Lecture Series: Ella Chmielewska

Date: Wednesday 7th December 2022, 1.00pm Reilly Room 

Ruined structure with gothic clock tower in the background

Image credit Katy Bentall, 2017

Introduced by Dr Katerina Antonopoulou

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Warsaw Afterimages Architectures of Loss

Dr Ella Chmielewska

In this talk I examine poetic accounts of personal and generational memories of the city shaped by recurrent rashes of violence, damage and loss, memories of spatial reconfigurations in the place retaining wounds of past traumas while subsequent urban transformations are taking place.  Informed by writing on poetry and ruins by Czesław Miłosz and the theory of seeing developed by Polish avantgarde artist/theorist/teacher Władysław Strzemiński, I examine poetic memories as architectural ‘afterimages’: precise accounts of loss that challenge standard forms of recording urban damage.  Opening with a personal reading of spatial imagery in Paweł Pawlikowski’s filmic essay Ida (2013), I look at formal aspects of images as poetic forms of witnessing.  Then I consider concise accounts of events of spatial violence in the writing of selected Warsaw poets who witnessed urban destruction and whose biographies and work were shaped by experiencing dispossession, displacement and disintegration.  Their condensed lyrical writings form precise “photographs of memory,” crystalised accounts of seeing loss in the city that saw war.  These are collected for sketching architectural maps of loss.  Collecting documentary forms of witnessing rendered photographically in words and images, these maps foreground forms of remembering individual human loss.  In their making, I draw on works and figures who are attentive to the formative generational imageries informed by textures, surfaces and architectures of specific place and its language.  These works and figures are necessarily affective and singularly implaced in the city that saw war and still retains the trauma of that that seeing.

This work-in-progress contributes to an international project on War Damage Atlas (led by Carlton University, Ottawa) and presents a critical turn in my visual research on the city and materiality of language.  It continues my work on architectural imagery in writing (‘Warsaw Afterimages: Of Walls and Memories’ in Andrea Mubi Brighenti & Mattias Kärrholm (eds) Urban Walls: Political and Cultural Meanings of Vertical Structures and Surfaces, Routledge, 2019), research on photography (Vectors of Looking: Reflections on the Luftwaffe’s Aerial Survey of Warsaw, 1944’ in Mark Dorrian & Frédéric Pousin (eds), Seeing from Above: The Aerial View in Visual Culture, I.B. Tauris, 2013), photography and writing (‘Writing with the Photograph: espacement, description and an architectural text-in- action’ in Anna Dahlgren, Nina Lager Vestberg, and Dag Patersson (Eds.) Representational Machines: Photography and the Production of Space. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2013) and architectural writing (Afterword: Postscript as Pretext in Mark Dorrian, Writing on the Image: Architecture, the City and Politics of Representation, I.B.  Tauris, 2015)

Ella Chmielewska is a Polish-Canadian scholar of visual culture and cultural theory. She teaches at The University of Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.