MinneCulture – Scarce Paper, Extreme Historical Phenomena

MinneCulture – Scarce Paper, Extreme Historical Phenomena

By Sheila Regan

During the Covid-19 stay at home orders, Polish American artist Piotr Szyhalski turned to drawing, regularly posting his work to his Instagram feed. Working in his basement, he responded to news reports about the pandemic by making incisive drawings that utilize sharply drawn humor to criticize America’s response to the coronavirus crisis.


I made the first drawing because I just had to do something with my hands,” said Szyhalski. “

People began responding to the image, sharing it on social media, and offering positive comments. The next day, as national leaders floated the possibility of opening up the country despite the dangers, he created another image, this time with a knife, a tongue full of dollar signs, and a caption that reads, “Open it Up, for Business.”

The drawings are part of an artistic framework Szyhalski has been working with for many years called “the Labor Camp.” As part of that project, in the years following the Iraq war, Szyhalski was spending time investigating sound based on archival records and historical recording from important moments in history.

“I would refer to those events as extreme historical phenomena,” he said. “It could be compared to, for example, an impact of a mallet on the drum.”

In the midst of the mallet strike that is the novel COVID-19 pandemic, Szyhalski is capturing these phenomena in real time.

“We are actually in a unique position to be right in the middle of this and, and so I’m trying to not just pay attention to it, but I’m trying to unpack as much as I can using the language that that I speak, the language of visual art.”

Szyhalski likens the experience of making this most recent body of drawings to growing up during a period of political strife in Poland, where he came to recognize the responsibility as artists as makers of culture.

“I used to tell students, you know, that when I had a one sheet of good quality paper, back in Poland, I would stare at it for weeks, sometimes months, because I really needed to know exactly what I was going to do with this. Because there was no room for error. But what do you know, we find ourselves in a situation where suddenly, I was like, looking at every scrap of paper in my basement thinking, Oh, my God, like, I’m having flashbacks here… that’s part of that experience of being in in this you know, turbulent, kind of vibrating moment.”

Support for MinneCulture on KFAI comes from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. More Minnesota arts, culture and history stories at MinneCulture’s Soundcloud page and at the MinneCulture Podcast