Phantoms, Oracles, Altars (1989)
(The text was published in: Phantoms, Oracles, Altars, Stowarzyszenie Artystyczne Grupa Krakowska [Krakow Group Art Association], Kraków 1991. It is a supplement to the text “Creative Fact. The Concept of Work of Art. Part I” from 1978 )
Being concentrated on art I paid no attention to the circumstances attendant upon my activity. They invaded my conscience with their whole sharpness at the moment, when I saw the remnants of Altar of Creation, Altar of Exhibition and Altar of Contact on a rubbish heap. I have never thrust my artistic production upon anybody. I exhibited and performed my manifestation solely on invitation, treating it as a signal from audiences interested in what I was doing. Yet, from the moment I was persuaded to make exhibitions, in early the sixties, this disinterested contact with audiences was more or less threatened by external manipulations. Once Jubilee Phantom was placed at an exhibition behind a screen, for — it was said — it offended the aesthetic feelings of society. There was also antipathy in the mass media. When I won the “Sculpture of the Year” prize, there was no information about the event in the newspapers. When others won, there was. After competitions for reviews were introduced, concealing such events became impossible; but there was a criterion whereby reviews attacking me vociferously would receive higher prizes. This is not a personal impression. I was told so by Maciej Gutowski, who used to sit on committees evaluating those articles. Since January 6th, 1968, after Prophecy I in Foksal Gallery, where the managing director of Fine Arts Enterprise censored part of the exhibition, I was, alternately, concealed or ridiculed by the press, for example in Hamilton’s articles in “Kultura”, and once I even appeared as „Duraś” in “Kurdesz” by Ernest Bryll. Yet, when taking up a dialogue with the author of “Kurdesz”, I called him „Ernest Dryl”, in the object I hung up in the Krzysztofory Gallery. An anonymous telephone call ordered it to be taken down.
When in 1971 two concurrent individual exhibitions were shown in the Museum of Bochum, West Germany, then in 1971 in Louisiana, an international world centre for the arts in Denmark, and after that in Sweden, to the openings of which Ryszard Stanislawski was specially invited every time to give a speech, the Polish press informed only about Hasior’s exhibition. It was as if mine did not exist. Strange coincidences accompanied my departure to Essen, too, where I was invited by the Folkwang Museum. The presentation of Polish art, planned by the two directors in common: Ryszard Stanislawski from Poland and Dieter Honisch from Germany, established, that beside the exhibition of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz and Tadeusz Kantor’s theatre’s performances, there would be my work in the Gruga Park as well; a manifestation, and finally an exhibition, being the effect of both work and manifestation. All of it was intended to accompany a great exhibition of Polish industry. I received a comparatively high German scholarship, as did Professor Porębski, who had prepared the Witkiewicz exhibition. At the very beginning I was a month late, because of a long course of formalities to get a passport from the Ministry, but the Folkwang Museum prolonged the scholarship and finally I arrived in Essen together with my wife, where Professor Porębski was waiting for us at the railway station. On my part the program was fulfilled and received by its witnesses — including museum directors, representatives of galleries and critics — exceptionally well. Unfortunately, there was some dark cloud above it all, for Wooden Road was never shown at the Exhibition of Polish Art, in spite of the fact that there were six wooden sculptures waiting, each of them documenting a manifestation, and a full photographic documentation. But the most peculiar and mysterious thing — taking into account German thoroughness — was that after some time I was informed that the sculptures had fallen into decay in the park, in spite of the fact that after transportation, reparation of damage and signing all the necessary documents, I had left them in the warehouse of the Folkwang Museum in Essen.
In the seventies the hostility of state propaganda towards me grew even stronger. When it became impossible to ignore me, aggressive lampoons were written, using invectives such as libertine, etc. None of those attacks was ever signed. On the other hand, well-known critics did not commit themselves. In the end a ban on mentioning my name in the press and arranging my exhibitions was introduced all over the country. After defamation I was condemned to nonexistence. I was struck off the lists of guests invited to various artistic events. Applications to the Union of Polish Artists and Designers for scholarship were all cancelled, too. Proposed purchases of my works were never confirmed.
The director of the Fine Arts Department, Mr Wegrzyn, unofficially informed me (I learned about the fact, that the hint had come from him later on, for I had not known him in person at the time), that maybe I could do something in student clubs. In such a situation a proposition to perform and exhibit in the “Pod Jaszczurami” Club in Cracow came. I didn’t want to agree, but after insistent persuasions, promises of help, of publishing a catalogue, printing invitations, issuing posters, and safeguarding the exhibition, I accepted. Yet when on the settled day I brought all the things prepared in my studio, I saw only one manually painted poster outside the club, and that was all the students had prepared. The club was empty, and except for a door-keeper there was nobody. I carried in a stump of medium size and put it in a jute carpet with the inscription “Altar of Creation” on it. Four white canvases on stretchers were hung up on the wall, and under them I unfolded a strip of jute with “Altar of Exhibition” written on it. Opposite “Altar of Creation” I placed a table, on which a bottle of wine, glasses and a white canvas with the inscription “Altar of Contact” were put. Only a small number of people came because of the lack of information. There were some people invited personally by me, and we waited for the staff of the club who were still absent. It was clear that the students had simply escaped, frightened by somebody. For a moment I was afraid that it was a kind of a trap — that in a while the police would enter. Finally I dressed myself in wooden clothes with my name carved on the front board, and with my surname on the rear one, and at “Altar of Creation” I chopped a block of dry wood into pieces and made a stack of them on the stump. I asked for matches and lit a fire. Then I took the wooden loin-cloth off my hips and put it on the stump in such a way, that instead of my body it encircled the fire, burning still higher and higher. Then, naked, I came up towards “Altar of Exhibition”, where I painted my signatures on after another in blue, red, yellow, and green on the four white canvases. After that I covered my nakedness with a piece of white canvas, which was tied around my hips. At the table I poured the wine into the glasses and covered them with the folded canvas with the inscription „Altar of Contact” on it. Then I returned to “Altar of Creation” and put the fire out with water. Partly burnt wooden covers with “Jerzy Bereś” written on them remained on the stump. I took out a piece of still warm coal and at “Altar of Exhibition” I crossed out the blue, red, and yellow signatures. The green one was left intact. The exhibition was ready and clean, for there was not a single chip — even from the fire — on the floor. A contact with the audience was entirely disinterested, since a potential mediator —the staff of the club — didn’t appear. The wine was not drunk either. It remained exhibited as an element of the work. It was that disinterested, defenceless vestige of Artistic Mass that was submitted to brutal aggression on the next day. Neither did the prestige nor the fame of the author save it, since both the first and the second equalled zero, or even minus values.
But the basic dilemma of the twentieth century was put into sharper perspective: what is creative output, i.e. something valuable, and what is simply rubbish. After all, an author’s fate is not actually so important in itself, and in my opinion it shouldn’t give additional value to his work. Because every creation is for some time both a potential work of art and potential rubbish until judgement takes place. Such assessment is particularly missing in art today. So the heap of things that haven’t been judged, neither works of art nor rubbish, is growing ever higher.
Assuming that the things I do are rubbish, they art — as far as nature is involved — not dangerous rubbish, since it would be sufficient to expose them to atmospheric impact, and nature alone would absorb them to its own advantage. So from that point of view, my situation is clear. Yet if the destroyed effect of Artistic Mass constituted a value as a potential work of art, the whole situation becomes more complex. Because on the one hand, a hardly imaginable overproduction of works — conceived as perfect products — has taken place, products which in addition most frequently lose their workshop perfection; and on the other, the avant-garde, trying to save itself from the flood of production, approached conceptualism, Fluxus, performance and the like, where the notion „work of art” was liquidated as a value. So — devaluation from one side, annihilation from the other. Being always of the opinion that there’s no art without works I’m afraid that what is of value could be milled between both the grindstones described above, waiting for judgement in vain.
So I tried to define maybe not a new notion of „a work of art”, as I wrote earlier on, but to define it anew. Two texts came into existence then: in 1978-79 “The Notion of a Work of Art with no Features of a Finished Product” and in 1981 “Work of Art as a Stimulator of Judgement”. In the meantime in the summer of 1978, the organizers of an open air meeting in Warcino for young artists and theorists didn’t give in to pressure to have my name removed from the list of guests, and invited me. As the open-air meeting seemed a kind of a closed asylum to me, where the creators were spectators for each other, I decided to break this closed circle and declared an initiative for building a provisional Monument of an Artist on a city square in Słupsk. Unfortunately, receiving the permission of the authorities was impossible. Similarly, the authorities of the smaller town of Miastko didn’t agree. Only the local administration of Kępice commune expressed no attitude towards the idea.
So I decided to reach an audience in Kępice barefooted, wearing wooden clothes and dragging the pediment of the monument, accompanied by willing participants of the open-air meeting. The three-kilometre-long march was rather dramatic, for the friction of the wooden stocks with the inscription “Atist’s Body” caused bleeding sores, and a strong wind tried to tear a banner with the inscription „Artist’s Spirit” out of my hands. Nevertheless, Monument of an Artist was placed on some square next to the railway station in Kępice. A circle of accidental spectators prevented hooligans from interfering in the manifestation, and calmed down a policeman, who didn’t know what to do about it all.
Courage was shown by the organizers of an art festival in Warsaw in 1978 as well, when they invited me to participate in their event. I exceptionally repeated Artistic Mass destroyed in Cracow, and the jury with W. Świerzy as the chairman honoured me with an award. There was only some consternation during the official presentation of medals.
With no interference from outside, I executed the manifestation titled Romantic Mass on September 16th, 1978, in the Krzysztofory Gallery in Cracow, which resulted in the exhibition Altar of Fulfillment. In such a way I celebrated the tenth anniversary of my manifestations and of Poland’s March Events. Assuming that those absent are often right, I presented Philosophic Mass in the student gallery “Art Forum” in Lodz. Dressed only in one copy of the weekly “Kultura”, I signed sheets of grey paper with a broad brush, using green paint, and then crossed them out with a black one. The sheets signed in green and crossed out with black were hung up on the gallery walls. When the walls were filled with paper pictures I crumpled up the “Kultura” that I was wearing and burnt it on the “External Altar”. Leaving the burning newspaper on a white pediment, I went, leaving the prints of my bare feet on the floor, towards a white socle with „Internal Altar” written on it. There I painted the word “Spirit” on my body and put my signature on the Altar with green paint, not crossing it out any more. During an open-air art meeting in Świeszyno in 1979 — more isolated than any had to date in Warcino — the auto-ironic Avant-garde Mass took place.
During the international festival “Works and Words”, I took up a dialogue with the main motto of the event and titled my manifestation Work and Word. In the manifestation I explained what I considered to be my work, the effect of which was burning on a table nearby, and what was not my work, namely my body, on which I wrote the word “Word”, at the same time leaving imprints of my feet in blue on a triangular stretched canvas, letting it be known that human biology is a divine work of nature. In addition it was an explanation of my attitude towards so-called “body art”.
A month-long stay in Great Britain included many meetings with audiences in England and Scotland. These were organized by Roland Miller and Shirley Cameron. Zbigniew Warpechowski, Andrzej Kostołowski and I participated in them. For me it was almost a missionary expedition. Since the English language lacks the notion “dzieło” I used the Latin word “opus”, and in the eight manifested mysteries, from Mystery I to Mystery VIII, during successive meetings with audiences, there came a point where it was necessary to use such a notion. The audience displayed a strong sense of pragmatism on the one hand, escaping into fantasy on the other. But where there should have been imagination, there was most frequently, emptiness.
Unfortunately, at the end of stay our Polish-English group had an unhappy collision with the exhibition of Polish art organized by the Museum of Modern Art in Lódż and the Foksal Gallery. When, invited by the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow, I was going to arrange an exhibition of documents of the eight various mysteries of work of art, the director of the Foksal Gallery protested outrightly. It was particularly unpleasant for me, because it reminded me of the hostility of state propaganda in Poland. I executed only the manifestation titled Opus I in the Ignacy Witkiewicz room. Characters from the “Portrait Company” observed me from one side, and the audience from the other. Perhaps the troubles with the Foksal Gallery were necessary for an authentic dialogue with Ignacy Witkiewicz, because Opus I, according to the previously prepared program, accented “pure content” as opposed to “pure form”, which was the final conclusion drawn from the eight mysteries of a work of art.
After returning home at the turn of 1979, I exhibited three works during the “Sculpture of the Year” show: Open Work of Art, Altar of Changes, and Altar of Fulfillment. Although the censors questioned the almost prophetic Altar of Changes, the jury, chaired by Janusz Bogucki, announced that I was awarded the first prize of the President of the City. The verdict wasn’t approved by the founder, and only after long negotiations with the members of the jury, who stuck to their decision, did I get the award.
In that summer during the next open-air meeting young artists in Świeszyno, Political Mass took place. That — it was said — offended the official guests who arrived for the official closing of the event.
In the spring of 1980, I received an invitation to arrange an exhibition for the BWA Gallen Piła. I thought that the ban on my exhibitions had been called off. unfortunately, the ban existed, and the exhibition came into being because intervention came too late.
It was not before a hurriedly improvised exhibition with no catalogue, opened an February 2nd, 1981, in the Krzysztofory Gallery that I could show material documents and photographic documentation of all the manifestations performed until then, that I puss Some of the exhibits were materially slender vestiges of actions, others were both sculptures and documents of actual manifestations. I had the personal satisfaction of not having become part of the rupture that had became visible in twentieth century art, for what I showed was neither purely conceptual, nor the result of production processes. Continuing to pursue the need to produce a new formula for elusive ilea, I performed the manifestation titled Pure Work entitled The Nude at the opening of the exhibition.
I came in dressed in a piece of grey canvas with the inscription “Pure Work entitled The Nude”. I came up towards a big stump placed in the middle of the hall and slightly raised on little legs, with “Workshop” written on it. There was a block of wood lying on it with the inscription “Material”. I chopped „material” into pieces and made a stack out of them on “workshop”. Then I took the canvas off my body and put it on the floor in front of “workshop” making the title on it readable. I returned to the stump and lit the stack on it. Standing by the burning fire naked, slowly, intelligibly, I wrote the word “Act” on my body with black paint. Leaving the fire burning I walked round the hall, as one often does during openings, presenting and explaining the exhibited sculpture-documents, such as Altar of Truth, Symbolic Wheelbarrow, to the audience, and instructed the people how to make a leaflet with the inscription “Face” on it, and so on. Finally I returned to the fire, dried the inscription “Act” in my body by it, put on the canvas with “Pure Work entitled The Nude” written on it, and put out the fire with water. With a bit of charcoal I wrote “Document” on a cardboard, which, together with the date and signature, was hung over the mark burnt in the stump.
In the late summer of 1981 the situation in the country made it possible for me to be invited to a more prestigious open-air art meeting in Osieki, in which I took part again after a break of 14 years. The manifestation made there had the following course: before the action I built a symbolic wheelbarrow using dried wood I found in the forest, and fixed a long flag-staff to it. To the top of the flag-staff I attached a banner made of white canvas with the inscription “Wheelbarrow of Freedom”. I went naked out of the main building, and after a short verbal statement on the stairs, I went down into the square where the wheelbarrow stood, took it, and pushing it in front of me I walked around the park lanes. Now and then I stopped and painted the dates: 1939, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1976, and 1980 on my body. I such a way I made a circle in the park, returning to the point of departure on the other side. I stopped the wheelbarrow on the square, took the banner out of it, and After writing the current date and my signature on it, I put it back again, after the manifestation, Wheelbarrow of Freedom was left on the square as a part of the exhibition. Now it is probably in the Museum of Koszalin.
On November 6th, 1981, during the opening of my individual exhibition of documents in the BWA Gallery in Lublin, First Dialogue with Marcel Duchamp took place, described in a catalogue published after it.
Between November 13th and December 13th the 9th Cracow Meeting was held, for the first time on an international level, with artists and theorists from Great Britain, Holland, West Berlin, Yugoslavia, and — of course — Poland. In spite of the fact that previously I had always been crossed off their lists, this time I received an invitation and took part in the event very actively. I designed the poster for the event, took part in the exhibition and executed one of the most important manifestation in my artistic career. Besides the other works I exhibited in the BWA gallery, there was Romantic Cart made in 1975. It was a sculpture, but also contained a program form making manifestations. For six years I had not been given permission for making manifestations on any square. Efforts on my behalf had been made by people active in culture in Cracow, Wrocław and Zielona Góra, where not only there had been no permission, but the Cart exhibited was removed by the censors.
This time situation in the country was such that we were granted permission by the authorities of Cracow to perform in the Market Square in Cracow, but under the condition that the organizers, and above all the artist, would take the whole responsibility for the action upon himself. There would be no protection provides by the authorities, they stated. I have never been afraid of spectators and I had no idea what they meant. So on November 18th, 1981, in the afternoon, with some help from the audience, Romantic Cart was taken out of the galley, and from there I set off, pushing it along Szczepańska Str. towards the Market Square. I was at the limits of my physical abilities, for the cart was rather heavy, the wheels were rough slices of trunk, it cracked and wobbled, but it went forwards. The onlookers in the Market square, at first few, turned into a crowd, pressing forward. I stopped between the water pump and the Cloth Hall. My daughter Bettina handed me some white paint and a brush with which, apologizing to the people and asking them to move slightly back, I made the inscription in big letters: “Fire of Hope”, composed in a circle. That was the reason that made the people stand in a broad, compact circle, too. Then I took a bundle of wooden chips off the cart and tore a piece of the “Kultura” weekly pinned on it, and made a stack in the middle of the circle shaped by the letters. When I set the stake on fire, the audience fell silent and, as though hypnotized, watched “Fire of Hope”, burning still more intensively. In the place of the bundle of chips I tied a bell to the Romantic Cart. Leaving a part of the audience contemplating the “Fire of Hope”, I set off with the cart. Besides creaking you could hear the bell ringing. In front of the Town Hall, after making an inscription, I lit “Fire of Freedom”, and tied a second bell to the cart. On the other side of the Town Hall “Fire of Dignity” burnt, and behind the back of Adam Mickiewicz there was “Fire of Love”. There were four bells ringing on the cart, the crowd grew greater and greater; when I reached the other side of the Cloth Hall after painting the inscription I lit the last fire —the “Fire of Truth” — at the outlet of St. John Str. It looked at it’s most beautiful, for dusk had meanwhile fallen. Five symbolic fires burnt around the Cloth Hall on Cracow’s Market Square. Ther were still people gathering around them, the Romantic Cart pushed by me rang with five bells, and when I was leaving the market Square a hooligan attack me. A strong man threw himself at the cart, kicked it trying to destroy it, but the spectators accompanying me calmed the madman down in time. The rest of the way back was peaceful. With the last remnants of my strength I reached the gallery pushing the cart all the time. It was carried in and put in its place at the exhibition. But it was now not only a sculpture, but a document of a manifestation as well. I thought, that the titles of the fires would remain in the Square at least for a few days, as it had been settled with the authorities. Alas, on the same evening they were carefully wiped off.
Exactly a week before Martial Law, striking students invited me to arrange an exhibition and a meeting in the assembly hall of the Academy of Music in Cracow. The sculpture Altar of Fulfillment was shown and other documents of Romantic Mass. During the action, spinning round my own axis, I wrote the word “Picture” in various colours on my body, and then in a verbal statement I expressed my attitude towards performance. A performer, by objectifying himself, enters a trap with no exit. I was in it until a heated discussion let me out. Unfortunately, the exhibition didn’t escape. A week later it suffered the aggression of Martial Law, together with other “Solidarity” banners. Probably Altar of Fulfillment and other documents of Romantic Mass were destroyed.
On December 13th, 1981, the possibility of contacts with audiences was severed as were human relationships. At the time free contacts with audiences seemed a luxury, which is not always appreciated by people living in free societies.
However, human activity develops not mono-but multi-directionally — a catastrophe doesn’t necessarily break the line of creation. For it is the work of art that is appointed to carry a subjective message through time. So I could continue my independent work only in my studio. The possibility of charming subjective contents into pieces of wood, i.e. warranting them a material durability became — as never before —the matter of the highest importance, because just behind the studio threshold a pure objectivity ruled, consisting of total reification. In such a situation in the face of total reification threatening from outside, the subjective factor disclosed itself as the main distinction of the notion “work of art” formulated anew. It is the presence of the subjective factor in a work of art that breaks down its objectivity and that’s why it doesn’t turn into a product. For only a sufficiently desubjectified product could easily adapt to Martial Law conditions and subjective works of art do not gain immediate success, but they remain living persistent truths, even in the twentieth century. It would be a funny claim to call the things I do in my studio such works of art, so I temporarily name them “potential works of art”, perhaps awaiting no approval, which is the most difficult thing to find, but a dialogue with spectators.
I had no great success in boycotting the media, because nobody wanted my works anyway, but I took part in exhibitions organized in churches instead. It was rather a gesture of solidarity than a dispute about values in art. The situation in the country was such, that, as a matter of fact, there was no place for art. I tried to present this fact in Lublin, where, invited by Andrzej Mroczek, I performed a manifestation titled Art and Reality on April 28th, 1983 —while not taking part in the exhibition. Naked, trampling “Rzeczywistość” (Reality) the weekly, spinning round my axis, I painted letter by letter, using white paint, the word “Art” on my body. Then, suitably folding the paper, I created a kind of pony or bird out of it, and put it on a pediment. Then I went up to a table, poured alcohol into some glasses, and painted a black cross under the word “Art” on my body. Stating:
WHEN REALITY BECOMES FICTION ART IS REALITY
BUT THERE IS NO PLACE FOR IT
— I invited those present to drink.
Also, during one of the closed meetings in the Krzysztofory Gallery, I showed Reflective Mass II, when the weekly “Polityka” was burnt, but a big green inscription “Art” composed in a circle remained on the floor of the gallery.
An optimistic moment in this bleak atmosphere took place when several young people directed by Tadeusz Boruta arranged my exhibition in the Papal Academy of Theology. It was all done very efficiently, together with issuing a catalogue within a few days. The hard work of bringing the sculpture in and hanging the documentation behind glass in a place completely unprepared for exhibitions, lasted until late at night the day before the opening. When on the next day we came, together with the organizers, to have a lecture, after which the exhibition was to be opened, it turned out that many of the exhibits had been removed by the church censors. To relieve the tension, Father Kłoczowski decided, that after the lecture the missing part of the exhibition would be restored to its place and after a comprehensive discussion removed again. After everything had been replaced, an extremely sharp attack by some of those present, including some artists, took place. Others, in turn, defended it. The attack referred to the inscriptions on sculptures (“Altar”), to making use of the word “Mass” and to the nakedness visible on the photographs. Defenders appealed to the fact, that words being of all-cultural use are not and can’t be “private”, and that nakedness has existed in art for a long time. Alas, the attackers were still not convinced, and with great emotion used notions like “profanation”, “offence”, etc. When, with great difficulty, I got a chance to speak, I stated that I wasn’t the initiator of the exhibition, that I had been invited, and that even the doubts I had expressed earlier had been calmed down by the answer, that we were not dealing at a provincial, parish level but at the faculty of philosophy at the Papal Academy of Theology. After that -I explained I was an adherent of absolute ethics in art, where every lack of tact negatively influences values, but that this ethics is super-normative. I think instead, that the shell of normative ethics makes any creativity impossible. I consider this problem to be of great importance and I was ready to continue the discussion. Unfortunately, because of the excessively emotional atmosphere, the discussion was ended and the question and answer part of the exhibition was removed. The sculpture appeared to be too difficult for the audience to grasp, and, besides, they were the obstacle of a poorly lit corridor.
Polish Mass was a historical reflection having taken place in the “Nad Fosą” Gallery in Wrocław, during which the audience wrote any dates they wanted from almost the last fifty years — beginning from 1939 — on the back of my naked body; I, after burning some copies of the “Tu i Teraz” (“Here and Now”) weekly, wrote the word “Front” on the front of myself.
In November 1984, during a public artistic meeting titled “Record I” in Lublin, I delivered the first part of the lecture titled Dispute on Highest Values. The lecture in its entirety took place in March 20th, 1986 in Lublin as well (catalogue: “New Content”, ed. Krzysztofory Gallery).
At the end of 1986, my individual exhibition was arranged in the Krzysztofory Gallery, titled “New Content”, to the opening of which invitation were sent. I wrote in them:
Can content without form be beautiful? With this question I desire to subject some potential-works of art, created between 1980 and 1986, to public judgement. I am going to exhibit them in the Krzysztofory Gallery. I think the exhibition will be ready on November 14th, 1986, at 6 p.m.
A general outline: new content appears on at least three planes:
- The irresponsible era of conquering nature is over. Man must take the responsibility for life on Earth.
- Subjectivity both of nature and man becomes a value.
- What happens in this part of Europe where Poland is situated becomes important for the world in a post-totalitarian era.
During the meeting with the audience at the exhibition I also tried to explain that a subjective work becomes durable only when through a disintegrated judgement it enters an inter-human, inter-subjective zone, and assures itself of a permanent presence there. That is when it becomes a work of art. In my opinion purely subjective attitudes, particularly popular in avant-garde circles, do not tolerate criticism and, lead to nowhere, as does — on the other hand — desubjectified academic objectivism.
In spite of the fact, that the censors didn’t allow two works to take part in the “New Content” exhibition, there was an additional ban on reviews in the press which I knew has been written, and the Krzysztofory Gallery disappeared from the map of Cracow for the time of the exhibition.
At the turn of 1986, the “New Content” exhibition was shown at the BWA Gallery in Lublin, where there was no longer any censorship interference.
In November 1987, I participated in the international exhibition “EXPRESSIV — Art in Central Europe” in Vienna. Being invited to the opening I presented my view on searching for a Central European subjectivity during the symposium arranged there.
As the twentieth anniversary of performing the manifestation Prophecy II in the Krzysztofory Gallery was approaching, . Józef Chrobak asked me if I could repeat it promising that he would help to get everything that would be necessary — things like a cart, wood and so on. It is my principle not to repeat manifestations, but the anniversary was important and, besides, there was so little documentation and material documents remaining from those times, that I began to hesitate. That was when an informal gathering with Tadeusz Kantor and Marek Rostworowski in the autumn of 1968 came to mind. During the meeting, Marek Rostworowski, who was strongly moved by Poland’s March events, talked about what had happened in the country, and Tadeusz Kantor trumped him with descriptions of Paris’ May Events, which he himself had witnessed. In was apparent then, that May 1968 in Paris had been a world-wide event, and Poland’s March Events rather a provincial one. For me the problem became a long-term riddle, not only because Poland’s March had had a different aspect, but because of the fact that my Prophecy had taken place before the Events, on March 1st, 1968, and it had been something other than a happening revolution in art. Since I was of the opinion that the Paris’ May ’68 had eroded over the past twenty years and the Poland’s March had “grown up”, I decided to check my potential work of art titled Prophecy II and recreate Living Monument. The risk was in the fact that after 20 years, there were different contexts, different people, and a different climate in social and artistic circles. But an authentic work of art should stay alive in spite of changing contexts, for otherwise it becomes only a dead-historical document. It appeared that in spite of difficulties (it is even harder to find a common country cart) the preparations proceeded efficiently, and by the time of the action, I felt that the impact was different and much stronger than twenty years earlier. The fires burnt better, and in spite of a greater amount of smoke than before, Living Monument was erected in the Krzysztofory Gallery once again. At the end of the manifestation I turned to the audience from the top of the stack offering them a dialogue. The audience, enveloped in smoke, didn’t take up a dialogue with the Living Monument, so after stating that waiting for serious dialogue made sense, I untied the wooden stocks — the negative of my body — took them off my hips, and painted on my body the word “Time” with blue paint. Then, saying that time worked to our advantage, I stepped down from the stack. The monument together with the blue-painted cart began to live a different, no longer biological life.
In September 1988, an exhibition in the Museum of Art in Oxford, which had been prepared for a long time, at last took place. I was one of the six artists representing Polish art. Additionally the organizers, the Museum of Art in Oxford and the National Museum in Wroclaw, suggest I undertake a manifestation during the opening of the exhibition. That’s how II Dialogue with Marcel Duchamp happened. Before the action I placed a table in the middle of the main hall, and I put a chess board and chess men on it. There was a coat-stand standing beside it. I came in dressed only in a piece of board that hung on a string tied around my neck. There was the inscription “Object” on the board. The director of the Oxford museum, David Elliott, introduced me to the audience gathered around us in the main hall. The he gave a short speech. When the director invited me to speak, I said that Marcel Duchamp played with objects, introducing them into art as “ready-made”. Next, Yves Klein used humans as objects, using paint-covered models for printing on canvas, and finally Joseph Beyus objectified himself by a work of art out of his own life. I said I wanted to break this line of reification in art and after hanging on the coat-stand the board covering me I said I wanted to concentrate on what is subjective-objective, or rather of the drama of a subject being forced into the situation of an object. I came up to the table and beginning a game of chess with a white pawn, I painted a half of a letter on my body with white paint. Then I went to the other side of the table, where the movement of a black pawn was accompanied by completing the letter with red paint. The chess game played with myself ended when the word “Shame” in white and red appeared on the front of my body. After that I stood in front of the table and stated that in Poland we felt very well the drama of the reification of our subjectivity that had taken place at Jałta. We had been turned from subject to object there. The drama of desubjectification appears in the present world on various planes. Of course it concerns units, but marks itself in a disappearance of intersubjective zones in social life, and that is a problem for those who rule. I said that the Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, should have remembered it during her visit to Poland. Those were the words that finished my manifestation titled II Dialogue with Marcel Duchamp in Oxford.
From Oxford I went to London, where I was invited to the International Art Festival “Edge 88”, during which I presented Picture from Poland on September 19th, 1988. Standing naked, I was waiting for the audience to come, and when the hall was filled with people I stated that I was not a performer and there would be no performance, but that I would paint a picture. On the front of my body I painted a piece of wavy line with white paint, and then turning my back towards the audience I painted with quick movements of a brush oblique red lines on my back. The action was repeated. There were more and more red stripes on my back, and a question mark appeared on the front. White and red met only in a dot completing the question mark. The dot was placed on the male, intimate part of the body. The picture was ready, and then the main-part of the manifestation took place, when I asked the audience, whether what I had painted was good or bad, whether or not it could be considered as a work of art. Somebody said that the picture was bad, meaning the situation in Poland was bad. I opposed at once, declaring my judgement that the picture was good, for I had hade it and I stood by it. There were two opposing opinions presented, and from this moment a discussion began which, as time flew, become more and more lively. Not only did the audience want to talk to the living picture, but they disputed among themselves as well. There were efforts to present various relative conceptions thus avoiding final judgement, which I unmasked, so that the discussion became even more heated. I, in turn, felt colder for the room was cold and I was naked being the living picture in it. Finally I proposed the only possible way out of the situation, i.e. voting. Somebody from among the audience took the presidency upon himself, and in the open voting by putting hands up. about sixty persons, including me voted that the picture was good, and 30 that it was bad. Part of those present abstained. So by a majority of votes it was settled that the picture was good. Taking note of this I finished the manifestation, but not the discussion which remained open
February 12 th. 1989