No 1 (97) 2014
January - March



Andrzej Mitan has been one of few Polish artists whose multiple motive and interdisciplinary oeuvre brings new qualities to the contemporary culture in the widest sense of the term. Considerable achievements by the artist, renown on the Polish and European art scene for over forty years now, in my opinion cover several most important areas of creative effort: composition and performance of music pieces, visual arts, culture animation and propagation, curator activity.

Romuald K. Bochyński

B. in 1956. Art. historian, curator, editor. He works for the “Power Plant” Contemporary Art. Center in Radom.

Romuald K. Bochyński

THE WORK BY THIS ARTIST, HOWEVER, quite frequently escapes this simplified division and uniform classification. Undoubtedly his artistic strategy has been reflected best by the transgression practice, manifested best in the fact that he has been freely crossing lines between art genres and disciplines. The contemporary art practice has long undermined the aesthetic tradition sanctified division into the arts developed in space (fine arts) and the arts developed in time (music, literature, theater, film). Mitan has been an artist whose creative efforts can be situated in between these types of art, while the artist himself has been eager to combine different disciplines, belonging to various genres, within one piece. The characteristics of the majority of works by Mitan is the coexistence of sound layer and visual layer. Thus, they adopt hybrid like, heterogeneous and performative nature. This in turn, brings about considerable problems to analyze and interpret his oeuvre. Certainly it is helpful to adopt an interdisciplinary approach supported by the reconstruction of artistic and social context of the period in which the piece was made. This helps to decipher the sense of his works (hopefully close to the artist's intention), their artistic aspects, as well as the inspiration sources and links with other works or trends, in other words, to place his efforts against the background of the then art panorama.

Further, Mitan has played various parts, being an artist, composer and performer, "a poet of sound" as he has willing described himself, as well as culture animator and curator.

It has been his characteristic feature to manifest his art in the zone of established institutions and outside them, in public and in private, in the official and unofficial. Typically, the artist was connected with the Riviera Remont students club for a long period of time, and he was an active member of the so called independent culture in the 80's.

His oeuvre has followed two different trends, i.e., modernism and postmodernism, being developed in two different political, social and economic systems, i.e., real socialism and democracy. The first period, up to about 1980 was the time when he departed from the modernistic paradigm to replace this with the postmodernism. The artistic attitude by Mitan had been formed in the 70's decade dominated by neo avant-garde trends. Some researchers distinguish two basic streams in the art of this period - the art of idea and the art of concept. Undoubtedly, the young artist has been inspired by John Cage, while the later cooperation with Emmett Williams - one of the leaders of the Fluxus movement, regarded as an heir of the dadaistic concepts as offered by Duchamp or Schwitters - extended his interests in visual poetry and performance. From the very beginning the oeuvre by Mitan has bordered on neo avant-garde ideas and practices.

The author has been particularly focused on music, in the widest possible sense of the term. Mitan has adopted here a double part - the one of a composer and performer. Starting as early as the end of the 60's and the beginning of the 70's, he had been connected with alternative music movement (searching and experimental), and off trends. He has been a member and a leader of numerous music groups, the "Onomatopoeia" being the most interesting of these. At the same time he started experimenting as a composer. He approached a music piece as an open audio creation, artistic by assumption. He has eagerly followed creative improvisation and treated an actual performance of a piece as a kind of a spectacle that shared some features with performance. Looking back from the time perspective, it seems that the greatest achievement by Mitan has been the creation of unique Polish alternative music; the philosophy of a music piece and the manner of its performance, inspired with theory and artistic practice by John Cage and Robert Filiou, influential figures of the Fluxus international art movement which was joint later by Mitan. He has developed an original system of sound poetry (no matter how vague this term seems to be). He has attempted to combine there two opposite determinants - openness to improvisation, and an aspiration to make a piece according to a certain structure planned in advance). These assumptions shaped his later compositions. These were structured, while within the piece framework, improvisation was most welcomed, if not encouraged, for instance Polish Didactic Poem (2004).

He has been the author of some pieces - visual poems, such as Zymulet (2003), visually resembling an abstract picture governed by a rigorous composition. Earlier, he offered several "poetic" performances, for example Literakcje (1986) and An Independent Dark Blue Pipe (1991). Gradually, the artist started to approach performing his own pieces, specially in public, as a type of visual, not merely audio experience.

Fascination with poetry, in particular with visual poetry, introduced semantic, or to be more exact, quasi semantic motives to non-semantic music piece. This mode of creation has been expressed best in one of the elements of an extensive project, dedicated to Emmett Williams. The part, entitled The Concert for Fish (2011) adopted the summa vitae. In this case, a music work has been treated equal with other, visual layer; a video apparently devoid of any narration, however showing distinct structure and dramaturgy. Pictures and sounds, precisely coordinated, served to develop a complex set of symbols, metaphors and topics carrying the author's message about the responsibility of art and an artist.

Further, Mitan was a publisher of nine unique gramophone records with avat-garde music composed by Andrzej Bieżan, Helmut Nadolski and Krysztof Knittl. Record covers were designed (and occasionally handmade - sic!) by outstanding Polish artists, among others, Włodzimierz Borowski, Jarosław Kozłowski, Edward Krasiński, Andrzej Szewczyk, Ryszard Winiarski. The records were released in the years 1985-1987, i.e., real socialism period, the time of "economic shortage" and an extensive preventive censorship.

The record covers are unique pieces of art as such, and till today they have remained an unrivalled specimen of excellent graphic design, evoking the nature of the registered albums.

Out of a long list of achievements in the area of animation and propagation of contemporary culture and art, one should mention the ETC International Art Seminar, organized in cooperation with Emmett Williams and Cezary Staniszewski that took place in 1987, an extremely unfavorable period for Polish culture. The event was attended by over 100 artists from all over the world, including a number of outstanding figures. Looking back, one can compare this to an earlier, legendary Construction in Process, held in Łódź before martial law was imposed. In 1988 he organized the International Art Seminar to initiate exhibition activity of the Ujazdowski Castle Warsaw Contemporary Art Center.

The most significant project that he implemented as a curator was Art Uprising (2008) showed during the Mazovian Art Festival in Radom, where he was a general curator. This was a two-month, interdisciplinary presentation of the Polish contemporary art. that covered the forms ranging from exhibitions, performances, artist meetings, educational projects, videos, through jazz and rock concerts. Lately he was a co-curator of two important topical exhibitions at the Radom "Power Plant": Flags (2011) and Texts, Contexts, Inter-Texts. Collection in Process (2013).

The achievement by the artist has been underrated for many years, and frequently over interpreted, since the then, quite conservative discourse of the Polish art criticism has not developed function oriented tools to describe, analyze and evaluate phenomena and processes that exceeded the area of traditionally understood art. Only recently the oeuvre by a number of artists from the 70's and 80's have been properly appreciated. New ideas, methodologies and humanistic research instruments - in particular concepts of culture field, concepts of symbolic and social capital by P. Bourdieu, or relative aesthetics by F. Bourriaud - let one perceive an innovative character of the work by Andrzej Mitan, that is social capital release in the course of the project implementation that has been reflected in the working on the Concert for Fish.

What is significant, while experimenting with the form of his pieces, Mitan has not forgotten their message. He has always addressed to his audience elementary philosophical questions (later theological) about ontology, cognition, axiological systems, namely about the sense.

Andrzej Mitan

Born 1950, sound poet, performer and publisher of artistic records. Studied at the Marie Curie-Skłodowska University and Catholic University in Lublin, as well as at the Catholic Theological Academy in Warsaw. Since the end of the 60's he has been an active art animator, curator and coordinator of many festivals, exhibitions, concerts, symposia, i.e. at the Remont Club in Warsaw, Ujazdowski Castle Contemporary Art. Center, Mazovian Culture and Art Center, Mazovian Contemporary Art Center "Elektrownia" in Radom. Linked to the international art movement "Fluxus", in 1987, together with Cezary Staniszewski and Emmett Williams he organized the Warsaw International Seminar of Arts ETC, which was attended by over 100 artists from around the world. The 2nd International Seminar organized by the artist in 1988 inaugurated the activity of the Contemporary Art Center in Warsaw. Andrzej Mitan was also the General Curator of the Mazovian Artists' Festival "Art Up-rising" at the Mazovian Contemporary Art Center  Elektrownia" in Radom, in 2008.

Produced nine unique gramophone records with avant-garde artists and musicians.Presented his work, among others, at the RR Gallery in Warsaw, Galeria Działań (Action Gallery) in Warsaw, Giannozzo Gallerie in Berlin, at the National Philharmonic, Biblioteka Gallery in Legionowo, GR Gallery in Grójec, Aspekty Gallery in Warsaw, AT Gallery in Poznań, as well as in Moscow, Belgrade, Krakow, Wrocław and many other cities worldwide.

Andrzej Mitan has been one of the most original phenomena of the Polish scene of unconventional vocal and artistic performances.