Experiences of Discourse. Polish Conceptual Art 1965 – 1975
This essay is a preview of his preface to the catalogue of the exhibition “Conceptual Reflection in Polish Art. Experiences of Discourse: 1965 – 1975”, published by Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw.
“The most striking property of doors (although not unique to doors) is RESONANCE between two states, which can be conveniently labeled as “open” and ‘closed'”. (Richard Artschwager, The Hydraulic Doorcheck, 1967)
“…a work and a text have the characteristics of an event and that is why they come too late for their author or – which comes to the same thing in the end – their realisation always starts too soon.” (Jean-Francois Lyotard, What is Post-Modernism?, 1982)
In the middle of the sixties in Polish avant-garde art there appeared a significant turn in the way works of art and the process of their reception were understood. This was part of the more widespread cultural and social changes that were then taking place and that expressed the attempts to free cultural and creative practices from the power of ideology functioning in society, and to weaken or ignore principles and codes marking the range of behaviours and forms of expression that would be socially permissible. The then widely manifested attitude of contestation against the social and political situation and the existing traditions of culture was also a familiar aspect of the behaviour of artists and theorists of art of that period. Filtered through the context of East and Central European historical and political conditions, it had a significant influence on the direction the changes in art were taking, and on the nature and differentiation of artistic propositions in Poland.
Contestation in Polish art was not always connected with an attitude of negation and of excluding co-existing artistic phenomena. According to Jerzy Ludwinski, one of the leading Polish critics and theorists of art of that period, the radical changes that were taking place in art were accompanied by a transformation in the understanding of artistic revolution, which, in his opinion, led to a phase he described as the end of “art of violence.”(Jerzy Ludwinski, “Sztuka po”, [in] Poezja konkretna, exhibition catalogue, Galeria Dzialan, Warsaw, 1993.) He believed that the pace and logic of the changes in avant-garde art led to the disintegration of the one binding model of art (he speaks about its explosion) and the creation of a differentiated field of artistic phenomena defined by him as “art with no limits.” This concept is of an affirmative nature; in a field of art with no limits no artistic proposition is distinguished, and there is no possibility of arranging them in a hierarchical structure because of defined stylistic criteria. What is still binding in them, however, are criteria of novelty and intransigence.
One of the first artists to suggest a new formula of avant-garde art was Jerzy Rosolowicz. In his theoretical works The Theory of the Function of Form (1962) and On Neutral Activity (1967) he identified the function of art as expressing an “anti-idea” which is served by “forms having an absolute function.” “Having arrived at the conclusion,” writes the artist, “that all ideas, together with all the consciously intentional activity they generate, are incomplete to a fault – a tendency substantiated by the present readiness of mankind to destroy itself as a species – I hereby provide the one and only universal anti-idea and as its consequence, conscious neutral action.”(Jerzy Rosolowicz, “O dzialaniu neutralnym” [in] Jerzy Rosolowicz 1928 -1978, exhibition catalogue, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw 1995, p.63. Also see “Anthology” in Conceptual Reflection in Polish Art. Experiences of Discourse: 1965 – 1975, exhibition catalogue.) An anti-idea, as understood by Rosolowicz, is not dialectic; it is the opposite of an idea, but it does not question it. It complements it and inspires activity that is totally disinterested and deprived of any goal. It functions beyond any established structure of notional oppositions. It was in Rosolowicz’s work that for the first time there appeared the motif of affirmation, difference and co-existence; instead of representing a higher spiritual order, power, or religion, it was to encourage one to activities, the aim of which was described in a wholly negative manner: they were to stop the final disaster of mankind. The silence of the anti-idea is characteristic here: its sense is not explicated but is expressed in performative acts, “accomplishments essentially devoid of all associative and narrative features, and focused instead on that which is logical, visual and sensual.”(Ibid.: p.65.) From this we can see that an anti-idea functions beyond the order of a metaphor, although it may inspire to the creation of forms which exhibit “semantic properties.”(Ibidem.) Rosolowicz emphasises the fact that a work of art is like a process. He believes that “not only the result but also the process of conscious neutral action is considered significant.”(Ibidem.)
According to Roscowicz, literalness, a sensual nature and apriorism are characteristics, not always in agreement with each other, that express the sense of a work of art. Despite the apparent incoherence, such a formula expresses an extremely discerning and precise anticipation of how Polish art was to develop. It is difficult to reconcile Rosolowicz’s notion of form, having an absolute function, with the traditional model of a work of art as a closed whole, limited by rules of composition. It is necessary rather to perceive this notion as aiming towards breaking up this model, a tendency appearing with unusual strength and clarity in the activities of Polish artists from the mid fifties. Here it is necessary to mention the tradition of “informal” painting, represented, among others, by Tadeusz Kantor, expressing a radical movement towards liberating a painting from the rigours of form, as well as the Polish version of op art (also called visualism), within the framework of which the formal operations applied by artists served going beyond the traditional understanding of the limits of a work of art rather than confirming its inner coherence and unity. On the basis of opposition and negation, the formula of “informal” painting in Kantor’s work led to his emballage art whose chosen manifestations, e.g. the happening A Letter (1967) or Conceptual Emballages (1969) move very clearly towards the formulas of conceptual art. Andrzej Berezianski’s optical experiments in his radicalised version led towards theoretical reflection on the nature of visual perception, while the work and projects of Zbigniew Gostomski led towards including the theoretical structure of the work of art within its framework. Zdzislaw Jurkiewicz’s Environment (1969), in which irregular minimalizing forms steeped in an alternatively pulsating blue and red light arouse in the viewer the feeling of an undifferentiated space, shows the artist’s direct anticipation of the strictly conceptual idea of ‘a shape of continuity.’
It seems that the two main sources of conceptual art in Poland were “informal” and op art. It is difficult to link the conceptual trend in Poland into structural relations with trends and movements in art such as minimalism, land art, or Fluxus, as was done in the West. It seems that minimalism came into existence in Polish art only retrospectively, in experiences of tautological versions of conceptual art, while certain aspects of land art appeared in the experiences of Polish artists relatively late. This did not happen till the beginning of the seventies. The propositions of artists working in the Polish context within the destructive tendency were closer to what was happening in the Fluxus movement. It was this tendency that was the direct inspiration of the reflections in art that should be linked with conceptual art.
It was the works of Wlodzimierz Borowski, appearing from the mid fifties, that express the intention of systematically destroying the existing artistic conventions and the demystification of myths connected with art, the idea of re-valuing the values linked with art. With amazing consistency he attacked everything in art that was considered sacred, the objects of his attacks being first: composition and the formal unity of a painting and, connected with them, the model of passive and contemplative perception; secondly, the set, institutionalised meaning of the notion of ‘art’ (Artons created by him at the end of the fifties and beginning of the sixties, and then Threadoids in the middle of the sixties are part of the idea of degrading a work of art as an aesthetic object and suggest that Borowski was inspired by nature); thirdly, autonomy and the work of art having the character of an object, and the traditional notion of authorship connected with them. As Borowski questions the homogeneity and cohesion of a work of art, it is not surprising that from 1966 his manifestations started to take on the shape of a series of “Synchretic Shows.” One of them, coming from the plein-air painting event in Osieki, Seventh Synchretic Show. Taking off a Hat (1967), is an epitaph for the traditionally understood work of art. A window frame was dipped in the nearby lake, entwined with seaweed and coloured threads (clearly showing the structural characteristics of a painting) and was placed on a pole, the wings of the window wide open and the panes broken. Borowski, who only stood observing all this activity, ended it by taking off his hat. In another manifestation, Pubes of Taint (1969), that took place in the Mona Lisa Gallery in Wroclaw, the relationship that had existed so far between a work of art and its viewer was completely reversed. People visiting the exhibition recognised themselves in the photographs hanging from a washing line as being material for the work of art, which became a process and unlimited expansion in reality.(The destructive trend initiated by Borowski was followed, among others, by Jaroslaw Kozlowski in Aranzacja (1967) and in Zbigniew Makarewicz’s Wystawa sztuki (1969).)
Negating the limits and the structures of a work of art that had been present so far raised important questions concerning its ontological meaning. This was taken up very early by Wieslaw Borowski, Hanna Ptaszkowska and Mariusz Tchorek, the founders of Warsaw’s Foksal Gallery, in their text Theory of Place. The declaration from 1966, confirming the meaning of the changes taking place in art, and that were directed at the structural unity and the traditionally understood autonomy of a work of art, gives a new meaning to its integrity and disinterestedness. “A PLACE is an area that comes into existence by suspending all the binding rules in the world , and by putting them in brackets.”(Wieslaw Borowski, Anna Ptaszkowska, Mariusz Tchorek, “Teoria miejsca”, [in] Malgorzata Jurkiewicz, Joanna Mytkowska, Andrzej Przywara, Tadeusz Kantor w archiwum Galerii Foksal, Galeria Foksal SBWA, Warsaw 1998, p.418.) A place understood in this way still relates to the composition rules of a painting, but the authors of Theory of Place overthrew the notion of composition saying that “there is only one PLACE. A PLACE cannot be divided. A PLACE cannot be multiplied.”(Ibidem.) Due to this, a place is not experienced from outside, but actively, being as if “in it.”(Ibid., p. 419. It was an exceptional coincidence that at the Symposium in Pulawy in 1966, during which Teoria miejsca was announced, a series of works negating all stereotypes concerning the viewing of a work of art, and requiring from the viewer special involvement, was also presented. Bozena Kowalska relates: “Ideas entering the sphere of impossible art were presented, among others, by Liliana Lewicka. One of them were the contents of a small room to which there was a door 90 cm wide. In front of it there was a cubic crate (the length of the edge being 150 cm), on which there was a sign: ‘An object to be carried inside’. Inside there was a show-case with a real dog’s head and an apple with pins stuck in it. According to the instructions, it was ‘A place to look at’. On the opposite wall there was another show-case containing a fly with its wings torn off – ‘A place to contemplate in’. In front of the room, there was a question: ‘What are we to do with our psyche?'” cf. Bozena Kowalska, Polska awangarda malarska 1945 – 1980. Szanse i mity, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warsaw 1988, p. 172.) However, “a PLACE is not a spatial category” and it need not be subject to the rules of geometry and logic. A place is not a part of but “a sudden gap in the utilitarian understanding of the world.”(Ibidem.) Hence, “in the world there is no sufficient reason for a PLACE to exist.”(Ibidem.)
Theory of Place was an attack on the traditional notion of exhibiting art, while in another document, also signed by the people from the Foksal Gallery, What we do not like in Foksal Gallery, the traditional model of a gallery is questioned. This text is about artistic facts linked with the notion of activity whose time and spatial qualifications are defined as ‘NOW’ and ‘EVERYWHERE.’ The slogan “Let’s look for undefined places!” breaks with the way a gallery, as a neutral space, had been understood so far, in which works of art had been merely “put in,” and gives it a much more dynamic and active nature.(“Co nam sie nie podoba w Galerii Foksal PSP?”, [in] Jurkiewicz, Mytkowska, Przywara, eds. Tadeusz Kantor w archiwum Galerii Foksal. Discourse 1965-1975. Exhibition catalogue. Warsaw 1989, p. 45.) This ‘NOW’ and ‘EVERYWHERE’ as distinguishing features of artistic facts are reflected in Jerzy Ludwinski’s discussions on the new art’s logic of development. Characterising the different stages of development, Ludwinski distinguishes the stage of imagination, coming after the phases of the object, space and time, and he describes it in the following way:
A work of art loses its spatial and time structure and any limits originally set to it. It may appear everywhere and encompass everything. It materialises only in the viewer’s imagination. The creative process is registered only in its incipient stage – that of conception, or in the final stage – that of documentation. In what form a fact of art is registered is of no significance as it unfolds in the notional sphere.(Jerzy Ludwinski, Osrodek kultury i Sztuki, Klub Zwiazkow Tworczych, Wroclaw.)
In accordance with Ludwinski’s reflections, art becomes impossible in the structural or logical sense and all traditional formal and aesthetic categories stop referring to it. With this, the notions and principles marking its place in a strictly hierarchized order of works of culture lose their validity. It is no longer a matter of inspiration subjected to the simple mechanics of projection. In fact, we can say that it is no longer a matter of one’s psyche, however it is understood. It achieves an objective status, defines itself in relation to reality itself, initiating a moment of reflection on its own nature. Understood as a document or project of imagined activity, a work of art takes on the character of a sign. It no longer aspires to present reality in its richness and fullness but only points to what is absent and at the given moment cannot be reconstructed or brought up to date. It is inscribed into the order of time and referred to the wider context which is the artistic process.
The destruction of art and lack of reference to the artist’s ‘inner self,’ the lack of inspiration or, more broadly, the impossibility of art opens the way for impossible art. “Poetry should link up with the impossibility to think, which is a thought,” wrote Maurice Blanchot about Antonin Artaud.(Kuszenie niemozliwego.) Something similar was experienced by conceptual artists in Poland; it was enough to have a change of optics. They worked on the border-line or in the space of resonance between the impossibility of art and impossible art. Overthrowing existing models of practising art and breaking away fromthe power of the socially and culturally sanctioned language of art, conceptual artists took upon themselves, at their own risk, ‘activities’ in the sphere of imagination. They often challenged its limits, at the same time battling with the problem of working out means to communicate their experiences in an adequate manner. In this context, conceptual art embraces works which, in an economical way, involve the imagination of the artist or the recipient (the differentiation here is not sharp), in this way becoming experiences of the discourse.
Adopting a critical attitude towards the existing artistic conventions, conceptual art does not refer to any system of the language of art that results from tradition and provides a safe shelter. The destructive tendency which I referred to earlier assumes the form of mental operations aimed at the unity of the system, quasi-logical activities questioning its logic. Conceptual reflections are thoughts aimed at the identity of the system of the language of art and what goes with it, the ideologies that condition it. Such thoughts appear independently of a historically fixed structure of meanings that was simply taken for granted. Moreover, it puts this structure to the test of a different, foreign logic. These thoughts are neutral and function beyond the compulsory language; they manifest themselves “outside: time, place and cause /outside: the gallery / outside: the picture / outside: contents/,” as Andrzej Dluzniewski wrote in 1975.(Andrzej Dluzniewski, “Zewnetrznosc”, [in] Andrzej Dluzniewski, T, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warszawa 1991, p. 103.) With this in mind, Dluzniewski put up a sign in 1973 with EXTERIEUREMENT on it in two of the windows of the Repassage Gallery even before the gallery opened. “Something which was the first, which was nothing, which was a point, …, which was the sixth, … which was the second, of yore …,” the artist enumerates in the same text.(Ibidem.)
For Dluzniewski, art is an untiringly repetitive act of questioning, and for him providing answers is equivalent to stagnation, schematisation, extinguishing critical inspiration. That is why such art does not function in a vacuum; every question has its own place in the order of the discourse, and comes to the fore because of a defined order of events. It is an unexpected gap in the order of narration although it sometimes gives the impression that it only confirms it. Krzysztof Wodiczko’s work Ladder (1975), for instance, can be seen as an example of anamorphosis. Built strictly according to the principle of perspective, the three-dimensional object confirms the cohesion of looking at the reality imposed by cultural tradition and a lack of any reflective attitude only from one point of view, whilst moving about in front of it makes it absurd and useless. It is easy to ascribe an allegorical meaning to this work. The reality it points to is the pressure of institutionalised conventions concerning how one looks at a work of art, including those imposed by political censorship in Poland at that time. For your beautiful eyes only – Eugeniusz Smolinski seems to comment upon this work in his optical board from 1975. He also did Landscape (1975) which was built both according to the principles of central perspective and cartographic representation. Allegorical potential, referring to certain social and political conditions, can be seen in many works done by the conceptual artists of the discussed period, among others by Zbigniew Gostomski, Jaroslaw Kozlowski, Druga Grupa, Jerzy Rosolowicz, and Zbigniew Makarewicz.
The sphere of conceprt, to give it a defined goal, and to include its propositions in one cohesive system. It is characterised by frankness and differentiation. Freed from the rigours of composition, or more broadly, from stiff formal structure, it is associated with the aim to create meanings spontaneously, with a code that is not restricted by any rules or with anything that would be peculiar to any medium functioning in art. Hence in a conceptual work of art, one can see a unique artistic expression, built according to prinrt, to give it a defined goal, and to include its propositions in one cohesive system. It is characterised by frankness and differentiation. Freed from the rigours of composition, or more broadly, from stiff formal structure, it is associated with the aim to create meanings spontaneously, with a code that is not restricted by any rules or with anything that would be peculiar to any medium functioning in art. Hence in a conceptual work of art, one can see a unique artistic expression, built according to principles set up only once and without laying claims to any generally followed rules.
In his article Art in the Post-Artistic Age (1970), Jerzy Ludwinski replaced the notion ‘work of art’ with the term ‘artistic fact’ which, understood by him in categories of a project of activity or of its documentation, defines itself in relation to unreconstructable thought processes. Artistic facts, inscribed in an order of time, become for him elements of a structure described by him as an ‘artistic process’. This structure is characterised by a lack of continuity and because of this it is associated with Michel Foucault’s notion of discourse and the category of ‘utterance’ being its elementary unit, that is like a singular event. Artistic facts, as distinguished by Ludwinski, encompassed by the category of ‘absent art’, are like an idiom, they are like “reasons without proof” (Lyotard) that go far beyond the presumed unity of the expressed meaning and the order of representation that is cultivated within the tradition of the visual arts. “Often the only work,” writes Ludwinski, “is some sort of disclosure of the creative process; it is often only the artist’s programme expressed with the help of some notation or system of signs, not necessarily artistic.”(Jerzy Ludwinski, “Sztuka w epoce postartystycznej”, Odra, May 1971, p. 36. Also see “Anthology” in: Conceptual Reflection in Polish Art. Experiences of Discourse: 1965 – 1975, exhibition catalogue.)
That is why conceptual artists associated a work of art, freed from the laws of composition and formal unity, with the notion of a collection. Wlodzimierz Borowski’s Clotheshorse Collections (1967) and Stand Collections (1968), for example, give an ironic commentary in reference to tradition, to painting and sculpture respectively. The idea of a collection defines the range of Wanda Golkowska’s work; Open Structures, built by her in the second half of the sixties, is a series of visual and spatial lexicons, material with which the viewer can construct ‘utterances’ according to certain rules. Golkowska’s series Collections (1972-1974) is a collection of notions, while Disapprover (1972) is described literally and metaphorically as a repository of information.
The members of Druga Grupa started an interesting discussion with the traditionally understood model of a work of art and, what went with it, a certain type of explanation in an activity entitled Collection (1970) that was open to the public. The result of the activity defined a series of choices, not determined by any set criterion, concerning a ball, either a red one or a green one, given to each of the participants, and then thrown into a flat show-case that resembled a rectangular picture and stood against a wall. The balls of each pair that had not been thrown in, and taken away by the participants after performing the instruction, were to create an anti-picture, a type of duplicate of the composition created in the gallery. In a very efficient way, Collection questioned the uniqueness of a work of art and its status as an aesthetic object.
Marian Warzecha’s logical systems, forming the series Metasets (1970-1975), originate from reflection on the possibilities of representing illogical and non-dimensional spaces. Consistently depriving a painting of the function of feigning the third dimension and being conscious of the fact that the elements it consists of do not sum up into one cohesive whole, Warzecha applied another form of putting things in order – that of a set. His artistic communiqué loses the presumed ‘depth’ of a message and its contents become absolutely clear and objectivised. The logical formulas and graphs used by Warzecha bring these contents to the surface of the canvas and subject them to a multi-theory formalization, sanctioning its lack of cohesion and heterogeneity. “Thanks to the applied system”, writes the artist in Documentation of Metaset A, “very different elements may be linked together, which would be impossible if traditional means of artistic influence as guiding systems were to be applied.”(Marian Warzecha, Dokumentacja metazbioru A, Kraków 1970.) It seems that for Warzecha a work of art means the surface; maybe the notion ‘protective object’, introduced into the text quoted above, has such a meaning. Including a flat sculptured renaissance tombstone as element E in Metaset A (1970) brings the meaning of this notion closer. Quoting Rosalind Krauss, one may acknowledge that this meaning concerns “closing-off the possibility of a believable space within painting or behind the picture’s surface”.(Rosalind Krauss, “Jasper Johns: The Functions of Irony”, October, 2, 1976, p. 92.)
Moving from the interior to the surface also takes place in Andrzej Dluzniewski’s category of the outside. A huge white cylindrical form with the sign The Changing Outer Conditions (1970), placed above the viewer’s eye level, was to fulfil the role of the surface absorbing information from the surrounding reality. Bending the rectangle of a picture into a three-dimensional form in such a way, and the associations one has with an advertising pillar, shows the intention of going beyond the convention of easel painting and placing a work of art directly in the stream of current events. The traditionally understood autonomy of a work of art is also questioned by Maria Michalowska’s Calendar (1970). It is a series of seven enlarged consecutive pages of a wall calendar, revealing the seven days of the week one after another. These pages were also presented as space that showed the interference of exterior circumstances; a certain part of each page was to serve as place for the viewer to make any notes or comments he/she might like, registered there without any previously assumed assessment of the contents or of their hierarchy.
This work of art, that is identified with the surface, is like a photograph; it becomes an area in which the reality is marked in a direct way, and due to this it receives the status of a document. Records and traces of reality appear; the traditional differentiation between art and reality is questioned.(One should not, however, go too far with the analogy between the conceptual ‘fact’ and the photographic picture. Even more so, one should not try to say they are the same; when conceptual art is treated as photography, it begins to correspond to the defined medium, at the same time questioning the reason for its own existence. It seems that Antoni Dzieduszycki’s formula: ‘non-artistic photography’, although it refers to the key strategies of conceptual art, is notthe same. It may, however, be its logical derivative. cf. Antoni Dzieduszycki, “Fotografia nieartystyczna”, May 1971.) Taking Rosolowicz’s Optical Reliefs (from 1967), built of lenses, into consideration, the analogy to photography concerns including here photo-optical processes and making those processes the basic substratum of the work. As Jerzy Ludwinski suggests, these works are characterised by a type of mimicry. They do not add anything new to the reality, but are to be only a certain type of imperceptible framework for it.(cf. Jerzy Ludwinski, Mimikra Neutrdromu, Odra, October 1968.) The assumption is that they are also not to suggest anything to the viewer. They are to reverse the traditional relation between the work and the viewer, define a new structure of perception within which the viewer becomes part of the reality ‘observed’ by them. They absorb and digest information from the surrounding world, confronting the viewer with a reversed picture of his surroundings, inspiring him to activate his own attitude towards it.
A similar formula of openness, depriving the work of the depth of a message and the structure of narration, are exemplified by Wlodzimierz Borowski’s mirror works that were presented in 1966, together with a theoretical text, as First Synchretic Show – The MIRror MANIfesto. This text is one of the earliest to express conceptual awareness in Poland. In it Borowski writes:
The MIRror MANIfesto It makes the object unreal and the illusion – real. Replaces the object of art as a catalyst of sensation. Eliminates “noise” usually associated with image information. In the traditional image only the “noise” remains, aspiring to the role of information. Reduces “noise”, making pure sensation possible.(Wlodzimierz Borowski, MIRror MANIfesto, [in] Jaroslaw Kozlowski, ed., Wlodzimierz Borowski. Traces 1956 – 1992, exhibition catalogue, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw 1998, p. 46.)
The MIRror MANIfesto gives a double suggestion: the neutralisation of material making it possible to free a work from the limitations imposed by tradition and to raise a theoretical commentary, characterised by ‘mirror’ clarity, to the position of a work. It also formulates the postulate, known from western art tradition, to ‘dematerialise’ a work: “The ideal reflection” would provide maximum information and require neither the image nor even an awareness-tuning instrument.”(Ibidem.) For Borowski, an attempt at such conciseness was Formula (1966), also remaining in logical relation with his other mirror works from Manilusy series, which was a pair of mirror signs: + and -, together with an artificially made disintegrating ball of foamed polystyrene placed between them, an analogue of the traditionally understood work of art, which here was treated ironically. Borowski’s reflections stretch over reality as a whole, and this becomes part of the experience of other artists working within conceptual art.
The idea of maximum openness between art and life is expressed in Barbara Kozlowska’s ephemeral Border Line, a series started in 1967. These activities are characterised by moving towards the maximum neutralisation and dispersal of existing symbolic conventions. The model existing so far between a work of art and reality is reversed. The further editions of Border Line are variations of the basic idea of the series of sand cones made along the coast and washed away by the waves. In Border Line, made in Osieki in 1970, five cones, built every hundred metres, were mixed with pigments of red, orange, yellow, blue and purple. This version is a spatial interpretation and also goes beyond the ideaof painting. A similar reduction and concretization of the traditional model of a painter’s presentation breaks with the notion of a work of art as an autonomous whole. In this work, the order of composition is replaced by the structure of repetition; its elements perform a grammatical function as if, the function of links bringing together the viewer’s different phases of perception. These elements possess a solely negative status; they define themselves solely in relation to their surroundings, which start to become an integral part of work. It is not possible to embrace Border Line with one act of perception as, besides the moment it was initiated, it does not have any time or spatial limits.
The openness of the projects from Border Line involves their characteristic apriorism; “all this can be anywhere / all this can be seen anywhere,” can be read in one of the artist’s text from this series. Hence the special role played by the theoretical texts, schemata, projects, as well as documentation referring to Border Line that hold an equal status with its spatial works. A similar apriorism can be seen in It Begins in Wroclaw proposed by Zbigniew Gostomski in 1970. He wrote:
It begins in Wroclaw.
It could be started anywhere.
It begins in a definite area,
but it need not end there.
It is potentially endless.(Zbigniew Gostomski, Zaczyna sie we Wroclawiu, [in] Danuta Dziedzic, Zbigniew Makarewicz, eds., Sympozyjum Plastyczne Wroclaw ’70, Osrodek Teatru Otwartego Kalambur, Wroclaw 1983, p. 85.)
The description of the project provides for a town with three types of spatial constructions answering to the symbols: O, /, and Æ according to a schema presented by the artist. The project does not define the forms of the constructions but very clearly describes how they are situated. “The fact that O / appear is a consequence of their appearing at all.”(Ibidem.) This type of system corresponds to the basic idea of the project, which is limited only by the starting point: “never-ending development, moving forward equally in all directions, whose range will take in further and further areas.”(Ibidem.) The schema used in It Begins in Wroclaw expresses visual grammar rules, determining the building of the artist’s optical reliefs and his slightly later environments, that he worked out much earlier, at the beginning of the sixties. Like in Warzecha’s Metasets and Kozlowska’s Border Line, It Begins in Wroclaw is concerned with a generalised reflection on the nature of presentation that breaks with the model of a work of art as a closed whole, limited by the laws of composition. Here composition is replaced by repetition, unlimited expansion in time and space, while the notional character of the work (resulting from its secondary importance or even the impossibility of bringing it to fruition) is interwoven with theoretical reflection. The discourse of art appears here in the form of a self-commentary.
Breaking up the existing model of a work of art and opening it up to reality raises the question concerning the nature of the relation between art and reality. Depriving a work of art of its supposed depth and identifying it with the surface reminds one of photography. Conceptual ‘facts,’ as analogous to photography, are frequently of an indexical nature. They simply mark, point to and assign chosen fragments of the surroundings as material of art. ìIn form it does not change”, writes Zbigniew Gostomski about It Begins in Wroclaw, “but in situations it continually changes.”(Ibidem.) This statement brings to mind the quotation written down by the artist on a series of canvases that make up the work Ulysses by James Joyce (1970). It describes the act of repeatedly marking elements of the surroundings in chalk by one of the novel’s characters. This quotation, characteristic of the artist’s structure of repetitiveness, seems to express a certain generalised meaning of art, which is stressing riches and differentiating reality, at the same time reducing the meaning proposed by it.
Edward Krasinski has a similar strategy of bringing to the fore the characteristics of space by sticking a pale blue tape along walls. The tape is 130 cm from the ground. Adam Szymczyk wrote the following about this strategy: “The line does not lead anywhere specific, it does not mark a level: in a word, it is not meaningful. “Marking territory” Krasinski calls it, and rightly so: the blue line marks what it meets in a given area, and nothing besides. Marked territory does not gain in meaning, Krasinski does not obtain the right to it.”(Adam Szymczyk, (Deux ou trois choses que je sais de lui”, [in] Joanna Mytkowska, ed., Edward Krasinski, Fundacja Galerii Foksal, Warsaw 1997, p. 51.) The way art was created so far, assuming a tendency to sublimate meaning, to raise it to a higher level of metaphor was now opposed by the tendency to degrade it, to bring it down to the level of literalness. This is already visible in Krasinski’s earlier works, e.g. in Untitled from 1968, in which the length of a black line running horizontally across A4 sheets of paper put up next to one another on the wall of the artist’s studio is disturbed and dissipated as a result of the sheets being scattered in a disorderly and accidental pile onto a chair standing nearby, and onto the floor. According to the logic proposed by Szymczyk, this work is an event concerning the line and not meaning.
This type of ‘horizontalism’ of meaning characterises many other works from the described period, and they can be treated as examples of the ‘anti-idea’ defined by Jerzy Rosolowicz. They refuse to represent a higher order of meaning, proposing instead a more open formula of art, of active participation and of being fully aware of the surrounding reality. This is present, for example, in Jerzy Fedorowicz and Ludmila Popiel’s Re-shaping (1972) in which they surrounded, according to a set of symbolic formulas, the terrain of the plein-air centre in Osieki with cotton thread. It also appears in Jaroslaw Kozlowski’s Zone of Imagination which he initiated in 1970 and which assumed the placing of sign-plates with ‘STREFA WYOBRAENI’ on them anywhere in public. This sort of activity releases the mimicry effect. The official appearance of the sign-plates, associated with restriction, contrasted with the content of the sign and could play the role of deceiving the ‘evil eye’ of the authorities. This was of an affirmative nature: it changed signs of prohibition into suggestions inspiring creative activity. As anybody could take part in it, Zone of Imagination also breaks with the traditional notion of the artist. It is not an image of his inner self and it does not speak in the name of his uniqueness. In accordance with its initial assumptions, everybody has the power of imagination at his disposal and has the right to mark its terrain. The vertical order of insight and transcendence, traditionally associated with a capacity to imagine, is designed in Zone of Imagination
as a horizontal plane of everyday narration.
Like in It Begins in Wroclaw, the terrain in Zone of Imagination is different every time it is marked. Hence the sign used as an index to mark reality is like a ready-made – it becomes a tool that takes possession of and quotes reality. Every statement that is based on nominating and differentiating a given fragment of reality from the chaos of events defines art differently, reveals another aspect of art. This also takes place in the conceptual phase of Zdzislaw Jurkiewicz’s work that consciously anticipates events expressing the essential meaning of art at a certain moment in its development. His theoretical declarations, such as Art in Search of the Essential (1970) and Lesson (1973) stress the objective and essential character of the development of art, and describe the ‘natural selection’ of artistic facts showing the meaning of art itself. In accordance with this, for him artistic creativity means anticipating the development of art; for him infallible anticipation means the same as art. In other words, art, according to Jurkiewicz, is the ascertainment of the necessity of art developing. That is why it is beyond being individual and is not a matter of declaration. “New art, on which the future depends. But it… barely happens,” says Jurkiewicz.(Zdzislaw Jurkiewicz, “Lekcja”, [in] Zdzislaw Jurkiewicz, exhibition catalogue, Galeria Wspolczesna 1973.)
The artist stresses the role of visual perception in the artistic process. For him practising art means repeating the activity of defining the relation between the sphere of perception and that of mentality. He searches for a shape of ‘continuity’ in the further development of art so he could link it with formulating intuition. The formula of the ‘shape of continuity’ is present in his tautological works such as White, Clean, Thin Linen (1970), and in the series of drawings defined by the length of the line drawn on each one of them. The ‘essence’ of art is also expressed by photographic records of stars that mark their infallible paths on a photosensitive film. Jurkiewicz’s conceptualism is abbreviated in the way he identified the notion of meaning with the notion of continuity. This takes place in the most concise manner in Shape of Continuity: “chair” – chair (1970), which is a spatialized model of the relation between a sign, its meaning and its designation.
The role of intuition in the development of art is also stressed by Jaroslaw Kozlowski in the analytical phase of his work. Referring to the notion of the infinite calculable set, understood as an “indefinite train of acts of choice” in L.E. Brouwer’s theory of plurality, the artist presents the hypothesis: “art as”(Jaroslaw Kozlowski, “Continuum” [in] Jarosaw Kozlowski, “Kontekst”, manuscript, 1975, p.1.) in one of the essays in his unpublished book Context. It remains strictly in relation with Kozlowski’s reflections on time. Interpreting Brouwer, he writes: “continuum has no ready elements; it is the centre of freely becoming.”(Ibidem.) Due to this, “art comes into existence when we eliminate all the characteristic features from the object having the feature of duality that results from the passing of time. The empty form of all these common dualities repeats itself indefinitely as the original intuition of art that creates new facts of art.”(Ibid., p. 2.)
In Jaroslaw Kozlowski’s theoretical reflections, art as the ìcentre of freely becoming” is like a general notion with a changeable range of referents. That is why the artist defines it as an empty set.(See Jaroslaw Kozlowski, “Sprzecznosc i niesprzecznosc nazwy pustej”, [in] Kozlowski, Kontekst, op.cit., p. 15.) Its every manifestation is a purely formal change that is different each time. This concept refers to W.V.O. Quine’s attitude in the philosophical dispute on universals, on the way general beings exist. Kozlowski writes that Quine’s “conceptual theory of classes (= sets) assumes that there do not exist any other classes other than those which are equal to the conditions placed on their elements, and which are possible to formulate.”(Jaroslaw Kozlowski, “Uniwersalia i zbiory”, [in] Kozlowski, Kontekst, op.cit., p. 7.) In other words, it is the assumed rules and the dictionary of a given language that decide about the existence of universals. Analogically, for Kozlowski, the language of art is not something ready; an artistic statement takes on the nature of an individual event, a game whose rules define themselves in the process. They do this once, and without laying claim to being generally compulsory. The analysis of the language of art is the same as the repeated act of creation, which is in agreement with one of the artist’s statements: “Art = the possibility of unlimited rational construction.”(Ibid., p. 2.)
Like Jurkiewicz, the artist’s reference to intuition implies the unpredictability of art, which is not in disagreement with his works. It is in his book Grammar that he refers to the general form of the ‘duality’ of time passing. Its contents were noted down by Kozlowski from the 4 January to 2 March, 1973. It is divided into three sections that would be in agreement with what is known in English grammar as: simple, progressive and perfect. In each section, the tautological scheme “what is, it is”, expressed each time in the present, past and future tenses of the given mood, is made dependent on the consecutive dates given in a calendar. In this way, a “grammar of time” also became a type of diary: “The time in the book was the same as the time when the book was coming into existence, which in turn was linked to the existential events experienced by me at that time,”(Jaroslaw Kozlowski, Jerzy Ludwinski, “Rozmowa”, [in] Jaroslaw Kozlowski, Rzeczy i przestrzenie, exhibition catalogue, Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, p. 68.) commented the artist. In a purely formal way, Grammar registered the passing of time; in it Kozlowski used a special type of tautology, whose apriority is part of everyday activity.
The experience of time is also centre to the interests of Stanislaw Drózdz, whose works comment on and, at the same time, put the process of their reception in order. In his photostats and installations he confronts the viewer with writing. The meaning of the words, numbers, or symbols that he uses are strengthened or modified by the form in which they are recorded. In Drozdz’s art, the event of discourse consists of isolating the sign from the context of language, making it independent of the code that defines the way it functions, and ascribing the semantic function to the way it is visualised. The thus modified signs, for example ìword” in “word” in Untitled (1973), giving themselves names, often function according to the tautological principle, while at some other time, for example “was / is / will be” in the series hour glass (1971), they take on visualisation structures and at the same time a description of their perception and interpretation process. The concreteness and opaqueness of Drozdz’s signs require activity and involvement from the viewer. The installation Untitled from 1999, but originating in the artist’s ideas from the beginning of the seventies, confronts the viewer with an arrangement of door handles that were painted black and put up on one of the walls of the gallery. They generalised the meaning of the notion of a sign.
The opening up of a model of a work of art is realised by the postulate of its ‘dematerialization’. This reminds us of Jerzy `wicski’s “singular point” in art, according to which the content range of a work of art is proportionally the opposite to the degree of its formal complexity. Ludwinski says: “… art may be concerned with reality as a whole and at the same time its form may exist in a practically non-existent situation.”(Zygmunt Korus, “Calosciowego spojrzenia na swiat”, Conversation with Jerzy Ludwiòski. Integracje, VII 1979.) That is why a work of art, understood as an ‘artistic fact,’ should be characterised by maximum conciseness, an economy of means for the transference of even the most complex, sometimes even quite illogical, message. The consequence of this economy principle is making the signs used by the artists look like indexes pointing towards and including any area of reality in the sphere of art. In effect, this leads to the concretization of a sign and its semantic opaqueness. Making the artistic expression independent of the binding code in the language of art makes it unique. This raises the question about the source of expression; in other words, we are confronted with the problem concerning the status of subjectivity inscribed in the formula of conceptual art.
Acknowledging the uniqueness of an artistic expression leads to freeing its subject from the power of language, and the ideology inscribed therein. According to Émile Benveniste’s concept, such a subject always appears in the event of a discourse, in each utterance: “each time it’s a new act, even if it were to be repeated a thousand times because each time the speaker enters a new moment in time and a different configuration of circumstances and utterances.”(Émile Benveniste, “Mowa a ludzkie doswiadczenie”, [in] Michal Glowinski, ed., Znak, styl, konwencja, Czytelnik, Warsaw 1977, p. 43.) A work of art no longer presumes the constant presence of the artist; quite the opposite, every new artistic expression is identified with the act of its creation. That is why Wlodzimierz Borowski, in his autophotography series entitled Facts I (1970) and Facts II, being the negative version of the former, signed his name on a large sheet of paper, with a different first name each time.
The discourse of art’s lack of continuity led to the necessity of activating the artist’s attitude. His proposals are now characterised by the lack of assumptions towards experiences becoming the material of art. Calling forth new artistic facts is performative in nature and does not (after Rosolowicz) assume any leading ideas. It is consciously and actively ‘being-in-the-world’. Zdzislaw Jurkiewicz’s artistic strategy assumes pure receptiveness and ’emotional zero’ towards the ‘cold data’ that carry in his experience the sense of art, while Zbigniew Makarewicz contrasts the model of analytical art with emotionality brought about by elements of the surrounding world. The latter artist stresses objects’ ‘dramatic aspect of speech’; for him artistic creativity is a sort of archaeology of past experiences and forgotten inspiration, called forth anew thanks to quoting chosen objects in their total literalness and consumption. These assumptions are expressed in Formula X, understood as the initiation of the movement of consciousness with the help of ‘intentional objects’ that are full of meaning. Its early exemplification was an environment entitled Cybernetic Control System (1969) examining the transformations of meanings resulting from including ‘poor’ objects burdened with the past in the schema of the construction of a computer processor. Another way of using it is the site specific project entitled Archaeological Museum (1970) – the idea of building a corridor in the layers of a rubbish dump in one of the districts of Wroclaw, in which the objects found there were to be exhibited.
In this way, experiencing the surrounding space (Makarewicz’s ‘here and now’) becomes the subject of conceptual reflection. It is the area of direct experience, objectivised afterwards with the help of signs. According to Andrzej Kostolowski, in the early phase of Andrzej Berezianski’s artistic work, inspired by the achievements of op art, bringing a work to fruition is a function of direct experience and decides about the ability to conform to the surrounding forms.(cf. Andrzej Kostolowski, “Wycieczka”, Odra, December 1969.) In a multisegmental series of works, done on coloured tissue-paper, and coming from the end of the sixties, in which numbers increasing by certain numerical value are ascribed to changeable forms, the artist makes an analysis of perception suggesting it is not of a continuous nature. In other later works, he generalises the function of a sign, for example in the series of three sheets of paper entitled Transformation of Energy (1975), while in Photographs from a Journey (1971) he also stresses its purely unconventional nature.
Jerzy Kalucki’s art is also part of the project of linking the sphere of perception with the sphere of intellect. His pictures make the viewer’s body the centre of experience of the surrounding space, at the same time making its register economical to the extreme. By marking a certain order of the space surrounding them, they embrace the viewer with an arrangement of forms that they suggest. In the eleven-segment Drawing of Part of an Arch, Radius 1970 cm (1970), the viewer imagines how he could fill in the fragmentarily marked shapes in the picture of two circles, localising their centres seventeen metres below the gallery floor. Also in Jerzy Fedorowicz’s A – B Metre (1971), consisting of two separate canvases, the viewer’s body fills in the work’s missing part, experiencing in the most literally physical way the distance of one metre separating the two external parts.
Making the viewer’s body the centre of experiences brought about through the work was often to lead to the effect defined in aesthetics by the term “sublime.” This concerns numerous architectural designs proposed by conceptual artists. Wanda Golkowska’s project of Kinesthesion (1970) described a very large space in the shape of a ball, inside which viewers, standing on a transparent surface that cut through the centre of the ball, were to experience a certain state of suspension between film pictures of the sky designed in the lower half of the ball’s interior and the film pictures of the earth’s surface designed in the upper half of the ball’s interior. The motif of a ball, this time put into motion by people moving about inside it also appears in Jerzy Rosolowicz’s Neutrdrom (1967), an anti-utopian concept of architectural space, adjusted to the specifics of neutral activity. The people inside the ball as well as those moving about inside a huge cone situated next to it were to have different types of experiences resulting from the changes in the intensity of light, in the atmospheric pressure, and in the impressions they had concerning smell, taste and hearing.
In 1974, in a work with the same title, Rosolowicz changes the concave form, visible in Neutrdrom in the drawing of the base of the overturned cone, into a “utensil for catching dew”. This utensil, visible in the photograph that was part of the work, was made of transparent plastic and was a totally disinterested creation; the opening it had was for catching dew as much as for losing it. It was a tool for “neutral activity” that did not serve any set mission or goal, and was not subject to the logic of any superior idea. It was simply the artist’s autograph, that expressed the meaning of his name.
The effects of meanings resulting from the literal interpretation and visualisation of ‘ready-made’ phrases and elements of language was also used, among others, by Eugeniusz Smolinski in his work Bio graphy (1975), for example, in which the motif of writing can also be interpreted as the furrow of a ploughed field. Jerzy Fedorowicz’s Plane of Discussion (1971) also foresees lifting the floor in a selected space to the height of 110 cm and supplying it with round openings.(The version of Plane of Discussion presented at the exhibition Conceptual Reflection in Polish Art: Experiences of Discourse: 1965 – 1975 was built out of neon pipes emitting a yellow light.) In these works the sense appears as a result of a certain clash, of deciding on and establishing a mirror correspondence as if between the visual level of the work and its verbal part. It is similar in Magic of Numbers, started in 1971, and part of a series of works done by Wieslaw Smucny. Here arrangements of numbers representing consecutive elements of a sequence of natural numbers are subordinated to the logic of an exceptional ‘meeting’ of those same numbers in a sequence of five elements.
The events of discourse and one-only effects of meaning appear independently or in spite of the language system defining the meaning and applicability of the expression used. A characteristic allegory of this lack of consistency is Elzbieta Chodzaj’s series of Bristol boards in various colours, whose perforations define the shapes of the scraps falling onto the window-sill or floor; these scraps are silent, as if they did not want to confirm the meaning ascribed to them by the perforation code. Also two other works of the same artist, that correspond with each other, represent this state of silence and lack of meaning: the drawings Unspeakable Object and Vowels by Themselves from 1975 show a woman’s closed purse and, when opened, female lips expressing the sounds of the vowels: a, e, i, o, u, y.
The idea of “absent art”, including the artistic process in the order of ‘before’ and ‘after’ that endow artistic facts either with the form of a project of activity or of its documentation, which Jerzy Ludwinski proposed in his article Art in a Post-Artistic Age, showed that artists were interested in “unreconstructible thought processes,” a fragment of the artistic process which he described in the category of “between”, that cannot be fully objectivized with the help of means available to the artists. Ludwinski was fascinated by the idea of a full reconstruction of the artistic process that would be tantamount to creating a system of the language of art. This idea assumed there would be maximum brevity and economy in artistic means leading to their ultimate elimination and the complete dematerialization of art. Ludwinski wrote:
It cannot be ruled out that a new language will be discovered that we now have not the faintest idea of but whose existence cannot be ruled out. I do not wish to say that this would be a language similar to telepathy. For the time being, the conception of a process which cannot be reconstructed, for which I would suggest the name of absent art, is necessary for us to become conscious of some limitary situation corresponding to the notion of a limit in mathematics. However, when these processes have been deciphered and absent art has become a system of art, we should certainly be able to place an equation sign between art and reality.(Ludwinski, “Sztuka w epoce post-artystycznej”, op. cit., p. 38.)
In the absence of the language postulated by Ludwinski, the artists’ proposals that suggested the meaning of absent art were included in the dualism of the project and in documentation. This can be seen in Jerzy Rosolowicz’s Kreatorium of Millenium Stalagmite Column (1970) which foresaw putting up a building in the shape of a pyramid inside which, as a result of water filtered by limestone carbonate throughout a period of a thousand years, there would appear a one metre high stalagmite column. The inaccessibility of the process taking place inside the pyramid and its time scale, that is beyond human reach, implies its basic unreconstructability and impossibility of any time of expression or presentation, hence the acceptance of the “silence” category of a work of art appearing as one of its basic qualifications in many of Jerzy Ludwinski’s theoretical works. This category corresponds to the concept of an artistic communiqué as an “isolated message,”(Wieslaw Borowski and Andrzej Turowski, “Dokumentacja”, [in] Jurkiewicz, Mytkowska, Przywara, Tadeusz Kantor w archiwum Galerii Foksal, op. cit., p. 424.) proposed by Wieslaw Borowski and Andrzej Turowski, or to the definition of a work of art as a “flash of isolated awareness”(Ludmila Popiel, “Definition of Art”, quoted after Izabella Marczak, Dzialalnosc spoleczna i tworczosc artystyczna Ludmily Popiel i Jerzego Rosolowicza, Nicolai Copernicus University, Torun 1982, p. 32. Also see “Anthology” in Conceptual Reflection in Polish Art. Experiences of Discourse: 1965 – 1975, exhibition catalogue.) formulated by Ludmila Popiel.
In the project of an impossible “artistic system” are works whose basic features are heterogeneity, having its expression in the association of a work of art with the notion of a set, and repetitiveness, resulting from the subordination of the structure of an artistic communiqué to the order of time. A work of art, that has been brought to the surface, registers the passing of time. In existential dimension this happens, for example, in Roman Opalka’s series of paintings, 1965 / I -¥, that he started in 1965 and which counts the time of the artist’s life in a sequence of natural numbers. The numbers noted down in white paint gradually blend with the background as a result of its greyness being brightened on the consecutive Details of the series, and then they cease to be legible. According to this project, the borderline of the sequence noted down by the artist marks the end of his life.
An individual record of the passing of time includes the motif of memory in the structure of problems designated by the formula of conceptual art. In registering the passing of time with photographic methods and commenting on it in his works, Andrzej Matuszewski stresses the transitoriness of the processes taking place round about, reflects on the ontological status of past events, ascertains their fragility and the necessity of their passing. Matuszewski makes his art a witness to the stream of events flowing past. In his slides Parallel Actions, registered from 1972, he makes a chair covered in red paint the measurement of transitoriness of processes taking place in nature. The colour here suggests immateriality, absence, just like the red colour of the items used by the artist in the arrangement 21 Objects (1968), which logically and chronologically preceded Parallel Actions. Being isolated from their original contexts, and with their functions which are difficult to describe, they look like relics of the past which are recalled and quoted from memory. A similar lack of clarity, a certain “silence”, characterises Ludmila Popiel’s collection Found Objects (1972), a photographic catalogue of things found by the artist on the streets of Rome, whose descriptions, that go with the photos, consist only of the dates and places where they were found.
In Remembering (1972), the members of Druga Grupa reflected on the ontological status of the contents of one’s memory by learning texts brought by the public to the gallery by heart. The obliteration of memory and its progressive entropy is shown in Janusz Tarabula’s environment entitled Shaping (1971), which is a type of clock, whose space, in accordance with the project, gradually fills up with sand falling from a cone attached to the ceiling. In this way, the artist’s pictures, and personal effects fixed between them, are to become gradually immersed in sand. The titles of the pictures link the memory motif with the motif of light; light here becomes, in a sense, a figure of memory – its complete obliteration is also its extinction.
Light was the favourite material ‘used’ by conceptual artists in Poland. Its neutrality, lack of physical characteristics, which could be grasped by the senses, corresponded to the postulate of dematerialization. In philosophical tradition, light functions as a metaphor of meaning; it is light that brings things forth from the shade and facilitates seeing, that gives them sense. “To see” means “to know,” thus no substance expresses the meaning of art better than light. It was Rosolowicz’s lens reliefs that were true receptors of light. At the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, Jan Chwalczyk created a whole series of portraits of light, of relief forms researching the dependence of the chiaroscuro on the arrangement and on the force of the source of light. The formula of this work corresponds to Solar Spectrum Reproducer that Chwalczyk proposed in 1970. It was an arrangement of prisms facilitating the emergence of a changing record of the solar spectrum on a large, round screen placed in an urban area. This project emphasised the characteristic features of the place in which an instrument was to be described. What was important was that the picture of light appearing in Reproducer was created according to a certain visual angle and in a given period of time.
In conceptual art, light no longer functions as an agent facilitating the representation of reality. As a carrier of meaning it frees itself from presenting and starts functioning independently. Its changeable substance becomes the direct material that is subject to the artist’s decision; it is caught, portrayed, measured, and is sometimes used to register objects or events in their whole transitoriness and changeability. The motif of writing with light, understood in the etymological sense of photo-graphy, was taken up by Maria Michalowska in Six Hours (1970) in which the movement of the sun was recorded every ninety minutes in the form of sketches of the shadow of a taut thread on the undulating surface of a solid form. Similar method of portraying light was used by the artist in a series of photographs entitled +2 Seconds of Light (1971) in which the recording of the shape of an open hand directly on sensitive paper takes place in periods of time that increase every two seconds. In the artist’s drawings, such as in Documents and Copies (1973), the shape of a hand or the profile of a face is subjected to multiplication, that is part of the structure of time. She wrote about her drawings thus: “I only document traces of reality. The basic meaning of such a document exists beyond it.”(Maria Michalowska, [in] Atelier ’72, exhibition catalogue, The Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh.)
The recordings of Opalka and Michalowska presume a linear order of time, while Zdzislaw Jurkiewicz’s Sun in the Kitchen (1972) opens up the possibility for disrupting it. Here the artist undertakes what could be called a blasphemous act of appropriating the sun as an artistic object and conducting a transitory projection of its image on the wall of his flat. In the philosophical tradition of Western Europe, according to the Platonic metaphor of the cave, the sun, as a source of light, made it possible to see things, although it was not the subject of perception itself. Though it functioned as a metaphor of knowledge, it could not be the subject of the metaphor; it was as if the metaphor or metaphors. In Jurkiewicz’s ‘cave’, created with the help of a telescope and mirror that he constructed himself, it is deprived of its concreteness. It is literalised and demythologised. In this work, the traditional dualism of an original and its copy has been questioned; if the sun makes it possible for things to be presented by illuminating them, what makes the presentation of the sun possible? The sun takes on the status of simulacrum, it becomes a copy of a copy, its own representation. This anti-Platonic motif is taken up by Eugeniusz Smolinski in his ‘document’ Sunny Day (1973). Here, on large canvases, he presents outlines of the shapes of Lake Necko ‘seen’ from the point of view of the sun during different times of the day. The artist here boldly places himself in the position of the sun, the source of meanings.
The operations the sun is subjected to reveal the substance of time, its structure, and suggest the possibility of changing it. As the discoveries of contemporary physics show, moving the stream of light to the source of its emission, which in a sense takes place in the works of Jurkiewicz and Smolinski, would be the same as the conversion of time. This mechanism maybe justifies disturbing the order of time suggested by Andrzej Dluzniewski in his A Jump (Versions and Variations) (1971). In this work, a black and white photograph of a swimming-pool trampoline is accompanied by descriptions of the jump made from it. These descriptions make up series of ‘versions’ and ‘variations’ that take the form of quasi-narratives, whose lack of continuity results from the fact that the event assumed as its beginning did not actually happen. “At the beginning there was nothing, or nothing happened” and because of this the status of the primary event, which is purely hypothetical and imaginary, is attributed to the consecutive modifications of the jump. Because of this, the ‘versions’ and ‘variations’ of the jump, such as ‘dope,’ ‘loop and return”, become events of language thanks to which “determinism looks at itself in the mirror,” while “intellect triumphs over nature giving a beginning to exceptional freaks of the genre.” In accordance with this logic, a copy precedes the original, and this opens up exceptional possibilities for the artist to create meaning.
Dluzniewski’s Jump introduces the textual motif into conceptual art and, moreover, in linking features of an activity plan with its documentation, it undermines the model of an artistic fact included in the dualism of ‘before’ and ‘after’, that assumes a linear order of time. In this work, the artistic process described by Jerzy Ludwinski accumulates into an isolated and autonomic event of discourse that resigns from laying claims to including non-artistic reality within its limits. This motif is taken up by Eugeniusz Smolinski in a two-part arrangement entitled Document of Imagined Presence (1975). Preceded by An Expedition Plan, a drawing of a two-coloured flag with two mountain tops in the background, and a paragraph of illegible writing, the title ‘document’ stages a projection of a picture of the mountain tops transferred from the ‘plan’ onto a small screen, with two distinct strips of colour taken from the flag and placed on those two mountain tops. In this work Smolinski makes ironic remarks on the subject of the author; because the ‘expedition’ described in it is based on being illogically ‘present’ on twomountain tops at the same time, its participant is characterised by a certain split. The projector, that is opposite the screen, lights up the previously painted picture, while the shadow of the viewer moving about between them does not disturb its continuity. This operation additionally emphasises the fictitiousness and ‘impossibility’ of the presented situation.
In Document of Imagined Presence nothing guarantees the antiriority of the ‘project’ towards the ‘document’ of activity; the linear order of time, assumed in the concept of the artistic process, becomes invalid. The most radical example of impossible art suspends the dualism of ‘before’ and ‘after,’ making the model of a work of art as an artistic fact redundant and leading to its logical closure.
Translated from Polish by Aniela Korzeniowska.