Creative Fact. The Concept of Work of Art, part I (1978)

(The text was published in: Phantoms, Oracles, Altars, Stowarzyszenie Artystyczne Grupa Krakowska [Krakow Group Art Association], Kraków 1991)


When in the fifties, precisely in 1957-1958, influenced by a strong reflection on the fruitlessness of continuing the things I had learned in a good school — the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow — as a very good student of Xawery Dunikowski, feeling at the same time an equally strong aversion towards either merging into the then strong informal tendency, or following the fashion of Henry Moore, I was permeated by an overwhelming will to be independent of doctrinal treatment of techniques, of currently promoted or possible future tendencies, and I consciously took the position of an outsider. I decided not to exhibit for many years.

That moment became in effect the starting point of my creative way, and independence became the corner-stone of my attitude. Finding myself on a plane of direct contact with reality, that wasn’t veiled by technique or doctrine, I achieved a state of great inventiveness. When after some years — about 1960 — I was provoked to exhibit anyway, I felt it necessary to contact people. Dialogues with people named “spectators” or “recipients”, who would ask the question “what is this?”, appeared to be infinite, since the word “phantom” was only the title of a work, not a discipline such as sculpture, or a new artistic doctrine. So a direct contact with people-recipients became, besides my independence, the second constant feature of my creative way. The additional element of that open dialogue was the fact, that a spectator finally had no answer —at least in part — his own question “what is this?”, and in so doing became an active recipient.

In the following years, 1962-1965, I began to place my works in urban surroundings and create “situations”, for example in a street. The question “what is this?” was then replaced by the next: “what does it mean?” There the third feature of my artistic creation revealed itself , consisting in the fact, that every material element, sign or action has its own meaning, that it isn’t only a caption. That’s why, when in the years 1965-1967 the wave of happening reached us, my manifestations were a protest against this doctrinal approach to art. It wasn’t clearly understood, for I took part in group events. Therefore I executed the manifestation titled Prophecy I on January 6, 1968, in the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw to explain more clearly my attitude.

A big tree, blown down by the wind in Łazienki Park, was placed in the middle of the gallery after having been cut into pieces, including little twigs. At the announced time that evening I entered the hall wrapped in white and red linen, with an axe in my hand. After I had chosen —with the audience’s help — some needed pieces of wood, the rest of it was thrown aside near the wall and sprinkled with white paint. From the chosen elements I created the work, surmounted by a bow withe the bow-string made of white and red linen wrapped around my body until then. The arrow which drew the bow had a linen sheet, with “Prophecy I” written on it, tied in place of the arrow-head. Then I used my body fixing it into the work as well. The green imprint of my hand and a signature painted with my finger dipped in green paint squeezed out of a tube, finished the manifestation. The work was left at the exhibition. During the whole manifestation, the text of the following manifest was read out non-stop. Afterwards, it was painted on canvas and displayed as an element of the exhibition.



independent work-action

durable vestige

such are the elements of creative fact

every form of assuming attitude

towards existing reality

is its constituent part

apotheosis — dissent — others

Authentic creative fact

belongs to new

future reality.

Independent action of clearly deter-

mined personality

may warrant coming conscient

creative fact into being.

In fine arts conceiving work of art

as ideal product has devaluated

divinity of creative act — artist

has become a slave.

Production motivates itself practically —worship for product, dressed sometimes

in great content — monument — spaceship —religious picture is idolatry.

Way of honouring real creative facts in art and science is evidence of society’s culture. Artist’s value is sum of facts.

Professional qualifications as well as market

position are usurpation.

True creativity can be received

actively, by discovery — consumer’s attitude —passive belongs to production sphere.

Jerzy Bereś


A short description of the action by Wieslaw Borowski appeared in “Współczesność”(Contemporaneity), whereas Mr Hamilton sneered at the event in the weekly “Kultura” (Culture). Irritated by Mr Hamilton, I used editions of “Kultura” to light fires in my next manifestation in Cracow titled Prophecy II. On March 1, 1968, an authentic country cart loaded heavily with fire-wood was placed in the Krzysztofory Gallery. In the evening, dressed in white and red linen, I suggested lighting several fires along the gallery walls to the audience, which was done by means of newspapers and small pieces of wood. While the fires were burning, I stood in the middle of the gallery and asked the people to unload the cart and put the logs under my feet. The logs were arranged in such a way that by standing on them I found myself at the top of a high stack. At the same time a man’s voice could be heard reading non-stop the manifest titled “Creative Act I”. Standing at the top of the stack I asked the people present to paint the emptied cart with blue paint prepared for the purpose — which was done with brushes or even hands. Meanwhile, I mounted a great, symbolic bow with a bow-string of red and white and the inscription: “Prophecy II” — at the top of the stack. After fixing my body — myself into the work, on the stake, when the cart was already blue, I asked for a burning chip from the smouldering fires, and, blowing out the flame, I signed the monument with the charred end. The stack, the blue cart, and the manifest hung on the wall, together with the photographs added on the next day, constituted the exhibition titled “Vestiges of Event”. On November 11, 1968, I executed on more anti-happening manifestation titled Bread Painted Black. With a noose on my neck, the end of which was tied to a hook in the wall I sat down at the table in the Krzysztofory cafe and cutting fresh bread I painted every slice with black paint, putting them afterwards in a circle on the table. After that, shouting “that’s enough!”, I took the noose of thick cord off my neck, wrapped it in a daily newspaper and with a stroke of a sharp knife I pinned it to the middle of the table. Finishing, I asked the people present in the cafe for a live flower. I was lucky, somebody had a bouquet and offered me on red rose. I tied it to the handle of the vertically protruding knife with the end of the rope untied from the hook.

The subject of controversy with the doctrinaire trend in the Foksal and Krzysztofory galleries was — among other things — problem of attitude towards the spectator. Opposing stylistics of all kinds — flirtation with pop-art spectators included — as well as to other trends indulging bourgeois — or otherwise — mannered public tasted, I was decidedly against ignoring spectators. I treated them as partners in open dialogue. Object-vehicles to place in various situations in reality, created by me, like: Polish Wheelbarrow (1966-1967) with a circular track painted on a street, Miraculous Equipage (1968), Scooter with footprints on tarmac, or Carriage (1968) as a protest against violence and death, with multiple “no no no” printed on a pavement, were proof of this. I began to replace imagined motion existing in my works until then with the real thing at the turn of 1968 and 1969, and because of the lack of occasions for direct manifestations I began to create instruments for manifesting.

They are objects without the features of a finished product and with as simple a construction as possible, so that they can be set into motion by an audience. These objects are programmed in such a way that both the works and their semantic layers reveal themselves in full after being set into motion. This is particularly visible when a meaningful sound is used. Spectator-man is necessary here for the work to exist. Cart, Clapper, Diplomatic Ping-Pong and others can be examples. A particular and exceptional example of taking part by recipients in a work of art was the program, written by me together with a drawing, on a sheet of paper titled Living Monument Titled Arena, on the occasion of the symposium “Wroclaw 70”, which was realized two years later by Wroclaw students with a great amount of work, spontaneously and disinterestedly. I was invited at the end to a symbolic unveiling of the monument.

On October 6, 1972, in an art centre in Södertälje, Sweden, during the opening of their next retrospective exhibition of foreign art, after making a circle of multi-coloured footprints and hanging up a symbolic flag, created from slots of wood previously covering my hips, I completed the first simulation of transfiguration, titled Transfiguration I. I divided my body with red paint, and simultaneously cut bread into slices. After that I invited the people to eat it. Transfiguration II took place in a Desa Gallery in Cracow on April 14, 1973. On May 2, 1973, in the BWA Gallery in Lublin, Transfiguration III was performed, titled Author’s Altar. Walking around by means of a rope tied to four concrete flagstones, I printed a circle of blue footprints, then signed a sheet of paper with blue paint, too, and laid it down on the flagstones. After that I did the same in red, yellow and green. Then I untied the wooden slats from my hips and, together with the now useless rope, threw them out of the colourful circle. I went naked inside the circle and divided my body with vertical lines of black paint, simultaneously chopping a wooden block in two. Then I divided my body horizontally and chopped the wood. Then there followed a horizontal division of my body and chopping of wood, and then further divisions and chopping until there were only small chips. In the following course of the manifestation I knelt down by the flagstones, crumpled the signed papers, put the wood on them and asked for matches. Someone from among the audience that had assembled in great numbers, handed me matches with which I lit the fire. When I was sure that the fire would burn, I went out, asking the audience to guard it. The audience stayed there until the last spark went out.

Apart from spoken legend there is no documentation of it. Someone among those present took photographs, but apparently they did not come out well. Lack of documentation certainly has its objective causes, but subjective ones to some degree as well. Equally, I don’t make sketches, full-scale models — which excludes me from taking part in competitions for monuments. Nor do I rehearse before manifestations — which places them in definite opposition to theatre. I don’t make documentations, for these activities are separate facts, that could overshadow the principal creative fact, thus introducing vagueness, of which I am a decided opponent. All efforts to protect against, speculate with, or correct documentations are alien to me. I am conscious of the risk of suffering the sacrifice of absence on the career market, but I think that documentation is placed already in the reception zone, and that someone else should do it. The problem od sacrifice in wider formulation — as a philosophical reflection — has been appearing-since the beginning of my activity. On the other hand, unmasking appearances, that had grown around this problem, became at the end of the sixties an additional feature of my creative way. Contemporary man, having produced predestination for ritualizing all conventions in the course of centuries inside him, easily undergoes replacing an authentic value with an appearance.

Between September 28 and October 1, 1973, the next manifestation titled Auction took place in the Pi Gallery in Cracow. It was a three-day event, the starting point of which was transfiguration — not of my body, but of my personality — into a bundle of fire-wood, and then submitting it for an authentic auction. When my daughter Bettina outbid others for it with a bid of 4000 zł on the third day, and I got it back, I burnt it in a furnace. That fact finished the action. Unmasking hypocrisy, ruling not only in commercial attitudes towards art, but in in conceiving other spheres of inter-human relations as well: justice, sex, policy, honour, was the aim of the manifestation titled Wooden Road performed in the Gruga Park in Essen, West Germany, between August 29 and September 5, 1974. On the first day a commercial station was founded, where after transfiguration the auction began, lasting for the whole of the following week. At the same time on the next days in chosen places in the park I mounted other “stations” with object-instruments, giving them to the audience to set into motion. Only Political Sign-Post, five meters high, was driven by the wind. On the last day of the action, pushing Romantic Wheelbarrow before me, I printed green footprints on the park pavement, thus connecting the individual stations and marking out the Wooden Road announced in the title, annexing and intruding into a greater area of the park. Burning the bundle of wood that my wife got back at the auction for 5000 DM on Sacrificial Altar built on the central lawn, was the final moment of the action. News of the manifestation was far-reaching, for the press of the whole region reported it in detail. On December 9, 1974, taking advantage of my participation in the event called “Contart”, I put on a manifestation titled Altar of Face in the Palace of Culture in Warsaw. While the face, transfigured into the stake of wood, was burning on the altar, at a separate table with wine and bread on it I poured wine into glasses, decorating a while linen cloth I had on my naked body with red flowers. I mounted bread into the Altar after the fire went out, together with the decorated linen which was a garment turned into a table-cloth. The Altar is constructed in such a way, that after lifting its top the mark of burnt “face” is visible and the sound of a gong is heard. Wine was drunk by the present people.

During “Varnisage Day” at Szadkowski’s Metal Works during the course of my individual manifestation, I changed the Symbolic Wheelbarrow I came into the factory with into a table equipped with devices, by using which the audience, mainly workers, could produce leaflets with the inscription “face” and take them away as souvenirs. I changed the consumption function of bread into an aesthetic one, and the audience could watch slices of bread painted blue and beautifully arranged on the Beautiful Altar. At the end they could drink my personality transfigured into vodka poured into glasses at the Pure Altar and — when invited they drank it. Symbolic Wheelbarrow was used once again in another context, during the manifestation in the market square in Zamość, on November 15, 1975, titled Tap of Honour, and was reported by Andrzej Mroczek in a document published after the action.

In that manifestation a contact with recipients was the most multi-layered one — beginning from the purely ludic layer expressed by the sentences: “a fool, naked in such a frost”, “something is happening in Zamość at last”, through the layer of imagination, expressed by a shout: “history has revived!” and the intellectual layer with a sentence: “from a flint to a match”, and ending with the layer of philosophical reflection expressed by questions: “what is more important, health or honour?”, “is there something in it — such a sacrifice?”, etc. Stratification of all kinds of contact is very significant in my activity, to avoid misunderstandings having sources in false opinions created the people who have never taken part or been witnesses to my actions. For unlike in Lap of Honour, in the manifestation called Fire of Art executed on January 8, 1976 in Koszalin, in spite of using means like exposing strip-tease, nakedness, literal crossing out of genitals with a line, which was done with paint and brush at a stall with the inscription “erotic sacrifice”, a contact in the ludic layer was absent. The whole action, as well as its reception, by provoking imagination, was placed in intellectual and philosophical layers’ frames, the proof of which was a comprehensive discussion after the manifestation, with all the participants. The course of the action had three phases: in the first titled Conventional Ritual there was strip-tease, after which a big plate, with bare feet and shoe prints upon it, remained for the exhibition. In the second one, with the title Vital Ritual there were — after the erotic sacrifice — two Vital Altars, where I was breaking bread, simultaneously decorating my body with green paint in plant shapes. Pouring vodka into glasses was accompanied by painting the ornament of red flowers on my body and — at the end of that phase — at a stand with Mental Altar written on it I smashed the empty vodka bottle against a stone. In the third, last phase, I put on a cloth with the inscription Fire of Art and lit a fire using an edition “Sztuka” magazine (Art), thus disclosing and exposing the double meaning of the motto of the whole manifestation, that is: on one side a living man with the inscription Fire of Art, on the other — a real fire from wood and „Art” magazine.

Then a discussion ensued on whether it is necessary or not to suffer sacrifices for art’s sake, and on the difference between the meanings of words like “altar” and “ritual”. There was also an effort to settle what is alive and what is dead in art. The next action titled Ritual of Sincerity had a clear feature of philosophical reflection. The frank manifestation of the fact of mutual mark, that wood impresses on me and vice versa: I, by my activity on wood. After painting green fingerprints of wood on my naked body I impressed the red marks of my hands on the flat end of a log off a great tree trunk, and after washing my hands I made Altar of Sincerity out of it, at which drinking a bottle of brandy with the people present became an event decidedly different from drinking brandy on other occasions. Altar of Sincerity is the authentic document of that manifestation. It is -an object with no features of a finished product, resembling a table with prints of human hands and on it an empty brandy bottle with a piece of white linen with a green leaf painted on it, tied around it the cloth I wore on my hips in the final phase of the action. On the other hand the film made during the action ant the set of slides can fulfil only information functions concerning the event, but they aren’t documents of that creative fact. They are in turn the documents of a photographer’s and cinematographer’s actions, they are works with the features of finished product. I emphasize this moment, because the situation described above — first: discloses clearly two diametrically different notions of work of art; work of art as a creative fact, work of art as an ideal product; second: unmasks a common practice today, where an authentic fact becomes a pretext for producing a showy product. In the sphere of inter-human relations such an output-product fulfils the function of intermediary.

All through the ages many painters, scalp tors, and then graphic artists worked and still work aiming at works of art conceived in such a way. In connection with civilizational development the zone of direct contacts increases, the need for such works of art grows, devices are made still more perfect, and disputes over what is better: conceptual texts or pictures, photography or sculpture, are purely workshop disputes. I oppose the zone of direct contact to the zone of indirect one. With the first I connect creative fact without the features of a finished product, and active reception. It doesn’t exclude, it assumes the necessity of reliable verbal, photographic film information on authentic creative fact. The problem consists in preserving the natural sub sequence of originating anything. I consider favouring products in comparison with creative facts to be a threatening deformation of our times. Treating artists’ missions as a defence of humanity — this substantial one, individual — I consider opposing such deformations to be necessary, besides — of course — the fight against doctrinalism. For although there is no leading doctrine now, like informal or happening were, many tendencies conceived doctrinairely exist, and the threat of total mannerism hasn’t passed, the evidence of which is eclecticism, common among young artists. So against the “empty sig” concept, series of pictures, prints or photographs where action — depicted or photographed facts, is only a pretext and the presently modern performances, where subject matter not often ecological, hides an absence of original thought, I set meaningful manifestations, concrete in relation to place and time it takes place in. The following manifestations can be examples of my opinion: Existential Ritual (December 8, 1976, in Lublin), Philosophical Ritual (December 19, 1976, in Torun) and Ritual of Culture (February 4, 1977, in Warsaw). The manifestation titled Work of Life in the STU Gallery in Cracow was deeply rooted in the context of my own creative way. Before it I put a strip of jute with the inscription Work of Life, a block of wood and an axe. After the audience had come, I took off my clothes and covered my hips with a piece of white linen. Painting my feet with white paint I made a circle of white footprints on the floor. I entered the circle and chopped the block in two. I signed it, putting the date on the inside surfaces with green paint. Then I put it together again, tied it with the white linen taken off my hips, and I put on the jute with the inscription Work of a Life. Dressed in such a way, painting my feet, I went out of the white circle leaving green footprints behind me. There was the document remaining, consisting of a small log tied up with white linen, and a piece of jute with a green inscription. On December 21, 1977 in the “Pod Jaszczurami” Club in Cracow Artistic Mass took place, the effect of which was the exhibition consisting of Altar of Creation, Altar of Exhibition and Altar of Contact. Alas, after two days the exhibition was thrown onto a rubbish heap.


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