the advertising company replaced the ad with a new one, and the representatives of the housing association threaten the rebellious inhabitant with a lawsuit.

The surprising thing is, that the property right benefits only those, who illegally appropriate the power, not only over the public space, but also over the private one. Advertising mesh, hung against construction or conservation regulations is untouchable, but the sight fromm the window – value immaterial but unquestionably due to every inhabitant – not so much.
Gigantic advertisement covering people’s window on the world – both metaphorically and literally - cover the square - formerly symbolic fragment of the city – in addition, ironically Konstytucji square – mean a lot more than only aggressive appropriation and privatization of the public space. The ads divide two spheres in a physical way: the common space and the domestic, intimate sphere - the mythical place of happiness according to the theories of Gaston Bachelard, which combined allow a rightful life in the city. The sight of the commercial announcements covering he windows of the private flats is appalling not because it’s unaesthetic, but because it’s unethical - it symbolizes violence.

Warsaw’s citizens suggested through the local press, that the ones that should react and do something, are the inhabitants, and we - meaning all the others – could back them up if needed. It’s reasonable – it’s hard to rebel for someone else – but it also shows a lack of basic empathy, which leads not to hypocritical pity, but citizen activity, and the will to oppose.

It is an important moment – it shows the lack of strong community of the citizens. Yet in this case, the victims of the violence are not only the inhabitants of the covered houses, but also all of those, who sees this view.
Editor-in-chief of the “Gazeta Stołeczna”, not being able to wait much longer for a firm student’s protest, or are action of the university’s authorities, submitted an open letter about the covered windows in the Warsaw’s
Polytechnic dormitory “Riviera”.

“The windows, balcony and loggia’s meaning in the urban conditions is strengthen; these are almost the lungs of a home – they bring the air and sun closer to the inside of a flat.A window is an old invention and a common element of an interior, and we would consider it’s purpose as a quite clear one. Human malice though, can radically cover up these basic functions” - as Jan Szymański has noticed in his “Book about living” in 1962.

If we searched for analogies, it would be crucial to remind you about the first of may propaganda stage design of PRL.Righ there, on the plac Konstytucji, people’s windows where covered by portraits of Bierut and Stalin – but
even they weren’t stuck there for one and a half year. Polish cities instead of radically improving the situation, decide on temporary solutions, like covering damaged facades, or coating the wall with bizarre ornaments like for example pseudo-graffiti.It looks like well known from the history installations, that were supposed to simulate a better reality through creating a collective hallucination.
There is no end when it comes to writing about symbolic and meaning of a window. It’s hard to imagine 17th century Netherlands painting or Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” without a window theme. For many years Józef Robakowski, the leading figure of the polish video art and experimental film, has been creating a famous recording “ A view from my window”. If Robakowski lived today in plac Konstytucji, he wouldn’t record much.

His film narration excellently catch esthething that is so special about a view from your own window - private, subjective narration of daily, repetitive but also fresh spectacle. The thing that combines the public and the private
sphere is the point of view – from the inside - allowing the emplacement and self-determination in the topography of the city, as well as from the outside - the look of others, who’s window shows the presence of other members of the community, the mark of their private life in the tissue of the city.


In “Postpolis”, Ewa Rewers relating to the character from Franz Kafka’s novel and E.T.A Hoffmann, and also Henri Lefebvre’s texts wrote: “Trapped between the interior and the window, between solitude and society, which attempts to control them according to the rhythm of drawing closer and further from the urban spectacle, reaching simultaneously the eyes (marks), the ears (voices) through the window, attempting to adjust it’s internal rhythms to the urban rhythms, which are the rhythms of the social life (...) urban world constitutes itself it the consciousness of a lonely object as a subjective reality. The old metaphor of a room with a window, through which we see the world, is a continuation of the dichotomy of the metaphysics: an inner world separated from the outer world, the object from the knower, distanced subject”. Another artist, Jacek Niegoda has started, in Robakowski’s block of flats in Łódź, a committee to mark the famous window with an edge of a gigantic arrow, which ends on the same building on a random window advertising a supermarket. It’s symptomatic, that this urban symphony, which excites modernists, this spectacle with an uncontrolled course, is not a serious argument any more. Today, we can only talk about regulations and boundaries of a control, not about participating in life and the urban flow. The logic of fragmentation and segregation, manifesting itself in the form of closed housing estates, destroys a reflexion on the space of the city as a superior idea and value which has a true meaning for the inhabitants at the same time.

This particular text has been created as an effect of the opposition towards violence noticeable by the fellow-townsman of this city. Perhaps the answer to the lost view from the window should be a movement similar to the “reclaim the streets” - only that concerning liberation of houses, regaining individual view from our – but also at our – homes. Objection against the commercial expansion, clerical incapacity and the blurred responsibility for, still common, city.

- text was published in “Gazeta Wyborcza”, 10.06.2008
- photographs by Anna Okrasko, 2008