View from the Window is a participatory project involving neighbours whose windows overlook the artist-run space DOMIE that connects young artists and activists from around Poland and abroad. DOMIE is an open art centre that offers a space to work, exhibit, organise, store artworks, or to create a workshop. It is a non-institutional, artist-run initiative, embracing groups excluded from the public debate and not fitting the current Polish political agenda.
The idea of DOMIE goes against gentrification; exposing the ‘ruin’ that resulted from the Polish transformation after 1989 – the rapid change of systems, neglect of memory and responsibility. In such conditions, there is a need to support the weakest groups and enhance ideas of solidarity. View from the Window focuses on building neighbourly relations across difference, by hosting picnics, creating an urban garden together, moving away cars and making a safer space to spend time together. The aim is to establish relations through social and creative exchange with an environmental focus.
DOMIE is a single standing house in the yard of Św. Marcin – the most famous street of Posnań city. After 1989, the building and the yard were abandoned and became a ruin. The building was previously an important cultural site: for instance, it hosted a Fotoplastykon or Kaiser’s Panorama (an early precursor to cinema). Since 2018, an artist collective has taken over the building, creating a social, artistic, economic and architectural experiment in collective and cooperative care. The artists and youth of DOMIE are considered a foreign element in the neighbourhood, a threat to the old order and regime.
The View From the Window project aims to help create a dialogue between the local neighbours and the new inhabitants of DOMIE, since they may not have the tools to acknowledge that they can gain something from each other. Both communities deal with traumas, poverty, and loneliness. Creative engagements in overcoming the obstacles together and treating them as opportunities can help build such bridges and cultivate a sense of trust. In 2022, the war in Ukraine has brought a new context to the project, as many refugees have become new members of the neighbourhood.
A series of weekly Sunday picnics in the front yard of DOMIE was started in March 2022, inviting all local neighbours to come share a meal, spend a Sunday afternoon together, and get to know each other. Printed posters and an online DOMIE group invited neighbours to spend some time together eating cake and drinking coffee. During the picnic meetings (March – May 2022) a conversation was started about the possible futures of the DOMIE yard, which is currently in terrible condition: it is a disorganised parking lot full of trash, with an uncontrolled toilet, and a place of daily alcohol use. It was discussed how to turn the yard into an urban garden together, move away the cars, and how to create a safer space for spending more time together. The neighbours brought in various ideas and engaged in work for the benefit of the common yard, helping to build the emerging community.
Six picnics at DOMIE
The first picnic gathering was attended mostly by elderly people and people in alcoholic crises. They brought their flatmates, family members and friends. Time was spent talking about the yard: telling each other who we are, how we ended up here, what is the status of the neighbourhood, and what do we expect from the Sunday picnics series. One neighbour came and brought sweets. Many people who came to attend – Janusz, Halina, Daniel, Bogusław, Felicja, Wilku and Maciej – kept coming back for further picnics throughout the series and stayed through to the end of the process. The basic bond was created during the very first meeting.
During the first picnic, Martyna handed out postcards mentioning that she would be thankful if the neighbours could send pictures of DOMIE taken from their window/balcony, so that they could be used in a public exhibition situated inside of DOMIE. By collecting diverse local views of the ruin, the hope was to support the process of building trusted neighbourhood relationships.
This idea was inspired by the DOMIE’s unique architecture: When photographed from above, due to the unusual shape of its roof, DOMIE visually resembles the first photography ever taken by Nicephore Niepce in Le Gras (France). By playing with the visual connotation of DOMIE in relation to the local neighbourhood context, there was a desire to cultivate the feeling of something dear and beautiful: something connected to memories and storytelling, portraying the house as a place that should be taken care of and treated as a treasure that belongs to all in the neighbourhood. In the following week, Martyna collected several first photographs that were sent via messages and email.
During the second picnic meeting, more people appeared, including those from Ukraine and other places abroad. Mirek, Daniel, Vasylj, Marta and others were there and took part in a mapping workshop led by Marta Węglińska from the KOBALT Migrating Platform. Together, they created a map of ideas, functions and needs concerning the yard.
For the third meeting, visualisations and plans for the yard were brought along. This had been prepared together with an architectural studio and reflected the ideas shared by locals at the previous picnic. During the picnic, participants shared reflections and experiences: Janusz told the group that he missed them, he claimed they appeared in his dreams over the week, Mirek spoke a lot about his brother in jail and he also offered to help renovate parts of the DOMIE building. Maciej proposed the idea of painting a DOMIE sign on one of the house walls; he was also very interested in the Fotoplastykon story connected to DOMIE – he had gotten himself a book about it and shared various interesting facts about the place and its history. We planted a rose together that was brought during one of the earlier picnics.
Sadly, no one from the old group came for the fourth picnic but many new people appeared including new friends from Ethiopia, Abdi and Tebarek, and immigrant neighbours Ramzi and Rauf. During the fifth picnic, DOMIE was hosting an exhibition by 17 refugee girls from Lviv, Kharkiv and Kiyv (Ukraine). Neighbours who came for the picnic joined the exhibition, and the exhibition artists later joined the picnic. There were musicians from the DOMIE neighbourhood playing live music and the picnic lasted until late. New forms of engagement emerged, connecting the cultural production inside the DOMIE space with the picnic events.
The sixth picnic welcomed more newcomers from local cultural institutions and grassroots initiatives. Neighbours came to the picnic to grab a coffee and spend their time working on the forthcoming exhibition showcasing their ‘view from the window’ photographs of DOMIE. 40 pictures of DOMIE were collected altogether. These were taken from various windows and balconies: some by the local inhabitants, and some by Martyna as several locals (Rauf, Antonina, Michał and Ramzi) invited her to visit their homes and take pictures.
Exhibitions & Zine
Based on these pictures a map was co-created. This documented where the picnic participants live and helped to nurture and establish new relations. The map was presented as part of the DOMIE exhibition and in a zine publication that was printed on a risograph and released in Polish and English translations (100 copies in total, released in June 2022).
Along with all these activities, the View From the Window project helped to establish and maintain new, friendly relationships and bonds within the local neighbourhood – one that is commonly considered as a divided and ‘problematic’ area. The neighbourhood picnics and conversations about participants’ childhood memories of the place uncovered interesting moments from the history of DOMIE (such as those related to the Fotoplastykon) and provoked a collective repair of the ruined building. The project managed to create a sense of shared local space and shared neighbourly futures, where the local community enacts collective care.
Aside from the DOMIE exhibition, the View from the Window project, including photo documentation and the printed zine publication, was also exhibited at the CreaTures Festival in Seville, Spain (June – July 2022).