Snakes, daggers and rose petals

The sound […] evokes strange images in which there is always a greensward of fine spiked grass in which hornets and snakes play a great part. […] These furious sorties with adders and rose petals made an intoxicating sort of music, a steel-stringed zithery slipper-gibber which could also register anomalous sounds like sobs and falling jets of water.

Henry Miller, Sexus


The Snakes, daggers and rose petals exhibition features output of young illustrators in a way engaging it into a dialogue with the ever-inspiring tradition of the Polish school of illustration. At the same time it points in the opposite direction so as to reopen the once closed chapter of this domain’s history and make it face today’s lively world of illustrative arts. Works made by the younger authors specifically for exposition in Bunkier Sztuki correspond with classics of Polish illustration, revealing features common to designs on show—reading the exhibition, you will see similarities for instance in text handling strategies.

In an age when the internet expands dynamically and reality is experienced in a mediated and media-based shape, which is accompanied by a kind of spontaneity and arbitrariness in choosing models of communication, illustration redefines its place amongst visual arts. Characteristic of contemporary illustration is not only artists’ innovativeness and the resulting diversity of forms and techniques, or a change of function in building the represented world, but also unusual mediums. Distinctive features of new illustration also include processual approach, interdisciplinarity and multivalence. Illustrators are not afraid to turn their process upside down, beginning with drawings or other visual representations in order to match words thereto later and “illustrate illustrations”, so to speak. The picture of this modern domain of art is completed by multiplicity of distribution channels: apart from releasing their works online as willingly as through books or in the press, illustrators also create animations and fashion, identified on a par with printed output. Creators of illustrations, piecing together words and pictures with composer-like precision, adopt varied text handling strategies, based either on substance or on different qualities of wording, such as sound or melody.

Despite impressive achievements of Polish illustrators—those comprising the so-called Polish school of illustration as well as the last decade’s generation artists, who have no complex about drawing on the older authors’ style—the sphere of illustration is still waiting for adequate recognition among the country’s art historians and critics. For all that creators keep employing the medium, treating it with scientific curiosity and extending the definition of book illustration.

Let us compare this exhibition to a narrated publication—considering the curator editor—and say that Snakes, daggers and rose petals is a book of many likely narratives. The exhibition’s nested structure reflects the collective, process-oriented publishing work. The mobile and portable design of the exposition, inspired with pages of a book, allows—besides continuous rearrangement of the display—to compile further “editions” thereof.