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Interview with Zbigniew Krysiewicz
Interview conducted by Professor Barbara Przybyszewska-Jarmińska with Zbigniew Krysiewicz, the designer of the exhibition Royal Marriages of Princes and Princesses in Poland and Lithuania c. 1500-1800 and the accompanying catalogue.
Zbigniew Krysiewicz is a painter, art historian and art restorer, a graduate of the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts, Cracow, the oldest university of the arts in Poland. Thankfully, he agreed to participate in our ‘Marrying Cultures’ project.
1. Zbigniew, what was your first thought when you have heard about the project?
Of course, I thought immediately it was brilliant. And somehow a challenge. I guess the same challenge anyone preparing an exhibition on a historical subject has to face. We’re not talking about a beauty contest or the TV programme Top Gear but about royal marriages from the 16th to the 18th century – nothing terribly attractive at first sight. Well, I mean royal marriages have always been remarkable and fascinating and made people curious but digging deep into history doesn’t seem to be self-evident. Yet the subject proved to be incredibly inspiring.
2. How did you manage to select the extensive material? Which policies directed you?
I didn’t (laugh). Had it not been for Dr Almut Bues the exhibition would never have come into existence. It is really thanks to her that we managed to take off, and I’d like to seize this opportunity to express my utmost gratitude to her. It was she who got the idea for this exhibition and who invited me onto the project. When I came everything was ready. Well, almost ready. She had amassed, as you said, very extensive materials that frankly could have served for at least fifteen exhibitions. I was speechless and filled with awe. The next step was to sort it out. And that was not so obvious, as the more you’re in the subject, the more you think that everything is important, interesting and should be put on display. But we had to tailor all information, documents, pictures, photos, etc. to the size of 18 posters. The key question for me was: what can people learn from this exhibition, what kind of knowledge they can acquire from it, what they can take for themselves; in other words, what can enrich them? I imagined all sorts of people from professionals and experts to university students, housekeepers and factory workers, to a grandfather and a grandmother visiting the exhibition with his or her grandchildren. I tried to compose what we had at our disposal so that each of them could find something inspiring and thought-provoking.
3. Very soon you had a vision of the exhibition in mind, how did you develop the project?
There were three things. First: the storyline. I asked myself, ‘so how was it really?’ Then we worked together with Dr Bues to somehow recreate the whole process of getting married in the past. We started with the presentation of dynasties, and then ran through all the significant steps: the search for a suitable partner, the marriage negotiations, the contract and dowry, the meeting of the bride and the bridegroom, the wedding ceremony and, if in some cases, the coronation, finally the opulent banquet. Then a subsequent question was: what happened next? Where did they live and how, what did they do, what hobbies and interests did they have, how did they raise their children and, after all that, what happened when a spouse died, particularly what happened to the widow. We ended with how consorts have been remembered in social memory till our own day.
Secondly, every storyline needs its main characters. We chose some princesses from the 16th to the 18th century and told their stories passing through these significant milestones. To make a whole a bit more interesting we didn’t follow the same pattern for every princess, so in the end various steps I’ve mentioned above were presented with different princesses.
Thirdly, there was a question of composition. The posters were relatively big, 140 cm x 200 cm, thus putting everything together was quite a task. Each poster represented one or two of the above-mentioned steps.
4. What advantages and disadvantages were there during the conception of the exhibition in working with another discipline?
In most cases interdisciplinary work is advantageous. What makes this exhibition interesting it that it is a combination of images with source texts directly related to them. That allowed us to create a vivid story told somehow by the objects themselves, whilst the commentaries served as frameworks placing the objects presented into an historical context. I cannot think of any disadvantages.
5. How did you succeed in presenting dry historical ideas in vivid imagery?
Well, you know, history is not dry (laugh). It can be, if presented as just the so-called ‘facts’, important events from the past, etc. But that’s not history. History is people. Amazing, fascinating, tragic, terrific individual stories mingled together and related to each other. Great and small events, terrible battles and court intrigues, unnoticed mundane everyday labour, millions of thousands other things, all these were done by people and created by people. This is history; always individual and always personal, which sometimes happened to influence the fate of millions and sometimes didn’t. During the work on exhibition I always tried to see an individual face behind everything we did. Stories from the olden days are always vivid, in my humble opinion, and very much alive when you can see an individual person behind them. And also that these people from the days of old had to struggle against the same slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as we have to today, although the circumstances were different. That allowed me to combine everything, I think.
Zbigniew, we thank you for the interview and wish you many future opportunities to make your great talent visible.