HYDRO ACTIVE CITY
presentation of the contest and winning art works
Type of project: public space project
Where: Gdańsk, Poland
When: 31 May 2013–02 June 2013
Artists:
Maciej Wojnicki (PL), Message in a Bottle
Piotr Wyrzykowski (PL), Water Memory
Olga Zofia Warabida (PL) and Mariusz Samól (PL), Little Ice Age
Justinas Gaigalas (LT) and Rytis Urbanskas (LT), Post-fishing Post
Organizers: The Baltic Sea Cultural Centre, Gdańsk, Poland
The exhibition was accompanied by a Festival of Digital Forms
Artists:
Iwona Zając (PL), Marcin Dymiter & Ludomir Franczak (PL), Honorata Martin (PL), Alina Żemojdzin & Artur Trzciński (PL), Kamila Chomicz & Krzysztof Topolski (PL), Hertzsmertz & Ebola Ape (PL), Mazzoll & Fluidations (PL), C4030 (PL)
Contest organisation: Aleksandra Kminikowska, Anna Zalewska-Andruszkiewicz, Marta Korga-Bistram
Exhibition and Festival curators: Aleksandra Kminikowska, Anna Zalewska-Andruszkiewicz
Contest organisation:
Aleksandra Kminikowska, Marta Korga-Bistram, Aleksandra Musielak-Dobrowolska, Magdalena Smolak, Anna Zalewska-Andruszkiewicz

Presentation of the winning works

Maciej Wojnicki
Message in a bottle, www.o.bzzz.net
“Message in a bottle” is an interactive art project based on a communication tool, designed specifically for this purpose, which combines an application to the Android system and a web page. The project is similar to the idea of an urban game. Participants explore the area along the Radunia river canal - from the Town Hall to the Motlawa River - looking for wall graffiti and tags. By pointing their mobiles or tablets at them with the downloaded application, participants encounter virtual bottles with messages left by their predecessors participating in the ‘game’ /stories, short sentences, questions and photos/ which they can answer. Each message is virtually packed and ‘thrown back’ into the stream of the Radunia. “Message in a bottle” is an attempt to create an alternative communication network. With the use of modern technology a new meaning of the communication function of water is revealed. Cooperation: Fab Lab Trojmiasto

Piotr Wyrzykowski
Water memory, http://peterstyle.eu/
“Water memory” is an interactive art project that uses a specially designed app for tablets, through which the viewer is transferred into a virtual world - ‘augmented reality’. The inspiration for this art piece was a pseudoscientific hypothesis stating that water has an ability to collect and store information. “Water memory” offers viewers a sentimental journey into history, which will be rediscovered, when wandering streets of Osiek. By using the programmed application, the real image captured by the tablet camera layers with an imaginary underwater world, full of memorabilia and signs of the past. Water becomes a perceptual filter through which the viewer is visually and audibly ‘immersed’ in a non-linear narrative created by the artist.
Application for Android: Toucan Systems / Audio: Krzysztof Topolski - Arszyn / Narrative path: Mieczyslaw Abramowicz

“I wanted to make an application which virtually floods the square with water. There used to be a pseudoscientific theory which said that water has its own memory and when it flows through various places it absorbs information of a given material or a given place. It has been said that even people have their influence on the condition of water.”
Piotr Wyrzykowski

Olga Warabida and Mariusz Samól
Little ice age, www:vimeo.com/55670890
“Little ice age” is a sound installation that serves as a surreal intervention into the fabric of the city. Artists drew inspiration for their work from historical records according to which in the past, winters in our climate were so severe that it was possible to travel between Sweden and Poland across the frozen Baltic Sea. Therefore, at the height of spring time in Gdańsk pedestrians walking on the footbridge over the Radunia canal, connecting Rybaki Dolne and Górne Streets, will have the opportunity to experience a truly winter-like situation and evoke feelings accompanying the act of crossing the frozen Baltic Sea. Participants’ bodies will serve as interfaces, which bring the installation to life, and the triggered sound will change the perception of reality.
Sound: Anna Suda

“The viewers play the key part in starting our artwork. There are sensors on two ends of the bridge and whenever someone steps on it, a sound comes from the speakers beneath the bridge. We wanted to refer to the freezing of the Baltic which happened several times in history.”
Mariusz Samól

Justinas Gaigalas and Rytis Urbanskas
Post-fishing post
“Post-fishing post” is a participatory art project that uses sound as a medium. Fishing, for enthusiasts of this type of recreation, is an activity through which one communes with nature. Fishing may also be accompanied by a feeling of excitement and curiosity, caused by one’s invading an alien, underwater world. Using only digital tools, Lithuanian artists will try to explore this mysterious world, thus eliminating the element of violence accompanying the usual act of fishing. With the specially designed rod and headphones, they offer users “fishing” for sounds typical of the underwater world of the Radunia channel. Fishing, a down-to-earth activity, is presented by the artists as an attempt to extend the human senses, and they have highlighted the contemplative value of this act.

“This work is about an old time activity, about fishing. We made our work in digital technology, to look at it in a new way. It’s some kind of observation on traditional and everyday activities of people.”
Justinas Gaigalas

Maciej Wojnicki, Message in a bottle

The public space of water

by Agnieszka Kulazińska

The Baltic has been referred to as the inland sea of Northern Europe. It is surrounded by land on all its sides. Its specific location has become the starting point for the Art Line project. A post-contest exhibition called Hydro Active City was organized in late May and early June 2013 as part of the enterprise. The presentation went outside gallery rooms, activating the city space along the Radunia channel. The exhibition was part of the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre’s Closer to the Water cycle, which has been underway for several years with the goal of drawing attention to the potential of water areas in Gdańsk.

The sea brings together and separates all the partners of the Art Line project.1 What role does water play in a city? Is it only a useless area? A barrier, a hampering factor? Can it become an active area?

Venice is the first association that comes to mind when we think about water in a city. “In Venice nearly all of the most interesting spectacles and cultural events are held on the Canale Grande. It is a great salon of Europe. Water can be a place of events and can constitute public space of a specific nature”.2

Is it worth thinking about the function of water in a city agglomeration? “It might seem that this topic has been discussed in architectural sources to the point of exhaustion. Has it really been enough for the problem? But is this a problem at all? The presence of water around the human being has always been obvious and he has made his existence dependent on it (…) In searching for a place to settle, he chose his location according to the form of its presence”.3

Let us analyze the situation of Gdańsk in detail. The city was developing as a water project. “Gdańsk is a city whose history of development was closely linked with water: from the south it is surrounded by the damp area of Żuławy, it is located at the point where Motława flows into the Vistula, and uses the waters of Radunia and numerous streams. The traces of battling with water and using it for utility and military functions decided about the urban layout of Gdańsk”.4 Until the Second World War water played a substantial role in the city. The channels were filled in, their course was changed but the basins were a central point for the urban development of the agglomeration. The situation changed after the Second World War. Gdańsk lost its coherence and became a cut up, fragmented city to the visitor. In the collective awareness, the city lost its “water” nature. Basins formed from conjoining elements became barriers, factors hampering the development of the city. Water became a passive element in Gdańsk. How to make it active public space? How can it be restored in the awareness of its residents?

The post-contest exhibition Hydro Active City was an attempt to find answers to those questions. The artistic installations presented as part of it encouraged the active participation of the recipients. The technology allowed them to permeate into the water reality at a level which is inaccessible on an everyday basis.

Post-fishing Post by Justinas Gaigalas and Rytis Urbanskas drew the viewer into the underwater world. The recipient, having a fishing rod with a sensitive microphone, could listen to the sounds of fishing. The technology was an extension of human senses, allowing one to peek into the inaccessible soundscape of the Radunia channel. Fishing gained a different dimension turning from a hobby to a meditational activity. Maciej Wojnicki’s Message in a Bottle was presented in the form of a municipal game. Equipped with tablets and smartphones the recipients travelled along the Radunia channel looking for hidden “messages in bottles”. Contrary to traditional communications of this type, Wojnicki’s installation allowed them to engage in a dialogue with other users of the city space. The application developed by the artist allowed them to exchange posts and comment on them, add pictures and new messages. The Hydro activity included in the title of the exhibition received the form of an act of communication. Piotr Wyrzykowski’s Water Memory created augmented reality in which the present mixed with history. After downloading an application to a tablet or a smartphone, the recipient “traced” virtual items left by the artist in the city space. Each item was connected with history – kayaking, displacement of Jews, strikes. In particular, the artist’s visual palimpsest was exploring the separate layers of the city – historical events, stories of the people. The starting point for the artist was the pseudoscientific hypothesis about the ability of water to collect and store information. The sound installation called Little Ice Age prepared by Olga Warabida and Mariusza Samól also referred to history. Those passing through the bridge joining the Rybaki Dolne and Rybaki Górne streets could experience a kind of a time travel to the times when harsh winters allowed travelers to cross from Poland to Sweden across the frozen Baltic Sea. Entry to the bridge started a sound installation reconstructing the sounds of crossing an ice-covered sea. The technology allowed the authors to create an alternative surreal reality, knocking the recipients out of their everyday routines.

Art Line is a project in which the sea has become a key for the selection of partners and a topic of consideration. However, the enterprise is far from a classic marine art. Among the topics analyzed in the project is the notion of hybrid reality, created from the fusion of physical public space and areas accessible in the internet. The Hydro Active City exhibition created such a hybrid space. In line with its traditional symbolism, water became an active element, a starting point for events which happened in the physical space of the city owing to the latest technology. The installations activated the city basins and created an augmented reality which revealed other aspects of the city hydro activity.

During the accompanying Festival of Digital Forms, the topic of water became a starting point for creating images and sounds. The presentation of Iwona Zając’s project Shipyard on air was part of the Festival.

It was created after the demolition of the wall on which the artist painted her mural the Shipyard which was a record of her conversations with workers of the shipyard. After the wall was demolished, Iwona returned to her old tapes and made them available online.

Analyzing a number of cultural activities aimed at restoring “water municipality”, Lucyna Nyka notices that the “image of the city cannot be reduced to what can be seen on a few main streets. It is much fuller and better identified when created also by special places: historic traces, usually undiscovered landscapes and missed places where water meets the land”.5

The Hydro Active City exhibition added the latest technologies to the meeting point of water and land. Owing to them, it was possible to literally activate water spaces, expand everyday perception and permeate into areas which are usually inaccessible. The exhibition was an interesting step towards reclaiming the public space of water basins in Gdańsk. After all, until 1945 Gdańsk was sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North…

Agnieszka Kulazińska is an art historian, a publisher of texts about modern art and a curator in Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art; she lives and works in Gdańsk, Poland.

References:
1. The project has the participation of institutions from Poland, Lithuania, Sweden, Russia and Germany
2. Węcławowicz-Gyurkovich E.(3-A 2010), Water in the city as public space, Czasopismo Techniczne, book 6 year 107.
3. Włodarczyk J.A. (1-A 2007), City and water, Czasopismo Techniczne, Technical University of Krakow, p. 214.
4. Szczepański J., Nyka L. (2010), Cultural projects in transformations of near water spaces in Gdańsk. Kultura dla rewitalizacji. Rewitalizacja dla kultury, Gdańsk, p. 121.
5. Ibid. p. 124.