Poznań, 13 June 2014
The Most Reverend
Archbishop of Poznań
President of the Polish Episcopal Conference
I have read with great attention Your Excellency’s letter concerning the programme of this year’s Malta Festival, especially one of the presented shows – “Golgota Picnic” directed by Rodrigo García.
I am particularly concerned about the fact that the festival is accused of betraying the values that determine the quality of social life, such as peace, freedom, respecting the rights of fellow men and tolerance. In this context, I wish to underscore that I respect the opinion of the Church as an institution that contributed substantially to Poland regaining democracy and freedom of speech, however – contrary to the views Your Excellency refers to in the letter – the main theme of the show “Golgota Picnic” is not the Christian religion or the Passion, neither is it offending religious feelings. Information about the blasphemous character of the show is disseminated by people who did not see the show or saw only its fragments which they inform about in public.
In the intention of the director and according to critics’ interpretation, the show “Golgota Picnic” is a metaphor for the ordeal of modernity, it speaks about our loneliness, fear of death and the exhausted possibilities of attaching any meaning to the world. Thus, the main subject of the show is the condition of the European society immersed in consumerism and spiritual void. Your Excellency maintains that “in the show Christ appears as a degenerate, egoist, responsible for all evil in the world”. However, according to García it is not Christ, but we – people from the West, bored and focused on our pleasures and comfort – that are responsible for this evil due to our passivity and lack of reflection on our own existence. The director condemns the decay of the modern world and defends values that are dear to the Church. That is why many people call him a moralist. He says about himself that he is an idealist: “I am an idealist and so disappointment is a permanent element of my life. I like to imagine that man can be wonderful and as a result, every time when it turns out that it is impossible I experience the same disappointment all over again. Disappointment is an important element of my theatre in which I attempt to show the path from disappointment to hope and from hope to disappointment.”
The director’s theatrical language may be considered provoking by some spectators, but it is my conviction that accusing the creator of blasphemy is a significant exaggeration. In fact, blasphemy refers to the realm of faith, while a theatrical show does not, just like a work of literature or film. One can disagree with the director on the merits, reject his aesthetics or message, but in all of these cases we deal with an original voice of the creator, with an artificial situation created by him which is a subjective, processed image of the world.
The physical character of “Golgota Picnic” which is so often referred to by the protesters and called pornographic is factually justified and is a consequence of the references to Christian iconography which does not hide human physicality, but in opposite – exhibits it. Would we call the works of Giotto, Grünewald's, da Messina, Rubens or Bellini obscene or pornographic? In the show actors reconstruct the scenes from the works of the greatest Christian painters and engage in a dialogue with the iconography which was part of Christianity throughout its whole history.
The show “Golgota Picnic” was shown in many countries, including Brazil, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, but it triggered protests of Christian circles only in France. The majority of the protesters (according to the French police ca. 2 thousand people) were Lefebvrists. Furthermore, despite the protests triggered by the show in France, a few months ago Rodrigo García became the director of the French Centre National Dramatique in Montpellier. Nomination to this prestigious position expressed recognition for his works. The show “Golgota Picnic” was appreciated by critics and a large part of the French audience. The show does not solicit violence and does not publically insult the believers of the Church. It is an instance of the artist’s personal expression and a manifestation of his outlook on the world. His statement is addressed to spectators who are open to this message and accept the language the artist employs. The fact that it is not of interest to everyone and some spectators can perceive it as offensive or provocative does not mean that its presentation should be banned.
In the present circumstances I would also like to express my deep concern about the information that we receive concerning the protesters’ pickets and actions aiming at blocking the presentation of the show. The declared actions raise fears that the show’s adversaries may be overcome by emotions and commit acts of a violent character.
Despite repeated explanations on the part of Malta Festival Poznań, the circles that inspired the protests do not want to listen to factual arguments and deprive other citizens of the right to participate in an artistic event which they bought tickets to and, hence, which they regarded as worthy of their attention. In view of that – taking into consideration Your Excellency’s authority and the values which underlie the strong moral foundation of the Catholic Church – I kindly request your help in toning down emotions concerning this matter in the circles related to the Church.
I wish to assure once again that Rodrigo García’s show “Golgota Picnic” in no way violates Article 257 of the Polish Penal Code. On stage no one insults a “group of population” due to their religious affiliation. Contemporary art has kindled polarized opinions for centuries. The fact that particular persons many not accept the message and form of the piece of art does not mean that their subjective opinion is to prevent other groups of the society from getting to know it and to hinder a large event such as Malta Festival Poznań.
The declared course of the protests will, it is my conviction, lead to the violation of Article 73 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland which ensures “the freedom of artistic creation and scientific research as well as dissemination of the fruits thereof, the freedom to teach and to enjoy the products of culture” and can be conducive to setting a dangerous precedent reminding of Poland’s grim past. It is my conviction that the demands to cancel the show are an attempt to introduce preventive censorship which was used in our country for the last time 25 years ago.
I read with great attention last year’s letter of Your Excellency raising accusations that the festival presents shows of a blasphemous character in which Your Excellency expressed hope that the organizers would spare no efforts in the future so that the popular image of the festival is not associated with obscene shows. After all, in 2013 Malta Festival Poznań did not present the show which the letter referred to, namely “Sul concetto del Volto del Figlio di Dio” (only this show of Romeo Castellucci was protested against before). In turn, the programme of Malta included the show “The Four Seasons Restaurant” which does not refer to the Christian religion in the slightest degree (it refers to Mark Rothko’s paintings and Friedrich Hölderlin’s works). It is worth accentuating that the show “Sul concetto del Volto del Figlio di Dio” appeared as an artistic profession of faith to many clergymen and the French episcopate backed up the director. Romeo Castellucci is a highly valued artist all around the world, last year he received the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement in Venice and next year a retrospective on his work will take place during the prestigious Festival D’Automne in Paris.
Preparing the programme of Malta festival we spare no efforts to show the highest quality art and to work with renowned artists who take a stance in the discussion on contemporary world and take responsibility for their actions. This is the foundation of our decisions and it determines the good reputation of the festival on the European map of similar cultural events.
Taking into consideration the fact that a few weeks before the show’s presentation, the event arises great interest of the public opinion, I believe that this letter explains the controversy around one of three hundred positions in the programme of his year’s Malta Festival Poznań.
Michał Merczyński, director of Malta Festival Poznań