Strange Museums

Strange museums : a journey through Poland by Fiona McGregor
Raw ,irreverent and unnervingly original, this book is a blurring of genres. The reader gets to enjoy a travel memoir, a history of Poland and commentary on modern Poland.

Fiona McGregor is an Australian artist and writer with a sharp eye for detail and characters. She took a trip to Poland in 2006 as part of a performance duo called senVoodoo. They were invited to perform at a number of festivals throughout Poland, which took her off the usual tourist track. Her writing style is gritty and political. She is a performance artist and her style reflects her views of the world which is quite avant garde.

This travel memoir is a journey through the interior world, rather than a touristy description of towns, scenery, places to stay etc. Yet this kind of travel writing is very rewarding because the reader gains insights into the Poland that the average tourist never gets to see.

In Poland there is a large and appreciative audience for live performance art. McGregor finds her audiences sophisticated and accepting of artistic expression. Apparently Communist Poland was a fruitful environment for artists and performance artists. She visits Museums, galleries and describes her surprise at the quality and variety of Polish artistic culture. She also observes that the Polish art is free from self-censorship, which isn’t always the case in all societies, even open ones like Australia.

A lovely chapter in her novel that I enjoyed a lot is devoted to the town of Lublin, which is the setting for the novels of Isaac B. Singer. Who interesting enough was immensely popular during the communist period in Poland’s history. She puts this down to the “magical realism and rich vein of morality inherent in his novels”. Apparently his novels really struck a chord with people in Poland during the austre Communist period. You can find Singer’s novel’s at the library and I recommend you try “The Slave” if you want to give one a go.

This book is a great read if you like travel writing with a twist. You will sit in on a history lesson without realising it. Poland has been at the centre of historical and political storms for most of its history, for example invasions, the holocaust, communism, you will marvel at the resilience of it’s people.

At the end of the book you will have learnt a lot about the history of Poland and it’s people, and gain insights into how young Poles view the capitalist world and relate to their religion in all it’s complexity.

If you come along on this journey with an open mind, if you are interested in contemporary and avant- garde art you will enjoy the ride. The quality of McGregor’s writing and intellect makes this travel memoir a treat to read.