AUDIOMURALS - Listen to the voice of Elblag's Old Town

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Sound - Maciej Olewniczak
Photo - Łukasz Kotynski

The Audiomurale project is set on the wall of a townhouse at Rzeznicka Street in the Old Town district of Elblag (Poland). Extensively damaged at the end of World War II, Elblag's Old Town waited until the 1980's for major reconstruction works, which eventually took the form of so-called retro-version. As that area was essentially a vast empty square for several decades, nowadays it calls for a revival of its historical urban – or simply urban – ambience. One of the biggest problems of Elbląg's Old Town district is emptiness, manifested both in the still underdeveloped blocks and in the lack of visible activity of citizens. Despite the sustained efforts of municipal authorities, it is still generally perceived as the city's "dormitory district", and as such – it requires reinvigoration.

For the purposes of the project, we conducted interviews with passers-by, people working or living in the Old Town. Many respondents were happy to express their views on the advantages and disadvantages of living in Elbląg's meant-to-be city centre:

- It is a beautiful place to live; I've never lived in a better one.
- Nothing is happening around here. No tourists, no nothing, so how can this city grow?
- I am sure my grandchildren will be amazed by the Old Town area.
- It is no longer an Old Town - only the name remained. It is simply a district made up of buildings loosely inspired by historical architecture.
- Our Old Town must open up, provide better access roads, and some street furniture for elderly people to sit on.
- I love Elblag, this is my city. I was born here, I was baptized here (just nearby), this is my hood.
- We also consider simply moving out of this town.
- ... and it would be better here without all the parking meters, right?
- I'd blow this place up.

Selected opinions – including some unprintable remarks – were transferred onto a blank wall of a townhouse in the form of spectrograms (i.e. sound wave patterns). As the adjacent plot will be built up in a few years' time, the project was intended as a temporary – though not short-term – intervention.

The mural attracted attention already at the painting stage, and triggered a heated online debate when the first articles about it were published on local news websites. It turned out that Elblag is very much alive – even if it's not necessarily visible in the streets – and the citizens strongly identify themselves with the deserted downtown district. The mural has found both keen supporters and bitter opponents. The latter proposed numerous ideas for decorating similar blank walls – from a panoramic painting of the Old Town, through a reproduction of classic artwork by the Polish painter Wojciech Kossak, to "at least some nice and colourful scene". However, the painting that eventually appeared on the wall requires a key. This key has been provided in the form of an information board with a QR code, enabling access to recorded interviews via a mobile phone. The mural itself is monochromatic, synthetic, by no means neutral in this environment. I hope that it will provoke passers-by (even those who are not into the project's aesthetics) to stop for a while and listen to the straightforward voice of Elblag's Old Town.

Adriana Ronzewska-Kotynska

This project builds upon my 2010 graduation project supervised by Prof Janusz Marciniak and Dr Dominik Lejman (Faculty of Painting / University of Arts in Poznań).