"From time to time, I confront the subject of blood" – an interview with Eliza Proszczuk

Młoda kobieta siedzi na krześle.
fot. Magda Starowieyska / Muzeum POLIN

Have you ever had to deal with a similar subject, or is this something new for you?

From time to time, I confront the subject of blood. I leave it, only to return to it later. Among the results of this are PGO - Prywatne Gospodarstwo Ogrodnicze (Private Gardening Enterprise) and the book Infantile Haematology.

To me, blood is a symbol of the body, the internal spirit. To me, it’s like a source. Being involved with this exhibition has given me the opportunity to exploit the subject of blood in a manner different to how I have done it previously.

How did you prepare the work which will be seen at the exhibition?

The work progressed through several stages. In preparing the concept, I attended some lectures entitled Ciało (The Body) at the Yiddish Cultural Centre. I came to understand the ideological side as well as the technical, the materials with which the work was to be created. I was helped in this endeavour by Dr Anna Kowalik of the Department of Art Conservation and Restoration at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Then it was time to prepare the materials – lamb membranes and their embroidery. The last step was to design the dress, taking into account the possibilities of the material and its sewing. Małgorzata, a dressmaker, helped me here.

What was the inspiration for such an extraordinary art work?

Female menstruation. Already in pagan times, Greek and Romans female menstruation was a taboo subject. In many cultures and religions, menstruation is considered to be something unclean or a monthly weakness. It is also like this within the world’s three major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. When planning this work, I thought about women and femininity, not only within the Judeo-Christian concept. I looked for similarities and differences. Certainly, I was greatly influenced by the Yiddish poetry of Chana Lewin and Cela Dropkin, translated by Joanna Lisek. I was also fascinated by the symbolism and the meaning of embroidery as a type of protective amulet. Embroidery plays such a role in, among other places, the traditional culture of, what is now, Belarus and Ukraine – places close to me. There, women made embroidered amulets on their own clothes, and on those of their husbands and children. They were called ręczniki.

Your work also relates to Eskimo clothing made from dried whale or seal intestines.

First of all, what is important to me is the context of the site of the exhibition–POLIN Museum itself is very important for me. I have been living in Muranów for seventeen years – now I live only minutes away from the Museum. I’ve observed the ongoing changes which have occurred there. I remember that, before the Museum was built, my apartment block neighbours would go there, to the “clearing”, in order to sun bake. I loved that view, the blissful lazy atmosphere filled with half-naked, tanned bodies.