SIKSA on recording under bridges and love and art as a way of protest
SIKSA (born: 21 November 2014, in Gniezno, died: 27 July 2019, in the Czech Republic), daughter of Shivers and Failure, née Freiheit. She spent her formative years not competing. Extremely talented, she ended her trial without a diploma. She didn’t collaborate when invited; after experiencing great love she wrote lyrical songs. She combines her imprecise workshop with a limited palette. In her work we can see disappearing rural cottages, old mansions, clumps of trees, grass, reed beds and streams bathed in ashes and panic. Wild geese are getting ready to take off, the subject goes underground. A veteran never named the “Agnieszka Osiecka of the Polish Underground”. After the war, SIKSA settled down in a ventricular septal defect, disguising herself as a heart murmur.
How has SIKSA been, what has she been up to, what has she been thinking about recently?
Alex: We did new material during lockdown and decided to give ourselves and the audience something fluffy, crazy, filled with plush, and hide ourselves a little bit in a fairy-tale concept. This is because we were very tired of bad news in Poland, being involved in protests and working in culture in a small city – Gniezno – with friends. Which is really nice & satisfying but sometimes it’s tiring when you have to face the local authority, you struggle with people who treat culture in a small city and your work as your hobby, so you don’t need so much money for this hobby, do you? I was a bit sad and overwhelmed by this outside world and the only thing that helped me was the art of other people, a bit of escapism and reading fairy tales. That’s why it was natural that we prepared a fable called “The Uses of Enchantment ‘‘ about some creatures, animals who speak about their lives. But SIKSA wouldn’t be herself if she didn’t add some real themes to this fable. I found it very comforting for me (and I don’t want to hide that I needed some comfort for myself when I was writing these lyrics) to be able to tell my story, express my thoughts and also things about violence and exploitation, but as a Mouse, Horse, Firebird, Mole or even a Woollen Clog – because these are our characters.
I can change my voice, be like an old-school storyteller, a fairy or even kindergarten teacher. Some people were, of course, surprised, some were even disappointed that I quit my job as an angry girl, a superhero on the stage who is always on standby. But others also needed it and understand that I’m tired of creating superhero stage concepts. That the natural way of being a superhero in public space is always about burying lots of things, like: fear, weakness, fragility, questioning itself. For me it’s important to show everything that is connected with talking about violence in public and I don’t ever want to romanticise it.
Our fairy tale is about our past experience in theatre, dealing with the egos of ourselves or of others, about what happens when you talk about rape in public space, about the world outside, which is too much for our little creators. So they search for something new, something basic, something to help them to deal with their past. And they find something – they find each other, they sleep and rest a lot and finally they make art together and eat themselves in the act of this art, which is full of love, passion, and happiness. They commit suicide together but not from any political reason or huge idea. They are so happy and free together that they want to eat themselves because there is not a world for such feelings and they know they need to destroy it or… rebirth!
In one interview, you mentioned that you have no insight into your roots and you don’t look at culture as a sequence of events which made you who you are. Can you elaborate?
Buri: If you are constantly thinking about the purpose of your art, if you are searching for the context of your work, if you need a proper paradigm which tells you who you are as an artist then why make art? Art is not the solution, it’s a journey which shows you who you are and, if you are a good companion for your art, you will achieve what you want and you will get the answers (oh, ok, maybe not all, but many of them). Of course, we think about ourselves as artists who are involved in politics and we cannot separate political stuff from art itself. It’s a well-known discourse. But there were days when we were thinking that “SIKSA belongs to nowhere and that’s why SIKSA can fit everywhere”. We started as a band which was a part of the underground, DIY punk scene, but it was so codified that there were some issues that were “too much” for the punk scene.
On the other hand, contemporary art has such a different ideology so we cannot accept some aspects of the modern art world. Of course, if somebody pushed us, we could speak about how inspiring it was for us: Throbbing Gristle, Actionism, Chumbawamba, New Wave cinema and so on. But we rather want to focus on the present than be one, unimportant link in this cultural chain. What I want to say is that we are totally conscious of art and cultural history, but if you stand outside of the discourse, you can achieve more. Maybe that’s why SIKSA has such obscure methods and sound, lyrics and body movement. Maybe this primitivism is more transgressive for us as people and as artists.
Was the birth of SIKSA motivated by the changes in society in Poland in general? Some sort of momentum in terms of the protest movement and general discontent with how things are in the country?
Alex: There are three things important for her birth. The first is love, which may be cheesy for some but it is what it is. I met Buri and fell in love. A huge part of our past was art – but more as recipients than as creators. I always wrote something and did a few things connected with theatre and performances, but for some people, who I was listening to because of my lack of self- confidence, it was too much, it was shitty and they made me ashamed of what I was doing. That is why I was watching a lot of movies, listening to music, looking at a lot of modern visual art and also going to the theatre. We met in 2014, quickly fell in love and started to be lovers, partners, roommates and comrades in this world. Buri gave me lots of strength and really liked my lyrics. And because art was such a huge part of our past we decided to do something together based on trust and total freedom. Because it is only vocals and bass you can do nothing or everything with that – we chose the second possibility.
The second reason why SIKSA exists is my time in Turkey. I lived there for six months and after a month I knew what I would be doing there – protesting. I realised that they were protesting a lot, almost every day back then, and I decided to get to know people, understand their reasons, listen to all the sad stories about politics there and I was also documenting those kinds of events. That was 2015, and when I came back, the situation in Poland started to be more nationalistic. We are living in my hometown – Gniezno – which is a small city and even here some right-wing people started to organise some events against – for example – refugees. My beloved cousin from childhood was with them and I knew that now it would be like this – politics would ruin our lives, families, friendships and childhood memories. But because of Turkey and the people I knew from there, I felt a bit prepared and had some tools with which to organise myself for this future. Well… I thought so, but you cannot prepare for everything and back then I didn’t understand some people as much as I understand them now.
One of them is Alper Sapan from Turkey – we made a song about him called “Alper Sapan Forever”. He really wanted to escape and leave Turkey because he was tired, really tired and hopeless. He was very young and he died in Suruç in a terrorist attack. He never came to Poland to visit me. Poland and Turkey are different countries, but what is really similar is that PiS [the Law and Justice party] are using similar tools, such as religion and so-called traditionalism, which is in fact nationalism, to build a society with no place for women, LGBTQ+ people, refugees, culture and art. They know that art is a great tool in the history of this world and they have a few artists on their side who want their money. This party wants to have their people in every museum, gallery and public place. And this is the third reason why SIKSA exists – because art is for us a reason to live. We reject propaganda. Thankfully, we still have lots of brilliant musicians, artists, dancers and creators in this country so we are not alone in this fight!
You present your music and art in various ways, including longer video and film works. The atmosphere in the films ranges from (hyper)realistic to magical and surrealist (like in Zemsta na Wroga and Stabat Mater Dolorosa). Can you talk about your film works?
Alex: We made two movies with a friend, the visual artist Piotr Macha. The first one was “Stabat Mater Dolorosa”. We decided not to do a short video for our LP with the same title but a full-length film. We will never put it on the internet because the concept was like this: everyone could write to us and screen it all over the world for free. But we really thought that it would be a good idea to treat it like a non-internet movie where people can meet, talk about it or not and if they want to leave the herstory, they have to do more than just click. Also, if they want to see it they need to go out. Our second movie, for the album “Zemsta na wroga / Revenge on the Enemy”, was the opposite because we decided to put it on YouTube because of COVID-19. The first movie was about a girl and her adventures in Poland. We wanted to show her as a brave person, a bit childish, a bit of a rebel. Sometimes social, always antifascist.
The second one was based on a story which you can hear on the “Revenge on the Enemy” LP, which is my personal story about rape. After a year of playing this material live we were very tired because it is not easy to talk about that kind of thing. So the movie is more conceptual. We did it two years after the live shows for “Revenge on the Enemy” so we had greater distance. That is why silence is the most important and symbolic thing in this movie. We put up a fake error statement, “this sound is not available in your country”, removed the sound from our LP and left just the first and the last songs. We thought that the communication on YouTube was symbolic because this sound/message is not available in our country in general. The second reason was also conceptual: to leave space for the audience for their private sounds, thoughts. They will watch it and hear a neighbour’s TV, fight, lovemaking, or maybe they will think about something else. We are so awakened by everything so we made an almost silent movie.
Also, I was really stressed about putting this material in public on CD, vinyls and streamings. It is my personal story. It will be in this world forever. After we published it I knew that it was my past and I didn’t want to talk about rape anymore – I had said everything. So I decided to treat this movie as a psychomagic act taken from the books of Alejandro Jodorowsky, which I was reading at that time. So every move and activity in this movie is a performative act to say goodbye to my past, bury it. I’m treating my art in that way, which is why the pictures are more surrealistic here than in the first movie, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa”.
The recording of your albums is also quite unconventional. You have recorded them in various, even outdoor locations. Can you recollect some memorable locations and situations?
Buri: SIKSA began her life in the middle of 2014, and our first official “studio” recording was published in 2018 as the “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” album. So, for almost four years of our existence we didn’t have any official recordings, just some live records like “Punk is tot” or the more conceptual collage “Patriotyzm jutra”. On stage we were totally free-form, we like to improvise and respond to audience energy. Then we started to take a step from performative forms to more complex, musical ones. And then we met Konstanty Usenko, a producer, musician and writer who wanted to record our set in studio terms. But as Usenko is totally open-minded, he knew that the traditional way of recording sessions would kill this live vibe which was the most interesting thing for both us and the audience. So it was Konstanty’s idea to record most of the parts in outdoor locations, with great or weird acoustic qualities. In this way we recorded our most important works, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” and “Zemsta na wroga”.
We recorded in Berlin where Konstanty lives and we used the empty Tempelhof airport, basements, parks, under bridges. Some parts of the vocals and guitars were recorded in Teufelsberg, inside the listening station, which has one of most inspiring reverbs I have ever heard. And most of the vocals and background sounds were recorded using just a classical zoom recorder. Thanks to Usenko’s mastery, it sounds so raw and also deep on the record. Maybe we would have had more stories about the recording process if we had done it in Poland, but as you might expect in Berlin, no one was surprised to see a girl shouting into a microphone at a metro station in the evening. But of course, there are some additional, unexpected sounds which are typical of field recording. When we were recording vocals in the middle of the night under an iron bridge, a police helicopter hung above us, and all those vibrations were recorded. So sometimes it’s not only distorted bass tremolo you can hear. Our sounds have many layers even if our message is simple: only bass and vocals.
What is the relationship between activism, sound and language in your work?
Buri: For a very long time SIKSA avoided using metaphors in her work. Both in the lyrics, which were very straightforward, and in sound, which was totally simple. And I think that simplicity and avoiding hiding things behind aesthetics is the point where reality shouts: “here I am”. And reality is a violent thing, where you can see or hear poverty, cruelty, hypocrisy. It is also important that we didn’t choose our artistic tools – the tools chose us. So we grabbed them, and we started to experiment. The consequences of this experiment show that you not only cannot separate art from your personal life, but you also cannot separate your life as an artist from current events, social and political life. So we consider our life and our work as integral. When you organise a protest it is also a form of art, if you’re working on a movie, it’s also a form of protest. Of course “the word” is still considered the most important thing in every fight, but with SIKSA we connect activism, language, words and sound in one, strong emotion.
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova