The Work as a Stimulator of Judgment. Concept of Work of Art, part IV (1981)

(The text was published in exhibition catalogue: IX Spotkania Krakowskie (IX Cracow Meetings), BWA Gallery, Kraków 1995 [it was not released in 1981 due to Martial Law]; [reprinted in:] Expressiv. Mitteleuropäische Kuns seit 1960, Wiedeń 1987 [fragment]; Europa, Europa. One Hundred Years of the Avant-garde in Central and Eastern Europe, t I/IV, Kunst und Ausstellugshalle der Bundesrepublik, Deutschland, Bonn 1994 [fragment], t. III, s. 314-315; Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, ed. by Kristine Stiles and Peters Selz, University of California Press, Berkeley an Los Angele, California 1996, s. 744-746 [fragment])


Whereas for the philosopher, the moment when the transcendental becomes concrete is the proper moment to stop thinking about it, for the artist, this is precisely the right moment to act.

Such moments have occurred in human history to individuals, to groups, and even to larger societies. In the area of social movements, Solidarity is such a work. The very fact that Solidarity exists has put a stop to the suspension of judgment regarding the activities and functioning of many institutions, and not just trade unions. Not only has this event put a stop to the suspension of judgment, but in fact it has become a stimulus for the necessity of making a judgment. Despite the fact that Solidarity is a work that brings together millions of people, this work is not fully appreciated everywhere, and attempts are even made to deliberately ignore it. This fact reveals a profound deformity in the development of civilization, something which has taken place in the twentieth century, and which finds expression in the existence of forces, institutions, and powers prepared to defend fictions against facts, and in particular against creative facts.

This happens as a result of the existence of an enormous space, one that takes in virtually every aspect of life: the space of suspended judgment. First of all, the scientific and technical revolution that began in the nineteenth century has made possible the unconstrained growth of industry, simultaneously causing a suspension of judgment as to the contamination of nature or the exhaustion of natural resources. Only in recent years has the alarm been sounded, that judgment is necessary in these matters. Secondly, the social revolutions, and the justified state of suspended judgment in human relations, which was necessary when making the changes needed to level out certain glaring inequalities, created systems of permanently suspended judgment, fertile ground for the development of various deformities. The moral crisis in Poland in the 1970s might serve as an example of this.

Thirdly and finally, the cultural revolution of the 1960s – the term comes from China, but includes anti-consumerist intellectual and artistic movements around the world – aimed against the dictatorship of ossified centres and other commercial or bureaucratic systems, evoked an enormous creative potential; but already in the 1970s this had contributed to a growing suspension of judgment in culture and art. This state of affairs today constitutes fertile soil for the growth of many deformities, which allow utterly banal values to be exalted to the highest pedestals. The examples we see around us indicate that the justified, and perhaps even necessary suspension of judgment at the moment of creation, something which today the work entitled “Solidarity” enjoys, cannot be prolonged. Every creation, every action-art must be subject to constant verification. And only those works which emerge triumphant from successive verifications contribute to the enduring legacy of humanity. The problem lies in the fact that there is no verifying court of appeal.

The work itself, the creative fact, becomes a judgment, as in the case of Solidarity, in relation to the old Labor Unions. But to the extent that Solidarity, as a mass work on the social plane, is easy to recognize, it can be difficult, to just that same extent, to do this in other areas. The activity of a smaller group can more easily be ignored. It is quite easy to leave the individual work in the shadows, to push it onto the margins. It can even be treated in a learned fashion, in the categories of error, and erased. If such a fate befalls a work that is in fact the precursor of some wider transcendence, such a work cannot in any event be destroyed. But the fate that befalls it is a testimony to the fact that freedom, expressed in a justified suspension of judgment for the existence of a creative fact, has become a fiction.

It is also a testimony to the existence in a given reality of institutions amassing financial capital, or prestige capital, on the basis of not submitting the works they support and promote to verification. In the end, this is a testimony to the creation of a regime of pseudo-freedom, based on the artificially prolonged state of suspended judgment. This deformity has more than once cut so deep that all of reality becomes a fiction. The recent history of Poland is proof of this.

There exist countries where at least a partial verification is taking place, and there this deformity is less, as are the spaces of superficiality. Nevertheless, a falsely understood freedom, involving the elimination of the factor of judgment, has encumbered human activity in the twentieth century. One patent symptom of this distortion is the use of terror in human relations by underground organizations, and sometimes by the forces of law and order and the military as well.

The thread of judgment, drawn through a small number people representing such humanistic disciplines as philosophy, art, literature, and others, has been marginalized in this twentieth century of ours, and is almost invisible; it has no influence on the course of events, but it has probably not been broken. There, too – that is, on the margins, in deep shadow – there has been created, through successive verifications, a chain of authentic works, a chain which, due to the powerful factor of judgment, is not cut off from that which is not deformed in a given reality, and drums out the natural creative rhythm of change. This natural rhythm, which is to say time, is an oracle, and at once a basic argument in favour of the postulate that judgment and verification are necessary.

The prolongation of the suspension of judgment is, after all, an attempt to stop, or at least to retard, the course of history. And this is the fundamental factor distorting the reality of the twentieth century, which has perhaps prematurely been labelled an age of astounding progress, which is supposed to make humanity happy. It is perhaps this very model of life made easier, a model promulgated by the advertising and propaganda machines, which has brought about the general consent to the lack of judgment. For judgment entails rather the “difficulty of existence.” The setting aside of the notion of necessary exertion has brought about a state of affairs where long since negatively verified concepts in philosophy, art, science, economics, and other areas linger on, while at the same time new concepts are accepted, promoted by the propaganda and advertising media on the “hit” principle, concepts that are randomly selected, or more often selected on the basis of ulterior motivations of clear financial or prestige benefits.

Another example – which is taken from art, but which could be applied to many other disciplines – is the situation in which, absent any controversy over higher values, the medium becomes more important than the motivation for which it was created. At this point there takes places an effective, but superficial development, based on the vicious circle of medialism. When the traditional artistic media such as sculpture, painting and later graphic art reached their perfection, this opened up the possibility of conquering the “above-media” sphere where permanent values may still be created. But at that point unfortunately new artistic media were developing, such as assemblage, collage, environmental installations, film, Happenings, land-art, arte povera, and eventually in the 1970s video, performance, photo art — the final result being an eventual return by way of Neo-pictorialism to the traditional media and this at a time when they were far from perfection, since the more gifted artists had gone on to more attractive means of expression. The development of unverified artistic media has been so rapid that the localization of a “work” in the field of vision is itself becoming a problem, while the fact of creation as such is of lesser importance. Artists therefore slowly cease to be “creators” — they become managers. Warhol’s slogan that “art is business” is coming true.

Such a state of affairs in itself creates the real possibility of handling the creation of art by means of advertising and propaganda centres, a step which is then followed — when it concerns an area such as art — by its devaluing. This is what happened in the final phase of American Pop art and already before that in the publicity art of Socialist Realism. If, however, this instrumental handling extends to other areas of life and begins to encompass the entire reality of a state, then the result will be a crisis; if it extends to international relations there is a danger of war. The idyll that has supposedly been created by the suspending of criticism bursts. And unfortunately crises as well as wars result in a different rhythm of the course of history, not based on the creative principle.

Sometimes it is only in situations of crisis that belated reflection takes place; by analyzing the past one tries to identify those moments when a deformation began to appear, moments that were signalized by appeals about the necessity of criticism or when an attempt was made to change course by concrete actions that stimulated criticism — actions that were, however, unfortunately ignored or censored away.

Apart from the victims claimed by every crisis and every war, the time from the moment of entering the deformation until the moment of crisis must also be considered lost.

From the point of view of the rhythm of him who creates a work of art this lost time gives him a lead on reality which is subject to deformations and is therefore delayed. And every authentic work, as long as it is not pure creation but also conveys a certain amount of criticism, becomes a prediction, is in effect a prophesy.

If one rejects the one-dimensionality of development which creates futurological fictions and must necessarily falsify history, at least two different rhythms can be distinguished: the creative rhythm and the rhythm of catastrophes, which must be seen as intertwined strands which together form a picture that is closest to the truth. It is only rarely the case in history that both these strands manifest their existence as strongly at the same time as is the case in Poland at the moment: on the one hand total crisis, on the other the magnificent work of “Solidarność”.

It now seems the right moment for an appeal to pay greater attention to the creative strand so that catastrophism, which does nothing but create martyrs, does not come to control mankind.

Attention must be paid to the creative facts that have been lost, whether accidentally or purposefully, in the jungle of non-verified or negatively verified productions but which retain their emanation without fearing verification and have proved to be true, continue to prove to be true and will still prove true as a prediction. For their emanation is the only chance of eliminating the artificial state of a continued suspension of criticism due to the absence of any critical agency.

Nothing but the emanation of a concrete creative feat can cut through the general superficiality and prevent the worst deformation which unfortunately has already become biological and arises from the decline of imagination. One could bet that if this emanation were to reach further and would now also exert its influence to the powerful of this world, mankind would be spared many sacrifices which are caused by the mistakes of its leaders.

By way of announcing my wish for confrontation and my willingness to enter into a dialog, I now quote a few creative instances of my own work that have stimulated criticism and have proved to be true as concrete predictions.

In 1966/671 carried out a work entitled Polish Wheel-Barrow as a manifestational situation; for its construction it was necessary to paint the “wrong wheel” (in Polish this expression has the meaning of fallacy or wrong conclusion) on this cart at the place of its assembly. Today it is clear that at that time the hope for changes after the events of October 1956 was absolutely over.

Eight months before the first contact between the People’s Republic of China and the USA I created a work called Diplomatic Ping Pong. This first contact turned out to be precisely a match of their respective ping pong teams, which had been kept secret until the very last moment.

Today it is known what an important element in world politics this contact was. It is difficult to describe this work of mine, but all the details, colours and other features exclude the possibility of a loose metaphor that could be bent to fit whatever situation might arise.

The Clapper [The Applauder] made by me in 1970/71 stimulated criticism for an entire decade and also re-presents a warning for the future. Unfortunately, however, it has spent most of the time sitting in a museum store room.

In 1975 I carried out a manifestation in the Szadkowski’s Metal Factory which for my own use I called Reflexive Mass. I set up Symbolic Wheel-Barrow on the factory premisses, in which one could see one’s own reflection and from which one could take a flier with the word “FACE” printed on it. It has since become clear that that was the moment when the symbolic carts to save face had to be put into motion, as the deformation of the seventies went into its last stage.

In part two of Reflexive Mass I carried out a performance at two tables covered with white tablecloths which I called Beautiful Altar and Pure Altar. When I recently came across some photo-graphs while leafing through a newspaper I thought for a moment that they were photographs of my manifestation in the Szadkowski’s Metal Fctory from 1975,  but upon looking more closely I saw that they were photographs of a mass celebrated by the Metropolitan of Krakow, Macharski, during the strike in the collective combine “Nowa Huta”. How many unforeseeable events must have happened in the meantime in order for such a similar situation to occur. Therefore, I was ahead by six years.

As my last example l want to mention the Altar of Changes of 1978.  When I exhibited the work in the spring of 1979 the censors permitted it on condition that the white and red cloth which was being used in its construction would be replaced by another one; I replaced it by a gray one, thinking that I was mistaken and that the changes would not occur in Poland. Soon it became evident that it was no mistake. The white and red cloth has returned to the Altar of Changes.

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