If You Want to Say Something—Speak in the Language of the Language: Ewa Partum’s Model of Conceptual Art

The artistic practice of the Polish-born Ewa Partum can be divided chronologically into Polish (1965–1982), West Berlin (1982–89) and transnational / global (from 1989) periods. This essay focuses on the specificity of the conceptual art developed by Partum and her self-historicization as a conceptual artist. At the same time, it regards the local and global historicization of conceptual art as fragmentary and contradicting processes. The study examines local genealogy of Partum’s conceptual strategies as part of a localized reflection on the geopolitics of knowledge; it considers a specific position of cultural production that is characteristic of Central and Eastern European neo-avant-gardes. It examines Partum’s model of conceptual art in relation to Polish and Western practices. It is argued that Western conceptualism was only a point of reference for Partum’s art. Works such as Presence / Absence or Luncheon on the Grass realized by Partum in years 1965–1972 formed a basis from which the artist responded to knowledge of the transnational conceptual movement that was disseminated through Mail Art and Fluxus networks. Analysis reveals Partum’s model of conceptual art to be contrapuntal, as it is not subordinate to either its western inflection or local (Polish) cannons and protocols.