Sentimental nostalgia for the 1990s seems to bypass places such as the Jantar Department Store in Wrzeszcz or the Pasaż Królewski shopping arcade in downtown Gdańsk. Their specific architecture, nowadays readily labelled as grotesque, is permeated with anachronisms: the unfashionable colours of façades and decorations are coupled with the unfashionable words one can see on some of the shop signs. Do teenagers even know what a haberdashery is? Or a prepared food counter? What associations do these names have for 30- or 40-year-olds?
Although Jantar is long past its prime, this and similar marketplaces used to be very popular back in the day. In the vicinity, you had the Sezam Cooperative Department Store, the Manhattan market, the Sukces Shopping Centre and, above all, the Neptun Department Store, locally referred to as the ‘Pedet’, a name coined from its acronym. Jantar was a department store suited to the time and place in which it was established: in 1994, Poland had already succumbed to ‘Wild West’ capitalism, the sequel of Władysław Pasikowski’s cult crime thriller Psy had just hit the cinema screens nationwide, and public television was about to begin broadcasting some of its longest-running entertainment and quiz shows. As Poland was opening its doors and windows onto the world, the war in former Yugoslavia was slowly drawing to a close, the conflict in Chechnya was beginning to erupt, and Aleksandr Lukashenko became the president of Belarus.
Contemporary commercial and service centres bombard their customers with stimuli that are hard to channel, as if wanting their visitors to become lost in time, space and their desires. Is there a gap in this trend that could be filled with, say, bringing smaller, forgotten shopping centres back to life? Since they used to be popular once, could they be restored to their former glory? Or maybe we’ve already become fed up with all this splendour that deprives us of ordinary, pleasant, quiet and accessible places. Places that are simply not overwhelming.
We like spaces we can associate with doing nice things – with time, their appearance, characteristic smells and specific atmosphere begin to instil in us a sense of tenderness. Honorata Martin says she likes everything here – ever since she became one of Jantar’s residents, she keeps noticing details around the city that either allude to or reflect those that may be found in the Wrzeszcz department store. All of them seem beautiful to her. Looking at Jantar’s terrazzo floor, Martin wonders if it could be transformed into a source of admiration for each interior designer. She even found beauty in the purple railings of the stairway leading to the first floor and the glass dome decorated with fake ivy that crowns the roof of the building.
Honorata Martin’s art installation is being created in two rented stalls (no. 9 and 10). To a large extent, it conveys her respect and tenderness to the place where it is showcased – encouraging viewers to focus on the characteristic details of this space, to touch them with their hand or forehead. At the same time, it offers them a safe space devoid of all the stimuli typically found in shopping centres, especially in mid-December.
To what extent does the Christmas frenzy reach Jantar each year? This is something we don’t yet know. As we create the microworld in stalls no. 9 and 10, we observe the peaceful rhythm followed by the place and its small community of shopkeepers renting other stalls, families visiting the local India Bazar, customers of the tailor’s or the Gral computer shop and service centre that has been operating here for years.
It is hard to find balance in modern shopping centres. Jantar Department Store offers us all a peaceful break – does it not deserve to be visited and officially join the list of places that evoke nostalgia for the 1990s?