Slowly it is starting to seem to me that in Poland there are plenty of resources and a nutritious basis for establishing a new genetic cultural code of the local literary scene there. At least it appears to me like that when I listen to Aleksandra, vice president, coordinator for international PR and a translator at the NGO Ha!art, who nonetheless says that the Polish experimental scene is still in development. But, anyway, the ambitious association is without equals in Poland or anywhere. Aleksandra (see her multifaceted and web engineered translations of video poems) told me that the Ha!art associations origin lies in the magazine of the same name, established in 1999, which is still in operation. Today Ha!art is also a literary festival, a group of artists and activists, and a publishing house which has introduced plenty of debuts by young authors as well as translations of classics of literary avant-garde (like Finnegans Wake or A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems) to the Polish literary market. The NGO has an over-all vision of a cloud slash communication hub slash network slash scout for and of avant-garde authors and artists in Poland and abroad.
That is plenty, yes, but there are still concerns to answer. Sure, malicious gossip has it to describe projects which will never end and so cannot be called “works in progress” anymore, because there is no progress and so they end up being called “experimental”. And sure, the definition of the word “experimental” itself is somewhat paradoxical. The very nature of an experiment is to try out and/or to prove. It is not at all to produce something. Indeed, even the first sentence of the entry for the scientific definition of “experiment” in Wikipedia says: “(a)n experiment is a procedure carried out to verify, refute, or establish the validity of a hypothesis“.
When I voiced these concerns about labelling literature as “experimental” or “avant-garde”, Aleksandra basically just shrugged her shoulders. “The term “experimental” is not easy to define and each of the authors connected to Ha!art or with whom I am working as a translator has different ideas on the subject. The term may be not precise but it offers a quick way to give someone a general idea of what we and our authors do”, she said. “But one can say that it is about liberating the form of literature”.
Ha!art’s festival – Ha!wangarda – which takes place each year in Krakow in October reflects that position. Aleksandra is a member of the team responsible for the program, together with a group of scholars, artists and translators, including Piotr Marecki, Katarzyna Bazarnik and Zenon Fajfer, Mariusz Pisarski, Anna Nacher, Monika Górska-Olesińska, Agnieszka Przybyszewska, Mikołaj Spodaryk and many others. Performances, parties, readings, installations, workshops and other kinds of staging of fiction, non-fiction and art theory is their métier, and digital and avant-garde literature and their many varieties are presented and curated during the event. If you look at this year’s calendar, among many projects, the festival featured the collaborative work Piksel Zdrój (eng. “Pixel Spa”) (see fb page of the project).
It is obviously no secret what will happen next year. For the 2016 Ha!wangarda festival the planned key themes include interactive fiction old and new, digital adaptations and remixes, bioart and a set of workshops for teens devoted to liberature and materiality of literature – for which the team is now doing research.
What else?! Actually, Ha!art has a motto that sums up its activities: “All things that do not pay off!” Surely conceptual literature, literary generators, camp and other stuff are nothing which sells off right away. But judging from one of their recent publications “Polish impact”, at least they do not lack self-confidence. “Yes, Polish people are very proud of their nation”, Aleksandra comments. In a witty and ironic way, the authors of the booklet track all experimental literature back to Polish origins. They call Poland “the empire of King Ubu”, borrowing the metaphor from “King Ubu and the Polish”, the famous play by Alfred Jarry which premiered in 1896 in Paris and is set “in Poland, that is to say, nowhere” (which it basically was at the time). But it is more than that. “What we try to do is work against the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon history of the avant-garde, trying to spotlight a tradition of experimental literature unknown just because it happened in a less dominant language.” And to promote literary provocation, of course.
So far, so good. There is still much more to say about Ha!art. The project appears energetic, straightforward, colorful and daring – and one of its main aims is to unite people. And Aleksandra told me that this map is a few years old. That is the riddle. What is missing on that map?
Photo credit for heading picture: Ha!art