Maria Hussakowska: Thing Pink (1999)
(The text was published in exhibition catalogue: Maria Pinińska-Bereś, Bunkier Sztuki Gallery, Kraków 1999)
Evidently the definition of colour for a physicist is relatively easy. Research into the significance of colour in various cultural codes is exceptionally well developed. The history and theory of colour within art history oscillates between absolutization and marginalizing the problem, while considerations surrounding colour take place internally in specific disciplines which is supposed to make the problem dealt with more detailed. But certainly according to Stephen Melville, who tries to achieve its De-construction, it appears to us as: subjective and objective, physically defined and (constructed) culturally; completely subordinated and transferred an infinite number of times – colour may reveal itself as an unimaginable scandal.1S. Melville, Color has not yet been named, in: D-construction and the Visual Arts, Cambridge University Press 1994, p. 45. This scandalizing aspect concerns the absence of concrete settlements, fluidity of borders and concepts with the help of which we will attempt to define the phenomenon. It is dependent always on the plane against which we view it, and often it happens that during subsequent changes of space exceptionally promising formulas display their unsuitability. In subjecting a colour to De-construction we must try, therefore, to specify the area on which the observations are to take place. If we decide on art history then again we enter into fairly boggy ground for these stories within the history of art are legion and they are dependent on the accepted point of observation; just like it appears almost obvious to us that the so-called New art history will employ different categories, and the conservative variety of the discipline different again, so it would be fitting to get ready for even greater diversity just as soon as possible.
With which historical courses can Pinińska’s pink objects fit in? Is floating pink, from the canvas painted during martial law, the same as that spreading al 1 over the floor in Stream? Are the soft objects sewn from pink ticking of undoubtedly phallic inception utilizing primarily the carnality of the colour, or may be stronger expose the unequivocally linen-bed clothing traits of the material?
Returning to the first question, we may begin – for the sake of order yet without greater faith in success – from a superficial glance at how that colour functions in the so-called canon of twentieth century innovators. Although almost at once at the start of this course we hit on Picasso and his pink period, the cold tones and miserableness give warning that searching in this sphere is rather aimless. More promising appears Matisse with his singing colours folded on the canvases teintes plates. Up until 1917 pink, and rather various pinks often appeared in Mondrian’s compositions. Klee equally liked the colour. It appears also in the, as if, opposite pole of surrealist subjects: both in those found – as a synonym of kitsch accepted by us –for an example we may take the collections of pink glass swans2These pink glass knick-knacks appeared years later in the title story of a collection of essays by Lucy Lippard devoted to women’s art. found at flea markets; and also the objet d’art created by us.
In post-war art – almost parallel with Pinińska’s – Yves Klein, at the turn of the 1960s introduces pink pigment to Monochromes, Reliefs, and Cosmogony. At the artist’s last exhibition3Here it refers to the large export – intended for the European circuit – exhibition prepared by Sidre Stich who worked equally on an extensive catalogue. The exhibition was shown in 1994 at the same time in Ludwig in Cologne and Dusseldorf, and then from February 1995 to the 23rd April in the Hayward Gallery, London and Reine Sofia in Madrid. this little-known aspect of his creativity was especially exposed by the curator – Sindre Stitch. In examining the material from the exhibition and the violently pink sponge objects displayed there in the form of an installation it is difficult not to think of certain concurrences – in both cases we are dealing with a new category of objet d’art for that time, which I shall call thing pink. Klein’s spatial monochromes, evenly covered with pigment, level the possibility of the isolation of the pedestal and are – at first glance – so far from what was happening in sculpture of the time that they have been passed over by those commenting on post-war matters.4They do not figure – as neither does Klein –in Rosalind Krauss’ Passages in Modern Sculpture. The existence of these objects, between artistic categories, results from a specific, then a method known only to Klein, discovery of such an intensity of colour which would be an instant unshakeable mark of its essence, devoid at the same time of all references to its derivatives in art.5So Virginai Dawn related, in 1982, years afterwards, Rauschenberg’s comment on Klein, probably the most influential owner of a New York gallery (Dawn Gallery). V. Dawn, California Impressions of Ives Klein in Yves Klein, exhibition catalogue Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, 1983, p. 275.
Hence at this moment one of the currents breaks off – the history of colour in the cannon of innovators in art history stops being of interest to us.
Criticism has been paying attention to the distinct sensitivity of female artists, and women looking at pictures, to colour since the mid nineteen seventies. Then, on the wave of search for the identity of women artists and their art, there is created the categories of forma) and technical differentiation. Yet before one gets to this at the beginning of the seventies it was considered that women’s art possessed no specific qualities and the very search for just such traits was considered to be a sign of discrimination. Yet already by mid-decade their searching and specifics are the basic problem presented by the practiced criticism of a woman.6L. Alloway, Topics in American Art since 1945, W.W. Norton & Company INC, New York 1975, p. 270. The situation was signalized at the time – live – by the gifted Alloway through almost female intuition shows that moment of breakthrough, change in optics which plays a part equally in Maria Pinińska’s art.
Recalling Michele Monterlay’s important text for feminist reflection – which appeared also in the same decade – Craig Owens writes in a key article for an understanding of the links of post-Modernism and feminism that not possessing a guaranteed place in culture, in order to speak a woman must take on a male position. Perhaps this is why femininity is often equal led to a masquerade, a false representation, simulation and seduction… not only do they not have anything to lose, but their outwardness in relation to the systems representing western culture serves to lay bare its limits.7C. Owens, Dyskurs Innych: Feministki i post-modernizm (Others’ Discourse: Feminists and postmodernism, in Postmodernism. An Anthology of Translations) Baran and Suszczyński, Krakow 1997, p. 425. Do Pinińska’s things pink have just such a critical and denouncing character?
In research into the would-be colourist predilection one needs to constantly remember the historical context; are we talking about a colour used by an artist disguising her femininity (appearing as if through her subconscious and not artistic strategy) or equally the usage of a colourful emblem of gender.
Undoubtedly the colour pink is assigned in our culture to a girl); a toddler of this sex receives such a layette – this is an unwritten law in the customs closest to folklore, yet represented equally in other circles. Could the perpetual usage of the colour by an artist have been written into the system of cultural expectations?
In the incidence of the ever increasing – over the course of the 1970s – number of Pinińska’s pink works everything on the surface is clear. Yet here we come across the paradoxes of general nature and specifically Polish – at that time the Polish People’s Republic. Is the signifying of one’s separateness through a „non-artistic”, exceptionally until recently, underwear pink an expectational gesture – in this artistic context? Does the artist venture in advance whether it will mean something different for women, and be differently received by men? Has the so-called vernissage public al ready determined its gender? If yes, then which part of the auditorium’s reaction is the most important?
In the recently popular conceptions concerning the conditionings of perception, determined by the gender of the observer, departing from the model – considered until recently in feminist reflection to be almost a certainty – in which the looker takes a masochistic or narcissistic position. Now this process is seen as dynamic and complex, roles change and with them the male point of view is also undertaken so what we have to deal with here is a “double-identification” of the looker.8T. Modelski, The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory, Methuen, London 1988, pp. 26-27. Yet is that the way it is when we come into contact with openly female art, do we resign from the man-observer sitting in us then?
To all these question one could add a few more, concentrating round fashion, which influences to a very high degree the colourist predilections –and the reception of art – not only of the chance visitors to galleries.
In the first half of the 1970s in point of fact it was an extremely fashionable colour (and it started with the fascination with the culture of swinging London in the 1960s), damned only in the underwear version from M H D, while being valued the most in youth fashion though not only. (my violently pink shoes brought from Budapest in Mściwoj Olewicz’s assemblage are one of the proofs.) I can’t omit it because Carol Zemel is right that the looker will not only pay attention to what the work is presenting but also will immediately notice the image being accompanied by the theatre of femininity, so dressing up and making up, every woman getting dressed in the morning decides who she is going to be that day, and going up to a picture starts to decode the use of disguise.9C. Zemel, Postmodern Pictures of Erotic Fantasy and Social Space, Genders 4, University of Texas Press, March 1989, p. 39. If femininity is to be marked by the vivid pink fashionable this season, then obviously the artist knows what to wear. And links with fashion in these times could turn out to be really dangerous links, enough to recall the problems of boys with long hair, not only at school, but on television where according to the actual political course certain youth groups could, or could not perform, for it suddenly occurred that all hostility against the system is identified with the hair styles of the idols, and the length of hair with moral degeneration.
Hence putting oneself down for that specific form of `conspiracy` could expose one to repression which did not apply in the world of art. I have written about this in more detail, emphasizing the criticism of Pinińska’s work Is a Woman a Human Being?10M. Hussakowska, A somewhat different aspect of the 1970s, the materials of the methodological seminar organized by the Institute of Art History at the Jagiellonian University, December 1997, Art during the Polish People’s Republic. Methods and subject of research (to be published)., when that most fashionable of last season’s bathing costumes in her work is a metaphor for alt femininity.
Over the course of the nineteen seventies pink – alt the time more vivid and deep – quickly frees itself from its descriptive functions and no longer is the colour of the body, but a mark of alt female carnality. It becomes alt the more aggressive; in accordance with the vogue and possibilities of polymers take on a glow(ing) quality unmet before. Its ambiguity is emphasized: marked is, at the same time, femininity in the historical dimension – and this “from the author’s” one.
The aspects of fashion used by the artist, in which – as Barthes taught us to see – the dream of identicality accompanies the desire to stand out, embodiment in somebody else,11R. Barthes, The Fashion System, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Ange les 1990, p. 256 (1967 French edition). shows the conscious appeal to the paradoxes which appeared at the meeting point of modernist art and popular culture. Her things pink are attractive, amusing, sexy – as postulated Claes Oldenburg – and devilishly intelligent. One may equally associate them with Californian free thinking which yielded the refined sports wear with the logo think pink and a pink spot-things desirable at the end of the 1980s, beginnings of the 1990s.
Performances, besides pink objects –which obviously are not always, and to the end, pink play an important role in Pinińska’s creative activity. They are activities taking place in limited time, leading to a process of disappearance before our eyes, during which, at the moment of exhaustion with the whole of obviousness we realize that there is nothing left for us – besides the memory of them, as Marina Abramovic put it, that other important artist for the art of the last decades.12M. Abramovic in conversation with Heidi Grundmann in: Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. by K. Stiles and P. Selz, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles 1996, p. 759.
Pinińska likes to start her tale of performance from the participation in The Panoramic Sea Happening of 1967 – when she was invited by Tadeusz Kantor, and later in fact ignored – walking up and down the beach in a long raincoat with suitcases in hands inciting alt kinds of comment, most often undertaking the extremely topical motif for the time of escape to Sweden. It was this aspect that probably so irritated Kantor, who did not like any political literalness, that he preferred to dispense with her participation – in a way pretty typical for him, that is by ignoring the unfortunate incident. Connecting in a certain way, or initiating – as she herself wants – a circle of Kantorian wanderers with enormous amounts of luggage, she intended to emphasise with its non-adaptability the absurdity of conventions – in this instance beach ones. From this incident one may follow how the search for identity becomes the leitmotif for her creative output.
The defacing and masking of traces of femininity, hiding the needs of their articulation, are themes typical for performance of the 1970s. Letter-Kite can be seen as a sarcastic – or simply ironic –comment to one of the ways of female behavior model led in our culture, identified with the attitude I’m sorry that I’m alive. The words Sorry, that I was, that I am this spell is placed on the pink tail of a kite which flies off into infinity at the end of the act. The result of this gesture becomes– originating from the self same year (1976) – Farewell to Apollo, which in actual fact is the trampled – perhaps not brutally, for it is sweetened by the author’s commentary – Farewell. Numerous, pink finger-prints on the standard indicate, however, the desire for domination. And so the subsequent standard is al ready The Author’s Standard (1979), of course pink and introduced to the world of art with fitting ritual: taking place with it the author’s own pilgrimage, played out in various places a composition on a flute to its honour. A small, white throw attached to the flagstaff, signalled another event of a year previously Pasage Beyond the Quilt, during which the author’s so female a pink achieves – after many ups and downs – the innocence of white with which it also identified. This event, paraphrasing well-known historical events – extremely numerous and always unambiguously il lustrating male heroism, the art of war, the genius of strategy – refer to a notably more subtle battle played out within the artist, between her ideals of universal art and therefore the neutral white and the increasingly strong pink of female carnality, which already then dominated for good the objects created by her.
In the installation Soap Bubbles again a white and trapezium (why?) quilt, pierced by the flagpole of the pink standard covered in soap bubbles, blown by the artist, dressed in white though already clearly mocking the white and amused by the significance carried by it.
Pink and white change meanings in one more of the artist’s activities – the Banner of 1980. In this poetic, short-lived occurrence, which took place on snowy fields, the annotation white was written in pink melting in front of the on-lookers eyes, it was read also differently. The context of political-social events struck in an obvious way – the calling of white red – in spite of all the facts was known perfectly to everyone. It became even more clear in the public space of the gallery where the public could, besides the documentation of the annotation melting in the snow, look at the curling roll on the floor, made from chute linen formed into the shape of the word white. A prop in the form of a banner, stretched on the tress, strengthened the presence of political connotations. In this case extremely private, the author’s colour fulfils hence a supplementary role, the possibility of changes of reference become manifest.
Annexing a fragment of the hill, at Świeszyno during the plenary that took place there in 1980, the author, roping off with string an area and marking the stones within this area with pink, decided to return to dialogue with art and in a mocking yet poetic way she showed the ephemera nature of artistic acts in relation to the eternity that is nature.
Invited to take part in the Festival of Women’s Art at the Poznan Gallery O.N she set about the great Laundry… of feminism. She marked out her territory, collected imponderables of clearly archaic origin, yet connected with her personal history, for on the metal scrubbing board she had washed her daughter’s nappies–what would pampers have to say, for them probably completely improbable–and earlier putting on an appropriate suit, that being a pink apron, she started the female ritual. After the end of the act the apron transforms into a standard and triumphantly hangs above the whole installation, while the white sheets taken from the bucket are hung on the line and the letters were painted on then form the word FEMINISM. This is one of the author’s most unambiguous commentaries in the face of the trials of identifying her and her art with the then increasingly clearly visible formation of Polish feminism. (This intricate question complicates itself and changes in time so it will require a commentary.)
Live Pink is the title of a performance which took place in front of Cracow BWA within the framework of the IX International Cracow Meetings in November 1981. After having planted and earthed up a rose bush, after crowning the work with her already ritual impaling of the standard-apron’s flagpole, the artist asked a question will roses blossom pink next year in Poland? – which in the tense political atmosphere sounded even Cassandrian. So, the woman-gardener-artist is full of doubt and not only concerning the fate of the fragile plant. However, she is trying to fulfil the expectations, writing herself into the role of an artist cooperating with nature, and planting a pink rose she is both trying to idealize and paraphrase the gesture of giving new life.
Martial law is an obvious censorship in her activities. There are only letters entrusted to nature and then found in mud as the artist recalls.
In 1984 she will walk into the crowd wearing a black suit and holding a broom, and as the effect of her symbolic activities will hang a standard-broom with the inscription Only a Broom. In this event the dialogue undertaken with the cleaners from Tadeusz Kantor’s theatre is, in my opinion, to underline the dramatic character of the moment. The artist through calling and casting the main figure in the context of theatre – that concrete one easily identified, to a large degree, for a common public, precisely presenting the historicism of time. If this similarity was a coincidental and subconscious event, then equally in the presence of this, after all archetypal figure, we feel the contamination of Kantor theatre – which does not lessen the gesture of profanation; the removal of the standard and the placing of such a shameless unambiguous annotation.
Two years later in the Labirynt Gallery there takes place–again ritually– Washing Hands which was to be her last performance. There were pink gloves, there were also conjurations into words written in paint. In washing the gloves, and not the hands, she showed the humorous ambiguity of the whole situation, while the plastic soap dish and nail brush dosed out the level of triviality. So the pink towel, with the white crossed out annotation performance, fluttering on a rope, signalled only a momentary reprieve.
The continuation followed five years later and accompanied the then initiated series Windows. In the first act the author stands behind a window with the letter W – in the hand she searched for an appropriate place for her and it (Woman in a Window, 1991). Here she was most concerned with the location of the title woman, and not whether she can see through the window; or what realities it is situated between.
A ladder became an important prop in the next two acts. Climbing on it the artist marks subsequent small women’s victories – like overcoming vertigo – tying on its rungs pink bows. On the wall she writes in lipstick the title of the event Woman with ladder. In the next act Woman with More than a Ladder she appears with a hammer which after completing several simple actions she transforms into a triumphant standard, while the symbolic rubbish she take out of the “purified area.”
During the symposium Woman on Woman in 1996 she presented Affecting Kitchen Utensils, which involved the beating with a egg whisk of an extremely sweet, thick, pink foam, and finished with her decorating her own cap with the foam and the composition of a signature – with a pink crayon – on the table cloth. Banal, simple and as if feminine actions transferred to the artificial reality of feminist – not only in name – events, have allowed Pinińska, to be considered there a first rate figure – next to Natalia LL – to generate a type of shocking commotion. Affecting Kitchen Utensils would seem to be a limited motif in women’s art, once more brought together with beaten foam far from oversweetened, the author’s commentary to the situation, always ambiguous for her, arousing through the ideological treatment of feminism mixed feelings. The sarcasm of this kitchen act – presented to the participants, female and male, of the session – became noticed. One needs to remember that this “gift” or this dispatching comes from the artist, for whom the value of art is primary and always tries to realize it over any ideology whatsoever – sometimes believing to the very end in such a possibility.
Why then did she reach out for a performance so weighed down with political connotations? What was the medium for her? How did she understand that hybrid space between the object – the pink thing – and the creative action developing in the presence of observers – or rather active witnesses?
I’ll take a risk – perhaps we’ll find the answer with the final, extremely influential, researcher – Homi Bhabha’y who wrote: This is a typical trail for our times that all questions on culture are located by us in the real space between … which neither opens up new horizons, or is not played out beyond the past… yet between those spaces… so that it forms a new sign of identity and initiates new places for collaboration and contest, in the act of the self-definition of a given society.13H. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, quoted from K. Stiles, Performance Art, in: Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, ed by K. Stiles and P. Selz, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles 1996, p. 694. Such space between spaces offers us also performance. While the relation penetrated by the most creative, artists of performance, between objects and action in time, has led, among other things, to a questioning of the – in Crimp’s view – “spacelessness” of the object so typical for modernist art, in other words to shake also its transhistorical meaning.14D. Crimp, On the Museum’s Ruins.
The appearance of things pink in the historical moment of taking leave of modernism – as some would have it – or also the shaking of its paradigm – as others see it – provokes further divagation. It seems that despite the artist’s declared links with avant-garde modernist art she goes beyond that formation.
AND IN THE WINDOWS
In searching for a suitable space for things pink I have found the singular Gerald Spath Museum. The author presents an illusively similar sensitivity for the object and its existence to that of Pinińska’s. One needs to add that the mentioned Museum is devoted to the material culture of a small region of Switzerland. While the furniture–which would want to be called psycho furniture – is the repeated hero. In this place, where between the objects and their curator – who hopes that the treasures … for if not you could have easily stayed at home15G. Spath, Comedy, PIW, Warsaw 1986, p. 244.– and the visitors there occur extremely interesting relations. The exhibits are known through the senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste. This childish act of becoming acquainted with reality is based on familiarizing with the objects, on the selecting of unpleasant and pleasant experiences, on the separation of the objects into hard and soft, rejecting and encouraging to cuddle, inviting from the first touch and look. Being in contact with them induces lively reactions. In the fifth room of the museum Mrs Freud had a feeling that, to her and Mr Laderbuhler’s delight, she managed to discover the secret of that couchy piece of furniture, which might have also been a machine, apparatus, aggregate. She and Mr Laderbuhler were very excited, their bodies and members were penetrated by a cold and hot shiver, mostly hot. Mrs Freud cast off her light jacket and scarf, and Mr Laderbuhler’s tie was lying on the floor. Their faces were shiny.16ibid, p. 332.
Now the description of the next room could be identical with the description of My Enchanting Little Room by Pinińska, where quilted throws on the walls, bearing the marks of a woman and a man, phallic snakes in the window and on the floor, bring to mind, the eternal war of the sexes, taking place in the enclosed space of the cell. But the model for this work was cut out from cardboard and folded dolls’ room – just a girlish reminiscence. And undoubtedly this drama was devoid of the brutal verism – it is being played in the zone of imaginary space. Comparing it with the Bedroom by Oldenburg – who is usually mentioned for the sake of the spongy softness, the ironic “truth of material” with which they both create – we will find another kind of threat or fear; Oldenburg already at the beginning of the sixties understood how design was going to attack art. This cold aggression to the system is alien to Pinińska – tensions in My Enchanting Little Room are better known to the characters from Comedy – is played out between some woman and some man; acting on two planes: sensual – signified by clear sexual treatment – and the spiritual hidden, seductively masked.
The longer I ponder over the motif of the window in her work the more unclear it appears to me. In my computer cardfile the card numbers have grown, more time will be needed to sort them out. However, it is essential to write about space, to turn attention to the functions of closing accepted by the artist, fencing off the private sphere – full of decoded feminine fears, at times perversions –from that of the public. That happens equally when it is a performance prop as equally an independent object for hanging on a wall or in space.
translated by “Inter-text translations”
- 1S. Melville, Color has not yet been named, in: D-construction and the Visual Arts, Cambridge University Press 1994, p. 45.
- 2These pink glass knick-knacks appeared years later in the title story of a collection of essays by Lucy Lippard devoted to women’s art.
- 3Here it refers to the large export – intended for the European circuit – exhibition prepared by Sidre Stich who worked equally on an extensive catalogue. The exhibition was shown in 1994 at the same time in Ludwig in Cologne and Dusseldorf, and then from February 1995 to the 23rd April in the Hayward Gallery, London and Reine Sofia in Madrid.
- 4They do not figure – as neither does Klein –in Rosalind Krauss’ Passages in Modern Sculpture.
- 5So Virginai Dawn related, in 1982, years afterwards, Rauschenberg’s comment on Klein, probably the most influential owner of a New York gallery (Dawn Gallery). V. Dawn, California Impressions of Ives Klein in Yves Klein, exhibition catalogue Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, 1983, p. 275.
- 6L. Alloway, Topics in American Art since 1945, W.W. Norton & Company INC, New York 1975, p. 270.
- 7C. Owens, Dyskurs Innych: Feministki i post-modernizm (Others’ Discourse: Feminists and postmodernism, in Postmodernism. An Anthology of Translations) Baran and Suszczyński, Krakow 1997, p. 425.
- 8T. Modelski, The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory, Methuen, London 1988, pp. 26-27.
- 9C. Zemel, Postmodern Pictures of Erotic Fantasy and Social Space, Genders 4, University of Texas Press, March 1989, p. 39.
- 10M. Hussakowska, A somewhat different aspect of the 1970s, the materials of the methodological seminar organized by the Institute of Art History at the Jagiellonian University, December 1997, Art during the Polish People’s Republic. Methods and subject of research (to be published).
- 11R. Barthes, The Fashion System, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Ange les 1990, p. 256 (1967 French edition).
- 12M. Abramovic in conversation with Heidi Grundmann in: Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. by K. Stiles and P. Selz, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles 1996, p. 759.
- 13H. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, quoted from K. Stiles, Performance Art, in: Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, ed by K. Stiles and P. Selz, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles 1996, p. 694.
- 14D. Crimp, On the Museum’s Ruins.
- 15G. Spath, Comedy, PIW, Warsaw 1986, p. 244.
- 16ibid, p. 332.