The Concreteness of Sculpture (2002)

(The text was published in catalogue: Labirynt. The Labirynt 2 Gallery Presents Contemporary Polish Art, ed. BWA Gallery, Lublin 2002 [exhibitions in OH Gallery, College Lane, Hatfield, 4 October – 1 November 2003 and Folly Gallery, Lancaster, 29 November – 8 January 2004)

In the early 80s of the last century, so-called new British sculpture was promoted on the world art scene. New sculpture had emerged in Krakow twenty years before. In spite of the fact that not only I, but also my wife, Maria Pininska-Bere, presented those sculptures at various exhibitions, and were awarded the highest prizes at “Sculpture of the Year” shows, Polish art historians did not consider it a turning point in this area of visual art.

However, it cannot be denied that it was I, who, in a sense, provided an inspiration to those young British artists. In 1979 I was on a tour in the United Kingdom called “English-Polish Art and Performance” together with Zbigniew Warpechowski and Andrzej Kostołowski from the Polish side and English artists.  I was showing the photographs of my sculptures from Liverpool to Hull, from Glasgow to Cardiff, through Wolverhampton, Leicester, Nottingham and London. The shows were at Art Colleges and Academies and my works were much appreciated by young artists.

In spite of the fact that my works were something absolutely new, I did not define it new sculpture as it was my conscious choice not to get involved in debate between the avant-garde and arriere-garde, the more so, as the conflict had already become very academic. I have always wanted to treat my works as creative in relation to everything that has been achieved in art. Hence I started from point zero, that is, directly from nature. I decided to build my artworks like a primitive man who built his tools from sticks and stone. I used the simplest tools in my work. I have never used an electric saw.

What I was doing was so distant from what used to be called sculpture, that the works functioned first as Phantoms then Oracles and Altars and finally as Challenges. Polish art historians, perhaps with the exception of Anka Ptaszkowska and, partly, Marek Rostworowski, considered my works at the turn of the 1950s an absolute curiosity.

Whereas, at the same time, in intellectual and artistic circles in various places throughout world the temperature was very high. Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tanguy and Cesar working in Paris, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg in the United States and        the Gutai group in Japan. In a number of interviews Pierre Restany talks about those year as  brzemienny [pregnant] period, with a great potential and a wide range of possibilities. At that time Tadeusz Kantor, in a letter to me from Paris, was writing about an enormous longing for absolute freedom. I believe, that in the atmosphere of powerful reflection surpassing the boundaries of time, a crewing was formed for absolutely original individual creation to inhabit. And what in Poland, behind the Iron Curtain, seemed to be something curious, was inscribed into the general atmosphere of intellectual and artistic circles in the world. Some of those artists and artworks created at that time joined the pop-art stream. Włodek Hasior was one of these artists.

I have been attempting not to lose contact with the area of universal reflection, since it guarantees independence and enables carrying on a dialogue with surrounding reality. Sometimes it is a dialogue, and sometimes a dispute, and occasionally it was a fierce quarrel with the socialist regime. The fact that I distanced myself from the so-called new sculpture, or even declared in public that I am not a sculptor, does not mean at all that I have lost contact with what is, in my view, the essence of sculpture. On the contrary, I only rejected what was external and anachronistic , that is statuarity, all the mastery of sculpting, everything that was connected with the necessities governing the execution of sculptures that service reality (tombstones, statues etc.). At the same time I disagree with what Katarzyna Kobro preached, that the utmost treachery of sculpture is mass. I consider it as going beyond the essence of sculpture. Similarly I consider Malevich’s Suprematism as going beyond the essence of painting.

Referring to Alberto Giacometti’s last experience shortly before he died, I claim that the essence of sculpture is PURE MASS IN SPACE. Constantin Brancusi as well as Jean Arp finally closed the possibility of the development of sculpture defined as a perfect forming of mass. Placing pure, that is, unformed mass in space opens a possibility of further development of sculpture. Such a pure mass can be experienced in a fragment of nature, for example, a tree trunk or a stone unformed by man. However, it requires a long communion with this fragment of nature to be able to place it in space at a certain point, in order to achieve a concrete message. Obviously, this is my experience over several decades.

Another opening for the further development of sculpture was initiated by Henry Moore, who was inspired by American Indian sculpture. It is all about aspiration after pure, non-mass shape, both internal and external. Maria Pininska-Bereś followed this path, which led her to absolutely original creation. Of course, there has also remained the penetration of pure space, especially following the experience of Alexander Calder or Katarzyna Kobro. But I think that is already beyond sculpture.

Looking at the world through pure mass has also helped me in realising my manifestations. Hence, they were neither happenings nor performances. Phantoms, Oracles, Altars and Challenges are joined by “Material Documents”, which come into being or get finished during actions carried out in front of witnesses, that is, the audience which is present then and there.

Kraków, 25 March 2002


Translated by Małgorzata Sady

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