No 3 (67) 2006
July - September



Jarosław Kozłowski is one of the artists who could have been considered leading figure of the artistic discourse in Poland. The fact that this has not been the universal opinion results, among other factors, from this that the artist himself has been repudiating this sort of myths. Further, it has been significant that his output – on one hand – has been fundamental for what is a starting point of expression today; on the other – the artist himself has been undermining not only “the founding” myths, but he has not respected the believes binding in criticism and sanctioned in art. Kozłowski has been deconstructing the paradigms pertaining to the artistic language; in this he has been persistent, alone, independent.

Roman Lewandowski

Theoretician and art. critic. Curator of the Baltic Contemporary Art. Gallery in Słupsk. Lecturer at the Cracow Fine Arts Academy Inter Media Faculty.

Roman Lewandowski

An artist, pedagogue, curator. An author of books, photographs, installations, drawings, objects and conceptual projects. A forerunner and co-founder of the conceptual art in Poland, considered one of the most outstanding artists in this area. He was born in 1945 in Śrema. In the period 1963 – 69, he studied at the Poznań State School of Fine Arts Painting Faculty. Since 1967, he has been involved in teaching, drawing and painting there (at present, the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań). In the period 1981-87, he hold a position of the President of the Academy. He cooperated with Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunste in Amsterdam. A holder of grants by the British Council (1979 London) and DAAD in Berlin (1984-85). As an artist, he has been actively exhibiting his works since 1967. In 1972, he founded the Akumulatory 2 Gallery in Poznań that he run till 1990, showing there the works by Polish and foreign vanguard artists. In the period 1991 – 1993, he was a curator of the Warsaw Ujazdowski Castle Contemporary Art Center gallery and collection program. He lives and works in Poznań. When the artist presented his first works and performances in the late 60’s and early 70’s of the former century, as early as then, he had joint the discussions which were soon to transgress the conceptualism meta-language deliberations typical of Joseph Kosuth and Art and Language. The artistic oeuvre by Kozłowski, similarly to the writing and statements by Jan Świdziński, has posed not merely the questions about the language signs and their essence, but also about the medium status and the context function. In this sense, this has been a creative reflection over the role of any kind of communication in human life, what is the ontological perception and reception model; especially, what are its capabilities and limitations. EXERCISES IN SEMANTICS AND SEMIOTICS covered, in particular, acting within the “text” domain. Then, he made a number of works for which an original medium was a book – understood as an idea, a text, an artifact. Against the background of the artistic trends of that period – and let us remember that it was the time when On Kawara and nearly all fluxus movement were focused on books, while in Poland Andrzej Szewczyk and Stanisław Dróżdż were representatives of the text oriented approach – the artistic efforts by Kozłowski had been coherent with general practices. The linguistic and semiotic inclinations – to a certain extent, a resultant of the discussions on post-structuralism and deconstruction – took up the risk of entangling their procedures into the art language game which got rid off its former aesthetic determinants. The resignation from the concepts of decorum and mimesis brought about the discourse with sems and their context. The latter turned out to be of the utmost importance here, though likely, it had been co-shaped by various reality zones, for example, Kant’s philosophy (“Reality”), the time perception (“Grammar”), artistic pedagogic (“The Academy”) or a library ideal (“The Library”, “The Reading Room”). While the work series entitled “Metaphysics, Physics, Ics”, originating in the period 1972-74, and presented at the Foksal Gallery, exemplified semantic deliberations through photography, the numbers written on the wall and an audio track. It is symptomatic that every subsequent scene presented works that were more and more minimalist in their expression ( i.e., in their iconic “text”) simultaneously getting more and more maximalist in their hermeneutic “context”. As a result, the open structure (in a larger sense of the term than used by Eco) presented to the audience, by means of a familiar code – or through its creation – indexed the representation of a certain reality. Generally, these have been (and still are) the deliberations on the problems of relations between what belongs to the world of things and what belongs to the world of notions. The network of references stretched between them and the connoted non-transparency of the language which does not reflect the tension accurately enough, as well as a lack of compatibility between the connoted and the designated – have developed the main stream of the early works by Jarosław Kozłowski. The relation suggested by the artist (or a lack of it) between the existence of things and their “iconic” representation, shows the state of being in process or a specific conflict that can be regarded as a new sense of art. If it had been otherwise, the artist would not have had to articulate and visualize them, while adding the new or disturbing the existing order of the language (i.e., of art) would not have been justified. This element – the difference and repetition, in other words the impossibility of tautology – can be treated as the roots of the art by Jarosław Kozłowski. ART MYTHOLOGIES The 80’s, for Poland the period of national myths reconstruction, for Jarosław Kozłowski – the period of deconstruction of modernistic myths and their academic impact. The works going back to that time – frequently based on a material equivalent, in a form of an installation – were made in series, such as “The Art Mythologies” or “The Realities of Art”. At this point, one should mention the exhibition initiated at the Akumulatory 2 Poznań Gallery; the work entitled “Opus I” (1983), where Kozłowski – like Tomasz Ciecierski in the area of painting – got involved in revealing and compromising techniques and skills ( gold plating the accessories of an artist – painting brushes, paints, a pipe, etc.) and confronting them with X-ray pictures of his own skull hanging on the wall. The series of exhibitions and events; “The Show”, “The Exhibition”, “The Auction” (1985) at the DAAD gallery in Berlin was another, equally spectacular project. During the first show, one could see the artist playing the violin …he was behind a sound proof glass door. To be honest, at the gallery, one could hear radio music but nobody was sure whether it was a transmission or a confabulation. “The Exhibition” consisted, in part, of the viewers photographs taken in the course of the first show, while the closing part was an auction of the very same photographs – framed in gold - run by Emmet Williams. This work has been an attempt to put down the myths of relations: an artist – an oeuvre of art – audience, as well as all complex links accompanying these; aesthetic, social, marketing. At the same time, it has been a fully conscious attempt of the re-mythology of “a piece of art”, as a result of impossibility to understand, starting with the beginning of its existence, in a form of a matrix ( in a conceptual and material dimension), through the impossibility to rule out what does exist physically and what has been acquired through perception. In this sense, one could – following in the footsteps of Tomasz Sikorski – approach a work of art as something which is not meaningless, though it is impossible to be logically and finally verified. THE GEOMETRIES OF TIME A drawing can be a sign and a medium identical to a hand watch. A number of works by Jarosław Kozłowski make use of sign related and material qualities of clocks. Certainly, one can say that they have a role of a utilitarian symbol in our culture, while every drawing is an act of articulation of an individual gesture, a record of a given concept and the representation evoking the path conquered by the idea or expression. This has been a fact. Nevertheless, the procedure of painting over, sticking over or multiplying (i.e., in the mirrors) clocks, has been a significant interference into their emblematic quality. The dimension of the “deformed” time becomes equally representative and ambiguous as a line, while jointly (i.e., in “Dark Blue”, 1989) they connote a polyphonic world where meanings implosion happens. In this labyrinth, a viewer – without a help of Ariadna and a thread – has been all left to himself, where he has to construct his alternative, subjective or abstract time (as in the version of “The Soft Safety Locks”, 1994). These have been the works demanding from a viewer not only the re-interpretation – but first of all – a creative and discourse oriented approach. After all, the artist has undermined our belief in ratio, logos and “sense” which have been our language foundations; its syntax and notions. In turn, we have to suspend our doubts about art and get to believe that the discourse of time and geometry has been merely one among numerous arbitrary discourse. THE THIRD CIRCLE consists of all works by Jarosław Kozłowski made after 1993. This has been a zone (could it be “an inter-zone” ?) where the objects - these are the ready made – have been shaping a whole network of relations and meanings, based on different rules that the ones earlier applied. Undoubtedly, “the third circle” theory has been a repercussion of his own thinking, as well as theoretical discussions run with Jerzy Ludwiński. In this new situation, the notions (i.e., of time and reality) and the way of experiencing and visually articulating them are the core of the matter. Objects – as Kozłowski himself has argued – “in the third circle they frequently look (…) identical, though their new status and other inner relations determine that they do not originate anymore in the reality circle, the more so, they have nothing in common with their representations or transformations from the circle of art. They gain other identity and recover their lost dignity.” At this point, one can recollect Kantor’s theory of a poor object. The Poznań artist, however, not so much attempts to uplift it through the genealogy, but rather he affirms it by means of a romantic duct. The meaning is sparkling and it reflects – as though Flaubert’s mirror – a whole path, however, at its alleged end there is a completely different creature. “The Temporary Objects” installation (1997) consisting of numerous private pieces of equipment borrowed from the Museum for the time of the exhibition, has been constituted by means of Duchamp selection. He presents the work of art, as a final result of nomadic discourse which resultants have been a “pre-text” (an idea); “text” (artifact) and “con-text” (the meanings oscillating in time and space in the course of watching and observing “an oeuvre”.) Yet another attempt to liberate “an oeuvre” from the sign oppression are “The Sharp Objects” where the artist has uprooted everyday use accessories from their hitherto context and – by means of sticking on them sharp scythes – enriched them with a new identity. One can say that this has been a kind of an evolving theatrical mask which not merely – as Lévi-Strauus believed – is bring about ready made archetypes – but also, as Bachelard suggested, a potential of owing “the new future”. This nomadic distribution of an oeuvre (as a sign) has not been only a change of grammatical syntax, but it has had a key impact on the “subjectivity” of an object of art which turns into an oeuvre of art through acquiring new qualities and connections. This aspect has been strongly visible in the work entitled “The Soft Safety Locks” (1994-95), where Kozłowski has glued the objects together. The artist, as though he were a cult bricoleur, organized into a new, invariant orders, the objects and pieces of equipment that had been earlier cut in half. As a fixative – what is quite symptomatic – he has used not only a band aid but also – in the museum version (for example in Bonn, 1994) - he used art newspapers and magazines. Unexpectedly, this museum oriented discourse – apparently totally compromised by the conceptualism – turned into a symbolic building matter. It can be perceived as a metaphor of art in general (an idea parchment manuscript with original text wiped off) though this practice has not been fully free from pejorative connotations. On one hand, we are catching our own reflection in “the picture” which is a synonym of all “pictures”; on the other – we approach it as an empty form ready to absorb and reflect any, temporarily desired “sense”. Following this path – quite likely – one can say that Jarosław Kozłowski used national flags in “the United World”, his new work series, in the above described meaning. These installations have not avoided (this time, fully consciously) self reference approach to “the image”, as understood d by Jasper Johns, and they have deconstructed democratic or totalitarian features of any national discourse. Simultaneously, they have been a critical deliberation over the standardization and implosion of “the senses” that lost their metaphysical aspects. The latter has been also visible in the works entitled “The European Standards”. “The European Standards”, similarly to the series “The Curtains” and “the Masks” lately shown at Andrzej Starmach Gallery, has paradoxically proved that this has not been the art that aspires to take a rest from meanings. At this point, one can say that against all the post-conceptual background (just to mention Daniel Buren), the artistic output by Jarosław Kozłowski has been not only intriguing and attractive, but it has been capable of revitalizing a fundamental question about the “sense of existence (of art, politics, ethics), and revealing their mythological entanglements – both within the context of the culture itself and the visual zone, as well as in the sphere of the existing and existence of the world, societies and humans.