Opowiedziane inaczej. A story Differently Told: Tomasz Cieciersk / Jarosaw Kozłowski / Zofia Kulik / Zbigniew Libera i Darek Foks / Aleksandra Polisewicz; (cat), Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia, Gdańsk 2008, pp. 84-122.
What Do Archives Forget? Memory and Histories, ‘From the Archive of KwieKulik’
What is an archive? What is the relationship of the documents stored in archives with the discourse of memory? What can and what cannot be archived? What are the futures, to quote Allan Sekula’s question 1 Allan Sekuła, ‘Reading an Archive. Photography Between Labour and Capital’, in The Photography Reader (London — New York: Routledge 2003), p. 444. , that are promised by archives, and what futures fall into oblivion?
The adopted and most popular definition assumes that an archive is a set of documents collected in an orderly manner. It is also the institution and the building where the collection is located. The task of an archive is to collect, secure, develop, and provide access to the materials stored 1 http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archiwum, (accessed April 21, 2008). . This concise and seemingly clear definition, however, unintentionally reveals the aporetical nature of archives, noticed by Michel Foucault, and then further radically deconstructed by Jacques Derrida. In the opinion of Foucault, an archive is not just a collection of documents indicating the threshold of our discourse. An archive is first and foremost a ‘general system of forming answers’. It is a principle of a discourse which is decisive of the possibilities and the impossibilities of articulation 1 Michel Foucault, Archeologia wiedzy, (Warsaw: PIW, 2002), pp. 154-155-Originally published as L’Archeologie du savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1969). English translation: Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (London: Routledge, 1972). . When commenting Foucault’s divagations, Hal Foster has noted that an archive is neither critical nor affirmative per se 1 Hal Foster, ‘Archives of Modern Art’, in idem, Design and Crime (and other Diatribes) (London and New York: Verso, 2002); quoted after Obieg, no. 1-2, 2007, p. 147., while Allan Sekula has pointed out that archives are never neutral: by constituting the territories of images, they exercise the powers assigned to accumulation, and collection, which are inherent of the dictate of lexicon and the rules of language 1 Sekuła, p. 446.. In his famous text, Archive Fever, Derrida claimed that the concept of an archive hides the memory of the word arche which, on the one hand, means the reason, the beginning, and on the other, original principle, resolution, law, and authority 1 Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 1-24. The driving force of an archive, as Derrida wrote, is the drive of death which not only leads to the annihilation of memory (understood both as remembering, memorising, as well as recollecting) but also to a radical deletion of all that cannot be incorporated in the memory. However, it would be impossible to construct an archive without the death drive, or desire in other words. Archive is an aporetic structure: it always works against itself. At the same time, however, an archive always remains a sign of the future — what is not archived for the future, dies to a certain extent. As Derrida observes, the science of archives must include the theory of their institutionalisation. In that case, how are the meanings generated by an archive determined by its structures, the main principle of which in Derrida’s opinion, is repression and prohibition? How is archived material selected and prefigured? Who is not mentioned in the structure of an archive?
The above questions are of key importance and very current for not only the practice of historians, art historians, or curators, but also for artists of Central and Eastern Europe, as their art still belongs to regions of elementary exclusion, upon which the edifice of the western, universalistic idiom of contemporary art history and that of the 20th century was founded 1 Cf. Piotr Piotrowski, W stronę horyzontalnej historii sztuki [Towards horizontal art history], paper delivered at IHS UAM, April 4, 2008, typescript.. One of its symptoms is the impressive in scale publication from 2005, Art sińce 1900 1 Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin Buchloh, Hal Foster, Rosalind E. Krauss, Art since 1900 (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004)., which despite its many assets, as indicated by Piotr Piotrowski, includes no attempt at offering a critical perspective of geography or geohistory. This book, Piotrowski notes, which includes texts and has been edited by art historians and critics associated with the October periodical, by authors who have contributed profoundly to the introduction and development of critical methodologies, reveals a West-oriented treatment of Central and Eastern Europe, seeing it as a fragment of the global, universal history of art. The author of Awangarda w cieniu Jałty [Avant-garde in the shadow of Yalta] calls this kind of historical narration ‘vertical’. At the same time, he postulates a multitude of ‘horizontal’ art histories, ‘polyphonic, multidimensional, and free of the geographical hierarchies’, which imply negotiation of ‘local narratives on the transregional level’ 1 Ibid., p. 8..
Many projects from Central and Eastern Europe have struggled with the hegemony of universal art history 1 For more see Piotr Piotrowski, ‘O dwóch głosach historii sztuki’ [On two voices in art history], Artium Quaestiones, vol. XVII, (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 2006), pp. 195-214. Piotr Piotrowski is himself the author of an excellent book Awangarda w cieniu Jałty [Avant-garde in the shadow of Yalta], which focuses on the art of Central Europe from the perspective of critical geography and implements a geopolitical ‘framing’. The book is without doubt an outstanding example of constructing a ‘horizontal history’. Unfortunately, it has not yet been translated into English (to the detriment of western historiography).. I find two of these particularly important, as they have developed not only a type of new idiom, but also a new type of narration of languages of thinking, speaking, and writing about art history ‘of this place’. The first of these projects was, to my mind, the exhibition by Zdenka Badovinac — Interrupted Histories, which took place in 2006 at the Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana 1 For more on the exhibition, see Agnieszka Szewczyk, ‘Sztuka z historii, historia ze sztuki. Interrupted Histories w Moderna Galerija w Lublanie’ [Art from history, history from art. Interrupted Histories in Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana], Obieg (on-line edition) http://www. obieg.pl/calendar2006/as_historia_sztuka.php, (accessed April 21, 2008).. The exhibition focused on the phenomena of artistic practices and art history which together with their specific problems were pushed out, for political or economic reasons, of the mainstream of contemporary historiography. As Zdenka Badovinac observes in the catalogue to the exhibition (which is in the form of a binder that can be filled with additional materials), Eastern Block countries, with their histories of wars, totalitarian regimes, and ideological repressions, experience a non-continuity, a lack of the continuation of the historical course of events, while the dominant method of building both historical narration, as well as the perception of the past in the West was rather linear 1 Zdenka Badovinac, ‘Interrupted Histories’, in Interrupted Histories, exh. cat. (Ljubljana: Moderna Galerija, 2006).. Badovinac believes that the western art history represented by museum institutions constructs a narration which is uninterrupted and at the same time hegemonic. In countries of Central Europe, on the other hand, we are dealing with defragmented collective histories or spaces of ‘small historiographies’. The Interrupted Histories exhibition undermined not only the phenomenon of historical exclusion and repression but it also revealed the heterogeneity, tokenism, and lack of claims for any collective treatment of the histories created by artists from Central Europe who, from the 1970s on, were subject to a double marginalisation of a sort, both in the local discourse, and more broadly in the effective western idiom of art history.
Badovinac’s exhibition included one other project — East Art Map 1 East Art Map. Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe, ed. IRWIN (London: Afterall and MIT Press, 2006). A corresponding project, also initiated by IRWIN, is Mind the Map. History Is Not Given, for more see Marina Grzinić, ‘Recenzja dwóch projektów książkowych: East Art Map i Mind the Map! History is not given [Critical review of two book projects: East Art Map and Mind the Map! History is Not Given], Obieg, no. 1-2, 2007, suppl. Gazet’art, no. 4, pp. XXX-XXXIII. — which is important for the historiography of Central and Eastern Europe aimed at ‘horizontalisation’, a project initiated by artists associated with the IRWIN. East Art Map, appearing in the form of a book publication, exhibitions, or a website is, in the words of Marina Grzinić, a type of a discourse-based platform 1 Grzinić, pp. XXX-XXXI.. The artists invited art historians from different regions of Eastern Europe to their project. Their task was to propose a narration which described the cultural history of the region they came from. The objective of East Art Map was to remove the artists from national frameworks and to simultaneously deprive them of the context of the local mythologies accompanying them. At the same time, there were efforts to represent the art of artists ‘from this place’ according to a somewhat uniform scheme which made it possible to implement an order to and interpret the art made behind the Iron Curtain, to create a system of references respected beyond the borders of Eastern Europe, undermining the foundations of the Grand Narration of art history created in the West. The proposals of the historians who delineate the map, or rather the constellation of art history in Eastern Europe, were subjected to permanent negotiations: upon giving an appropriate justification on the website, one could offer to supplement, add, delete or replace the proposed artists by other ones. The motto on the website: ‘History is not given. Please help to construct it’ underlines the provisional character of any historical narration, unmasking the mechanisms of its creation 1 http://www.eastartmap.org/, (accessed April 21, 2008).. Not only does East Art Map not create an alternative geography vis-a-vis the established map of western art history but, first and foremost, it offers a history of art which is non-identical, one which refutes a homogenous and linear vision of the past.
Both Interrupted Histories and East Art Map are just two examples of endeavours synthesising the issue of the archive, narration, and historical exclusion in reference to art and the history of art in Eastern Europe. A similar type of opposition against the coherence, linearity, and smoothness of narrations created by either western or local historiography is represented in Zofia Kulik’s From the Archive of KwieKulik. The work, commissioned by Zdenka Badovinac, was created in 2006 and presented for the first time at the Interrupted Histories exhibition. The artist, using the ever growing archive she and Przemysław Kwiek started in the early 1970s, as well as the power of the affective associations of memory, made an effort to disturb and bifurcate standard forms of historical narrations, with reference both to art in Poland and Eastern Europe, as well as to the western idiom. Most importantly, however, Kulik formulated the intriguing proposal of constructing history in the crevasses between the reading of the archive and the efforts of memory, revealing the issue of histories unwritten and stifled, although remembered and archived in local contexts. Hence she brought up the issue of the symbolic violence of official archives and their affiliated narrations that dominate in the area of Central Europe (Poland, in this case), as well as the need for not so much an indispensable complementation, but rather for reworking and rethinking history anew in its micro-streams.
The material of Kulik’s work which, in this case, can be understood both in the sense of a verb or a noun, is the archive of Pracownia Działań, Dokumentacji i Upowszechniania [The Laboratory of Action, Documentation, and Promotion — PDDiU]. PDDiU, managed by KwieKulik (Zofia Kulik and her then partner in life and art, Przemysław Kwiek) were collected and maintained in their houses. The Archons became the first guardians of these documents. They not only made sure that they were physically safe, but they also had the hermeneutical competence to interpret the archives. The documents with which the Archons were entrusted constituted law, required law, and imposed law. The Archonic dimension of authority over the interpretation of PDDiU was ironically underlined and complemented by the joint exhibition of From the Archive of KwieKulik and the photography work by Zofia Kulik, Ambassadors of the Past (2006) in Le Guern Gallery in Warsaw in 2006, which followed the model of the famous double allegorical portrait by Hans Holbein 1 Made in GDR, USSR, Czechoslovakia and Poland, Le Guern Gallery, Warsaw, September-November 2006. In the second edition of the exhibition at the Polish Institute in Berlin (June -July 2007) the title of the work was Ambassadors of the Past with a subtitle Made in GDR, USSR, Czechoslovakia and Poland.[/ref]. As Kaja Pawełek noted in her analysis of the Ambassadors, ‘in Zofia Kulik’s composition, the French diplomats at the English court of King Henry VIII portrayed by Holbein . . . are replaced by the artist herself and Przemysław Kwiek . . . , while the Renaissance allegorical tool-kit has changed into an arsenal of neo-avant-garde transformations of the 1970s — camcorders, cameras, tape recorders made in Czechoslovakia, the GDR, USSR, and Poland. . . . It would be difficult to find a more ironic, and at the same time a more metaphorical image of the two artists as Ambassadors — taking into consideration the fact that in the years I975-79 Kulik and Kwiek were banned from leaving the country, which was a repercussion of their famous term ‘art barracks’ used for the state institution of Pracownie Sztuk Plastycznych [Fine Art Studios], which was published in the 1975 catalogue to an exhibition at Malmo Konsthall, as well as their presentation of a sculpture entitled Man-Dick . . . . It was the passport photos taken in the hope to leave the country and participate in Arnheim, which were attended by Beuys among others, that Kulik used as portraits for Ambassadors’ [ref]Kaja Pawełek, ‘Z archiwum ambasadorów’ [From the archives of the ambassadors], Obieg (on-line edition, November 7, 2006),, http://www.obieg.pl/calendar2006/kp_kulik.php, (accessed April 21, 2008). . In the context of the work From the Archive of KwieKulik, it can be suggested that the artist ironically portrayed KwieKulik as clerks, archivists, and at the same time as guards of the never fully expressed historical narration or the never closed identity. However, the Ambassadors, who had been locked up in their ‘home arrest’ of both the bureaucratic and authoritarian Poland of the late 1970s, and their own home-archive, do come back with their own history which has the power of the excluded. At the same time, the author of Ambassadors does give them the hermeneutical right or competence to interpret this domesticated archive in its present form, and stresses the exclusion to which the PDDiU material was subject. Kulik changes the symbolic representation of death in Holbein’s Ambassadors – the anamorphic image of the scull – into a clear presentation of the premises of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. This gesture can be either interpreted as a private vendetta of a sort or, more broadly, as a representation of official artistic institutions in Poland which ‘kill’ the galaxies of unwritten histories by their indifference towards collected artistic documentations. Kulik’s comments to historical scenarios are not in dearch of a consensus, but stem from the symbolic antagonism between the history written ‘in’ the archive, and the history developed both ‘with the help’ and ‘against’ the archive, underlining the ine thing that archives forget about, namely memory.
From the Archive of KwieKulik has an open structure. It is composed of nine tableaux (it is possible to add more), tightly filled with copies of paintings in most cases (only a few originals can be found), as well as descriptions of selected PDDiU documents. The work is preceded by a text, where the artist explains her understanding of the project. Such descriptions also accompany the documents, creating a sort of a thin grey margin on each of the tableaux. Most of the archives have been systematically scanned and reduced in size. The documents and their copies were inscribed in the rectangular frames of the panels, creating colourful, almost ornamental compositions placed in a sequence of linear chronology: from 1968 until mid the 1980s (the last photograph from 2006, showing the process of preparing one of the pieces for an exhibition, can probably be treated as a full stop at the end of a sentence). This order, however, is distorted in the area of each of the sets of the perfect document copies, thus creating temporal whirlpools and either running forward or retroactively reading past events in a new constellation of meanings. The selection, the chronology, and the mutual relations of documents seem to be determined by three vectors: excluded histories, the metonymy of experience — Kulik’s memory, and the rules of composition which Kulik developed over the period of the last 20 years of her artistic practice.
The status of the events and figures represented by the documents and their layout (neighbourhood, relations), underline their location in the footnotes to art history in Poland, if not on its margins. Kulik empathically extracts the ‘weak’ narration, all those who were not and are not part of strong definitions or the categorical divisions, dominant traditions, and institutional ranking lists: Andrzej Partum, Anastazy Wiśniewski, Włodzimierz Borowski, Jerzy Ludwiński, the KwieKulik duo and Paweł Kwiek. Kulik proposes a narration which is an alternative to the one promoted in textbooks. She does not respect the developed hierarchies and divisions, emphasising the historical dividing lines rather than making an attempt to eliminate them. She is not interested in sources, but in faded traces and unfinished projects, in all that has been crossed out as not sufficiently important in the editing process of neo-avant-garde art history in Poland (e.g. the project of the Muzeum Sztuki Aktualnej [Museum of Current Art], the attempts at establishing a Stowarzyszenie Innych Mediów [Association of Other Media], Anastazy Wiśniewski’s Galeria Tak, Nie [Yes-No Gallery]). All facts and events which she finds important, such as Oskar Hansen’s theory of Open Form and the projects which were based on it (such as the film Forma Otwarta [Open Form]), as well as games and participations (e.g. Play on an Actress’s Face, Play on Morel Hill), and individually developed modi operandi (including Działania Dokamerowe [For-the-camera Activities], Sztuka Pasożytnicza [Parasite Art], Sztuka Komentarza [The Art of Commentary]), meetings (such as Zjazd Marzycieli [Convention of Dreamers], the meeting in Nowa Ruda, meetings in Osetnica), and places (e.g. PDDiU, Andrzej Partum’s Biuro Poezji [Poetry Office], Galeria EL) all form a type of microhistory. By including in these projects all her collected publications (such as Notatnik Robotnika Sztuki [Diary of an Art Labourer], Tango), invitations to exhibitions, outdoor art workshops, lectures, or seminars, Kulik reconstructs the map of intellectual references, a circulation of information, contacts, meeting points of different undertakings, as well as the peculiar Weltanschauung of the artistic environment in which she functioned. Another group of microhistories is clearly focused on the material living and working conditions of artists, illustrating the whole sphere of privacy, politics, and politicality. By reconstructing the whole issue of reluctantly recalled slipshods, Kulik points to the artists’ humiliating dependence on the state enterprise — the Pracownie Sztuk Plastycznych, which was the dispatcher of commissions for the visual ornamentation of different ideological festivities and celebrations, and which was also the patron of the avant-garde Galeria Foksal, very hermetically closed off to any projects, initiatives, or practices referred to by Kulik. This collage of microhistories functions as an avant-garde shock therapy: it indicates marginalised reasons by fragmenting narration and, at the same time, by omitting the events consecrated by art history. Furthermore, Kulik flauntingly excludes, as if mocking the logic of the archive described by Derrida. She illustrates the neo-avant-garde ethos filtered by the requirements of the offlcial empty language of ideology, the shortcomings of everyday life, as well as all the redtape. Her history is one of processes and actions, ephemeral projects and vanishing galleries, short-lived printings and publications — limited in copies and published at her own expense, fellowships not granted, passports taken away, isolation, and a shortage of information. The constellations of meanings appearing in Kulik’s archive at the same time reveal facts which had been in a way pushed into the realm of the not known of the renown Polish art archives: in the case of the archives of Galeria Foksal, it would be their connections with PSP, or in the broader sense a dimension of micro-authority permeating the notional structure and the artistic dimension of the praxis of the neo-avant-garde in Poland.
These events also play a function of a metonymy of memory and delineate the map of Kuliks subjective references. The activities of KwieKulik, hence the experience of Kulik herself, serve as an axis which integrated the narrations emerging from the constellation of documents. The montage of colourful images is not limited to a mosaic of the archived pieces, but also includes different traces of the memory and stories told. In the introduction to the colourful tableaux, Kulik even reveals her perspective or her role in constructing this history: it is her memory and her experience that have been incorporated in the rectangular frames. In a sense From the Archive of KwieKulik is a self-portrait located on the antipodes of the ironic Splendour of Myself. The reflection emerging from document scraps is clear but broken, and the identity cannot be glued back as the crevices in the emerging Self are too deep to be able to forget about its provisional character. The documents locked under a glass top somewhat resemble another work by the artist, From Siberia to Cyberia (1998-2004). In this case, the archive of television images refers to the issue of a crisis of experience, to a peculiar state of aboulia of the subject in a mediatised reality, to the lack of memory and, as Bożena Czubak notes, to the impotence of history against the overgrowth of visual messages and the mania of historicising 1 Bożena Czubak, ‘From Siberia to Cyberia 1998-2004’, in Zofia Kulik. From Siberia to Cyberia, exh. cat. (Museum Bochum and Kunsthalle Rostock, 2005), p. 65.. We are dealing here with a specific ‘turn towards experience which means representations of events which the artist witnessed and in which she ‘then’ participated. This ‘then’, however, is ever more effective in underlining its absence ‘now’. The image of the archive does not, in this case, contradict memory, but rather plays the role of a prosthesis or a supplement. In many cases this memory has traces of the memory of trauma; it is related to the experience of long-term exclusion and the marginalisation of politicised artistic activities — in art history, as well as in local artistic circles — which use and are a parasite on the language of authority. There is a certain aura of nostalgia which accompanies the narrative streams initiated by Kulik. At the same time, there is a feeling of a peculiar claustrophobic anxiety re-evoked, which emerges from the recollected events, projects and endeavours, often stigmatised by either lack of fulfillment or abandonment. Her attitude towards the past is ambiguous. The artist herself commented on her joint ventures as part of KwieKulik in the 1970s referring to that period as a time when she had no say — she experienced something of a block as an individual 1 See ‘Bunt neoawangardowej artystki’, Zofia Kulik interviewed by JoannaTurowicz, Opcje, no. 3 (56), 2004, pp. 54-6l. . In a few cases she refrains from illustrating events which she or her circle of friends saw as traumatic. Such an event was the publication of Wiesław Borowski’s article ‘Pseudoawangarda’ [Pseudo-avant-garde] (1975) in the Kultura periodical. This void, however, does play a part — it is an active silence, which is significant in its meaning. From the Archive of KwieKulik is a fragmented representation of both awareness and the lack thereof, recalling facts which had been remembered and edited, as well as absent ones, which fill the crevices of the narrations Kulik builds. Memory as proposed by Kulik resembles the type of narration memory described by Mieke Bal: it is emotionally coloured, it resembles a collection of stories addressed to somebody else 1 Mieke Bal, ‘Introduction’, in Acts of Memory, ed. Mieke Bal, Jonathan Crewe, Leo Spitzer (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1999), p. VIII.. Its social dimension is revealed in the demand for critical reception, in provoking reaction.
The documents integrated in the tableaux were composed not in line with archival procedures, but with the use of the visual knowledge present in the works created by Kulik since the late 1980s. Such pieces as Guards of the Steeple (1990), The Square of Palaces (1990), All Missiles Are One Missile (1993) or Who Won the World (1994) are characterised by a closed structure of an architectural facade or a carpet, an almost obsessive symmetry, a multiplication of detail dissected meticulously from the context. This archival project is first of all governed by the principle of accumulation and collation; symmetry appears only in the documentary micro-courses. The artist does not compare the structure of From the Archive of KwieKulik to a carpet, which has a closed composition thus facilitating the layout of symmetry, but to an unrolling a ‘floorcloth’ or a runner 1 E-mail to the author, April 22, 2008.. The margins with the descriptions of documents impose a unified rhythm, while the archived elements were sequenced not according to the logic of an architectural exterior, but its interior — the successive cells, rooms, corridors and compartments. The tableaux were constructed as a collage of a sort, putting order into selected digital copies by means of the procedure of collation. It is the surfaces of documents that were exposed rather than their content. By integrating them into the rectangles of the tableaux and covering them with glass, a certain discipline was suggested which is imposed not only on the archived elements but, first and foremost, on the viewer who is forced to see the entirety of the material and the logic behind this work. PDDiU was transformed — absorbed by Kulik’s current artistic practice. The documentation, which was still ‘telling in itself’ when presented at the Contemporary Art from Poland exhibition (Walter Philips Gallery) in 1985 in Banff, was transformed here into a silent (requiring a narrator) ornamental composition. Whilst in Banff KwieKulik’s documents were exhibited on tables, inviting a visitor to see their contents, here Kulik barred the viewer from them thus inciting curiosity about their hidden histories. By doing so, the artist dispelled the illusion of a document as a transparent source and an archive as a beginning or a space of historical truth. She rather revealed her story as a narrative construct. Hayden White made a distinction in historical discourse between narration and narrativisation. The first notion means opening up to the world and reporting on it, the second pretends that the world speaks for itself 1 HaydenWhite, Znaczenie narracyjności dla przedstawiania rzeczywistości, in Poetyka pisarstwa historycznego, ed. Ewa Domańska and Marek Wilczyński (Cracow: Universitas, 2000), pp. 138-140. Originally published as ‘The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 7, no 1, 1980, pp. 5-27.. The value of the latter in representing actual events stems from the desire for these events, embedded in the causal sequence, to be marked with cohesion, integrality, fullness, and a certain complete vision of life. White claims that this value can only be imaginary. In reference to these claims, Kulik’s world does not take the form of a tailor-cut story; the artist does not create an illusion of reality which would speak for itself (as was the case in Banff in 1985). By composing the document copies of her archive into a certain visual and narrative form, she attempts rather to take the place of the narrating subject in the discourse of history, intervening at a level lower, namely the level of archaeology. Kulik refers to the process of forming and transforming the narration, only that the discourse to which she refers is no longer her own but, to follow Foucault — it delineates the externality of her own language 1 Foucault, p. 156.. At the same time Kulik does not construct an archive which could be measured by means of an authoritarian adequacy of reality. Instead, she rather tries to integrate this archive with other ones and with the histories they construct: such as the archives of the Centre for Contemporary Art, or the archives of Galeria Foksal. Kulik also makes sure to indicate the antagonism founding these alternative histories.
Similarly to Silvia Kolbowski’s An Inadequate History of Conceptual Art (1998-99) or The history of Galeria Foksal told to an unemployed Ukrainian (2002) by Santiago Sierra, From the Archive of KwieKulik can be treated as both an artistic and a historical work 1 I am using this phrase following Mignon Nixon, who used it in reference to the mentioned work by Silvia Kolbowski, see Mignon Nixon, ‘Oral histories: Silvia Kolbowski and the Dynamics of Transference’, in Silvia Kolbowski. Inadequate . . . Like . . . Power, exh. cat. (Vienna: Secession, 2003), pp. 93-102.. All three pieces refer to the issue of historical repression, the relations of memory and history, as well as the role of transference in the writing of history. However, the element that makes Kulik’s project different from the other two, is the extremely strongly emphasised archival impulse which accompanies the artist in her work. As Hal Foster notes in The Archival Impulse, practices which have an archival impulse not only use but also establish archives, revealing their elements as simultaneously found and constructed, referring to facts but at the same time being fictitious 1 Hal Foster, The Archival Impulse [abridged edition], in The Archive, ed. Charles Merewether (London and Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), pp. 143-148. Artists who follow an archival impulse try to construct historical narrations, which have been subject to either denial or displacement. Such an impulse stems from the feeling of emptiness, the absence of significance of which reality is so disturbingly deprived. Despite the fact that the archival practice of Zofia Kulik is often in line with the above mentioned comments by Foster, it is distinctly different from the works analysed by the author of Archives of Modern Art. The archive used in the project is one actually existing and belonging to the author, but it is also its synecdoche: a part of it is speaking on behalf of its entirety. Hence Kulik not so much presents, but represents the archive; she constructs her expression using the archive as if it was a sharp tool of a sort. However an archive, as Foucault claims, ‘cannot be described in its entirety, neither can it be encompassed in its relevance. It is manifested in certain areas or levels, and probably better and clearer the more it is distant away from us in time’ 1 Foucault, p. 155.[/ref ]. By constructing these fragments in some areas and levels of PDDiU, by composing constellations of micro-histories, hence making ever new decisions of selection, reduction, and exclusion, the artist becomes ever more remote from her archive, gaining the necessary distance. From the Archive of KwieKulik is a reflection over the peculiar compulsion to collect and archive, articulating the works of the artist created from the late 1980s, which Kulik usually sets against the processual and documentary practice of the 1970s. In that sense From the Archive of KwieKulik can be seen as an attempt at a mediation between the elements of one’s own broken history and identity: the remembering, forgetting and denying. This attempt coincides with the process taking place in art history dealing with this period. The archive created by Kulik not so much reveals the fictitious character of its structures and the anomies it conditions, but rather indicates its provisional nature and tokenism, as well as its involvement. Kulik comes out as a participant of the history she creates, not hiding her empathy for the other actors she presents. As an artist she also refutes the seemingly objective position of a historian and shows this history as an element which is important in creating and transforming present collective and individual identities. Similarly to the practices described by Hal Foster, a certain change in the understanding of an archive takes place in case of From the Archive of KwieKulik: it is not an ‘excavation site’, but rather a ‘construction of the meaning’ taking place in culture [ref]Foster, The Archival Impulse, p. 146. Their sources, however, should not be sought in the feeling of the failure of cultural memory and lack of tradition to which one could refer. On the contrary. As she does not trust the concept of tradition, Kulik uses the prosthesis of her archive to return memory to history, point to their possible effective ties and critical relations.
From the Archive of KwieKulik is a structure which is par excellence aporetic, where the photograph, document, memory, death, and archival fever are very tightly intertwined. This work, contrary to an archive, does not forget about memory and gives back to the archived elements the status of a promise of the future. Constellations of micro-histories gravitate in their disciplining arrangements around the notion of history as a discourse of authority. This aporetic representation of KwieKulik’s archive is a stage for narrating construction, as well as an arena of the cultural reprocessing of a memory whose fragments have not yet been subject to integration. As Mieke Bal claims, cultural memory is an activity taking place in the presence where the past is constantly modified and re-written 1 Bal, pp. VII-X.. Bal writes that cultural memory is not just anything that ‘befalls’, but something that is actively replayed. The cultural recall proposed by Kulik is mobile, underlining the retroactive order of temporality in which history is submerged, and the constant haunting of the image of ‘then’ by the ‘now’. This cultural recall gives order both to the memory and to the history of an object, and makes it possible to recapture its experience. By means of projection it revitalises the vanishing memory to an effect, helping in uncovering the contours of faded inscriptions. Such a history, filtered through memory and horizontally bifurcating its branches and announcements, is a type of therapy. It is a therapy which by means of reprocessing, testifying, constructing narrations, provoking reception, re-entering the readings of the past, can help not to stabilise, but to open the identity, history, and memory of the ‘then’ — for the future.
Translated by Ewa Kanigowska-Gedroyć