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Polish Neon - Capital Culture

Preview by Veronica Blake

A NEW exhibition of photographs by Ilona Karwinska and entitled Polish Neon will take place at Capital Culture from May 23 until June 30, 2007.

When Warsaw was rebuilt after World War II it was done so under the utilitarian architectural model of the new communist regime. Design flourishes and bright colours were deemed superfluous. Even repressive political systems, however, cannot stifle the creative impulse forever.

The barren landscape was eventually colonised by neon signs, bringing light to the grey gloom of winter and much needed points of reference year round. Where we might say “left at The Dog and Duck”, they said “below the golden Teatr Buffo”. Each of these signs was designed by a single company, that employed artists to bring individual creations to life – often with a newly designed font for a simple bakery or perfumery.

Since the fall of the Communist regime, Poland has undergone dramatic changes, changes that are now accelerating as the country integrates into the European Union. Many architectural symbols of its past have been torn down, whilst some, like its neon signs, have simply been left to decay. Ilona Karwinska set out to document these vestiges of the past.

The photographic images have both an aesthetic beauty and provide an insight into a period of history that is rapidly being subsumed by the rush to join the West. In an ironic reversal of our preconceptions the individuality of the East is being buried under the Golden Arches and other ubiquitous free market symbols.

The exhibition will include both mounted images and light boxes to reproduce the glowing effect of the original neon. The sign “Berlin”, has also been saved from the scrapheap and refurbished as part of the show.

Ilona Karwinska is an accomplished Polish-born fine art photographer specializing in portraiture and world cultures. She has travelled extensively throughout the Middle East, particularly The Lebanon and Syria documenting the lives and cultures of the Druze people.

More recently she was awarded first runner-up in a national
photographic competition by The Guardian Newspaper and Penguin Books judged by David Bailey. She has regularly exhibited her photography in and around London. Karwinska is a graduate of Goldsmiths College with an MA in Image and Communications.

Capital Culture, 3 Bedfordbury, Covent Garden, London, WC2.

Times: Monday to Friday 11am to 6pm; Saturday 1pm to 5pm; or by appointment.

Admission: free.