Archives, like collections in museums and galleries are built with the property of multiple authors and previous owners. But unlike the collection, there is no imperative within the conventional logic of the archive, to exhibit, display or interpret its holdings.
An archive designates a territory - and not a particular narrative. The material connections contained are not already authored as someone’s – for example, a curator’s or artist - it’s a discursive terrain where interpretations are invited...
The Enthusiasts Archive began with a chance encounter in 2001 with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s first popular feature film Amator (Film Buff) from 1979; the main character is a leading member of a factory based film club.
Intrigued, Marysia Lewandowska and I began a research project in the summer of 2002 into the existence and remnants of amateur film clubs in socialist Poland.
There has been a spectacular transfiguration of Polish political and cultural life since the introduction of the market economy in 1989. It is as if Poland has played out in a lapsed-time film style, the economic and cultural changes of ‘western’ Europe.
Fifty years of social evolution –from a manufacturing to a service economy - has been compressed into just over ten years. Poland is a crystallization of the forces at play in the rest of Europe; it projects a service driven, consumer led future, while content to forget its industrial past, and hide its manufacturing present.
And yet, all the former state owned industries - for example those generating power, refining steel or producing chemicals - played a central role in the economic land cultural life of the nation.
Clearly industry manufactures the goods and energy necessary to generate our material lives, and yet they also structure our experiences into ‘productive’ labour, and un-productive ‘leisure’ time. Although in Poland, ‘leisure’ was itself organized through factory-sponsored clubs, various associations, sports facilities and even state holiday schemes.
Out of this regulated network, perhaps the most popular clubs were those that encouraged the production of amateur film. With 16mm film stock, cameras and editing tables supplied by the factory/state, a large number of clubs were created throughout Poland from 1950’s onwards.
By the late 1960’s there were almost 300 clubs in existence, out of this growing network film competitions evolved, prizes awarded, and festivals were organized on a local, regional, national and international level.
The passions of the amateur, enthusiast or hobbyist often reveal a range of interests and experiences generally invisible amongst the breathless flow of the State sponsored, or professionally mediated.
The enthusiast is often working outside ‘official’ culture and its encouragements, frequently adopting a counter-cultural tone of tactical resistance and criticism.
It was clear to us that the film club enthusiasts often invert the logic of work and leisure, becoming truly productive when pursuing their passions, and using work for their own rather than the factory or states intentions. Generated by enthusiasm, the films simultaneously record, and offer resistance to the deep structures of contemporary material life.
Eighteen months of research revealed an extraordinary range of films, from 2-minute animations, to short ‘experimental’ and ‘abstract’ films, from documentaries on family, village, city or factory life; to historical dramas and ambitious features.
There is an astonishing range of material, beautifully crafted -because film stock was precious- and largely forgotten.
As a result of our research into the films, their makers and clubs, a huge selection of forgotten 16 and 8 mm material was found, usually in people’s houses, and sometimes literally under their beds. Joined by curator Lukasz Ronduda at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw we embarked on cleaning, restoring and digitizing as much material as we could find money to support. And we worked on ways of exhibiting and sharing the results.
Enthusiasts exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw 2004.
Enthusiasm at the Whitechapel London, KW Berlin and Fundacio Antonio Tapies Barcelona, 2005- 6
In 2014 a selection of films from the Enthusiasts Archive were screened as part of Artists, Amateurs, Alternative Spaces: Experimental Cinema in Eastern Europe, 1960–1990 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA.
There was no interest from collecting institutions in Poland in preserving this film material, nor was there enthusiasm for making the digital files available online. We managed to find support from Arteleku in San Sebastian, who hosted the online archive for many years. Due to Spanish 'austerity' funding cuts, Arteleku had to move, and in the process the archives structure and meta-data were lost.
However, in 2018 the new Museum of Contemporary Art in Warsaw has acquired the archive, and it is online as Enthusiasts Archive
Homo 1975, K.Janick & M.Baranski
16mm 2'50. AKF Grunwald, Olsztyn.
A rare plasticine stop-motion animation; Homo is a short, sharp yet sophisticated critique of greed, competition and conflict.
Center for Contemporary Art