The word ersatz (from the German ersetzen – to replace) came into use during World War I. It denotes a substitute for a thing or activity, a counterfeit of something highly desirable – usually of inferior quality, but sharing characteristics with the original. Ersatz was used for literally everything, from food products to women in the workplace substituting men called up to the military. Ersatz was also of great importance in calming public sentiment, and it was skillfully exploited – for instance, a coffee-like beverage could be offered, or a fake free media could be created. Times of authoritarian rule showed that ersatz could be used to effectively pull the wool over everybody’s eyes, even on a large national scale.
The word was gradually introduced into Polish as erzac, having been adapted from wartime jargon to denote efficiency in the face of the demands of temporary scarcity, which draws attention to the intertwined economic and geopolitical perspectives shaping our region. Post-communist Poland, and perhaps all of Eastern and Central Europe, was built on shock therapy, a flood of counterfeits and the belief that by not moving too much, one could find oneself on the Western, rather than the Eastern, side. Some interpretations of the political transformations in this part of Europe argue that their principle was a somewhat clumsy mimesis, an imitation of the West. However, the question of whether imitation has become nature or an obvious fake is related to the moment when the value of the original is re-appraised in the face of war and the crisis of liberal democracy. Is it possible for such an ersatz to turn into something good by nature? Can imitation gain its independence?
The sound art of the Western civilization is full of attempts at perfect imitation. The musical notation was intended to enable the reproduction of an ideal performance, while sound synthesizers aspired to the sound of classical instruments. While radio wanted to give the impression of a concert hall, sound in cinema became an art of imitating reality. Fountains and all recordings of nature are meant to create an alternate, soothing soundscape. The human mind has an extraordinary ability to adapt the perception of sound to reality (or its imitation), which, as a tool of sound studies, makes it possible to look for meaning in vibrations and spatial resonances that elude the mimetic function.
Ersatz has always been a manifestation of class divisions, while the transition from “fake” to original has been one of the clearest symbols of economic advancement. However, from the perspective of a global economy that often locates both the production of originals and their counterfeits in the same place, the very question of the role of imitation often turns out to be about intangibles. Privileged groups, i.e. those who have the power to mark and sanction the authentic, will even resort to jumping into the unknown in the race for resources and supremacy. This is evidenced by the AI revolution taking place before our eyes (at its origins conceived as an imitation of human intelligence), which will perhaps mark the beginning of the end of both economics and social organization as we know it.
The history of the visual arts leads from representation to abstraction and beyond – for example, through readymade items or appropriation art. It is as if representation was forced to burst its own framework over time – through disintegration or synthesis, the inclusion and consecration of what was not art before, or finally through repetition. However, the already extremely illusionistic images could only be perceived aesthetically by stepping out of the state of fiction – the realization that one was experiencing an imitation. The tension between original and imitation is so important in the field of art that it has generated a whole series of aesthetic, technical and even market considerations and distinctions. It is in art that the notion of the original as unique – the one and only product, incompatible with the reality of branding and mass production – has survived. On the other hand, the history of fakes and counterfeits is as long as the concept of the original work itself, and abounds in examples in which imitation played the main role.
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Muzeum w podziemiu
The Legnicka depot is the last historic building of such size preserved in the Przedmieście Mikołajskie suburb. It was built in 1900-1901 as the largest of Wrocław’s three depots serving its modern electric tramway system. It had an area of almost 7,000 m2 and comprised two parking halls that could accommodate 56 tram cars. In addition, the complex included administrative offices, workshop halls, warehouses, stables, a salt store, a bathhouse for employees and a water tower. It functioned as the main repair shop for Wrocław’s transport company. During the First and Second World Wars, women began to be employed here to replace men called up to the front, as was the case in other companies, too. Before that, it had been thought that they should not work in industrial and transport enterprises. This was supposedly due to their poorer health and fragility, but the actual reason was a fear of breaking an “eternal law of nature.” In the patriarchal reality, women were only “fit” for domestic and care work. After 1918, women were dismissed from positions in public transport (they could only work as ticket inspectors).
The depot emerged from the siege of Breslau in 1945 in relatively good condition, given the enormity of the destruction in its vicinity. All the buildings on its premises survived. The workshops were looted and some of the trams fell into the inspection pits, but the depot could resume functioning relatively quickly and as early as 1946 it began to serve Wrocław’s tram fleet as the main repair facility in the city, known as depot no. 6 – Popowice. Like the other depots in the city, it played an important role during the Solidarity strikes – the municipal transport company was among the first enterprises to go on strike in Wroclaw, sending a signal to other factories to show solidarity with the striking shipyard workers in Gdańsk.
The depot on Legnicka Street is one of Europe’s most historically valuable public transport facilities. It still houses many original elements and old trams. Together with other city depots (all of which are historic buildings), it is part of the oldest and best-developed historic public transport system in present-day Poland.
The depot is located in the western part of Wrocław, in the Przedmieście Mikołajskie suburb. Until 1945, it was a densely developed area with the largest concentration of multi-family tenement buildings in Wrocław. In the 1920s, a huge modernist housing estate designed by the well-known architect Theo Effenberg was built in close proximity. In the wake of the siege of Festung Breslau, the district was almost completely destroyed – more than 90% of its buildings ceased to exist. No trace remained of the famous Effenberger estate, which had existed for less than 20 years. The war literally turned this part of the city into a sea of ruins. Przedmieście Mikołajskie became one of the areas symbolising the senselessness of war and its tragic consequences. Photographs of burnt-out shells and streets covered with rubble have often been reproduced in history books and documentaries. Today, apart from the depot, only a handful (out of several hundred) tenement houses and other buildings have survived in Mikołajskie Przedmieście, hidden among the blocks of flats that began to be erected here on a large scale in the 1960s.
The curatorial team consisting of: Michał Bieniek, Daniel Brożek, Anna Kołodziejczyk, Małgorzata Miśniakiewicz, Ewa Pluta verified and selected the applications sent to the OPEN CALL of the 21st edition of the Survival Art Review.
video: Jacek Chamot
artists: Elena Berezina, Paweł Błęcki, Paweł Czekański, Jakub Jakubowicz, Paweł Kasprzak, Jakub Kosecki, Adam Kozicki, Alicja Kubicka, Paweł Kulczyński, Zlata Lebedz, Kasper Lecnim, Mac Lewandowski, Katarzyna Malejka, Jan Mioduszewski, Martyna Modzelewska, Muzeum w podziemiu, Małgorzata Mycek, Michał Myszkowski, Zofia Pałucha, Mateusz Piestrak, Aleksandra Przybysz, Irmina Rusicka, John Ryaner, Marta Stysiak, Szymon Szewczyk, Weronika Trojańska
We would like to thank all the artists for the submitted applications.
SURVIVAL 21. Art Review | ERZAC
former Popowice Depot
Generała Romualda Traugutta 118, 50-422 Wrocław
Organizer: Art Transparent Foundation / www.arttransparent.org/en
Survival Art Review id co-financed by the Municipality of Wrocław / www.wroclaw.pl
21. SURVIVAL Art Review
ul. Legnicka 65A, 54-204 Wrocław
Curators: Michał Bieniek, Anna Kołodziejczyk, Małgorzata Miśniakiewicz, Ewa Pluta, Daniel Brożek
Organiser: Fundacja Art Transparent / www.arttransparent.org
Survival Art Review id co-financed by the Municipality of Wrocław / www.wroclaw.pl