Anna Molska, <em>The Weavers</em>, 2009, video. Courtesy the artist and Foksal Gallery Foundation

On Sustaining Industry: Anna Molska's The Weavers by Zara Worth

Anna Molska’s The Weavers (2009) is a beautifully woven tapestry of stories and voices. The single screen 12-minute film blends contemporary and historical stories of the lives of working class people from Silesia, in modern-day Poland.

Molska appropriates the work’s dialogue and title from The Weavers, a five-act play by the Noble-prize winning playwright Gerhart Johann Hauptmann. Hauptmann’s play, written in 1892, depicts the 1844 uprising of the Silesian weavers; a violently oppressed uprising of textile workers in the Owl Mountains, Silesia, against their harsh working conditions and lack of rights. Three unemployed men, dressed in working attire in a desolate landscape, recite the despairing lines. The men Molska approached for the film were not professional actors, but job seekers from a coal mining region of Silesia; another industrial workforce suffering in the same place but in a different time.

After making their way through a harsh, barren landscape the men are then seen crouched, sat and sometimes reclining around a struggling fire whilst they share a meal, the mine visible in the background. As they recount Hauptmann’s real-life historical drama, the film is interspersed with shots of miners at various points in their day-to-day working lives. Molska’s choice of ‘actors’ and location is sympathetic with Hauptmann’s own naturalistic staging. Hauptmann’s plays inaugurated the naturalistic movement in German literature. Whilst past and contemporary playwrights depicted the lives of the nobility and the privileged, the naturalistic movement sought to tell the stories of working class and bourgeois people. The acting style, speech, set and props of naturalism all attempt to portray a perfect illusion of reality. Although written 51 years after the event, many of the stories within the play were based on real-life accounts from Hauptmann’s grandfather who had worked in the textile factories.

‘The multitude has suddenly become visible,…, Before, if it existed, it passed unnoticed, occupying the background of the social stage; now it has advanced to the footlights and is the principal character. There are no longer protagonists; there is only the chorus.’

(Ortega Y Gasset, J. 1961, p.10)

Krysztof Janczak’s stunning musical composition provides a bewitching soundtrack, which mourns the death of both industries and the broken resilience of a work force once well known for their activism. Breaking with tradition, Hauptmann’s drama has no true central character, allowing for ensemble acting, and presenting the concerns of the masses as opposed to the individual. In contrast, Molska’s isolation of the trio, and their apathy to their predicament, jars against the zeal of the proletarian voices of Hauptmann’s play. Her juxtaposition shows the working man worn down by history repeating itself to the same disappointing effect

The location of the work as part of the wider festival was aptly chosen; The Mining Institute. This, combined with 2014 being the 30th anniversary of the miners strike, makes for a tragic sense of inevitability in the cases of all three work forces. The effects of such industrial action are long lasting upon the effected areas, as Hauptmann’s grandfather had passed down tales, tensions are passed between generations. To some extent this combination of historical drama, recent historical context and contemporary subject seems to pose a warning to the coal mining industry in modern-day Silesia. In 1972 Poland was the biggest coal producer in Europe, however the industry has been in decline since the 1980’s due to the all too familiar issues brought by advances in technology and competition from the United States. Silesia is an area dependant on the coal industry, with around 93% of coal produced in Poland from Silesian mines. Between 2009 and 2010 Polish coal output decreased by 1.3 million tonnes.

However, Molska’s film doesn’t seem to be about coal, or about textile workers for that matter. It is a warning about our dependence on unsustainable industries, which function through exploitation. Through her neat comparison, Molska hits home upon social and economic issues still unresolved in today’s society, and incredibly relevant in the current economic climate across Europe. But in a city now flourishing through regeneration, there does to be some hope in her message.

Zara Worth @ZaraWorth