Magazyn Sztuki, 1996, nr 10(2), pp. 102-133.
Black-and-white illustrations from the print version, with few changes in amount and order, are replaced here with their colour copies.
Zofia Kulik, from the series of ‘Columns’ 1995; Courtesy of Lombard – Freid Fine Arts, NY
The Structure of Kulik
- 1. The Beginning
- 1.1. Text
- 1.2. The World
- 1.3. The Reader
- 1.4. Fictions
- 1.5. Facts
- 1.6. The Individual
- 1.7. Freedom
- 1.8. Politics
- 1.9. Europe
- 1.10. Poland
- 1.11. Childhood
- 1.12. Jumping into the Water
- 1.13. Coatlicue
- 1.14. Shining Solids
- 1.15. Projections
- 1.16. Interference in Photographs
- 1.17. The Combinatoric Drawing
- 1.18. Process
- 1.19. KwieKulik
- 2. Hierarchy
- 3. Reconstruction
- 3.1. Shining Shapes
- 3.2. Display Boxes
- 3.3. Draperies
- 4. The Human Motif
- 4.1. Motifs
- 4.2. Photo-carpets
- 5. Favourite Balance
- 6. The Idea of an Occurrence
- 6.1. The Camera of Death
- 6.2. All the Missiles are one Missile
- 7. Inter-National Gothic
- 8. The Guarde Is Tired
- 9. Conclusion
- 9.1. Ideas
- 9.2. Σνμβολον διαβολον (Symbolon, diabolon)
- 9.3. Everything Meets in Time and Space
- 9.4. Speaking to Herself, the Artist Speaks to the World which She Herself Is.
1. The Beginning
1.1.1 The beginning of a text can be difficult both for its writer and its reader. The form in which it will appear and the message it will carry depend both on its shape in the mind of the author and the predisposition of the reader.
1.1.2 If we treat a work of an artist as a readable text, we are fated to divagate in a similar way. However, there are works whose structure has such a strong impact, that even the least prepared viewer has to yield to their power. All possible exegeses of such works are somehow inscribed in this first, unavoidable, and powerful meeting with them.
1.2 The World
1.2.1 While breaking the peel or a shell of an egg, or leaving mother's womb, a living creature faces the strong influence of the surrounding world. At that moment, the creature does not yet know the division into "the world" and "I"; everything forms a unity saturated with the multiplicity of sensations. The creature is such unity also before the birth. Every living creature is its own world since its own beginning.
1.2.2 The world is the work of art which develops its threads during the whole life of an individual existence. The existence constitutes a part of the world. As a matter of fact, it meets both the surrounding world and itself as something already present, which develops and changes.
1.2.3 he word "the world" in 1.2.1. was supposed to mean: 1. The world as something outer of the living creature. 2. The world as the sum of all qualities constituting the Being from inside. From outside = from the standpoint of other Being.
1.2.4 Each creature has its own world and will never find itself in the world of another creature; but, all creatures go through one common world, which is the sum of individual worlds mutually correlated. In other way: the world exists only, if it is exposed-created in one of Particular Beings: so called colloquially living creatures.
1.2.5 It is not the objective of this text to explain all the intricacies of "worldology", nor even to provide various meanings of the term "world" which appeared in the reader's mind while he was reading the above.
1.3 The Reader
1.3.1 The reader, like many other thinking creatures, is also fated to think about the relation between his own world and the world common to all creatures. The reader can choose one of what are really numerous possible solutions. For instance, he can consider his own world to be the entire existence. If he has enough time and peace, he can create - apart from the world of his sensations - a complicated imaginary world that can be inhabited by the creatures the reader himself invents.
1.3.2 The reader can also be of the opinion that he himself calls into being the possibility of the existence of other worlds. The reader is not only doomed to himself but also to such kind of issues, whatever he may think of himself and these issues.
1.4.1 Among such issues there is also that of fictions, including fictions which are useful in communication with other living creatures - leaving aside, of course, the issue of the fictitiousness of other creatures. Fictions can also serve to master the world, both the private world and the universal one. Yet, the reader can certainly doubt whether it is not the world which masters him despite changes, or whether other living creatures do not do it, according to, say, some pre-conceived scheme.
1.4.2 Does it seem to the reader that, perhaps, this text exceeds the limits and "goes astray" into some bizarre labyrinths? And what is the reader doing now, besides reading? Is he sitting or lying? Perhaps a part of his body is itchy now? Perhaps it hurts? Is the reader already happy that there is some kind of joke in this part of the text?
1.4.3 And the reader is stuck somewhere as something or someone, eh - what? Where is the sunlight falling on his desk from? Or, perhaps, is it the electric bulb that casts light on this page? And the light in the bulb, where does it really come from? And the ceiling above the reader's head - where is it from?
1.4.4 The reader is entangled in the net of civilisational relations, as well as the net of fictions which help him find his way in the world of sensations, the world of animate creatures and ... well, the world of fictions. That the reader can see this page now - it is certain, but can anybody else see the same page - of this he cannot be sure, neither can he be sure of the existence of the author of this text. Yet, the reader agrees to the fiction of the existence of its writer, doesn't he?
1.5.1 Outside the reader's own world, there is a world in which one is not able to tell fiction from facts because their levels and determinants intermingle. Facts get falsified and fictions factualised. But the reader should not be annoyed by the reminder that falsifying and verifying pertain to theories or hypotheses in a correct methodology. Fictions and facts always belong to some presumed — even if only subconsciously presumed — hypothetical-theoretical system. And does not the reader presume such a system while moving in the world common to everyone?
1.5.2 Here the reader might voice his veto: he did not presume anything, he once met this system of hypotheses and theories and has been living within it from his birth and will do so to his death. The reader's life, after all, is itself not a bad text at all. And one should read it, sign after sign. Who is writing it - the reader may be asking - so let him do so and, thus, add consecutive signs to this text by asking questions. And the reader himself- isn't he, by any chance, composed of exactly such things?
1.5.3 The reader is reading this text about Zofia Kulik who is the author of many works of an exceptionally strong impact, works that have complex and multi-thread structures. It is the reader's right to demand both the presentation of these works and the analysis of their structures - structures that build a complex system of contents.
1.6 The individual
1.6.1 Life of every creature is also a complex structure; therefore - by analogy - this text evokes references to the subjective world of an individual. The individual enters the world at the moment of his birth and is tossed into its pre-prepared shape. Certainly, one can claim that each living creature is eager to change the world common to everyone, and - even - that the creature changes it by its existence alone. However, one can be of an entirely different opinion and claim that the world, as a whole composed of many individual worlds, is predetermined by its antecedent history in time. These are the issues which each individual must solve for and by himself.
1.6.2 How did Zofia Kulik solve them? When and how could she do it consciously and to what extent was she shaped by the surrounding world? To what extent can an artist shape his own works consciously and to what extent does he yield to higher necessity, while creating them, because of material, ideological and formal conditions, or just because of the ways people communicate?
1.7.1 Perhaps such a juxtaposition is not necessary. To be aware can also mean to be aware of the fact that one is predetermined by the character of the surrounding world; to be aware of the fact that external and internal determining factors intermingle, that both understanding and enjoying one's own freedom is fated to the above dependencies.
1.7.2 The question of freedom is important for an artist on many levels. Everything begins with internal freedom which is, yet, understood in multifarious ways: as lack of limitations or, rather, that ability which is acquired with effort to separate oneself from the often hostile external sphere, and concentrate on one's own projects; or an ability to retain one's own viewpoints and independence of thought despite external pressure.
1.7.3 Next comes the issue of freedom in one's immediate environment: being free from any anxieties concerning food and shelter, and being free to choose one's own lifestyle. For an artist this freedom means an unlimited access to the materials and ideas on which his creation feeds.
1.7.4 There are also wider issues - namely that of the freedom of the individual in society and that of the nation against its potential enemies. The artist living in society is exposed to the threat of both unifying tendencies, which exist in every society, and the excesses of those individuals who generally observe neither the freedom of others nor the rule of personal immunity. The loss of national freedom also means the degradation of the status of the creative individual.
1.8.1 The whole of these complex issues bothers Zofia Kulik. She has always attentively followed and emotionally involved herself in reports of any form of the enslaving of a group of people by another group. She remains critical towards all political and economic systems, suspecting each of them of either imposing limits upon personal freedom, or of objectifying a human being, or - finally - simply enslaving him economically.
1.8.2 The world is full of interweaving fictions and facts. How can we distinguish between exploitation and a mutually profitable division of labour? How can we distinguish an objectifying enslavement from restrictions imposed on the freedom of an individual who might assault someone else's freedom? Such questions, which are asked by political scientists, might equally well be raised frequently by concrete life situations in which Zofia Kulik has been involved. People all over the world ask these questions of themselves, whatever the country they live in, and whatever the civilisational level of their society.
1.9.1 Zofia Kulik was born on the 14th September 1947 in Wroclaw, in Poland, in Europe. What kind of Europe was it? It was a continent divided by the secret treaty of Teheran between two antagonistic blocks. One of them was headed by Stalin - a man who was able to subordinate a considerable part of the world by atomisation of the societies living there. Consequently, each human individual lost his freedom for the benefit of the tyrant who manipulated everyone and everything by blind terror, designed to frighten not only the common folk but the administrators of the regime as well.
1.9.2 The second block was represented by Roosevelt and Churchill. The president of the USA was an advocate of considerable interference of the state administration into social life. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom represented a conservative point of view, often encapsulated in the formula: My home is my castle. They both, however, proved that they did not care even a little about "the home" of the people in Central Europe by yielding half of Europe to Stalin.
1.10.1 Zofia Kulik is the daughter of an army officer of the post-war regime. At home she was exposed to military-style discipline and a peculiar army-like order. At school she was exposed to communist indoctrination. She received all information on the outside world through the regime's radio and press. Yet, she was baptised at the same time; and her grand mother used to take her to a Catholic church. At that time information about the world and Poland circulated also in the form of direct exchange which derived most of its content from on the fact that the majority of the society listened to West European and American radio stations broadcasting in Polish.
1.10.2 As an example of how fictions and facts interweave because of intermingling various codes in the post-war Poland, one can quote a story of a certain young, pre-war teacher who, after the war, made a career in the army and had become a general by 1945. In 1947 he represented the President (that is the head of the communist Polish state who also was an agent of a Soviet political police NKVD) during a ceremony in which a cardinal, the head of the national church hierarchy, consecrated (that is sprinkled with holy water) a private motor boat of this communist president! A year later, this young general carried a monstrance in the procession of Corpus Christi. (A Catholic ceremony established in the 13th century during which the faithful walk along the streets worshipping the host, which - according to Catholic theory - is transmuted into Christ's body, even though its form remains unchanged. The host - a counterpart of evangelical bread - is kept in a monstrance.) In the seventies the general was the Prime Minister and later, now in retirement, attended the church. (At the beginning of the nineties, he was murdered in Warsaw by unknown people.)
1.10.3 Indeed, the Poland of Zofia Kulik's childhood was a bizarre amalgam of miscellaneous social metals. Precious kinds commingled with common ones among which Soviet steel constituted a proverbial peculiarity, often spoken about in the phrase: gniot'sa nie lamiot'sa (it bends but never breaks). The communist president boasted a motor boat consecrated by the head of his country's Catholic Church and, simultaneously, signed prison and death sentences for the soldiers of the underground Polish armies who fought against Nazi invaders during the war.
1.10.4 The sacrifice of thousands of lives of murdered soldiers was only a part of the sacrifice offered by the Polish nation in those days. The objective of indoctrination and manipulation was to incapacitate the remainder of the Polish intelligentsia who had survived the exterminations at the hands of the Nazis and Stalinists.
1.11.1 A building, several storeys high, almost in the centre of Warsaw. Bright flats heated with coal stoves. Gossiping housewives standing in front of entrance ways. When Zofia was going out of her house, she also used to pass a soldier keeping guard at the end of a narrow passageway between a fence and some workshop buildings. Having passed his sentry-box, she found herself in one of the representative streets of Warsaw. On the square, on the other side, there was a modern edifice of the "Moskwa" ("Moscow") cinema. She turned right and walked for a while with her older brother along the street. Next, she entered the premises of an army unit where her kindergarten was. Everyday observation of drilling soldiers was by no means an entertainment for her; it was a natural element of her landscape.
1.11.2 In the years 1954-1961 she attended primary school on Narbutta Street. She managed to tie a red scarf around her neck before the changes in 1956 which did not encompass great politics solely but also the uniforms of Polish scouts. However, they did not change habits in Zosia's house: clothing had to be always folded in a neat pile according to army norms.
1.11.3 Later she lived with her brother in another street, without their strict father. Mother earned their living as a seamstress and had many clients who brought constant fuss into the home. Moments of peace and silence a pubescent girl used for sky observation. She gazed into the clouds and the blue, thinking about nothing; she identified herself with what she was observing. She was it.
1.12 Jumping into the Water
1.12.1 In the years 1961-1965 she attended secondary school, named after Maria Konopnicka on Madalinskiego Street. Frankly speaking, as a school pupil she wanted to be a mathematician. She is now realising that thirst for mathematical precision in her visual art works.
1.12.2 She played many sports; among other things, she skated. But as her record-seeking field she chose jumping from the diving tower. This sport required concentration in the solitude of the body standing as much as ten meters over the surface of the water; a concentration which made one independent from the presence of the public. It also required the continuous overcoming - an overcoming many times - of a terrible fear before a jump. She practised this sport in the Warsaw's biggest club - Legia. In 1963 she won a gold medal in jumping from the diving tower and a bronze medal in jumps from the springboard at the Poland Junior Championships.
1.13 Coatlicue (1961)
1.13.1 She simply wanted to be able to draw, paint and sculpt. She found herself in the sculpting workshop of the Youth House of Culture, named after Wladyslaw Broniewski, on Rozbrat Street in Warsaw, near the park-and-palace complex of Lazienki and the Sports Club Legia. In 1961-63 she learnt sculpture under Helena Starchurska - a pupil of Xawery Dunikowski. In 1963-65 she attended classes at the State Amateur Arts Centre on Nowolipie Street where Maria 1969/70 Gorelowna taught. The classes comprised drawing and sculpture in clay and plaster casts.
1.13.2 The first sculpture by Zofia Kulik was a plaster copy of a stone effigy from the pre-Columbian culture of Mexico. In 1961, using photographs, Zofia worked on the shape and details of this effigy. The skirt of the figure was particularly difficult because she had to retain the relief composition of intertwining strips. The choice of the sculpture to copy was entirely Zofia's. She was fascinated with the formal order and the precision of finish of this, quite small work, which was nevertheless saturated with monumental character.
1.13.3 In the years 800-1200 A.D. the culture of the Toltecs flourished in Mexico. Their sculptures were characterised by a specific geometric rigour. Perhaps this rigour was a result of the overwhelming impact of visions evoked by the very popular peyote cactus. Toltec influence can also be spotted in the Aztec sculpture representing Coatlicue copied by Zofia, which comes from Cozcatlan in Pueblo State. This 117 cm high effigy was made of basalt between 1325 and 1521 A.D. in the time of the full bloom of Aztec culture. At present, the sculpture is in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City. What did Coatlicue mean for that society of priests, noblemen, soldiers, labourers and slaves? She was the goddess of death and the earth and of eternally reviving life. She was depicted as an old woman with hanging breasts. The original which Zofia copied had cheeks and teeth encrusted with turquoise and tortoise shell, sinewy hands and legs, withered lips, and had her palm interiors turned towards the viewer in a typical gesture. The date 8th Malinalli is on her back. Her hands and legs are clawed. The strips of her skirt are actually snakes.
1.14 Shining Solids and Projections (1967/68)
1.14.1 Shining solids I (1967/68): The Sun, the Earth, the Moon - it is the title of the exercise done in the studio of Prof. Jarnuszkiewicz.
1.14.2 Light inside the sphere: The first version of the work was an incomplete plaster sphere. Inside, there were other elements. One of them was a round solid made of semi-transparent paper, emitting light from the inside. The second element was an ellipsoidal small plaster disc: a semi-convex model of an eye.
1.14.3 A head surrounded by a shining solid: In the second version of the work the matt, transparent surface of the solid (still having the source of light inside it) was hung in a space. Its shape resembled an irregular disc, torn in the way that the viewer could - when standing - easily put his head inside it. Then it was surrounded by the irregular arms of the torn ring. The viewer's head was one of the solids in the configuration. Inside this space there were two clay human figures. A smiling couple sitting on the banch that hung in space.
1.15 Projections (1968/69)
1.15.1 The first three-dimensional screen: At the beginning the series of projections was done onto a set of simple solids: a sphere and a cube. The arrangement of the solids created a three-dimensional screen. The projections of prepared slides formed abstract, luminous images which drew the whole arrangement or part of it out of the dark.
1.15.2 Later, Kulik replaced regular solids with the sculpture of a human figure sitting on a cube.
1.15.3 Man and a grating: The sculpture was replaced by a live man. Between the man and a projector there were parallel streaks which in the space demarcated the area of the square. When the vertical, light streaks were projected onto a set consisting of a cube, a live man and parallel streaks, an image of a grating was created. The man was from the front closed by the dark streaks and from the back - by the bright ones. The image of the grating infiltrated the human figure.
1.15.4 A kinetic three-dimensional screen (1969/70): Kulik built a kinetic three-dimensional screen which consisted of white cubes, surfaces and rows of parallel or tapering streaks. All the elements were positioned at different angles to each other - hung inside a cube of 2,5m x 2,5m x 2,5m. Two front surfaces were movable - they covered and uncovered other elements like a curtain. The projection of the slides onto this spatial screen proceeded according to a precise scenario of "illuminating" the chosen elements of the screen. In this way an abstract space-and-time structure in which lines, surfaces and solids overlapped and crossed each other was formed.
1.16 Interference in Photographs (1969/70)
1.16.1 On black-and-white photographic prints which she had taken before, Kulik put colour and lines, scraped off the photographic picture, put on formed pieces of various materials, then put colour on those materials and on the print, set the picture in different situations. By marking and emphasizing certain motifs she covered other ones, and so on, so that the transformed photograph was almost entirely changed. The creation of a colour composition was recorded on the slides which became an imperishable work of art created on the basis of a work having a process character (a series of actions on photographs).
Zofia Kulik, from the series Interference into photographs 1969/71
1.17 The Combinatoric Drawing (1969/70)
The study of a nude – Kulik made drawings on separate pieces of semi-transparent paper. Each of the drawings recorded different aspects of the observed situation: a model, the space, the implements. She treated the sheets of carbin paper which were put one on top of the other as negatives. With their help she exposed a photographic paper. Each time she shifted the sheets of paper she obtained different drawings of the same set of “drawings negatives”.
Zofia Kulik, The Combinatory Drawing, 1969/70
Zofia Kulik, The Combinatory Drawing, 1969/70
Zofia Kulik, The Combinatory Drawing, 1969/70
Zofia Kulik, The Combinatory Drawing, 1969/70
Zofia Kulik, The Combinatory Drawing, 1969/70
1.18 Process (1970/71)
1.18.1 In 1971 she graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, Scuplture Department, the studio of Prof. Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz (she studied the Open Form at the studio of Prof. Oskar Hansen). The presentation of her diploma was the simultaneous projection of approx. 500 diapositives on three screens. Polymorphous narrative motives were accumulating in the logical structure of sequences. The statue of Michelangelo Buonarotti’s ‘Moses’ made of colour textiles stood close by the screens. It was a copy made after the marble copy standing in the hall of the Academy of Fine Arts. Colour ‘Moses’ was the last stage of the one-year-long process of documentation and activity.
1.18.2 The theoretical diploma work was formed by mosaic ests of texts on three big sheets of paper. The reasoning, investigating the processual aspect of the work of art, took place among quotations from, and descriptions of, the works of philosophers, scientists, artists and critics. (Eco, Sartre, Marleau-Ponty, Husserl, Kotarbinski, Heisenberg, Marx, Lem, Gombrowicz, Duchamp, Haake, Piene, Harrison, Sonfist, Christo, Oppenheim, Heizer, Kwiek, Czartoryska, Ludwinski, Dobrowolski, Oseka, Michel, Schofer, Ligocki).
Zofia Kulik, Moses, a copy made after copy of Michelangelo’s statue, made of colour textiles, Academy of Fine Art, Warsaw, 1970/71
1.19 KwieKulik (1971-1987)
1.19.1 From 1971 in an artistic duo with Przemyslaw Kwiek (he graduated from the same studio in 1970) as KwieKulik they were managing the private Studio of Art Activities, Documentation and Widespreading (PDDiU) in their private flat in Warsaw (exhibitions and shows for Polish and foreign artists, several thousand slides documenting the actual art, the archive of prints and KwieKulik's descriptions).
1.19.2 They presented Art Activities, actions, performance, installations, objects, live and still sculpture, interventions, colour and black-and-white photographs, films, slides, video, drawing, painting, seals, mail-art, prints, theoretical, interventional and documentary texts in many galleries in Poland and abroad. After a group exhibition in Malmo Konsthall in 1975, because of the director's of the Studio of Fine Arts, Mr. Urbanowicz's intervention, till 1979 the Ministry of Art and Culture forbade them to show their works abroad (they were not given passports), while the Secretary of Culture at the Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party forbade them to propagate their art in Poland (it was Andrzej Mroczek, a curator at the Labirynt Gallery in Lublin and Tomasz Sikorski, a curator at the Mospan Gallery in Warsaw who did not follow the "orders'').
KwieKulik Actions on the Head, a performance during the International Meeting – “Body Performance”, Labirynt Gallery Lublin 1978
2.1 In the history of human cognition of the world, the vertical order has always played a crucial role. The Earth underfoot was a shelter for the body after death, analogous to the safe interior of the womb, to which souls of the dead returned. The sky overhead was equipped with the Sun, the Moon and the stars - shining objects inaccessible in an equally incomprehensible way - although always present and, at regular intervals of time, appearing in the same places.
2.2 Man - this word in various languages can mean: the Creature of the Earth or the Mortal Creature. What is immortal cannot be earthly. Shining objects in the Sky were considered immortal. Certainly, in the histories of various cultures, there appear anthropomorphic forms of the elements of the world surrounding humans; yet, it was always concrete objects, cognisible by senses that were the starting point for their creation. This was the mechanism of equipping anything with psychological life by virtue of a simple analogy.
2.3 Among living elements there was first of all fire: the source of life and warmth. Aren't the shining celestial bodies just fire, aren't they alive? Isn't utter darkness the opposite of them? Isn't darkness the very embodiment of lifelessness? Aren't the burrows, into which humans have put their deceased for thousands of years, dark? Farewell, you go towards the darkness to enter someone's womb. Take these meadow flowers with you, may the pattern of their petals bring diversity to these moments of your soul.
2.4 We do not know the predominant part of artefacts in numerous material cultures. Perhaps, many of them added sense to natural phenomena in the analogous way in which, later, it was attributed to human creation. For instance, Celtic druids needed neither temples, nor effigies, nor paintings because those could not compete with trees. Baltic peoples thought similarly. We do not also know many functions and senses ascribed to buildings, effigies or paintings, masses of which were left by numerous peoples. What we are often left with is the analysis of shapes frequently organised around the vertical axis.
2.5 Obelisks, pyramids and other effigies tied the Earth and Heaven by their shape narrowing near the top. The edges meeting on the top made the viewer's eye look into the sky. Thus, the constructors directed people's attention and made them realise the importance of both their base and the loftiness of their objective - which was the celestial dome. Certainly, in many cultures, this was related to attributing divine features to the rulers whose bodies were hidden under such buildings. In this way, people tried to add symbolic immortality to something unquestionably dead. The body was dead, however, the person was supposed to be eternal. Obviously: in the minds of the next generations and at the expense of the effort of the contemporaries.
3.1 Shining Shapes
3.1.1 A strict spatial order of human buildings which are meant to express the fame and glory of leaders also uses the forms worked out in ancient times in the twentieth century. The construction of a barrow was the simplest to make. It was placed above a pit leading deep inside, to the grave chamber. This form of commemorating their leaders was already used by Proto-Indo-European peoples in the steppes of Middle Asia.
3.1.2 What would the leaders of past epochs give to make their barrows, pyramids, obelisks and monuments shine - not only thanks to the flames of torches but with their own, inner blaze! Zofia Kulik realises this latent dream of theirs in her models of barrow-like forms. Shapes of barrows, obelisks, pyramids, East-European palaces of communism, and, finally, plinths of monuments and mausoleums, made of milk-white, translucent Perspex, shine with their own hidden light. The ideal barrows of fame and glory: the pride of the whole history of mankind!
3.1.3 The shining forms boast meticulously chosen proportions and express human pursuit of immortality in a solemn, geometrical form. However, all edges are straight lines, which is connected with the totalitarian tendency to monumentality that avoids arches.
3.1.4 Barrows of Fame and Infamy constitute a synopsis of Zofia Kulik's artistic search, a search which she has been carrying on for over twenty years. They are the effect of her thorough studies of buildings from various epochs and countries. They are the effect of the search for shapes which can best transmit the ideas of immortal monuments in which humankind has tried to commemorate itself for centuries and, simultaneously, to commemorate its own pursuit of the transcendental, symbolised by Heaven. Henceforth, all buildings, the mock-ups of which Zofia Kulik's shining forms might be, indicate the vertical direction of ascending. However, they also stand firmly on their base, because man is, first of all, a Creature of Earth.
3.2 Display Boxes
3.2.1 Parallel to the row of shining models, stands a row of black display boxes. Seven of them. Above each box a lamp hanging from the ceiling lights the inside covered with a sheet of glass. In each box, there is a punctilious composition of objects arranged mostly upon an axial symmetry.
3.2.2 However, there is also a box with a couple of objects composed according to the dynamic diagonal line of a corroded metal rod, placed on an open album with a reproduction of a social-realist relief. PO LEHUHC-KOMYPYTU (po leninskomuputi=On the Lenin's way) - says the inscription. Below, a Polish weekly with an advertisement for car oil: "total quartz is the result of Total's great experience: nearly 300 000 tons of oil produced in 30 manufacturing plants on 5 continents and sold in 70 countries". The slogan is accompanied by a picture of a hand pouring golden oil from a plastic container with a goffered handle. On the next page we can see a photograph of a soldier who participated in the war in the Caucasus, clasping both hands on a gun and wearing a "gofferred" bandoleer across the chest. The title of the article: "A hatchery of war. In the Caucasus Mountains the interests of Iran, Turkey, Russia and America intermingle. And below: Several dozen nations, different religions, rich sources of crude oil and southern temper make..." At the very bottom of the composition there is an album in a red linen cover, opened on blank white fly-leaves, with only one word: CAPAEBO (Sarajevo).
3.2.3 The boxes constitute "a cross-section" of the iconography of "soc-ages" (socialist ages), the epoch in which the previous generation was fated to live and which has by no means ended. Sarajevo is simply a continuation of the way once indicated by Lenin.
3.2.4 Private, common, soft, metal, withered, propagandist, retrospective - things, things which surround a human during his life and which could constitute the filling of contemporary tombs. The objects found in the tombs of past cultures have their own spatial arrangement. However, we are not always able to guess the order of their meanings.
3.2.5 In her display boxes, Zofia Kulik makes compositions of many objects from the twentieth century. Pieces of fabric and corroded pieces of iron, documents and photographs, personal tokens of memory next to tools, patterns made from various pieces of fabric which have their own patterns, propaganda leaflets, objects of almost magical meaning and devotional objects - everything arranged in the order of a specific narration which reveals the transfer from a private sphere to that of the whole mankind.
3.2.6 A personal point of view - full of emotion - is contrasted with objects of technology - degraded, worn out too early. In the quickly changing world, each past moment belongs to the sphere of archaeology.
3.2.7 The series of boxes ends with a composition made of objects from two domains: tiny bottles of various shape and size, excavated in the artist's garden (formerly a garbage heap), and carrots which grew in that garden. These two spheres of objects are separated with a vertical strip of black-and-white photographs, "growing out" of the cardboard wrapping of a "panoramic photographic head".
Zofia Kulik, Private, Common, Soft, Metal, Faded, Propagande, Retrospective – Things (display boxes, each one 1 m x 1 m x 1 m) 1993
Zofia Kulik, Private, Common, Soft, Metal, Faded, Propagande, Retrospective – Things (display boxes, each one 1 m x 1 m x 1 m) 1993
3.3.1 The first: a black velvet rectangle is a background for a white cardboard flag. The second is grey, rustic, badly worn-out cloth flowing from the wall and spread on a black Perspex cube, on which stands a black Perspex pyramid crowned with the metal tip of a banner.
3.3.2 The third and fourth pieces of fabric are fastened together, they make a compact relief-like composition. The pieces of fabric build a rhythm of tight wrinkles. Draperies are thus formed: the bright and glossy one over the dark and opaque.
3.3.3 Draperies are a constant motif of multi-exposure black-and-white photographs by Zofia Kulik. A naked model - if he happens to be dressed, he is dressed only just in strips of fabric. Draperied pieces of fabric are on one of the photographs in the first exhibition room, and this motif recurs through the whole exposition, till it reaches the apogee of abundance in one of the display boxes full of pieces of fabric glittering with colours and patterns.
3.3.4 The artist manipulates draperies quite consciously; she is aware of the graveness of the symbolic message related to fabric. This symbolic message is a stratum built over the universal language of an artistic form. Therefore, one should reveal this message by making a few references to ancient and Gothic understanding of the symbolism of drapery.
3.3.5 Let us recall virgin Athena whose body is always covered against the eye of the naked satyr Marsias. The pure and innocent goddess dominates the satyr who has abandoned his flute, now lying at her feet. A spear in the hand of the goddess is a palpable weapon, yet symbolic at the same time. Her chastity cannot be defiled because it is she who wields the power of masculine activity.
3.3.6 The ancient symbolism of fabric had mostly such sexual connotations. A virgin body wrapped in fabric was juxtaposed to an active masculine body. Veiled figures of Muses contrasted with naked poets whose erected phalluses symbolised creative possibilities. It was masculine activity that shaped fabric which was passive in its nature. The opposition of a sharp tool which could slash the fabric was obvious.
3.3.7 Zofia Kulik applies here the combination established by tradition. A white flag against a black background symbolises the masculine, active potential on a passive, dark background. The juxtaposition of masculinity, understood as the activeness of light, and the feminine character of darkness, pierced by the rays of light, is a juxtaposition familiar to all cultures of the world. We can even speculate whether this constitutes a really symbolic stratum which requires an exegesis, or - whether the character of light and darkness themselves does not impose such, and not any other, feelings about these two elements.
3.3.8 It is worth noticing that the artist uses light to influence the passive matter of photographic film and paper. Similarly, building her shining objects, she places phallic symbols in the passive darkness of the room. Thus, it is easy to compare her to Athena holding a spear. We can make another, yet far-reaching, assertion: the artist's activity can be rooted in her jealousy of masculine attributes and tools! Simultaneously, she, by becoming an active artist, realises the model of a complete human being which possesses features of both sexes.
3.3.9 Grey fabric coiling around a black pyramid of Ferspex, crowned with the tip of a banner, is obviously feminine and passive in character. This results from the very nature of the used material which has a symbolic potential employed in ancient visual arts. The relation between masculine and feminine elements in this object occurs in the field of the most broadly understood universal eroticism.
3.3.10 A naked model, whose image is multiplied and put in rows, is an obvious reference to ancient freedom in handling a naked body. However, the way in which he is illuminated and the character of his pose always add a kind of quotation marks to his figure and deprive him of the obviousness of masculine activeness. He is a human being above all. Zofia Kulik's naked model often holds a stick, a flower, some fabric or the sharp tip of the banner-staff. His weapon, or his tool, is primarily symbolic.
3.3.11 If human nature is divine to some degree, then Kulik's model is partially divine like those ancient representations of heroes and gods; however, his divinity is partially similar to Christian understanding of divinity incarnated. Zofia Kulik's naked model is the symbol of a spiritual element covered up in the carnality of fabric. And here appears the relation between sexes different from what we had so far. This is the relation of maternity giving bodily life to a baby of masculine sex.
3.3.12 In Gothic art the fabric wrapping around Jesus's body had exactly this meaning. It was the symbol of carnality offered to the incarnation of God by a woman. It was also a safe shelter. Therefore Jesus, stripped of his garments by his tormentors, is exposed to suffering and danger absolutely. The garments will be divided, the body will be pierced by a spear.
3.3.13 When the event foreshadowed by the prophets of Israel reaches its apogee, Jesus says It is finished. He will be able to die, he will be taken down from the cross and wrapped in linen fabric by Joseph of Arimathea. In this way a cosmic cycle will close. A thousand and a half year before this, Zarathustra had foreshadowed the arrival of Saoshyant - the Saviour, later this thought was adopted by Israelite Prophets. Iranian Magi go West following the star announcing the birth of the Jewish King who would want to offer his body as the Son of God, DiónusoV (Diónysos). There is a key moment in this amalgam of Iranian and Greek myths, namely the destruction of the body in order to save the world. This is the key moment of all religions because in each of them sacrifice constitutes a fundamental element. In Kulik's works the objective of this sacrifice is the victory of light over darkness.
3.3.14 Two pieces of fabric hanging one above the other are like a Pietá: a body carrying a body. A mourned-over body which has been sacrificed. In Kulik's symbolic arrangement, a row of masculine objects, shining with their own light, and a row of feminine display boxes find their junction in these two pieces of fabric which symbolise two elements of the world.
Zofia Kulik, All the Missiles are one Missile, detail 1993
4. The Human Motif
4.1.1 What makes the works by Zofia Kulik equally well received in countries on different continents? Firstly, it is their universal character. The visual material which the artist uses is frequently unique and, encapsulated in a complex composition, it achieves the features of a compound whole which has its own, unrepeatable impact - unrepeatable, yet, readable for a European and an American or a Japanese.
4.1.2 Zofia Kulik's big-scale photographs (reaching 7-8 metres in length) are composed like carpets. As we know, carpets produced in different cultures have different motifs; however, geometrised floral and animal motifs are the most often repeated (because of the dominance of Islamic countries in carpet manufacturing).
4.1.3 Zofia Kulik uses the human motif in her photographic work most often. Man in the artist's compositions becomes an element of an equally object-like character, object-like as are the other elements among which he is interwoven in this photographic space of multi-exposure paper.
4.1.4 It is the expression and image of one of mankind's unbelievable achievements that in its history certain people have been able to use other people as tools. The development of this process cannot only be seen in the simple master - slave relation which made the construction of barrows, pyramids and obelisks possible. This process has also occurred in far more complicated relations, in all social formations, being very often successfully masked by various ideologies. We cannot exclude the possibility that, after the fall of many openly totalitarian systems, such manipulation still occurs now on a global scale; only the techniques, the means of persuasion and the craftsmanship of manipulation have changed.
4.1.5 People who appear in Zofia Kulik's carpets are the elements of a certain instrumental whole and become subordinated to the rules of the carpet-like composition. A photograph of the same model repeated many times deprives him of individuality and makes him "man in general', a sign of man. Rows of identical people, human figures overlapping one another many times and big figures overlapping smaller ones... Gestures of small people creating something like atomic vibrations, which are overlaid by gestures of great individuals who "disturb the waves of the ocean of mankind".
4.1.6 In the carpet entitled The Human Motif from 1990, the black of emptiness occupies the centre of the structure and around it there are four groups of symmetrically placed figures, they are multiple-exposure figures of naked men, or rather: one repeated man. The figures point to one another as well as to the centre with their gestures. This is the human world, arch-human even. Neatly organised strips with human beings, making gestures with a stick, build a military order in the background. There is no transcendence in the centre, yet the people from this carpet probably long for some lofty idea.
Zofia Kulik, from the series Gestures (1987-90) (after the Third Station of the Way of the Cross)
Zofia Kulik, from the series Gestures (1987-90) (after the Third Station of the Way of the Cross)
4.2.1 The carpet analogy is not restricted to this composition alone - complicated and highly ordered, in full symmetry. The degree of consumed effort, required by the artist's works, is similar to carpet making. Kulik often compares her work in the darkroom to a miner's work. Indeed, she spends 12 hours a day making her works in a dark place, among the vapours of acids. Every sheet of photographic paper is exposed about a dozen times before the process of developing will enable the artist to see the results of her operations. If there is a mistake on a sheet, the whole procedure must be repeated once again.
4.2.2 To this we should add the preliminary, painstaking work on the preparation of the project, making sketches and studies. The process of taking photographs of models or objects, or video stills, is even more toilsome. She needs to find proper people, places and circumstances. All video materials are not equally accessible, and each has to make sense in the whole work. Nothing can be coincidental because each work must be - according to Kulik - a completed utterance.
4.2.3 Besides, working out of lighting models and objects consumes a lot of time, and modern equipment consumes money. Such is the material-and-tool facet of the artist's practice. The ideational facet requires the constant gathering and studying of theoretical and iconographic material. Books and albums are one of Zofia Kulik's greatest passions. She is equally able to identify each of her own negatives unmistakably and to identify similarities and differences between her work and those of the artists of various epochs.
Zofia Kulik, from the cycle Gestures, 1987/90 (after the characters from Hans Memling’s “The last Judgement”)
Zofia Kulik, from the cycle Gestures, 1987/90 (after the characters from Hans Memling’s “The last Judgement”)
Zofia Kulik, from the cycle Gestures, 1987/90 (after the characters from Hans Memling’s “The last Judgement”)
5. Favourite Balance
5.1 On December 7, 1991, the exhibition Wanderlieder was opened in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Thirteen European artists participated in it. The title of the exhibition referred to German folk songs sung by itinerant farm and building workers. The meaning of the word Wanderlieder itself - "wandering songs" - suggests an ironic, although also romantic, allusion to the situation of contemporary artists who wander with their works and ideas all over the world.
5.2 The then director of the Stedelijk Museum Wim Beeren was the author of the concept of the exhibition and the person responsible for the choice of artist. He did not treat the artists as the representatives of specific national tendencies in culture, considering such an approach to an exhibition an anachronism in the light of what had happened during the few past years in Europe. Therefore, he invited those artists who were able to utilise their local experience in the creation of works with universal messages. However, he was not interested in artists concerned only with formal issues, conceptual solutions and references to their own existence or those who dealt with adjusting various historical stylistics - losing simultaneously their meanings - for the sake of modern decorativeness. Wim Beeren's interest was in the artists who responded to the political changes of the twentieth century and who assumed their responsibility for the societies waiting for new values. This found its reflection in his concept of the spatial organisation of exhibition. There was a plan to create a narrative continuity in thirteen exhibiting rooms, analogous to Mexican murals. Beeren used this term in his first short text written in October when the concept of the exhibition was initially being shaped. Indeed, almost all invited artists fitted in with this kind of narration, filling with their works only one wall of each room they had at their disposal.
5.3 In his opening speech, the director deliberately mentioned the title of Gaugin's Where do we come from? What we are? Where are we going to? as a past equivalent of such an artistic form. He suggested that, similarly to the seventeenth-century itinerant labourers and their songs, contemporary artists ask questions with their creation: do we belong to the city? or the countryside? to Europe? or America? In a situation where the art market between London and Tokyo is open for everyone, the time has come - according to Beeren - for asking this Gauginian question.
5.4 It is interesting that the majority of the realisations at the exhibition were organised according to an axial symmetry, despite the linear narration of the mural. It was as if the artists wanted to retain a balance in their works which the world of the twentieth century pursued. The majority of works were not optimistic, rather they were ironic, as if the artists were aware of the existence of the balance guarded by a victorious superpower, that is the USA, dictating the conditions of a new economic order - that of the free market. That market, nevertheless, is a socialist aberration from the point of view of the nineteenth century. AIDS must then appear as a peculiar memento mori of our times, the joining "and", well-balanced in the middle of an artistic conjunction. Hence comes the gravity of the works presented at the exhibition at the Stedelijk, which tried to strike a Favourite Balance, if one may quote the title of Zofia Kulik's work presented there.
5.4.1 The artist prepared a work which was the quintessence of her experience with composing works according to intricate patterns of carpets and mandalas, The figure of a naked man, partially covered with fabric, was placed in the centre. He held the sharp, metal ending of a banner-staff in his right hand; in the left he had a bunch of noble, lily-like flowers. He was surrounded by a mandala whose layers were: 1) eight photographs of the man making servile, suicidal and triumphant gestures; 2) the photographs of four objects which he holds in hand: a fan, metal tip of a banner, drapery and a lily; 3) the photographs of four different floral patterns on pieces of fabric; 4) the photographs of the Palace of Culture in Warsaw and the monument To the Defenders of the Town of Mlawa from the September Campaign 1939. The silhouette of a soldier from the monument, just rushing to attack, and the silhouette of the Palace of Culture mark two centrifugal spins to the left and right.
5.4.2 The mandala explodes into a carpet whose predominant mass lies in naked figures of a man wriggling on the folds of glossy fabric, less and less light falling towards the edge of the carpet. The figures are reminiscent of human beings falling into the dungeons of Hell on the right wing of Hans Memling's The Last Judgment from 1473. In the middle of the "wings" of the carpet-like composition of Zofia Kulik, there are naked figures of the same man who points to the centre of the composition with the sharp tip of the banner held in straightened hands. The figures are in the fields of a sign-post shape placed inside the contour of a thistle. Behind each sign-post, there is a bending figure of a woman in skirt and heavy boots who holds some fabric folded in a spiral.
5.4.3 Around - the rhythm of figures a dozen times smaller, placed in rows, naked, making gestures: saluting and indicating directions, just like well-known images from numerous Lenin portraits and from portraits of other, anonymous heroes. The sphere of tiny figures is between "sign-posts". The mandala overlaps with the image of two dressed figures of men, one of whom is torturing the other. At the top centre of the composition, there is a photograph of the artist herself. She is standing with her hands symmetrically folded, and her fingers form a triangle directed downwards. From among the rhythm of the sculls and banner tips, which form a belt around the mandala, some hands "reach out" to grasp Gorki's book entitled The Mother, on whose cover a crowd of people is demonstrating with a banner.
6. The Idea of an Occurrence
6.1 The camera of death
6.1.1 A year before the show of brothers Lumiere, in 1894 there was the first demonstration in Warsaw of the pleograph, which was an apparatus for taking movie shots and projecting them. It had been constructed by Kazimierz Proszynski, nineteen years old at the time. Five years later the inventor constructed a developed version of the apparatus called biopleograph. It could make 3000 shots per minute on a photographic film, 50 to 100m long. The projection of his positive film was free from flickering, that haunted the film projections at this time. Proszynski coped with this disadvantage of other projectors in 1909, constructing a shutter which broke the flow of light at equal intervals 40 times per second during a projection. In 1903 Proszynski made a film projection during the scene of the ride of Valkyries in one of the parts (Valkyrie) of Richard Wagner's tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung. However, the directors of the Wielki (Great) Theatre in Warsaw abandoned that, for its time, unique idea after a few performances lest, it might cause fear among the audience.
6.1.2 In 1910 Proszynski patented a portable movie camera for making reports and called it aeroscope. In 1911 the production of this camera commenced in England. Proszynski obtained a golden medal for his invention at the international cinematography exhibition in London. From 1914 Proszynski's camera was used for making film chronicles in the Balkans. Later the French and the British used it on the Western front, and from 1917 they used it to make film shots from aeroplanes. Since many camera operators died during film making, the soldiers used to call aeroscope the camera of death.
6.1.3 It was just thanks to those film chronicles, that the awareness of cinema goers was filled with motion pictures, shot not only in the rear, but also at the front line. Trenches, soldiers in them summoned to attack by officers with guns in their hands, along with soldiers running in extended order became a constant element of film shows. Certainly, one can doubt whether many of the shots were authentic because the manipulation of the viewer's consciousness belongs to the very heart of film and television; nevertheless, it is true that since World War One, battle scenes have had their place in film chronicles in all countries of the world. However, the fact is important that since that time, viewers have developed the awareness of contact with the latest visual information, which - contrary to press photos - brings also the element of time.
6.1.4 If a chronicle maker was not involved in any of the parties, he could count on his film to be shown on the cinema screen after his return to the country. This happened to the chronicle makers of the Chinese Revolution. The public of Europe and America became familiar with images of the firing squads of the two sides shooting each other's soldiers. Later the situation changed. German and Soviet totalitarianism placed execution scenes in their chronicles to frighten both guerrillas and their own citizens.
Zofia Kulik, Untitled 1993, State Gallery of Art, Sopot
6.2 All the Missiles are one Missile
6.2.1 In the work All the Missiles are one Missile, Zofia Kulik uses genuine shots of executions performed by fighting Kuomintang followers and Chinese communists. She also uses scenes of the executions of "traitors" performed by the NKVD - the military ministry of security of the Soviet Empire. The event of execution by firing squad is now recognisable to all people in the world. TV viewers are perfectly familiar with the idea of this event, because they had an opportunity to watch hundreds of historical chronicles and feature films applying the scene of the execution by firing. The same is true of hanging.
6.2.2 Certainly, the idea of this event is primarily made up of elements identical in many different events: the weapon, from which a shot is fired, and the victim, falling onto the ground, in the majority of cases. Various modifications and individual behaviour do not prevent an understanding of this event. Instead, they can add to the emotional richness of the scene. This is the case of the scene of hanging shown in a work by Zofia Kulik. A victim stands on a sleigh which is moving forward. Having his hands untied, the victim grasps the rope; to no avail, because the knot does not let go and the victim dies after a while. The artist shows the anatomy of this gesture of despair through the photographs of each phase of the event.
6.2.3 An old film chronicle was once shown in a TV programme and that fixed the matrix of the event in the collective consciousness. The artist made photographs of consecutive stages using a video recording. The situation is also similar to other scenes of executions in Kulik's work. We can scrutinise in detail consecutive phases of each event. The victim stands peacefully. We assume a shot from the gun in the outstretched hand of the executioner. The victim falls, picture after picture; the angle under which the body falls changes; simultaneously, the executioner withdraws the hand.
6.2.4 Perhaps, a feeling of sympathy for the victim appears in the viewer. Perhaps, the events from film chronicles are rather received with an indifference equal to that with which we receive contemporary television news from battlefields. And let us remember that they were numerous wars and home conflicts in the second half of the twentieth century: Tibet, Kashmir, Pendgab, Kurdistan, Timor, Sri Lanka, forests of Lituania where anti-soviet partisants were active until the end of 1950s, and in 1990 in the blockade of the TV-tower in Vilnius a little girl was crushed with a soviet tank, Nothern Ireland, Bask Country, Tien An Men massacry, coup d'etat in Moscow, Korea, Indochina, Israel - Arabians, Cuba, Salvador, Nikaragua, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Falklands, Panama, Haiti, Indian's uprising in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, Grenada, Iran - Iraq, Iraq - Kuwait, Algeria, Congo, Western Sahara, Chad, Sudan, Erytrea, Somalia, Rwanda and other countries of Africa, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia And Hercegovina, Caucasus. Scenes of war, famine and crimes against both civilians and soldiers became equally matters of indifference to the viewer as are commercials in consumer societies and speeches by party '"bosses" in totalitarian ones.
6.2.5 Everything has become visual pulp, chewed over dispassionately by TV viewers all over the world. However, the ideas of various situations, equally recognisable in every contemporary culture, have managed to appear in the minds of milliards of television viewers.
6.2.6 This is the very feature of moral indifference to visual information which Zofia Kulik uses in her work. She analyses structures of extremely drastic events, e.g. executions, and also those from the sphere of pleasant teasing of the consumer of television images: scenes of cabaret girls dancing, beauty contests and exotic women in folk clothing. The clash of these two spheres might alert the TV consumer and draw him out of his numbness, yet not necessarily so, because he may be thoroughly indifferent by now. What is left, then? Irony? Perhaps, but rather as an element of the structure of a photographic work of art by a Polish woman artist.
6.2.7 The series of film stills from the scene of an execution performed by an NKVD officer in the work All the Missiles are one Missile is composed to emphasise a closed circuit of self-renewing information in the system of the mass-media. At the top of the work, there is a sequence of stills in which the action runs from the right to the left, at the bottom, there is "a mirror reflection" of the event: the shooting from the left to the right. As a result the figure in uniform with a gun in the hand and the figure of the convict construct a narrative sequence running anti-clockwise.
6.2.8 The filmed scene could have been a real execution or could have been acted out for the sake of a film. However, the sequence of film narration is a fact. For us history is just information reproduced many times, and it becomes impossible to distinguish between fiction and fact. Perhaps Stalin is guilty of murdering twenty million people, perhaps fifty. Unfortunately, the testimony of witnesses and documents are only credible to the degree to which anything can be credible. However, it is safer to assume the worst possible option of history, because it is naiveté to believe in anyone's limited cruelty
6.2.9 Totalitarian systems wanted to destroy external and internal enemies. The result of their functioning was total destruction of everything, finally including the systems themselves. Avant garde artists, taking the side of those systems, were also subjugated to the rule of destruction. As an example we can quote the pathetic fate of the Constructivists who declared their support to the Soviet system.
6.2.10 The consciousness of contemporary avant garde artists should differ from the leftist infatuation of the twentieth-century avant gardes. The duty of their consciousness is to reveal totalitarianisms, not to serve them. If an avant garde artist wants to avoid the twentieth-century trap of collectivism, he should first fulfill his duties towards himself. And he must utilise the material supplied by the world, ideologies and media for the creation of consciously chosen structures.
6.2.11 To be avant garde means: to encompass with one's art the whole of the latest image of the world, the whole of the ideas of humanity, and, at the same time, to take a stance towards the latest media which mankind has at its disposal. And also: by one's own art, by its form and content, to wake up the most important strata in human personality from their drowsiness. This means questioning one's own status, on both a social and metaphysical level.
6.2.12 New media of the 20th century serve the new, global structure. Information has became what previously was property and might. The world financial system is a system of impulses circulating on electronic orbits of information transfers. Verification of these impulses is something absurd because they do not apply to concrete things: gold, grain, or production. However, they make production and consumption possible. Yet, the frames of production and consumption are established by the world network of electronic connections between banks. Nothing can be actually determined within the frame of one state-organism. Decision making centres are global now.
6.2.13 Zofia Kulik's art expresses this latest stage of the development of humankind. She reveals how electronic matrices produce the consciousness of individual people. She demonstrates how what previously defined this consciousness, i.e. concrete facts, has now been replaced by facts of electronic information multiplied in large quantities.
6.2.14 However, Kulik's art simultaneously reminds us that in the times when there was no electronics, human minds were governed by fictions no less powerful than those produced by electronics now. In the name of those fictions, people murdered one another in ways as cruel as they did for gold, grain or means of production. What is more important, having the opportunity to give up one fiction in favour of another to avoid torture, they chose not to do it. For example, Michel Servet chose death by fire because he did not want to agree with Calvin who claimed that the Son of God is as eternal as the Father himself. He was burnt alive on 27 October 1553 in Geneva.
6.2.15 Besides a huge amount of cruelty which has always been provided for society, the people who wielded the means of constraint, production and information, served the "menu" of cathartic shows feigning cruelty. They were also familiar with the means of spreading false information on how wonderful living in a given social system was. The element of providing information and raising fear among citizens was always the most important. Such was the objective of the living torches of Nero; that was the reason why heretics and witches were burnt. A full-dimension and powerful persuasion.
6.2.16 Today the media make it possible to spread subtle influence by means of messages impossible to verify. In the past, in the theatre one could watch simulations of events; later they were presented on the screen. The production of useful fiction on television networks is only the first step towards much more perfect simulacra. Nowadays, amateurs produce computer animation in the quiet of their homes; particular elements of this animation are treated according to the rules of film. Actors, lighting, action and planes come from electronic matrices. Perhaps, we are not aware how close we are to global simulations produced by directors difficult to identify.
6.2.17 The vivisection of the medium of television and film, performed by Kulik, serves to show their mechanisms: how facts are replaced with their electronic counterparts, and then, how they are being operated on in such a way that, in the public reception, these operations are treated as actual. As a result, the only actuality is the knowledge of a language, and reality as a whole has a language-like character.
6.2.18 The situation in which the truth means the congruency between a judgment and actuality is out of the question. One can only speak about truth as the congruency between the structure of an utterance and the rules of its creation. The question to what extent the rules change together with the global machinery of language is another issue.
6.2.19 Life is a dream. Dream after dream. Incarnation after incarnation. Suffering after suffering. Life is also a theatre. Role after role. It is also television. An electronic impulse after an electronic impulse. In the twentieth century, life is both a sequence of electronic impulses and a sequence of events in the theatre of cruelty; a sequence of events absolutely real in action art, in body art, in performance art.
Zofia Kullik, Self-portrait with The Palace 1990, 60 cm x 50 cm
7. Inter-National Gothic
7.1 Art historians when, speaking about the International Gothic of 1400, claim that the feature of this style was its international character, i.e. similar tendencies in art which appeared simultaneously in many countries of Europe.
7.2 In Inter-National Gothic, the third version of which Zofia Kulik offered as her gift to the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, a naked model adopts poses which have been long known in international iconography pertaining, in general, to the human figure - a masculine figure: throwing, shooting, standing with fists clasped, crucified, kneeling, lifting his hand in an international sign of victory.., a man. This work is a certain lexicon of human gestures - triumphant, solemn, belligerent; but also gestures typical of "the defeated" - a wounded, fainting, dead man.
7.3 The message of Kulik's work is exceptionally ironic: in each pose the model wears a rope on his neck. He holds the end of the rope in his hand while performing one of the above gestures. Nine "cages" with the naked model on a black background are placed by the artist in a white multi-part frame reminiscent of a cathedral window.
8. 'The Guard is Tired'(1993)
8.1 The interior of the empty dome of a representative tenement-house on Piotrkowska Street in Lodz. From the wooden construction of the roof hang at regular distances dead rats tied on pieces of string by their tails. Daylight falls through the small windows. Despised by men, the dead animals are at peace. On the floor lies the inscription: 'THE GUARD IS TIRED". So what? Nothing. Tired - discarded. Kulik realised this work on May 15th 1993. It was not shown to the public.
8.2 All-Russian Constituent Assembly, (dominated by the party of Socialist Revolutionaries) chosen in 1917, held its only meeting during the night of 18 to 19th January 1918. The meeting was preceded by the peaceful street demonstration canvassing for the Constituent Assembly: 'Power to Constituent Assembly' and 'Down with the Workers' Councils'. The demonstration was shot at and dispersed by the Bolshevik squads of Latvians and Chinese. At the meeting the Bolsheviks put The Declaration of the Working and Exploited People (which suppressed the private ownership of the land, factories and banks) to the vote. 146 deputies voted for the suppression of private ownership, 237 were against. The Bolsheviks ostentatiously left the room. The meeting went on. Impatience was rising, some of the delegates also started leaving. Lenin ordered the well-chosen guards not to let them back in. At 4 a.m. by order of the Bolshevik Dubienko, Zelezniakov - a sailor in command of a guard squad came to Chernov - the Chairman of the Assembly and announced: "It's time to finish. It is late and the guard is tired". All the delegates left the meeting and never came back. The well-known sentence "The Guard is Tired" was a kind of joke typical for Bolsheviks. The guard - consisting of soldiers and sailors drinking vodka in the aisles - was in itself an intentional demonstration of power. On the same day the Soviet Executive Committee of the Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies passed a decree - submitted by Lenin, dissolving the Constituent Assembly.
8.3 The Bolshevik guard watched over its interests in Russia and Eastern Europe till 1989/90. Until they became tired and discarded. Nowadays we can distance ourselves from the mythologies produced by the Bolshevik ideology. By a reconstruction of the visual media of ideological symbolism, the mental systems they created can be deconstructed.
9.1.1 For many, ideas are direct objects of thought which cannot achieve any imaginable concrete realization. For many they are notions, that is parts of sign relations based in the mind. For many, however, they are simply visualisations. The latter reading of the word is close to Greek etymology: idein = see.
9.1.2 However, if we do not want to identify visualisation with likeness, the idea will firstly become a pre-pattern, a shining image, tantamount to the creative thought of God. This is a great leap in reasoning which people made when they transferred their ability to see onto the Divine Person who is outside this world. God is outside, yet He creates the world according to the pre-images in His Mind.
9.1.3 For Plato, pre-images, according to which the world was shaped, had a geometric nature. And it was the essential trait of the world that its structure was reducible to regular polyhedrons which could be de-constructed into triangles and segments - thus into beings not existent in reality. Being ideal was the essence of the world. The world, according to Plato, was not composed of Democritus' atoms.
9.1.4 How close it is from the world composed of beings non-existent in reality, but only in a geometric way, to the contemporary physical image of the world. It ultimately breaks with atomism, assuming "the bodily character" of the smallest particles of matter, and replaces it with a mathematical (digital) model which is governed by rules different from these which we are used to from our common, human scale. Strict determinism has been replaced by a probabilistic uncertainty principle which excludes the possibility of simultaneous determining all parameters of a micro-scale object, on which we are doing the research, both in the present and in the future.
9.1.5 Contemporary science, discovering the rules governing the world in its smallest parts, also recognises biological structures: self-reconstructing systems. However, being familiar with quantum principles, governing the smallest possible objects (which, as a matter of fact, are only digital models built thanks to the data obtained in experiments): quarks, leptons, gluons and photons, being familiar with processes forming protein molecules and being familiar with the probabilistic nature of social behaviour of various species; we are still standing face to face with ourselves (despite the fact that we can look at ourselves as a complex protein structure subject to operations of social-mechanics, which enabled us to see the results of these operations).
9.2 Σνμβολον διαβολον (Symbolon, diabolon)
9.2.1 The devil (diabolos), who inhabits Man, is able to destroy a living organism and transform it into a homogenous pulp.
9.2.2 Symbol is this thing which unites various elements absolutely, moreover, it does so in a way that makes man realise the entirety in its process-like complexity.
9.2.3 The word "devil" comes from dia-ballein = throw across, sever, tear apart.
9.2.4 Sym-ballein is its opposite and means "throw together".
9.2.5 The career of these two words from archaic Greek is symptomatic of how people think and of the character of events occurring in any scale: micro, macro and human. Through classical Greek σνμβολον (symbolon) and διαβολον (diabolon) have reached our time and, hence, we can use them to describe the tension inside a contemporary work of art.
9.2.6 This tension was present in the first objects called σνμβολον (symbolon). Originally, for ancient Greeks "symbol" meant an object divided into two parts and was a token of recognition for two people who could fit them together. To make a symbol possible, first the process of diabolic nature was necessary.
9.3 Everything meets in time and space, to disperse and meet again, and disperse and... - well- and so on
9.3.1 That is the title which Zofia Kulik gave to one of her works. The central form of the work is an arched window placed on a sharp arch reminiscent of a missile or a rocket. Two human figures on both sides - one with a flag, the other with a cross - might be the symbols of dialectical forces influencing the artist. Her photograph is in the very centre of the work. Naked human figures, which fill the interior of the "missile" in a row, make military gestures; they stand for human molecules surrounding the artist. The stabilisers of the missile are filled with reclining woman figures; the fabric which partially covers them is the body of everyday troubles. At the highest point of the work, at the tip of the missile, there is the curled-up figure of a man. His pose may be a gesture of despair at the content of life, or it can express disquiet about the inevitable end of existence. Maybe, it is an embryo position, as if foreshadowing the next stage of reincarnation. This is a universal human gesture, even more: a universal animal gesture; however, the difference in sex is important. The artist might treat the photograph of herself as a symbol of femininity giving flesh to a man. Surrounded by symmetrically ordered works and missiles, she wields the metal tip of the banner-staff. The tip, directed upwards, is another masculine symbol. It also indicates the course of the travel into the unknown which is human life. Moreover, pointing upwards expresses a yearning for the immortal beyond this world. Still, the entire drama of mundaneness and consciousness occurs in the enclosed world of Being.
Zofia Kulik, Untitled 1993
9.4 Speaking to Herself, the Artist Speaks to the World which She Herself Is.
9.4.1 Or, perhaps, the world talks to itself? The only certain thing is the fact that, despite all openness, human travel through life is an enclosed whole, inaccessible to others. However, reflection reveals one's interdependence with Others. At the moment of birth everything is a unity illuminated by the sudden light of the world. The moment of one's being thrust into the world is crucial for the flow of the narration in the text which human life might be. It constitutes a whole, like a work of art and when it is finished, it is impossible to add any footnotes to it. as it is impossible to include any notes with this text which the reader is just finishing reading, resting his eye on the last full stop.
Jerzy Truszkowski © 1990-1993
trans. Marzena Beata Guzowska