Swansea Open 2023 - An interview with the winner, Karol Dierzuk

Swansea and the surrounding area has a rich cultural heritage and preserving the centres where this can be celebrated is an important part of sustaining and encouraging the creative community. So the annual art competition The Swansea Open held at the Glynn Vivian gallery ticks both these boxes. Swansea Student Media's Hannah Reed met with the winner Karol Dierzuk to find out more about her winning piece "The Unreality of Time"

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Photo Credit: Polly Thomas, 2021

Swansea Open 2023 – Swansea’s finest motley-looking crew of art and an interview with the winner, Karol Dierzuk

Swansea and the surrounding area has a rich cultural heritage and preserving the centres where this can be celebrated is an important part of sustaining and encouraging the creative community. So the annual art competition The Swansea Open held at the Glynn Vivian gallery ticks both these boxes.

The contest is free to enter for all those living in Swansea city or county and the winner is determined by a different panel of invited selectors every year. The gallery does this to ensure and encourage different and diverse viewpoints each annually, and the exhibition seeks to reflect critical and cultural awareness displayed by professional and non-professional artists. Three prize winners are selected, and judges on the panel this year included Daniel Trivedy and Gillian Fox.

Daniel Trivedy is a visual artist of Indian origin and is based in South Wales. He produces multi-disciplinary work centred around themes of identity, belonging and citizenship. Gillian Fox is a curator and art consultant based in London. Karol Dierzuk, a first-year art and photography student in Swansea, was the first-prize winner this year with a photography piece titled The Unreality of Time.

The definition of art is mostly recognised by representation, expression and form and it’s a component of culture, done with a communicative or aesthetic purpose. Daniel Trivedy is one of the judges this year, and in his blog, he asserts that our gender, race, religion, class and parental upbringing all influence our individual thought processes. What art encourages us to do is to identify the lenses through which we see the world. By activating these lenses, we realise new possibilities of seeing the world. Accordingly, Karol asks us to consider The Unreality of Time through the lenses of home, nationality and memory.

I went to the Glynn Vivian gallery a few weeks ago to the visit the Swansea Open 2023 exhibition. I love art and took it at GCSE and A Level. It taught me that a good, precise drawing or painting is not the gold standard. Instead, art is experimenting, expressive and layered, and to appreciate a piece of art you need to deconstruct it by asking what is the artist trying to tell me? What’s my main interpretation of this piece? How might other people interpret it? The exhibition is beautiful and I highly recommend it.

The variety of pieces was like the Motley Crüe of art exhibitions. The exhibition was a disparate, explosive array of photography pieces, wool, oil paints, 3D statues, chalk, lino and pyrography. Like the 80s heavy metal glam group itself, the collection was visually cacophonous and eccentric where, surprisingly, the pieces complimented each other but also represented the individuality of those who contributed to it.

I mostly expected the winning piece to be illustriously displayed on a pedestal in the centre of the exhibition. Interestingly, the prized piece was betwixt a vibrant variety of paintings and sketches and, despite initially overlooking the piece, it became the piece that metaphorically spoke to me the most.

In our interview, Karol provided beautiful, open, and honest thought-provoking responses about the creative process of the piece, and its depiction of a loss of childhood and time intertwined with nostalgia and the fear of never catching up with their younger selves.

Can you explain to us the creative process behind your piece/pieces?

“My chosen image was shot on a compact Sony camera that fits in my pocket. I find that shooting on a smaller camera really helps my creative process - I can move much faster through the city while having full control of my gear. I don’t carry any light with me, a tiny built-in pop-up flash is all I need for the most part. As for the image itself, it happened when I was walking home through this empty playground. It was December, and a blizzard was coming on, the large snow petals looked beautiful and terrifying at the same time. I wondered if I could capture the eerie vibe of the empty, snow-stricken playground.”

What does your piece represent? What are its main themes?

“It represents lost time, my own lost childhood and the cold, visceral fear of never catching up with my younger self. Like many my age, I lost much to the pandemic and never got to experience graduating from secondary school before moving on to living as an adult, in a foreign country much less. While I will never get that time back, I can strive to re-experience small joys of life from before.”

What is the title of the piece? How does this title contribute to the piece’s theme?

“The Unreality of Time is actually inspired by a philosophy book of the same title, written by J.M.E McTaggart. McTaggart argues that time appears unreal because humanity lacks accurate descriptions of time, and that time is impossible without changes. I was thinking of how that relates to the act of taking a picture, and the picture’s existence - does it change overtime, or does it exist outside of time, for it is simultaneously observed in the past, present and future? Who decides on it?”

Has your piece been inspired by any artists?

“The Unreality of Time was inspired by one of my favourite artists, a Ukrainian photographer Lisa Bukreyeva and their ongoing project titled Where I Was Born. The series captures things most precious, but also things possibly lost forever - playgrounds and places of leisure, lakes, religious icons, homes, and it’s incredibly nostalgic for me. Everyone in Eastern Europe remembers the hyperspecific image of a rusty, outdated playground surrounded by grey, sad blocks of flats, but that’s what makes these memories warm and special, but also bittersweet and at times, painful. Although I was born in Krakow, Poland, I’m half-Ukrainian by blood. I do remember Kyiv from before the war and can see the similarities between my hometown and the capital of Ukraine. Both are home, just in different ways.”

How would you describe this piece to someone who has never seen it?

“Imagine you’re inside a snow globe shrouded in darkness, with a light torch as your only source of light. You stumble upon an old playground, maybe you used to play here as a child, but the memory looks very different from your current reality, for it’s golden and warm and sweet on your tongue. All you can feel is the icy cold air, and you walk home afraid to look behind you, in fear of what might be waiting there.”

What other ideas for other pieces did you have before you decided to create this piece?

“It was a bit of a miracle to be honest - I didn’t necessarily have any solid ideas before, I only knew I wanted to have a piece of Krakow with me when I returned to Swansea. I’m at home only a few times during a year, so every opportunity matters, and I try to keep my eyes open to new places, new details, new possibilities.”

How do you personally relate or connect to this piece?

“To me, it’s one of the most important images I’ve ever taken. It’s a piece of home that gets to live on wherever I am, and now, there’s a piece of home right here in Swansea, in the Glynn Vivian Gallery.”

What do you want people to think or take away after seeing your work?

“I want you to be moved by this familiar sight that is so universal, yet one that completely escapes familiarity and memory as a whole. A feeling trapped behind a thin veil, something that you can’t make out, yet you recognise and welcome it within yourself.”

Did making this piece push you out of your comfort zone?

“Yes, on a technical level. I’m much more accustomed to depicting still life, so it was really refreshing to work with a changing environment.”

Has winning this competition inspired or encouraged you to continue to pursue creating art? If so, would it be art like this piece, or would you consider basing it upon different themes or using different mediums?

“I’m really happy to have won and can definitely feel a new fire in me. I would like to make an entire series of works based around Krakow and places I’m familiar with - new versions of old memories.”

The Swansea Open exhibition will be open until Sunday the 16th of April – there's also an opportunity to vote for your favourite piece when you visit the exhibition as part of the People’s Choice competition. Please do go along – you won’t regret it.


Swansea Student Media