Angela Carter: Performance from Poland (1979)
(The text was published in “The Performance Magazine”, No. 3, October/November 1979)
Jerzy Bereś and Zbigniew Warpechowski are the two most exciting artists working in the field of performance in Poland, perhaps in the whole of Eastern Europe, at the moment. Their work is very different—Bereś has a rare quality of tranquil lyricism while Warpechowski is harsher, barbed, satiric—but both share an extraordinarily unselfconscious use of the imagery of Christianity which, in Poland, remains a vital cultural fact. Both have a dynamism and a freshness that makes them unusually accessible, together with an emotionally direct straightforwardness.
Bereś, also a distinguished sculptor, tends to organise his work around themes of procession and ritual. He will process, naked, through a part, pausing at small altars he has built— an altar for birds, an altar for children, an altar for small animals. Or he will transform an art gallery into the venue for a sacra-mental meal —not of wine and bread but of vodka—”because vodka makes you glad”—and cake, “because people expect something special at a party”. Before he breaks the cake and pours the drink, he will paint himself with flowers; haven’t they come to see painting? Though Bereś often incorporates his woodcarvings into the events he creates with such luminous simplicity, his work itself is always performed in the first person and involves an exposition of the inherent beauty, dignity and infinite fragility of the human body. The naif element in his work relates it to certain Slavonic traditions of the holiness of innocence yet his underlying themes concern the nature of art itself.
Warpechowski is much younger. He utilises elements that verge on the grotesque, often starting from analogies between sport and religion, using the imagery of the cross and of Golgotha, the place of skulls. His performances involve ironic commentaries on the culture of the long distance cycle race. the epiphany of the footballer. He has been profoundly influenced by the Russian suprematist, Malevich.
Performances by Jerzy Bereś and Zbigniew Warpechowski at the Galerie Labyrinth, Lublin, Poland, October, 1978.
Bereś, a frail old man with long, grey hair, is clad in a cache-sexe made out of newspaper. He chops wood with an axe and lays a fire on a stone hearth.
He removes his cache-sexe and dons a tunic with the words: PHI LO-SOPHIC STONE written on the front in English, on the back in Polish. He wraps a large stone in his newspaper cache-sexe. He lays the parcel on the fire. He lights the fire.
He sits cross-legged in front of the fire until it has burned down to charred sticks. The room is full of bitter woodsmoke. He takes a jug of water and douses the smouldering remains of the fire.
He removes the stone, takes a bush, dips it in a jar of paint and signs his name on the stone with it.
Warpechowski’s performance took place in the courtyard outside the gallery. Low steps lead upwards to a small garden with beautiful trees.
The audience group themselves expectantly at the foot of the steps. A man goes round the audience, squirting their hands with perfumed deodorant from an aerosol. Warpechowski takes off his clothes. Beneath, he wears satin shorts. His torso, legs and arms are covered with newspaper clippings; prominent among them, a headline: KULTUR.
He dons a leather American footballer’s helmet.
From the sports bag, he produces a series of metal rods that bolt together in a cruciform. From a plastic bag in his holdall, he takes a number of crimson tags and attaches them to the palms of his gloves and the front of his plimsolls. Equipped with stigmata, he now carries his cross up the steps and inserts it into a stable base already set up under the trees.
His cross has a footrest. On one side of the footrest is painted the slogan: CHAMPION: on the other side, NOTHING ZONE. There are also loops of string hanging from the cross-means. He inserts his hands into these loops and mounts the cross.
He smiles, as if for photographers.
His sidekick approaches and offers his a bottle of coca-cola (now produced under licence in Poland). Warpechowski descends the cross and empties the bottle at one draught.
He throws the bottle over his shoulder.. It shatters on the paving stones, under the beautiful trees.
Anglo-Polski Art and Performance Polish Artists Tour of Britain.
2nd & 3rd October: Blue Bull, Westgate, Grantham.
5th & 6th October: Midland Group, Nottingham.
9th & 10th October: Academy Gallery, Liverpool.
13th & 14th October: Cotes Mill, Loughborough.
16th October: The Polytechnic, Wolverhampton.
18th & 19th October: Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.
20th & 21st October: Oval House, London SE11.
Introduction by Roland Miller and Shirley Cameron. Further information from 0476 67248.