By using a very frequent element in Florian Doru Crihana’s work, namely a metaphor, we could call him Don Quixote of satirical painting. Within the area in which we are prepared to face strong expression, his paintings are striking with their pastel tones and gentleness, in some of us they provoke associations with an idyll. It also seems that he is curiously attracted (even though he explains the reasons of this interest in another way) to a defence of what is apparently doomed to extinction. Since the great exhibition in Venice the aforementioned metaphor has been enriched with yet another meaning. He is a knight errant, although not travelling aimless, he wanders rather to eternalise character of some places, or – to be more precise – following old vedutisti of some cities. Therefore Venice, then Paris, Istanbul, Athens, Bruges, and now also Legnica.
The artist has been visiting us for years. He stresses too that this is where, to some extent, his European career began, starting with the Satyrykon awards and meeting the Burkamps – great admirers of his artistic work. However, exactness, diversity and thoroughness of treating a subject result not so much from non-artistic reasons, rather from the artist’s personality, and even perhaps also a little from (let us not be so humble) “genius loci”.
What is Crihana’s Legnica like? Certainly, it is not just a commercial prospectus, unless we use the word in an old meaning, as the vedutisti meant it. Anyhow, there are very few panoramas here. The City led onto desert wastes by the locomotive of progress, the Piast Castle, contrary to the first announcement, does not fade away in the rows of identical community houses. This vision picks up what is the most important, and abstracts somehow from the surrounding fortuity.
We can see numerous historic places. One could say landmarks of Legnica. Nevertheless, their presence was not decided by their objective significance for the city – looking at this angle we even dare to say that quite many of them have been omitted. The key thing is what has attracted the artist’s attention.
So here they come: the theatre, Market Place, herring stalls, the town hall, the library, the Piast Castle, the park and its surroundings, the grenadier and signal corps barracks… Although we recognise all the smaller and bigger signs with ease, it would be wrong to look for real Legnica in this strange city. It would even be wrong to look for Legnica from the past. It is rather a fantasy on the subject of the city. Like in old vedute the reality intermingle with surrealistic details. Still, it is an extremely concrete fantasy.
It is really surprising how many things which seem to be beautiful inventions, compositional views, or even satirical concepts, originate in the reality, especially the one written down as in old “Gruss aus Liegnitz” cards. For in our park huge palm trees really used to grow once, the barracks in Rzeczpospolitej Street (Funkerkaserne) boasted with impressive radiotelegraphic towers, and our Neptune descended the fountain to stroll around Market Place (this was how the conservation of the monument was recorded in New Year postcard of 1914). Still, what is even more important, these details, which resulted from stunningly exact observation of the sources, undergo further fascinating transformations. They become counters in a game full of never-ending sophisticated jokes and riddles. Neptune doesn’t drink in front of the town hall in a plebby manner, in the company of students, he is replaced on the fountain pedestal by the war enfant terrible – Napoleon, who weaves complicated stories about winter confrontations of the armies. The barracks swing on their signal towers a cable car, the Legnica tramway or a bridge alike. In the company of guards, Wilhelm’s brave grenadiers, who carry this odd construction on their arms and bayonets, evoke associations with a postcard from utterly different city. A very close look at the two gates of our cathedral has become a pretext for a joke, yet the further story of the saints having their break, brings the ground for a serious question about complicated in the course of history friendships in Legnica. A motif, known from numerous Legnica postcards, an airship hangar with the “Sachsen” zeppelin sticking out of it in an almost identical shot, appears to be a huge, and comparatively important Legnica symbol, namely a greenhouse. The zeppelin itself, surprisingly and reasonably at the same time, pushes aside the arcades of Piotr i Paweł [Peter and Paul] Mall, posing more questions about relations between technical progress and the city development. It is possible to give endless examples of this game, shame to take away the chance for discovering them on one’s own, as it really is a fascinating play.
And what is characteristic, the details, arranged in fantastic sets, are never accidental, and become the starting point for a complicated, historic, or even historic-philosophic, metaphor. Let it be a toy-size building of the city library placed on a huge base of a Renaissance tenement house of the city writer, flanked by iconic masonic symbols (as we know about it nothing more than some stereotypes). Among the crazy, Mannerist concepts alike, collisions
the first plan is taken by the fruit of exuberant imagination. Therefore we can see the facades of the herring stalls standing in an open space in a manner of a theatre mock-up, entering the “stage” on an almost empty shovel bent against the massive surface of fields looking like a rock. We can also find smelting of foundry pig iron on Market Square, or a romantic ironworker resembling a Venetian gondolier. And this is perhaps the most important topic – images that tell us about complicated relation between nature, the past and tradition as well, with what is new, the technical progress especially.
What is characteristic, the cycle – except for its expressive beginning – is not a linear narrative, developing from image to image. It is rather a music structure filled with leitmotifs, a kaleidoscope, or a story once called avant-garde, and today slightly old-fashioned. Its characters – cucumbers, pianos, zeppelins, the castle, the house “Under the Quail’s Basket” – meet together all the time revealing more and more peculiar relations and ambiguous, complex meanings discussed in sequences of never-ending digressions, although initially it could seem that not much serves to combine them. One could even say that it is a perfect reality. The timeless world of memory where nothing can be lost, and all the antagonists of the bygone dramas, all what exclude each other in history, co-exist in a superficial aesthetic harmony.
It is Legnica where all the dreams came true. Where emperor Wilhelm I might control not only the city but half of Europe from the fantastic, sky reaching column on the courtyard of the barracks of his grenadiers (this would be the most suitable place for him). And a good lord mayor, Ottomar Oertel enjoys the view of Legnica, as it was his own garden, from the balcony of his apartment (at present Mickiewicza Street) and admires not only the already built part of the New Town Hall but also the whole of its beauty (as the preserved design shows). This is the place where industry does not disturb explosive growth of palm trees and cucumbers. And Soviet submarines and Prussian zeppelins greet each other stepping up the walking pace on a sunny day. The hares from the Quail’s Basket probably prefer to play truant and visit the local theatre to enjoy an entertaining comedy instead of acting in a bloody tragedy of revenge. The dramatic traces of the Russians’ stay in Legnica are mellow over the time like everything else. A picture with Brezhnev (staying for the night at Prijom’s House during a visit to his ill wife recovering here), with the aim of illusive effects, shows closeness, and at the same time, a huge distance from this “little Moscow idyll” to Legnica itself, as well as to real Moscow… The Warszawa cars cut into the brick wall of the “Square” (meaningfully wide apart from the other quarters of Legnica), look equally elegant as Rococo poodles in a park. The fate of the brought down monuments resembles the fate of defenceless trees destroyed during the last whole gale. And even these, protected by crates, floating majestically in the sky, airships alike, do not die too violently.
And characteristic again – this idyllic, fantastic and at moments exotic Legnica does not hide away that it may occasionally resemble Venice, Paris, Istanbul, the harbour town of Bruges, or even London. The similarities and tracing the differences result both from the viewer’s attitude and universal human striving. It is an image of a man’s crazy dreams that live here. It is about an idyllic back country and a capital, a familiar and also an exotic place, a centre of vegetable farming, a paradise garden, and an industrial power and a spa resort, a cradle of military conquests, colonial power and a fort of culture at the same time… The place which went through all Early Modern European utopias (together with their consequences), and their dangerous sense may be seen in this idyllic scenes as a skull found in Arcadia. Or a satirical little cannon hidden amidst flowers.
Nevertheless, even if this tranquil vision reveals its dramatic face from time to time, it does it in a specific way. Perhaps in the deep waters of history
of Legnica presence two great empires drown, doing this in a rather postcardlike bombast of Titanic, though still surprisingly close to the local theatre. Perhaps this heroic city won over hales and floods which became symbols of historic cataclysms here. Undoubtedly these last were equally nagging as a hangover in the former Ratuszowa pub. And yet all these our ambitions to be the big world and reasons for glory… They are so greatly exposed here, and at the same time – in this desert-like space of the fields – somehow grotesque, being single, alone, and also artificial, theatrical, just like human all vain efforts, ruins of former glory or a bit like any backcountry self-praise.
One could say, and sound xenophobic, that there are few really of our Polish traces. The impressive Business Hall in place of the former military surgery hospital (is there any room for the ghosts of the past actually?) comes as a separate case. And what else? The Copper Work – depicted in a romantic aura what suits the technology and development admirer? Balconies of ordinary blocks of flats filled with flowers? The fantastic histories of Legnica monuments, so specifically interwoven in this story, makes a quite derisive statements. The Lion of Legnica (a monument of war heroes) seems rather to be sleeping peacefully than dying, just like a dog which ignores his master, turns his back to combative Henry II the Pious. The brave prince in turn, following our charming times, boasts about on crumbled demolition bricks instead of a proper pedestal. He was about to have had a monument put up by the Germans before the war, and the idea has come back recently during a press shouting match.
As in this sunken in the past story there is a lot of news, even though it is going to be out of date so quickly. There are also many of those who loved all this so much and told their stories about everything. About zeppelins, the cucumbers grown here once, the significance of trains and railway station, trams
on the market place, the piano factory, the copper work and metallurgy, the Russians and the “Square”… It is even possible to guess who came up with which stories. Since this is what the artist is most interested in – how history is printed in our contemporary conscience and how it lives there. One of the key values of this cycle is the fact how well it reflects the conscience of a “cultural” Legnica man today. Last but not least there is also a place for Satyrykon, which hand in hand with the aforementioned Don Quixote, is the only protector of “not serious” ideas reminding fair pinwheels. The originator of the cycle and an unwilling initiator of bizarre relations. Anyhow, the effects of his activity provoke reflections the most… Compare Crihan’s vision of our Brotherhood Monument: Polish Filip and a Soviet soldier are holding a baby which shows striking resemblance to Wilhelm Busch’s Moritz. Clownish taunt cubed? A wrong-headed praise? – as it is excellent offspring… A mordant satire, sharper than a razor (a bit of blood can be seen in the background)? Or – against all odds – a picture of a friendship, slightly different from official alliances but uniting all who are interested in the matter…
And let us notice that this complicated Legnica is inhabited by a very characteristic nation of black-haired men with moustaches who drive modern trains and trams, and even govern. It has been written that this anthropological type is a Crihan’s everyman. Most certainly. But there is a temptation also to see in him, at least sometimes, a familiar face wearing glasses. The one, who got to know us so well, and at the same time looked at us in his unique, personal, so distanced way. And now in this beautifully ironic form he leads us into the world. Much to our glory but also to praise another place, the one he was born in.
Translation: Anita Wincencjusz-Patyna