GEOGRAFIA MIŁOŚCI autor Dorota Sztmanska


Rob Garrett – an independent curator, currently based in Sopot (Poland), originally from Auckland (NZ), with more than 35 years’ practice in the contemporary art sector, including curatorial experience in New Zealand, Poland, Italy, Sweden, France, Turkey, Germany and India. He is currently curator of the 2016 “Immersions: inSPIRACJE Competition for Artists Exhibition” at Muzeum Narodowe w Szczecinie (Poland); New Zealand selector and curator for the 2016 “ENTRE ISLAS / BETWEEN ISLAND International VideoArt Festival”; curator of the 2017 “inSPIRACJE International Visual Arts Festival” in Szczecin (Poland); and founding curator of an international exhibition programme for emerging artists at CORNER Window Gallery in Auckland (New Zealand). In 2015 he curated “New Intimacies: SCAPE Public Art Christchurch Biennial” (New Zealand).


Dorota Szymanska talks to Rob Garrett about geography, passion and whatever lies in between…


DS: It was late 2012 when a social media, winter photo of you - an Aucklander in Gdansk – Poland, caught my eye. How did it happen you got interested in this country? What was your first experience of Poland?


RG: I first came to Poland in the summer of 2005 at the invitation of Zachęta National Gallery of Art (Narodowa Galeria Sztuki) in Warsaw. This was just before I became a freelance curator and I was working for New Zealand’s Arts Council; and I had just finished as sponsoring manager of New Zealand’s official pavilion project at the Venice Contemporary Art Biennale. I decided it take a few weeks of personal time visiting artist friends and other colleagues in Milan, Moscow, Vilnius, Prague, Budapest and Berlin. I traveled down to Warsaw from Vilnius by train with fellow New Zealander Simon Rees, who was then curator at the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius; and is now Director of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, NZ. Simon and Zachęta curator Magda Kardasz were working on a major exhibition of Australian and New Zealand art. Zachęta generously hosted my visit to Warsaw for a few days and I spent my time meeting artists, gallerists and curators. I had a great time and found everyone very friendly and informative. I particularly remember a warm and enthusiastic conversation about contemporary Polish art by Jarosław Suchan who was then Director of the Center for Contemporary Art (Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej) in Zamek Ujazdowski as we looked at large parts of the collection then on display. I also enjoyed a very generous summer evening of hospitality with artists and others from the art world in Hanna Wróblewska’s home.


A year later I was setting out as an independent curator; and it would be seven years before Poland again drew my intensive interest. In 2012 my curatorial proposal for the 5th edition of the annual “Narracje Installations and Interventions in Public Space” festival in Gdańsk was selected by an independent jury and in January 2013 I returned for Poland for an exciting 2-week research residency to start planning my Narracje Festival programme which would take place the following November. At the outset, when I was devising my concept for the festival, I was attracted to Gdańsk’s rich history and the possibilities for contemporary artists – both Polish and international – to help connect locals with the stories of their own home in new, moving and informative ways. The very old history of the city’s river, canals, grain trade and walled structure with surrounding gardens was fascinating and inspiring to me. My research residency gave me a chance to walk around the Old Town, visit the city’s historic and cultural collections and to meet many individuals, artists and city planners, architects and historians, residents and bar owners, all of whom had stories to tell that made me realise there was a very rich and complex cultural memory residing in the city – but fragmented and inaccessible to ordinary people. The artists I chose found the context similarly inspiring and I think we did a very good job of creating new ‘windows’ onto the past for the 1000s of locals who walked the festival trail during the cold and misty November nights. The Festival provided me with a great opportunity to introduce some New Zealand artists to Poland and for this I was very pleased. Juliette Laird made very strong connections with the Polish community in New Zealand as well as having a very rewarding time during her weeks in the TriCity.


DS: I know that “Narracje 2013” was not the only “engagement” that had you stay in Poland longer? That must have been quite a different experience?


RG: As luck or fate would have it, I met someone very special during my project in Gdańsk at the end of 2013. Magda, not an artist herself, is friends with some of the local artists I was working with and we met at the opening event of “Narracje.” There was an instant and compelling connection and things developed pretty quickly, with the result that we married in Gdańsk six months after meeting; and that’s how I came to make Sopot my European home. If it hadn’t been for meeting Magda, I would most likely have been based in Berlin. I am very pleased with where I am!



DS: I know that you now travel extensively around Poland – what has this included to date and why?


RG: As you know, moving to a new country involves its own measure of curiosity. I have been reading a lot; history books of course, but also Polish novels (in English translation), from serious literature (I have fallen in love with the qualities of Olga Tokarczuk and Pawel Huelle’s writing – the latter was born in Gdańsk) to crime fiction (I am now a great fan of Anya Lipska and Zygmunt Miłoszewski!) because, every time, some new aspect of the character of the people and the place is always revealed. But yes, I have been roving around too. So far, not as far as I would like, but I am patient: Toruń, Kraków, Warsaw many times, Szczecin, the whole TriCity area of course, including the beautiful Hel Peninsula and parts of Kashubia (Kaszëbë / Kaszuby). Coming up, there are trips to Janowiec and Zakopane; also to Orońsko to explore the National Sculpture centre there; and Poznań, which I have traveled through several times by train without stopping as I ‘rushed’ to and from Szczecin for the project I curated there this year. Łódź and Wrocław have so far eluded me! I hope to visit them this year too. Some of these trips are to visit exhibitions, meet artists and others in the art world; and to get to know Poland’s fine art academies. Other trips have been simply family-oriented and recreational.



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