Andrzej Sawicki: The Sculptures of Jerzy Bereś (1973)

(The text was published in: Polish Art Review, number 4, 1973, pp. 32-33)


Speaking of the artist’s background, one usually has in mind everything the artist received ahead of time, almost automatically, at the beginning of his road. That is everything that defines his workshop in the material sense, including the raw material and everything that makes up his workshop as far as the ideological aspect is concerned: his attitude towards the object, his belonging to one or another aesthetic trend. A background seen in this way is usually treated as something prepared, and if one can say so — something that is the content of the artist’s genetic record. Yet in reality everything that the artist is believed to have been given, he acquired himself gradually, by way of creative experiments and constant choosing.

The work of a sculptor is determined by two general choices: defining his own attitude to the object and the choice of raw material.

Let us look at the sculptures of Jerzy Bereś from the point of view of these fundamental decisions. What is the object supposed to be for me? What is its attitude towards reality? These are the basic questions posed by a sculptor before he begins his work. For in these questions the choice between distant tradition of a more or less perfect copying of the object in a work of art and the, less distant, conception of a work-object, is defined. Bereś is inclined towards the later. Associated with the Cracow Group, creator of happenings, he searches for communication with the spectator not in the sphere of “influence” but in the sphere of “activity” or “cooperation.” He does not want his sculptures —”stimulators” as he calls them — to be placed in any “temple of art,” but in a forum where they can be accessible to the spectator’s everyday experience. For this is not supposed to be art meant for elevated contemplation, but objects that place the spectator in a new, previously unknown situation. The human reaction in such a situation can be expressed in the following questions: what is it, how does it work, what does it mean? Thus stimulators encourage a certain type of cognitive action. And so the spectator participates in the act of creation. To Bereś a sculpture is a pretext to begin the game between the artist and the recipient. A sculpture contains information about the game and at the same time it is the object of the game. This treatment of art opens up a vast range of possibilities for the recipient to add his own interpretations. However, this does not coincide with the artist’s intentions, for all additions enrich the essence of this object-sculpture. It was created in order to discover ever new meanings in play. To be unequivocal would be completely out of place here. Naturally, a negation of the rules governing the division between the “world of art” and the “everyday world” has for centuries been a premise for this understanding of a work’s function; for Bereś but one world exists: the world of human activity. Thus if his sculptures are to belong to this world, they must fulfil one condition — they must be up to date. And they are. At the same time they must be universal so as to remain legible irrespective of the particular circumstances and so they are not ascribed to the geographical zone in which they were created. And they are universal: for Bereś searches for such elements and for such links between them that would set into motion the most elementary mechanism, the most basic chains of reaction.

By solving the problems of universality, Bereś at the same time solves the problem of durability — a problem which is extremely important for sculptors. For centuries sculptors who wanted to preserve a form, fought with the raw material, and they chose resistant, hard materials. It is true that this increased the artist’s hardships but it also created a hope that the form engraved in granite would resist the effects of time. But despite this, after a time the sculpture turned to powder. The hardness of the material only delayed the moment of destruction. Thus Bereś does not count on the durability of the form, on the material trace of the sculptor’s activity, but on the durability of man’s psychological nature and his elementary reflexes.

The choice of material is the second basic selection a sculptor must make. Bereś chooses a raw material that is subordinate to him, one that can be made use of by setting it up in definite relations, and not, as is the case with traditional sculptures, by shaping it into preconceived forms. Therefore the problem of fighting with the material does not exist for this sculptor. But on the other hand one should not draw the conclusion that the question of raw materials is not at all important to Bereś. On the contrary: the artist is fascinated by the raw material — to such a degree that he does not make drawings of his works. The form emerges from the artist’s contacts with the material, contacts that conceal various inspirations and possibilities. This interest in the material and its implementation is especially evident in Bereś’s earlier works of the “Phantom” cycle, but it appears in all his work. And here, too, one can well observe the relation between Bereś’s sculptures and nature, in the sense of a natural environment. The artist is of the opinion that “one should not litter nature with artificially created forms”. He uses “natural” raw materials: wood (often unseasoned), leather bands, hemp strings. In his sculptures he retains the texture, the grains of the wood and cracks to which the chisel is applied only to the extent necessary to put the composition together. Thanks to this treatment of the material, Bereś’s sculptures really remain natural and “raw”, thanks to which they can be set up in the open air without danger of disturbing its harmony but also without danger of being deprived of their significance. It is obvious that Bereś consistently crosses the borderline between “art” and “nature” here, as he has crossed the borderline between the “world of art” and the “everyday world,” as he has crossed the borderline between the “creator” and the “spectator.” This consistent negation of all limits mapped out by tradition seems to me to be the very essential value of Bereś’s sculptures. And this quality makes it possible for him to hold a position beyond conventions and schools; it allows him to be a live and authentic artist, it keeps him from being petrified in the avant-garde.

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