Let me reassemble facts which may not be fully known to the readers. The performance of Golgota Picnic was planned by Malta Festival Poznań. It was the festival who invited Rodrigo García, an Argentinean artist based for many years in Europe, for cooperation in the “Latin America: Mestizos” Idiom. If we were – as Witold Mrozek calls us – “a well-behaved teenager in an expensive Che Guevara t-shirt”, we wouldn’t have invited this artist to be our curator and choose this play – Golgota Picnic – to feature in our program. A pragmatic stance would lead us to a safer, less risky choice. It was not Malta Festival Poznań who censored García’s play. We decided that this piece – due to its artistic value, the Latin-American context from which it stems, and its significant message about the world – is emblematic of García. Therefore, we wanted the festival audience to see it.
Mrozek writes that “if we live in a democracy, cultural policy decisions financed from public funds should be transparent and someone should be responsible for them”. I agree and would argue that our decision about cancelling the performance was fully transparent and responsible. The sole reason behind it, about which we spoke from the beginning and which has not changed, is taking responsibility for the safety of others. This very decision – the hardest we had to take in the history of the festival, both from the point of view of the program and in the human dimension – was catastrophic in PR terms. It shows, however, that there is something above the dualistic vision of the world dividing people into the ideologist and the religious camp, and that is a threat to human safety. The opponents of the play do not cease to attack, a significant part of the art world repudiates the festival who “compromised itself”, the left-wing speaks of bending the knee.
Mrozek speculates about Malta being under the influence of authorities. In truth, the decision has been taken because of a lack of support form the city authorities and the police. If we were under pressure from above, would we still be hearing public statements of officials after the cancellation of the performance, preaching about what should and shouldn’t be a part of the program, and calling on us not to spread unrest through art? Many observers of these events had no problems with serving immediate judgement. But only persons devoid of imagination (also regarding the functioning of the culture industry and knowledge about how a festival is created) or lacking in good will would consider our decision easy and compromising. In my opinion it was not, as Monika Muskała put it on Wyborcza.pl, “an act of preventive submissiveness”, but a gesture transgressing egoistic logic of putting one’s image first. We wished to bring to light a conflict – of values, political affiliations and contradictory definitions of freedom – in which we reside. Unfortunately, the grass roots initiatives defending García’s play made a point of dissociating from Malta, stressing, that the protests have nothing to do with the festival. Although we were defending the same play, and Malta provided every help to the organisers of readings and screenings all over Poland.
The author accuses Malta of duplicity and lack of solidarity with the artists. However, he fails to notice the fact – which may be learnt on the Internet site of the festival – that our decision has been taken independently and we were honest in relation to the artists. After many hours of debate at night the festival team, the artists taking part in the Idiom program and Rodrigo García himself decided that they will stay on the program, and their opinions about what happened in Poznań were very varied, far from passing on rash judgement. Witold Mrozek does not inform the readers that Malta, with immediate support from Nowy Teatr and Garonne Theatre from Toulouse (co-producer of the performance), attempted to move the whole performance to Warsaw. Because the director did not consent to that, eventually we organised together with Nowy Teatr a special one-off adaptation of Golgota Picnic proposed in these circumstances by García – a reading of the text of the play and a performance of Joseph Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ, which is an important part of the play. The director stayed in Poznań until the end of the festival, held his master class, which ended with an open performance constituting an on-stage comment on the cancellation of Golgota Picnic.
I would like to propose Witold Mrozek and the numerous defenders of the freedom of speech who popped up in the recent days to change their rhetoric. For, in my opinion, it is alarmingly close to that used by the opponents of García’s play. Instead of cultivating demagogy, let’s focus on the facts and the quality of our exchange. Let’s stop turning the people of culture, who are still a minority and still fight for the recognition of this sphere of human activity, into a conflict-ridden group of frenemies, who eagerly wait for the other to stumble and show weakness, so that they could correct them and express indignation. The situation around Golgota Picnic should induce careful analysis, which transgresses the horizon of a particular event to reveal the real danger – those who wish to set us against each other, following the old war-time principle of divide and conquer – they want to break the common front in order to weaken it. If this works, we will have less force to stand against fanaticism, aggression and ignorance. What will grow in force are the voices of those who do not want to see the society think independently, but rather be indifferent and closed to dialogue and to what art has to offer.
It is disquieting that Mrozek makes Malta the scapegoat and the weakest link, and omits the lack of solidarity in the artistic circles before the cancellation of the performance. He does not ponder upon the ethical and political dimension of the situation, in which the art world failed to defend the independence of the festival, when it was haunted with threats and published statement after statement. In France the mobilisation of art defenders was immediate. In Poland what overruled was indifference, which developed into a certain kind of Schadenfreude – a strange mixture of surprise, compassion and triumphant satisfaction. Instead of donning the attractive apparel of revolutionaries and romantics, we made an unspectacular gesture of capitulation in the face of terror and manipulation of public opinion employed by the authorities (both secular and clerical). We took the risk, also to undertake auto-reflection over the political role and the function of the festival.
Finally, I wish to comment on the author’s deliberations about “grand and expensive prestigious events” and their emancipation potential. I wish to make an appeal: please be closer to art, and move away from conspiracy theories regarding Malta’s involvement in the “sticky entanglement of culture and local authorities”. I propose to focus on theatre itself, to open up to what it has to say about the world. Malta abounds in artists who approach it critically. I am under the impression that Mrozek did not wonder why this year’s Latin American Idiom did not exude samba, the World Cup and Latin American capitalism, but rather it took on issues such as economic inequality, subjects excluded from the social system, drug policy in Columbia or social problems in Mexico. I want to believe that this lack of reflection on the festival’s program is a mistake of omission, not a deliberate distortion of the truth, which is not a trait of quality journalism.
I would advise Witold Mrozek to enjoy some close contact with art, especially that not often in Poland we get the chance to see a vast presentation of what is the most important and vibrant in modern performance arts in Europe (and in case of Malta Idiom – also beyond). I don’t know what is the definition of a radical festival according to Witold Mrozek and why he sees a contradiction between culinary workshops on Wolności Square and “radical art”. Maybe he is bothered by the affirmative spirit of Malta? The fact that we propose a varied program comprising of several hundred projects, which perceive culture and culture participation very broadly? Maybe it is a problem that during a big, three week festival we make room for both intellectual discussions, difficult experiences requiring the audience to be open to experiment – but also – for fun? Maybe Witold Mrozek does not like the fact that we do not mortify ourselves, we do not spin the yarn of ressentiment about how to demolish the establishment (only to then take its place) and about how to build a credible radical image? We have too much to do, to waste time on that.
Radicalism is not about pretending to be someone else, not about following fashions and meeting expectations of others. The audience of Malta is one of the most attentive and open I know. They can find equal sense and cognitive satisfaction in an experimental trash happening by Luis Garay, an aesthetically sublimated performance of a modern dance legend Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker, a shared breakfast on Wolności Square and a nightime concert of the vicious girls from the Argentinean social activist band Actídud Maria Marta. It may be that this spectrum reaches beyond the imagination of Witold Mrozek, maybe for him there were not enough ideological bottlenecks aiming to make a politicizing chin-wag out of culture.
*A quotation from an interview with Rolf Abderhalden, the founder of Mapa Teatro from Columbia.
Program Coordinator Malta Festival Poznań