Edgar Bąk is a graphic designer living and working in Warsaw, Poland. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and now runs typography and information architecture classes at the School of Form in Poznan. Edgar was one of the driving forces behind Projekt: The Polish journal of visual art and design.
Tell us about Warsaw - what are the best cultural hotspots?
Warsaw is completely different now than it was ten years ago. We treat parks and public space differently, both in terms of leisure and in terms of observing important holidays like the Warsaw Rising or the regaining of independence. Residents find ways to express different polarized points of view.
The most interesting place this year, no matter how weird it may sound from a wider perspective, is the Vistula and its surrounding. The largest river in Poland flows through the country's largest city and it has been, up until now, largely ignored. Finally, lots of new things are happening along its banks - from a concert venue on a barge to a cargo container 'city' to the kind of legal beaches. There are also kilometers of bike paths and, more importantly, we haven't scared away the wildlife (beavers, boars and deer) living in the bushes.
What is exciting you currently in Polish graphic design?
Generally, all of it! There's so much happening. There are more and more young designers and we don't know yet if they are capable or intelligent or they simply are good at making a splash - they are at least really interesting. I think that the coolest trend is the growing interest in our own Polish tradition of design.
The internet has showed us how design has evolved in the West and, generally, how visual communication works. But, it's now finally time to appreciate the Polish graphic design from the 1920s and realize it's not the stuff you find in antique shops. Piotr Rypson is doing just that with his book Against All Odds: Polish Graphic Design 1919-1949, and, obviously, there's an English version. So, I recommend you read it.
I've also been following Honza Zamojski's publications – he started a publishing house called Morava Books and his first publication was his own thesis work. To date, they've published 13 books. Also, Photomonth in Krakow is becoming more and more popular and Warsaw's Czułość Gallery is really active (a recent exhibition features Kamil Zacharski's series called 'Middle Surface') – though that is more photography-related.
Generally, self-publishing in Poland enjoys a long history and, on the one hand, it is related to underground opposition publications, but, on the other hand, it is also strongly related to the first free publications after 1989.
And the last thing, which is more directly related to me, is the Poznan School of Form's first anniversary. The school is something completely new in Polish higher education because it's based on a completely different structure than most similar institutions. It is run by Lidewij Edelkoort and a cohort of the best names in Polish graphic design and fashion and, within a few years, it could become a really important educational institution. Personally, I am fascinated by the gigantic industrial robot that is KUKA.
Any Polish design blogs, websites, apps or twitter accounts you would recommend?
The book P+Control has just been released. It is a collection of works from a blog that has been showcasing contemporary Polish graphic design. I also follow Antykwariat Kwadryga's Facebook profile – I always find really interesting treasures from the past there.
How about cinema or TV - anything that has caught your eye recently?
I recently went to the Nowe Horyzonty Festival, so I'm full of films! I highly recommend the German documentary film Low Definition Control which tells a story of the future from examples of industrial cameras and ultrasound images as they will be used by society. It's kind of like Adam Curtis' films, but the narrative is less simple and obvious. Room 237 is also amazing – it presents dozens of ideas to read Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
Also, it was amazing to watch Vincent Gallo's black and white western film with the pulsing Vitalic soundtrack (La Leggenda di Kaspar Hauser).
I also thought the French film Donomie was interesting, but the screening was cut short for some reason and it would be risky for me to totally recommend it. Anyway, the first half was excellent.
What books, magazines or journals are you reading at the moment?
First of all, Zle urodzone – and everything they publish ranging from African prose to the revivals of Susan Sontag's writings. Another book I'm reading is about Polish modernist architecture that was constructed in 1989. It covers the rediscovery of the architecture of that time that we often think of as an awkward legacy of the grey days of communism. I'm also reading a lot of Jo Nesbo criminal books.
What is your favourite album of all time?
That's a tough question because I really listen to a lot of everything and I hate making a list. But, I listen to a lot of electronica and soul, some kind of combination of Autechre and Stevie Wonder. Right now, for example, I'm listening to Howlin' Wolf and, a few minutes ago, Drexciya was on – I think that pretty much gives you an idea of what I mean.
What can contemporary Polish and other designers learn from looking at back issues of Projekt?
Each generation looks at the same things completely differently, looking for connections between them. I think that half of the last century, if you are thinking about the discovery of new forms, is not that much different from what's happening now. Or, at least that's how I would defend my thesis. Projekt teaches me just that – an evolution of perception. It's not about evolution in creation or in finding something new, but just in how certain fashions and styles influences preferences of displace certain connections and meanings.
Of course, what is new in design and art are new technologies, materials and processes of creation. But, the basic form, which we use on a daily basis, was discovered long ago.
Edgar co-wrote Projekt: The Polish journal of visual art and design with Charlotte West. The book tells the story of Projekt magazine, one of the few publications to showcase the art and design of not only work from behind the Iron Curtain, but also of the West. Particularly striking were its visually rich covers that reflect the long history of rebellion and opposition of Poland against Soviet domination.