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The anniversary edition and the longest Malta Festival ever is over. Held between 11 June and 30 September, it was presented in five programme steps featuring 144 admission-free events at 33 locations. Despite the pandemic, we met in safe surroundings. We want to thank you all: our 22 thousand spectators gathered on Poznań’s lakes, rivers and streams, between blocks of flats, on fields, on balconies and at the home of the Malta Foundation. We also thank our 67 thousand viewers online.

This year, Malta Festival was to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Unfortunately, the pandemic made us adapt the programme to the new situation. We reformulated the festival to meet the official restrictions imposed by the plague, whilst maintaining its live character. We divided the programme into five ‘steps,’ which we announced every two weeks. Malta was probably the first festival in Poland to risk going out beyond the virtual world with a live audience gathered outdoors. A live festival, presented from our love of the city, of theatre and art.

Malta’s 30th birthday online

The first Malta Festival began precisely on 11 June 1991. We had a completely different vision of celebrating its 30th anniversary, but the pandemic made us replace the exciting live fête with a virtual one. On 11 June we presented archive footage showing the festival’s history. Courtesy of TVP Poznań, we presented a minute-long flashback to the first edition of Malta in 1991. This featured fragments of plays Quijote! by the Italian Teatro Nucleo di Ferra and Mascarada Medieval by La Burbuja Teatro from Spain. We also showed a recording of the legendary Le Péplum by the French group Royal de Luxe, staged at Lake Malta in 1996. Courtesy of the Emilia Romagna Teatro Fondazione and the Italian Institute of Culture, as well as festivals and institutions around the world, we presented four shows by Pippo Delbono. Delbono and his company have performed six times at Malta Festival. The presented footage featured two of their performances: Questo buio feroce (The Ferocious Darkness) (2008) and Dopo la battaglia (After the Battle) (2011).

‘I want to throw a Malta birthday party for Poznanians. If not now, then next year. The Malta audience and the festival deserve this. You must have a piece of cake when it’s someone’s birthday, mustn’t you?’ said Malta director Michał Merczyński in an interview for IKS.

STEP 1: It’s going to be a very long birthday party, starting with Krystyna Janda and Water Is You

If spectators cannot come to Malta, Malta will come to them. Starting on 24 June, the festival offered Poznanians a series of open-air performances. The first of our venues was Powstań Narodowych housing estate in Rataje, where between blocks of flats, Krystyna Janda presented her legendary monodrama Shirley Valentine. Asked in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza what it was like to perform at Malta in the time of the plague, the actress responded: ‘It was extreme, it was a monodrama in an open, enormous space... People watched me from the windows of a huge block of flats. Massive screens showed closeups, whilst my voice was heard on the radio in people’s homes. It was very hot; the sunlight was strong, and I was under a lot of stress. But it was wonderful.’

Water is You, an experimental Generator Malta programme started with Dzikie strumienie (Wild Streams) by Mateusz Kowalczyk. For three days, the artist kayaked and walked down three streams in Poznań, drawing attention to their dreadful condition. His journey was transmitted on the Internet. Kowalczyk also wrote a petition to the institutions responsible for the protection of these unique ecosystems.

Step 1 featured the Malta Forum focused on the pandemic as a source of culture, with the participation of Aleksandra Przybylska, Przemysław Czapliński and Cezary Michalski (see the recording).

Furthermore, Malta announced an open call for projects by artists from Wielkopolska. These were supported in response to the local artists’ appeal for institutional assistance during the pandemic. The winning projects contributed to the subsequent programme steps.

STEP 2: From location to location

Step 2 took us to Bolesława Chrobrego housing estate in Piątkowo, where actors from the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Krakow presented a cabaret-like performance titled Turnus mija, a ja niczyja. Operetka sanatoryjna (The Holiday’s Almost Over and I’m still Alone; a Sanatorium Operetta) directed by Cezary Tomaszewski. ‘Featured in the second step of the Malta Mobile Stage, the hit play from the Krakow Theatre became specifically relevant in the ‘time of the plague.’ Not just because of its subject or characters, but also because of the specific lyrics,’ wrote Marek Bochniarz in kultura.poznan.pl.

In the city centre, in Mickiewicza Square, on the Warta River and in Śródka, passers-by and residents took part in Double Trouble, a series of dance and music improvisations by Marcin Bożek and Aleksandra Bożek-Muszyńska, to the sounds of the French horn.

During the second Malta debate, architect Jola Starzak, journalist Edwin Bendyk and culture researcher Piotr Juskowiak talked to Michał Nogaś about the future of cities.

In the second Water Is You project, Daria Mielcarzewicz recommended individual expeditions around lakes. Daria created www.jeziorawielkopolski.pl, a virtual map of many bodies of water in Wielkopolska. The site features excerpts from her expedition log, her reflections and links to professional maps and hydrologic data. The premiere of the map coincided with a bike trip to Biskupice Prawe. Another premiere was the first episode of Ola Juchacz’s Water Is You podcast about the social contexts of water. Finally, Małgorzata Myślińska invited us to take part in physical activities on Strzeszyńskie Lake. In another project, Gęsia skórka (Goose Pimples), Małgorzata observed the behaviours of beachgoers. She later used her observations to create a zine and an exhibition.

STEP 3: Two hectares of art in a field in Winogrady and a farewell to drying rivers

Step 3 was organised in late July, when it was officially announced that more than 150 people can take part in outdoor events (5 square metres per person). Hence, Malta left the city centre for a while to find a large safe area for the audience. This turned out to be a two-hectare field, the Wilaczak Stage. It hosted several dozen free-admission events: some of the Water Is You projects, concerts (Barbara Wrońska, Adam Nowak, Ralph Kaminski and Bartek Wąsik), theatre improvisations (Klub Komediowy), morning warmups, night-time silent discos and a chillout zone. ‘I felt that we were all starved of being together. That it wasn’t just me as an artist who missed the stage and contact with the audience. I also saw how people missed live music, live sounds, stage lights and the emotions that flow from the stage,’ said Barbara Wrońska in Dzień Dobry TVN. The Wilczak Stage also showcased the winners of the open call for projects by artists from Wielkopolska.

A somewhat humorous Requiem for Warta was performed on the rivers Warta and Cybina by Poznańska Orkiestra Improwizowana. According to a review in Gazeta Wyborcza, ‘The artists stirred the participants’ imagination by improvising not only with instruments and the sounds of water, but also with their vocal cords. During the show, the river changed into an instrument more than once.’

During Step 3, a series of three Woda/Migracje (Water/Migrations) online discussions began, dedicated to the relationship between water and migration, organised by the Poznań Garage Sale.

STEP 4: In memory of Lech Raczak

Step 4 of the Malta Mobile Stage started in Śródka. At the amphitheatre of Porta Posnania, Asocjacja 2006 presented Rabin Maharal i Golem, czyli prawda i śmierć (Rabbi Maharal and the Golem, or Truth and Death). With this outdoor performance, ‘the organisers paid homage to Lech Raczak, a long-time artistic director of the Malta Festival … who passed away in January,’ wrote Gazeta Wyborcza.

This time, the Forum focused on the Human of the Future, discussed by Monika Bakke (art and aesthetics researcher from a post-humanist, gender and transcultural perspective), Łukasz Lamża (journalist, academic teacher specialising in philosophy of nature and science, promoter of popular science), and Jan J. Zygmuntowski (economist interested in developmental issues, economic systems, innovation and digital economy).

The courtyards in Łazarz provided a venue for Potrzebuję cię jak wody (I need you Like I need water), a dance and music performance by Krystyna ‘Lama’ Szydłowska. This was presented to a traditional audience, as well as the local residents watching from their windows and balconies.

The Generator Malta expedition down and around Poznań’s rivers and lakes paused in garden allotments surrounding the Bogdanka River. This endangered site was where a debate on the importance of green wedges in the city was organised by Kolektyw Nurkowy Bojka, who had worked with the allotment gardeners for several weeks. The event ended with a concert by Cukry, who had written a protest song titled Woda jest tobą (Water Is You). A video was also made, directed by Maria Ornaf and Zuzanna Zachara-Hassairi.

STEP 5: The end of the world may be beautiful: a time of conclusions

The last outdoor performance was presented in Wieniawskiego Park. The Mobile Stage hosted one of the most interesting Polish theatres of recent years, the Drama Theatre in Wałbrzych, in a catastrophic/ironic play Piosenki na koniec świata (Songs for the End of the World) directed by Maciej Podstawny.

Oligarchy or Populism? Democracy in Crisis was discussed by Ombudsman for Citizen Rights Adam Bodnar, journalist Jarosław Kuisz and Prof. Dorota Piontek (see recording). ‘The participants of the debate concluded unanimously that for the last 100 years liberal democracy has not been in as much trouble as it is now ,’ wrote Sylwia Klimek in kultura.poznan.pl. What can art do in the face of ideology? The point of departure for this discussion was the Malta Foundation’s lawsuit against the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The participants included film director Agnieszka Holland, lawyers Wojciech Marchwicki and Adam Klepczyński, Prof. Szymon Ossowski and Alicja Biała, as well as Karolina Lewicka and Michał Merczyński as moderators (see recording).

An interactive installation Disappearing Wall was presented on Wolności Square by the Goethe Institute on the occasion of the German presidency of the Council of the European Union. The wall was made of 6000 wooden bricks with engraved quotations from European works of culture. Visitors could take the bricks home. Poznań was the first city in the world where the installation was presented.

The history of Rusałka Lake, built by Jewish and Polish inmates of a Nazi labour camp, inspired Sara Alavi to create an installation titled Rusalka’s Tales. In an interview with Mike Urbaniak for Vogue Polska, the artist explained that listening to the story of one person may help us understand people and be empathic. The installation, based on memories, was the first full realisation of the artist’s concept focused on water, which may be seen as a danger or as a source of pleasure.

In the abandoned Olimpia Dawid Dąbrowski and Evgeniia Klemba symbolically refilled the former public swimming water in their multimedia concert Zanurzenie (Immersion), where they used quadrophonic effects and video to create a sense of being underwater. Olimpia was also the venue of the final Generator Malta exhibition presenting the work of artists and activists who had explored the relationship between people and water from a critical local and global perspective. The artists and activists included Kolektyw Nurkowy Bojka, Pamela Bożek, Cukry, Maria Ornaf and Zuzanna Zachara-Hassairi, Ola Juchacz, Mateusz Kowalczyk, Daria Mielcarzewicz, Małgorzata Myślińska, and Kolektyw Przepływ.

In Główna, we took a walk to create a sentimental map following the traces of the neighbourhood’s history. The walk ended with a concert played the Enchanted Hunters.

The final part of the festival presented young artists and activists, who took part in the project H2O The future will involve us. Kolektyw Zielona Trawka showed Waterkill, a short film, followed by a discussion on activism. Ludzie DoWody conducted a city intervention with a denim performance/installation titled Wet fingers about the effects of producing ‘fast fashion.’ Młoda Kultura played a concert presenting a vision of the world in 2050. Last but not least, Aqurat showed a performance titled Mitologia klimatyczna (Climate Mythology) on Lake Rusałka.

Until 6 September, you could vote online in Pamela Bożek’s project Studnia (The Well). Pamela’s artistic investigation produced a report on fund-raising for building wells in African countries. The winning initiative was to receive part of the project’s realisation budget. 

The art of being together. Thank you!

The Malta Festival has existed for so many years thanks to the enthusiastic people who stand behind its organisation: volunteers, the Malta Foundation team, partner companies and sponsors. In this ‘time of the plague,’ we are especially grateful for your faith in us and your support in creating a meeting place with art and in being together in a new form dubbed ‘Malta on Tour.’

All this would not have been possible without the support of our main partners: the City of Poznań, the Marshal Office of the Wielkopolska Region and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, as well as our long-time sponsors from Poznań: Autostrada Wielkopolska, Kulczyk Investments, Tempus Leasing, Autostrada Eksploatacja S.A. and Kompania Piwowarska, who invest in the community and who supported us in this particularly difficult time. We thank Autostrada Wielkopolska who has been with us for five years and was the Main Sponsor of this year’s anniversary edition of the festival.

We thank our media partners: Gazeta Wyborcza, Wyborcza.pl Poznań, Zwierciadło, Sens psychologia dla ciebie, Vogue Polska, Didaskalia Gazeta Teatralna, Presto. Muzyka Film Sztuka, Notes Na 6. Tygodni, Magazyn Szum, Radio Afera and Radio Nowy Świat. Despite the pandemic and the political situation, they supported our communications, ensuring over 900 mentions of Malta in the media.

Our special thanks go to the partners of the Mobile Stage and Generator Malta for having us in their spaces: Osiedle Młodych, Osiedle Bolesława Chrobrego, Porta Posnania, Laba Land, Baby Swim, Restauracja Rusałka, POSiR, Estrada Poznańska, and Kino Muza. We thank our production partners: Wizja Multimedia, Fosa, Fotis Sound, Sound and Light Service, Laruss, and Kolektyw.wju. We are also grateful to our logistics partners: Promobil Fleet for transportation and Hotel Altus for accommodation, as well as the Going website and the Poznań Cultural Information Centre for handling our free admission passes online and in traditional form.

For their cooperation in creating the programme, we would like to thank the Polish Theatre in Poznań, Art Stations Foundation by Grażyna Kulczyk, the Arts and Culture Centre in Konin, and the Goethe Institute in Warsaw. We are also happy to have worked with artists from the Wielkopolska Region, who presented their competition projects on the Wilczak Stage.

We thank the volunteers who have played an important role in the festival from its very beginning, and who supported us during this difficult time.

Last but not least, we thank our audience for their trust and courage, for staying faithful to live contact with art despite the pandemic, and for observing the demands of the sanitary regime.