(New Silesians. City, design, identity)
Katowice is a city of paradox. On the one hand, it lost the train station that was its hallmark, a masterpiece of brutalism, although the defence of it engineered by Tomasz Malkowski released so much civic energy; on the other, meanwhile, the magnificent Culture Zone with exquisite architecture developed, Poland’s only such comprehensive and the country’s largest post-1989 investment in culture. Yet loss may be necessary for a change to occur. Silesia has awoken. New energy has streamed from under the crust of stereotypes.
Who are the protagonists of this change? We already know a little about architecture. In 2001, Przemo Łukasik moved to the lamp storage room of a defunct mine in Bytom, raised 8m above the ground. Bolko Loft became one of the most-recognised individual houses in Poland, and at the same time a manifesto of a creative attitude linked to Silesian identity. The talents of Robert Konieczny and Tomasz Konior quickly gleamed besides Łukasik.
The time has now come for design. Here, it is young designers who play first fiddle. They approach Silesia without prejudices and with a sense of humour. In this way, they must have surprised and amused all their compatriots. They have created: soap made of coal called Sadza Soap (“sadza” being Polish for soot, and the slogannie marasi, a myje! literally reading “doesn’t get it dirty, but cleans” in local dialect), bro.Kat coal jewellery, the Spodek (Flying Saucer) made of china, and Gryfnie, meaning a fashion for Silesian-style clothing.
This is a book about them. About designers, activists, organisers of cultural life, and also investigators and theoreticians of Silesian design. Zofia Oslislo, who interviewed them and complemented the conversations with the consummate essay , explaining the phenomenon of the Silesian awakening, has done another pioneering job. (A few years ago, her photo book, website, and design of Katowicka Moderna 1927–39 City Architecture Route elicited the unique beauty of the interwar architecture of Katowice.)
The author believes the New Silesians to be both people with roots here – they are Silesian by ethnicity and know thegodka(dialect) or were just born here – and those who made a conscious decision to live and work here. What brings them together is that they devote their talent and involvement to this place. Their Silesian-ness is a question of personal choice: the quest for identity and building a bond with the place through design.
Taking root is Silesia’s brand. And the designers themselves become narrators, as Deyan Sudjic says, thanks to whom projects and objects impart their histories. When politicians haunt their compatriots with Silesian separatism, the New Silesians show that it is the autonomy of thinking that counts most. In line with it, they create an alternative narrative that liberates the image of the region from its negative tinge and is its important voice.
“The secret of a good place lies in escaping clear-cut categories,” said Tadeusz Sławek. Silesia is far from obvious, and is complex, imperfect, and full of contrasts… These are its riches. Thanks to the New Silesians it is becoming a good place.