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Camera Austria International [Graz] 1994, No. 47/48


Zofia Kulik

In 1987 I decided to produce art that could be framed and hung on the walls of galleries and, better still, museums. I wanted my work to exist and function without my explanations, without my comments, without my presence. Now, for this symposium, I have decided to break my resolution. I will try to explain something about my work. These will be fragments of explanations, in a collage made up of different parts.

My mother is a dressmaker. In our house there were always piles of cloth - silk, cotton, linen - and everywhere there were patterns for suits. Almost daily, women would come to be measured for suits, costumes, skirts, jackets, blouses or coats. They had been looking at fashion journals and ladies' magazines, and they talked, talked, talked about pleats, tucks, décolletés, collars, belts and pocket flaps.

My father, who is now retired, was a colonel in the People's Army of Poland and, as I suspect, he was in the Propaganda Department. Until I was fourteen I lived in military quarters. Until 1956 (I was eleven, then) nobody from the street could come to the building I was living in. All visitors had to ask for a permit, and you can imagine the grotesque situations when all the women coming to see my mother first had to go to the permit office.

From my window I could see an oval field surrounded by curbstones painted white. There was a small stone monument to the right of it, and to the left a red-brick building where the military command was based.

Day after day I would see soldiers and officers walking or marching to and fro; I saw military ceremonies, the changing of the guard, the raising of the flag, and there were commands and salutes.

Mother in the house and father outside the window.

I have no personal experience of war. I was brought up in the shadow of World War II, under the strong pressure of the ”propaganda truth” that there would never again be war near our homes. No war - thanks to the October Revolution that brought us peace and justice, thanks to the Allies and the “peace-loving” powers united in the Warsaw Pact, thanks to our wise and “peace-loving” leaders, and thanks to our “peace-loving” brother in the east, the Soviet Union.

Now it is 1993, and the only thing I can say about war is that I am afraid of it. What for us is a nightmare vision, is reality for others. Even the most important quote from the wisest of books is worthless when you are confronted by an enemy, someone who treats you as the enemy, that is.

I would now like to quote some passages from texts I have written about my artistic work.

“I am interested in building structures, composing more complex wholes. I am fascinated by closed forms, centricity, symmetry, multiplication, order, figural ornament, imposing upon my self certain already existing patterns of structures (...) that I try to fill with my own madness [I wrote this in 1989; now I feel it should be a different word] - these are my form-shaping rules of composition.”(1)

“Their purpose is to humiliate 'the spectator' and bring him to his knees. But for whom are you to humble yourself today? There is no god, no leader, no mystery. So whom are you to serve? That is a question. I am afraid of myself - that I can feel and visualize subordination so well. I do not show an individual man; the man is a splinter which I can divide and multiply at will and then build a composition of it. But it is neither free nor fanciful (...). First, I search for a pattern, and then while composing according to that pattern I begin to feel the sense of what I am doing (...). Do I appreciate and praise 'subordination' by depicting it, or do I deride and refute it? Having accepted 'subordination' as my problem and motive, but being fearful and hateful of the situation marked by compulsive subordination, I take my artistic revenge by grabbing every symbolic and formal weapon that has been used against me. I love the grass which I love to cut down.”(2)

In a letter to Christine Frisinghelli about my work All the Missiles Are One Missile, which is shown in the Neue Galerie in Graz(3), I wrote, “The whole composition has the form of a carpet, a photographic carpet, as it were. Its 'decorativeness' is built up of photographic images chosen from my collection of b/w negatives. These include images of socialist monuments, cemeteries, landscapes, photo still lives composed by me, human gestures performed by my models, and 'real' events taken from TV - wars, protest marches, executions, marches past, riots, etc. I copy the images from the negatives onto the surface of the photographic paper by covering and uncovering different parts of the surface, according to plans and stencils I have made before. The complete work is made up of a number of photographic sheets 60 cm by 50 cm in size.

In the second letter to Christine Frisinghelli I wrote, “When you look at all these real and definite things in the photographs, remember that they show not only real and definite things and events but that they can be seen without their background — they show what they show.” So, in the work in the Neue Galerie, you have on the left a monument from Leningrad, entitled „Fatherland-Mother”, dating from 1960, and on the right, the monument “Back and Front”, erected in Magnitogorsk in 1979. In the first case, what you see is a woman wearing a garland, in the second case, a man with a sword.

Zofia Kulik concluded her presentation with a video showing, among other things, details of a concurrent exhibition of her work in Poland.


1 Zofia Kulik, „Kwiekulik”, in: Exit. Nowa sztuka w Polsce (New Art in Poland), no. 5, January - March 1991, p. 161. back

2 Ibid. back

3 Contribution to the „Austrian Triennial on Photography 1993, Neue Galerie am Landes-museum Joanneum and Forum Stadtpark, Graz, 17.9. -31.10. 1993, see: Wemer Fenz, Christine Frisinghelli (ed.), WAR., Austrian Triennial on Photography 1993, exhibition catalogue, 2 vol., Edition Camera Austria, Graz 1993, vol. I, p. 97. vol. 2, p. 18. back


Material used for »All the Missiles Are One Missile", 1993

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