Singing In The Rain: a musical house in Poznań spotlights the relationship between art and gentrification

The Zielona Symfonia “mural” is the latest artistic attraction pulling people into Śródka. /TFN

Glimpsed from afar, it’s a random mass of zig zagging pipework. Looking incomplete and incongruous, there are some that would write it off as a classic example of “a project that was never finished.” Yet this is not another case of lazy workmanship, rather an artistic installation that has served to further highlight Śródka’s credentials as one of Poznań’s most upcoming districts.

Inaugurated in October, the Zielona Symfonia “mural” is composed of a complex system of guttering and pipes – some shaped like musical instruments – spread across an area of 450 sqm. When rain falls, water is directed down a complex system of funnels with the resulting gush and patter creating a natural concert of beguiling sounds.

When rain falls, water is directed down a complex system of funnels with the resulting gush and patter creating a natural concert of beguiling sounds.TFN

Co-financed by the city, and evoking shades of the “musical house” in Dresden’s Neustadt Kunsthofpassage, the work was implemented by Arleta Kolasińska of the Puenta Foundation. Speaking ahead of its launch, the artist voiced hopes that her project wouldn’t spark complaints from the neighbours. So far, none have been forthcoming, largely thanks to another twist of cunning: with the drains feeding into a line of metal barrels, these receptacles have been filled with greenery and plant life to dampen any noise.

The stunning ‘A Śródka Tale’ mural was one of the first pieces of grand art that began to set the district apart from the others.TFN

This is not the first time a Śródka installation has caught the nation’s imagination. Unveiled in 2015, ‘A Śródka Tale with a Trumpeter on the Roof and a Cat in the Background,’ is an enchanting work depicting a magical, old town streetscape in 3D form. Inspired by a photograph taken of the area in the 1920s, the super-sized work bristles with quirky details: from a voluptuous blond and pot-bellied butcher, to a trumpeting musician and a tiptoeing cat creeping across a rooftop (cats, recall older locals, were once one of the most prominent features of this neighbourhood). 

Despite originally facing resistance from some city councillors who feared that the project was too kitsch, the mural proved to be an instant hit; voted one of “the Seven Wonders of Poland” in a poll by readers of  National Geographic, it’s since become the area’s primary attraction and one of the city’s most Instagrammed features.  

With art cropping up all over the place locals worry that gentrification will rob the district of its distinctive character.TFN

Formerly a town in its own right, Śródka was only absorbed into Poznań in 1800, and in many respects the sense of community has remained locked in place. But not all is well. Ironically, given that ‘A Śródka Tale’ is a celebration of the district’s tightknit spirit, by placing Śródka on the map some disgruntled locals have claimed that its long-term effect has been counter-productive. Being cool has come at a cost. Battered bicycles are being replaced by hipster scooters and spluttering old bangers by gleaming Mercs. Property prices have spiked; smaller independent businesses have closed.

Widely respected across the nation, Vine Bridge, formerly the country’s tiniest restaurant, suspended operations last year. Another mainstay, Café La Ruina i Raj, caused a city-wide meltdown when they announced via Facebook that they too would be shutting after having their rent nearly doubled.

“Recent studies show that it’s not art that leads to gentrification but actually vice versa,” says one local.TFN

By appealing to a new wave of creative residents and day trippers, is the art really at fault for hollowing out Śródka’s historic soul? “Of course not,” laughs Brian, an expat that has seen the district fully evolve since moving there fifteen-years back. “Recent studies show that it’s not art that leads to gentrification but actually vice versa – and certainly, I think that’s been the case here.”

Formerly a town in its own right, Śródka was only absorbed into Poznań in 1800, and in many respects the sense of community has remained locked in place.TFN

As a microcosm of a wider global debate concerning the complex, and at times cannibalistic relationship between art and the community, the area serves as an intriguing study. Śródka, through its enviable location and charismatic pre-war architecture, was always primed to gentrify, argues Brian. “The art,” he says, “is just a symptom – but an enjoyable one at least.” Certainly, there’s much to be said about any work with the ability to turn a gloomy, wet day into something to relish.