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Poznań: TOTEMS - blending ecology and art

18.07.2019 City

Artist Alicja Biała and architect Iwo Borkowicz are the creators of impressive totem poles that have recently appeared in the center of Poznań. Intriguingly playing with color and pattern, the sculptures are definitely attention-grabbing, but their function is not purely aesthetic. Each totem pole has a distinctive QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone which, in turn, shows us bits and pieces of information on biodegradation processes occurring on Earth. This capacity to visualize scientific data encourages deeper engagement and reflection on the part of the viewers.

Totem poles used to manifest the relation between human beings and forces of nature, with the former being praised as mythical ancestors. Contemporary totem poles, as interpreted by young creators, visualize the scale of degradation of our planet. Humongous forms covered in bright colors are not supposed to be simply aesthetically pleasing, but are destined to provoke passers-by and invite interaction. Located in a very busy and well-known spot in the center of the city - right in between Concordia Design and the newly-built but already iconic Bałtyk Tower - the totem poles are impossible to miss.

When art is placed in a public space, it immediately acquires the capacity to reach everyone instead of just a small group of museum and art gallery goers. This is both satisfying and challenging. Since the totem poles rely on statistics, we thought it was crucial for them to appear in a space open to everyone. After all, they contain information about the morality of homo sapiens - our morality - sending out a message to the entire society - says visual artist Alicja Biała, one of the authors of the piece.

The installation includes six totem poles hand-painted by Alicja with her signature patterns. Together, they form a three-dimensional art piece covering the space of almost 400 square meters. Colors and patterns reflect statistical data as well as the results of research into the state of the environment, making it easier for us to see the scale of, for example, deforestation, air pollution, or fisheries exploitation. A website devoted to the project,, offers detailed descriptions and scientific reports on which the project is based.

What I find particularly interesting about the project is how it blends positive, abstract forms with information that is difficult, important, and real. The power of totem poles stems from the clash of our need to lead a relatively easy existence with the fact that, at the same time, we have to be able to understand and talk about serious problems that affect the entire world - says co-author Iwo Borkowicz.

Does engaged art resonate with the public? - The responsibility is huge. On the one hand, I am very happy and enthusiastic about the project; I believe in its aesthetic, cultural, and ethical aspects. It is very satisfying to be able to show the world what I do for a living and what I think is important. On the other hand, however, I wonder if our intentions will be taken for what they really are - an invitation to talk and work on our mutual understanding of ourselves - rather than an attack. But this is something we have yet to find out - concludes Alicja.



TOTEMS installation by Alicja Biała & Iwo Borkowicz

Organizators: Poznań City, Estrada Poznańska, Vox Artis ,Concordia Design
Where? Przystań Sztuki - a spot between Concordia Design and Baltic Tower, ul. Roosevelta 22, Poznań


photo: Damin Christidis (1,2,4,6), Hubert Padalak (3), Alicja Biała (5)

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