Art channel



Tomasz Partyka, from the series “SUMMER/SUMMER”, photo: Diana Lelonek, 2018

Fear is reality

Every time I come to Grudziądz, where I was born, I talk to my grandmother, born in 1929. She tells me about the wartime trauma of forced labour in the fields, when she was just a teenager. In fact, grandma Eleanor, née Dziedzic, often brings this up herself. She tells me about the fear – SS searches and inspections that regularly took place during forced labour in Niemojewko (or ‘Ebersfelde’) in the Third Reich. Niemojewko is currently a village in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship; during the occupation it was part of Wartheland, and before the war it was part of the Poznań Voivodeship. We talk about the fear felt by a girl who began slave labour in 1939 – that is, at the age of 10 – and whose ordeal ended at the age of 15, with the end of the war. Childhood and early youth are most frequently associated with first infatuations and exploring the world. For my grandmother, they were and remain a trauma that cannot be tamed. The damage remains forever. My gran faced a world in which she could be deprived of life at any time of the day or night. A life stripped of everything, within the opportunity to study.

During my visits to Grudziądz, I talk to Grandma Lonia about the fear associated with the barking of German Shepherds, SS Volkswagens arriving, day and night, at the family home, and banging on the door. To this day, grandma is frightened whenever she hears a barking. What is more, the SS were typically dressed in “beautiful, well-tailored uniforms”, probably designed by Hugo Boss. This begs the question, can fear be beautiful?

Tomasz Partyka, from the series “SUMMER/SUMMER”, photo: Diana Lelonek, 2018

photo: Diana Lelonek, 2018

Tomasz Partyka, from the series “SUMMER/SUMMER”, photo: Diana Lelonek, 2018

photo: Diana Lelonek, 2018

Harsh beauty

Since August 2018, I have been working on so-called costumes for miniature models of Luftwaffe soldiers from 1939-45. I’ve already made 42 costumes. I create them from the dead, dismembered insects found in the building of my studio in Warsaw’s Praga district, which once served as a military barracks. I have never killed any insect, much less bought one online. This was always, and remains, the idea: only ever use what I can find in the building. These are, usually, flies, wasps, all sorts of moths, hornets, butterflies, and other flying creatures, the names of which I do not know. For the binding, aside from glue, I use dust and cobwebs, plenty of which can also be found around the building. The models I make are typically from 3 to 8cm tall. I believe the amplified sound of a wasp, a fly, or another of these dead creatures resembles the sound of the engine of the German Messerschmitt fighter plane, that brought – during the war and, like any war machine – and still brings fear to those who can hear it.

I named the collection SUMMER/SUMMER, drawing on the terminology of the fashion industry, where S/S means spring/summer, and A/W, autumn/winter. I intentionally used the name SUMMER/SUMMER. I started working on this “collection” in August, the hottest month of the year. It was impossible to work in the studio, and when I came home in the evening it was even hotter there. My brain would overheat and turned into jelly; I couldn’t think. My body would go crazy. The repetition of the word ‘summer’ is meant to draw attention to the ominous nature of summer – as years go by, it gets hotter and hotter in the summer, a season that typically is associated with time out and holidays – for children in particular. During this mega-hot summer, in my case SUMMER/SUMMER, insects and other existing species – including humans – become the victims of the extremely high temperatures. They are the living and breathing witnesses of climate catastrophes. They become a parallel that speaks of destruction, desolation, and fear.

photo: Diana Lelonek, 2018

The costumes (clothing) are often inspired by the clothing worn by shamans – warriors. The plastic models hide behind large masks, as if they did not want to betray their plastic faces. Their clothes also resemble armour, which has a protective function. On more than one occasion, SS soldiers (in this case, the Luftwaffe) used drugs or other psychoactive substances to boost their confidence. These costumes (armour) often look grotesque – the Nazi ideal hits the gutter. The soldiers appear comical, a far cry from their image presented by the Third Reich. Their weaknesses and fear are certainly exposed. My mini models typically pose in gymnastic poses, in small groups (from two to five plastic models), they give the impression that gravity does not apply to them. Perhaps, they believed too much in their divine, aerial powers. I also created accessories such as scarves and hats to protect from the sun, as well as summer dresses. My Luftwaffe soldiers with new clothing worn over their uniforms appear possessed, lost, unable to find their bearings in a new situation or aware of the coming end. After the war, grandmother Lonia learned that as the Germans retreated, and the Soviet Army charged west, all people working in her village were shot by the Nazis fleeing in panic.

I asked the artist Diana Lelonek to photograph the models. After seeing the images on a video projector – magnified to the size of 2×3 meters – I had the impression that I am not the author of these micro-sculptures. I was captivated by the harsh beauty of the dissected and preserved flying creatures in a huge close-up. The colours and shapes of insect remains captured my imagination, and their outlandishly amplified bodies reminded me how intelligent and clever nature really is. Because of my hopeless eyesight, my entire sculptural work was largely based on intuition – now I do have glasses, but back then I felt like a watchmaker without a magnifying glass.

Lonia, written and directed by Marcin Partyka, 56 min 45 sec, 2021

New Slavery

Fear is a very efficient tool for controlling and generating subjects. Intimidation is understood as an ‘ace up one’s sleeve’ (I have already mentioned flying aces) of a warlord or satrap, aspiring to absolute power. The mechanisms of manipulation are banal – as banal as the evil described by Hannah Arendt. Unfortunately, history often comes full circle. It is enough to rationalize and describe the threat (the enemy), and find fertile ground i.e., a helpless recipient, and we have ourselves the perfect contemporary oppressor, unaware of their submissive role, playing it without a second thought. Today’s authoritarian rulers construct a reality based on fear, manipulation, and hypocrisy. They create their own intolerant organisms that exclude otherness. My work is a warning against such totalitarianisms. Thousands of our grandmothers and grandfathers witnessed the birth of fascism, which now, under various cloaks, flourishes in the blazing sun of an already exploited Earth. Camus aptly stated in Rebellious Man: “I rebel, therefore we exist”.

Eleonora Kalikowska, photo: Marcin Partyka

The SUMMER/SUMMER series consists of 42 objects and 130×110 cm photographs of objects. The baroque-like photographs were taken by Diana Lelonek on a black background, with a single, dimmed light source. The light strokes the surface of the dismembered insect remains in a close up. The enlarged photos of wings or armour on plastic Luftwaffe models bear the marks of fabrics, textures and colours, resembling Caravaggio’s work – it was my intention to convey the mood and colour in a similar manner.

Eleonora Kalikowska, née Dziedzic – a flesh and blood highlander born on 4 September 1929 in Krasny-Lasocice, a village located in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship. She had seven siblings, her two surviving sisters are Janina and Irena. She has three children: Włodzimierz, Zbigniew and Danuta, my mother. In May 1939, her father Andrzej bought a piece of land in Niemojewko and moved his entire family and belongings across the country. Four months later, Nazi Germany took over their possessions and work on the land became slave labour.

Tomasz Partyka is the grandson of Eleonora Kalikowska and Jan Kalikowski, her late husband. Visual artist, he lives and works in Warsaw.


Stay tuned with us – Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media: