Extraordinary story of Kraków woman who wrote down every detail of her life for over 55 years in 745 notebooks retold in fascinating exhibition
A Kraków woman who recorded every detail of her life in 745 notebooks over a period of 57 years is the subject of a new exhibition at the city's MOCAK contemporary art museum.
According to the official website of the Internet Factology Institute, Janina Turek kept one of the longest-ever factologies.
A factology is an attempt to document the author's life as completely as possible, often in diary form.
“On the surface, she was an ordinary housewife. At the same time, however, for 57 years, in secret from her loved ones, she kept diaries. The object of her observations was everyday life, the simplest human activities which we often do not pay much attention to,” MOCAK writes in the exhibition notes.
In the 745 notebooks, Turek wrote down the minutia of her everyday life: all answered telephone calls and who rang (38,195 facts), telephone calls she made (6,257 facts), all the presents she gave and to whom (5,817 facts), all presents she received (10,868), how many times she played bridge (1,500), how many times she went to the theatre (110), and how many TV shows she watched (70,042).
In total, she wrote down 410,000 consistently recorded and categorized facts of her daily life. She gave each entry a date, a day name, a colour. Each fact had its own sequential number.
She categorised all entries by month and year and gave each year a colour that repeated every 10 years. Each notebook has a signature, a number, and a sub-number.
She noted down and counted all the parties, trips and dances she attended, objects she found, letters she wrote, books she read, pictures she saw, visits she made and meals she ate.
The notebooks are divided into 36 categories, such as: Casual Encounters, Gifts Given, Walks, Reading, Sports, Dances, Theatre, Things Found, and Phone Calls.
She didn’t note everything, however. One year, she would note all her breakfasts, the next all her lunches, and dinners on the third year, starting again with breakfasts on the fourth.
Though Turek had kept a diary since the age of 13, “her characteristic style of minimalist, impersonal notes does not appear until the occupation,” writes the exhibition organiser.
In February 1943 the Gestapo arrested her husband Czesław. She was five months pregnant at the time. Her husband was taken to the prison in Montelupich street and then to the German extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The exhibition at MOCAK includes postcards she received, theatre and cinema programmes, books and vinyl records.
According to the art museum, “The notebooks are both a document of Poland's recent history and an apotheosis of everyday life. They constitute a kind of minimalist literature.”
Janina Turek was born in Kraków in November 1921. She attended female primary schools in Krakow and received books for good academic results.
But during the German occupation the closure of the public library by the Germans meant she was also not able to finish school and go to university to study pharmacology, which was her plan.
In 1945, her husband returned from Auschwitz. In 1947 her son Jerzy was born and in 1951 her daughter Ewa.
After divorcing her husband in 1958, Janina worked first as a cashier in a grocery store, then as a clerk at a post office, and finally as a secretary.
Turek lived in Kraków her whole life and was most associated with the Podgórze district, where she lived at ul. Parkowa 6 after her family was resettled there by the Germans during the occupation. She lived at that address until her death.
Though she was well-known there, her story came to wider attention when the eminent reporter and non-fiction writer Mariusz Szczygieł published an article about her life in Gazeta Wyborcza in 2001.
In it he wrote, “Janina Turek objectifies her everyday life. She looks at herself from the outside like her own accountant.”
An example was when in 1960 she saw her son Leszek with a friend in passing in the street. She noted the sight briefly in item 36 364 –‘Lesław (Lesiu) Turek and Bogdan Zaleski’.
“She did not say a word that it was her oldest son,” wrote Szczygieł.
When her husband returned alive from Auschwitz she noted "visit of Turek Czeslaw" in the category "unexpected visits".
After Janina Turek's death in 2000, her diaries, written almost throughout her life and hidden in her apartment, were found by her daughter.
In 2016, MOCAK acquired the whole collection along with photographs, postcards, letters and other family mementoes.
The exhibition at MOCAK opened on 27 October and will run to 19 February 2023.