Answer to Wiesława Werzchowska’s questions (1997)
(The text was published in exhibition catalogue: Maria Pinińska-Bereś, Studio Gallery, Warsaw, November 1997)
We were planning to have an interview. However, Maria Pinińska-Bereś decided to answer my questions in a written form rather. In this way, a most interesting text was created which provided an excellent introduction to her works. The following questions encouraged her to write the text:
- You studied in the class of Xawery Dunikowski. One cannot probably imagine two more contradicting conceptions of art than yours and that of your master. Do you owe anything to him?
- You create your own art universe. If I were to name it, its title would be “From a Woman’s Perspective.” Would you accept such a title. And how closely are you connected with the feminist movement which, in a certain way, encompassed you?
- Your soft sculptures? objects? or arrangements? originate from more tailor-like than sculpture-like materials, while a characteristic domination of pink underlines their sensual intimacy. Was it you who discovered such substance and colour, or, perhaps, it was the substance that discovered you?
- Your works fascinate me with their subtle play between the ironic distance and tenderness for sentiment, dream, and eroticism. To what extent is this game conscious?
- If you had infinite possibilities of performance, what would you like to create?
I had a very positive contact with my Professor. The period of work in his class was very enjoyable. What Dunikowski required from us was authenticity. He didn’t tolerate imitating, or imitating his style in particular. He taught me to treat art as the highest value. I think that its he to whom I owe care for form. He was a person appreciating humour and, despite the fact that he created monuments, he disliked pathos. Maybe owing to my contacts with my Professor there is a certain distance in my works, perception of paradox, and a little bit of irony. Owing to him, I got acquainted with the “taste” of art and was able to step on a difficult path towards my own expression. Dunikowski was a “professional” sculptor. He worked a lot for orders. I realised rather early that I belonged to a different era and formation.
Early at the beginning of my work, I felt a necessity for searching for a new definition of sculpture. The postulate was to distinguish a sculpture form from its statuary aspect. It was a dramatic struggle. By denying a traditional sculpture conception and imposing on myself quite a new system of work, referring to other non-artistic domains of woman’s activities, I made a break-through in my work and found myself in a circle of womanly affairs. At that time, it was perceived as quite absurd and crazy action. Having rejected the conventional, I had to reach out to my own ego. My ego was a woman with a whole burden of problems connected with womanhood. The substance is one thing and the form with its problems quite a different one. Both of them were crucial issues for me.
I got rid of the weight in my sculpture. I always dreamt about moving around my sculptures without any (man’s) help. Since the beginning of the 1970s, my sculptures have become soft. In the early 1960s, I started to sew rugs placed at concrete and heavy Rotundas. Later, I sew the fabric, stuffed, and modelled it. My sponges were covered and, by using their physical properties and resilience of the fabric, they were modelled and coated with acrylic paint.
I have to emphasise the fact that I could never sew well and the rejection of my strengths and skills acquired at the Academy of Fine Arts was a conscious and dramatic decision. It meant a support for new and yet unknown art, or intuitive possibilities. In consequence, I developed towards modelled sculpture, but in quite a different way than my previous and coloured sculpture. Colour serves the meaningful sphere and sometimes even moulding. I started a certain dialogue with Moore, also working on the internal side of the form. As early as in “Gorsety” (Corsets), I showed their interiors (1965-68).
I contributed to the birth of the installation. My “Mebelki”(Little Pieces of Furniture), 1968-85, their arrangements, and mutual relations could serve as the starting point for the current installation “fashion”. My sculptures are often composed of loose arrangements comprising two or three elements. Due to the substance, my works contained the drama of passing. It complied with the unselfishness of youth and the spirit of time. Those were the years just before happening and performance came into existence.
As to whether my work is or is not feminist, the opinions among critics are divided. Some of them put it within the feminist movement, while others, e.g. Jerzy Hanusek, called only some pieces feminist. The first time I came across calling my works feminist was in the late 1970s. Andrzej Kostołowski wrote in his “Żywy róż” [Living Pink] that my work was pioneering for the feminist art in the world. He is a reliable and knowledgeable critic. What was my attitude towards those revelations? I was astonished and began to analyse both my works and the evolution of my feelings and attitudes. In the course of my creative work, i.e. in the 1960s and later in 1970s, I did not hear about feminism. As an 11-12-year-old child, however, I felt some sort of humiliation and disappointment in the fact that I was a “woman”. My brothers had more personal freedom than myself and hopes were always placed in them. I perceived my biology and all its consequences as a curse. At that time, all stereotypes and superstitions concerning the role of the woman were very strong. My family was of a patriarchal type with a strong domination of the man, or the provider of the family. Also, the role of the church was not to be overestimated. In the course of growing up and later when I entered my adult life, I “collected” situations, acts of behaviour, customs, and slogans which I considered unjust and humiliating for women. My observations were carefully concealed. In 1965, when I broke with the workshop type of sculpture, while looking for authenticity in art, I turned to my own personality and that womanly reservoir was suddenly released. I deeply experienced exhibition varnishing days. It happened that sometimes I was embarrassed with my own works. There was a certain breach of standards in them. During the 1970s, sad incidents happened. My works were destroyed by an unknown perpetrator. However, I did not perceive my path as mission. It was rather my determination. In the 1960s and even in the 1970s, nobody spoke about feminism in our country. However, in 1979, I was invited to participate in an international feminist exhibition in Gemeentemuseum Den Hague. My first contacts with European feminists brought disappointment. They treated art too instrumentally. And I felt as an artist first of all. For me, the most important thing was to make women’s works of high quality. In the second half of the 1980s and in the 1990s, I often reached out to the works of the past.
The womanly factor of the substance, as well as using the domain of the sex locates those works also in the womanly or feminist category. Formerly, women were prevented from talking about the matters concerning sexes in public. This was a feminist attitude. Owing to women artists of the 1960s and 1970s, this subject matter is accessible to young people today.
I have already said that my sculptures are painted. I would like to add that pink, which was the bodily colour in my early “Little Pieces of Furniture”, and the colour of the body parts in drawers, closets, screens etc., with time became symbolic. It was juxtaposed with neutral white and later with brown, also perceived as a bodily colour: the brown of skin and the pink of mucus. As to the features you asked about in your question, that is the play between the ironic distance and tenderness for sentiment, dream, and eroticism, I think that when we put forward the postulate of authenticity, sooner or later, the features of our character and the whole sphere of our ego will affect our work. However, there also exists a possibility of choice and a means of manifesting our personality.
And the last question about dreams… Dunikowski put forward a postulate of masterpiece as a drive for life. Yet, he immediately warned us, with a slight smile, not to create a ‘museum”. Therefore, the authenticity requirement was necessary. Was I able to realise this postulate and make this dream come true to some extent? In 1988, in the text entitled “Kamień w wodę” (A Stone into the Water), published by the Stowarzyszenie Artystyczne Grupa Krakowska, Andrzej Kostołowski wrote about my work as follows: Those two figures, or objects in the stage of relaxing in an armchair, perform their relations not by means of words or gestures (they do not have any faces, arms, or legs), but through a dialogue which is carried out with the help of purely plastic or artistic elements such as size, inclination angles, arrangements, proportions, surface attributes, subtlety of colours etc. A pink ball moving among them is as if a condensation of the attempt at expressing emotional relations (?). All that creates a more profound comment on the issue of coexistence of man and woman than it is displayed in any other works on the subject since the times of Moore or Giacometti. Moreover, the author claims that “Król i Królowa” (The King and the Queen) is one of the greatest masterpieces of the Polish sculpture of the last fifty years and that it is comparable to the works by Kobro, Szapocznikow, Krasiński, or Bereś.
And my other dreams… This pulsating core of creativity situated on the border between reality and dream: to verbalise dreams, to define them in order to make them imperative. And there is no way out for them. The same as with the dreams about one’s own poetic position built of plants, dirt, and stones. I have been subjected to this imperative against the conditions and powers for decades. Therefore, maybe it is better to leave them where they belong and at such a stage that they penetrate art drop by drop, giving it colour and life. They are present in us as an ocean or a wave. They reach our hearts and then, suddenly, they assume a concrete shape, form, colour, and word play.
Spring of 1997