51°49'40.4"N 19°53'54.2"E; 63°49'40.5"N 22°24'50.1"W
An oak tree sits at the crossroads, a railway bridge cuts the road on the left-hand side, and a forester's lodge is hidden on the right. Surrounded by forest, the oak still seems to stand out. Maybe because of its size, as its crown towers over surrounding trees. If you decide to take a detour and walk around the tree on the northeastern side, you will find a shrine nailed to the trunk: a simple one - a couple of planks stained with dark, warm varnish. Inside of which there is a plain card with an image of Our Lady of Częstochowa and a small dish with artificial flowers. I don't remember my first encounter with her. I must have been a child; maybe I was collecting acorns fallen from the oak one autumn. Perhaps at one point, our gazes met and confused with that encounter, I crossed myself and left swiftly. What I remember, though, are the countless questions I asked about the chapel: who made it? Why did they make it? How long has it been piercing the oak tree? To my utter disappointment, nobody could answer those questions.
Visiting my village, I decided to bike down that forest road, just like I did merely 20 years ago. I stopped under the lone oak, and to my heart's content, she was still there. Amazingly, nothing had changed; the picture, the pot and the flowers were just like I remembered them. The bleak colours of the image, bleached by the sun, were the only evidence of time passing. Our eyes met again; I crossed myself, and I continued my ride.
A simple notebook with a grey paper cover embellished with a simple print.- A drop of blood outlined by a cross, with a single line of text saying "blood is life". A common product of the Wroclaw paper goods plant, this exact one being produced in Strzegom, most likely in the late 70s. Signed as an album belonging to my mother in the 5th grade, 1983/84. She started collecting holy cards when she was 11 and kept doing that until she passed the notebook to me at some point in the early 2000s. My persistence in collecting religious prints was nowhere close to the one my mothers - I kept at it for some months after I got the makeshift album, and then I quickly forgot about its existence. I stumbled upon it again in early 2017 when I was sorting out my belongings before moving to Iceland. I am not sure why I decided to take it with me. Perhaps, because it captured my mother's spirit, not as a devout believer, as the hundreds of religious images might make one think. Her presence was much more nuanced, present in precise cuts of the paper, engrained in how each card's corners were fitted perfectly, in the calligraphed numbers and descriptions that accompained the books more important memorabilia. Enclosing spiritual objects in this scientific-like, prosaic collection is something that captures my mother so well.
Only recently, I realised the importance of this notebook. My mother kept collecting these images for years, she continued doing it when her mother died when she was 14. She kept at it throughout trade school, meeting my father, getting married and giving birth to me in 1996. Almost 40 years of my mother's life are trapped between the yellowed and brittle pages of this notebook. I sometimes flip through them, admire the colourful cards and wonder what was happening in her life and who she was when placing the images in the book.
On a warm November afternoon, we were digging a hole in the ground when a middle-aged polish man came up to us and introduced himself politely. He curiously asked what we were upto - I responded that we are putting up a shrine. This answer must have confused him, as he promptly followed with more questions. He decided to help with digging, and his questions became more frequent as the pit went deeper into the ground. Then he told us that a large storm was coming tomorrow, and whatever we were putting in the ground would be taken by the sea. I shrugged my shoulders and said that I was fine with that. With my answer – he left without a world.
Weronika Balcerak (b. 1996), based in Reykjavik is a visual artist from Poland working with textile, video and prints. Her work reflects on inconsistencies within the guiding culture in her place of origin. Weronika studies in the BA program at the Iceland University of the Arts.