Marek Domański   »
między-miejsca | in-between places

In-between places

Old abandoned factories frightening with window eye sockets, boarded up workplaces of the past, buildings – mostly hidden behind walls, fences or the thicket of weeds, empty parks and car parks, landscapes of housing estates, quarters of tenement houses shaking, not because of trams that are going by but with fear of being pulled down.

Are we watching an original portrait of the city originating from the fascination with urban aesthetics? The answer is the simplest one; however, it is not the complete truth.

Decisions made by the photographer Marek Domański undermine literality and equivalence of the images. It seems that the cycle of his works goes with – more and more frequently common – discourse on the relations of the man with the surrounding space. A risky constatation, as in Domański’s photos we can not see the man’s image. The only trace of human presence is obscure; an unfocused, blurry, confused figure attempts to slip out of the frame as if he was… an intruder.

The pl a ce. The notion which once was associated with socially-oriented space, where the feelings of identification, attachment and safety were generated. In the act of describing and classifying places what is important is not only spatial relations that are not connected with the man, but even to a larger extent what fills them with energy: individual and collective, more or less ritualised practices, everyday experiences, the sphere of beliefs. In the perception of places it is not most important to understand their physicality but to feel ‘being’ there and to experience the meanings given to them before.

Wondering what is the ontological status of objects recorded by Marek Domański, we can state that at least a few of them, taking into consideration the cultural discourse highlighting the problem of existence of places and non-places (Marc Augé), could take a position on the side of the former. Consecutively appearing, soaring up block of flats are filled with people, also those proud of being in one… place for many generations. However, can we interpret this notion in a different way than merely as physical being in the same space?

Is it possible to talk here about being rooted, being at home, forming local identity? The policy of the ‘past epoch’ of populating regular spatial forms deprived of beauty and originality with masses of people did not take into account the need to use such statements as: it is such a beautiful place…, it is our home… They do not seem to be places, much less our places. Perhaps they are only quasi-places? Those areas were always characterised by unfamiliarity and movement, there was never the necessary natural settlement, despite the propaganda campaign that claimed otherwise.

The views of tenement houses in Lodz, closer to the traditional way of understanding a place converge with networks of tram tractions, wire nets of fences, poles of street signs, rows of bricks in the wall; we observe these buildings as if in a photographic close-up (despite the broad plan) but at the same time as if from a distance, without any chance to identify with them. Today these buildings are also dominated by the phenomenon of flow. It is more likely to observe movement rather than settlement, lack of attachment of people to the place they stay in.

Such buildings gradually lose their status of man-friendly settlements, they become similar to spaces treated like non-places, where we are forced to stay because of the hectic pace of contemporary life, where no essential social and cultural relationships are established, areas like: airports, highways, shopping centres, hotels, railway stations or IT terminals.

Although every day they are visited by a great number of people, they are not tied to them in any way, even interactions are usually non-verbal. Most of Marek Domański’s photographs feature public spaces. There are factories, sports halls, tramway terminals or petrol stations – considered in the context of non-places. We face objects once filled with people; some of them could have been marked by some emotional significance (non-places are never definitely non-places) – yet today we see them as old, run-down, abandoned buildings with bricked up windows, devoid of identity, quiet and sad at dawn, isolated by walls, lifeless, with no reason to settle there.

They silently fade into obscurity, only echoes of former relations sound from a distance. They become non-places in a double way: firstly, due to their character, secondly, because of their decay, in most cases without any chance to renew bonds and to fill them with energy. Unfortunately they do not comply with the binding cultural model of hypermodernity.

When we look at Marek Domański’s photographs they evoke a feeling of peculiar suspension of time – objects represent a kind of ‘eternal presence’ (Paul Ricoeur), they recall the category of ‘timeless time’ (Manuell Castells). Non-places exist beyond time and space understood in a traditional way, like in a morality play. The contemporary Everyman moves around similar spaces, it is more and more difficult to tell the difference between what is familiar and what is strange, friendly and dangerous, individual and standardised.

There are more and more traditional areas and their architectural settings which go to ‘the other side’. Their existence, their fate influence our perception of the linear continuity of time, or actually the process of its disintegration – we do not see changeability in them and as a result we perceive time in a fragmentary way. Looking at the abandoned factories, handicraft workshops, more and more temporary flats in historical tenement houses shot by Marek Domański we realise that the flow of energy is not continuous, cultural events are not interconnected.

A sense of humour and reserve typical of works of the artist from Lodz lets him spot among the elements of space those which help simulate it is tamed, which are testimonies to daring yet ineffective attempts to settle down, seize (even just emotionally) fragments of the landscape. The objects placed in it – decorative gadgets, manifestations of interference or control of the place, such as a big plastic body of a chicken pinned to the wall or a figure of a dinosaur bent over a bench in the park, and earlier, in other cycles colourful decorations of stalls – kiosks or colourfully painted elements of industrial constructions are the characteristic signs of ‘possession’, the manifestation of the need to maintain the bonds with the place.

Formal and technical measures taken by Marek Domański do not dominate the process of perception with the interpretative surplus imposed by the artist. Objectivism of his message results from reduced, spare style.

Each time the artist chooses similar conditions of exposition: the time of the day and the light. The common tone of all photos is achieved due to processing in the dark room, reducing what is excessively attractive and could suggest some additional interpretative areas, what would make one print stand out from others. The idea is to obtain a consistent expressive quality, a similar atmosphere. Simplicity and similarity of composition (formal and thematic symmetry), focus on the central motive, its explicit exposure – are the measures far from staging the setting and the desire to impose a ‘proper’ interpretative attitude.

The thing that is most significant for those neutralising operations is the fact that contact proofs and reproduced prints are developed in 1:1 scale. The artist records these places as anonymous, devoid of people, when the function of temporary settlement is suspended. Then their character is best revealed, disclosing their real nature. The nature of micro worlds closed by the limits of vision and the light.

In these works Marek Domański also relates to his idea of ‘invisible places’ – makes them visible again, though it is not certain if he is able to make them real places again, even for a while? Perhaps the artistic gesture itself which makes them meaningful along with the creative act bring them back to the sphere of cultural areas… On the other hand, the contemporary time is defined by movement, change, flow. Objects photographed by Marek Domański are presented in carefully composed statics, eternal duration in the present. In a way they do not belong to the stream of contemporary events any longer.

They stay aside. Often being borderline cases, they are places and non-places at the same time, or places which lost their status long ago and are not able to re-establish their position. Genuine places are never unowned and they are never finished, closed; they are subject to a continuous process of creation. Contemporary places (or actually quasi-places) give in to the momentum of super modernity, even their definitions and characteristic features expose first of all what is dynamic and changeable. Those which are spotted and selected by the artist do not go with this trend.

They stopped being what they used to be and they have little chance to continue. In this sense they stay aside or in between. Considering the context of passage of time they evoke its fragmentary and not continuous aspect.

Disorientated, excluded, they perhaps form a new category, the category of in-between places, marked by uncertainty of their spatial status, lack of a convincing definition of their specific features. They are banished beyond the continuity of linear passage of time, unable to equivocally define their cultural rooting. It seems to be the idea that Marek Domański expressed in the peculiar, modest ‘attire’ of the photographic form.

Dariusz Le¶nikowski

Transl. Elżbieta Rodzeń-Le¶nikowska