VIDEO ART IN POLAND
AN HISTORICAL OUTLINE
Ryszard W. Kluszynski
Video art appeared in Poland in the first half of the seventies. The time of its emergence as well as the circle of artists, who were the first to make an attempt to use a new medium in their activities - there were numbers of film form Workshops - contributed to the fact that at the initial period of its existence, Polish video art, in the same way as experimental film before, also assumed an artistic self analytical character.
In their video works those artists sought examine different aspects of the functioning of television - they analysed its programmes as well as its place in the area of everyday life (Andrej Rozycki), studied the nature of the phenomenon of the direct transmission (collective realisation of the Workshop) of focused their attention of the TV set itself as a new fetish of the mass culture (Powel Kwiekl).
While all the above projects were realised as installations in 1973, the "Pictures Language" made in the same year by Wojciech Bruszewski and Piotr Bernacki was the first work recorded on a magnetic tape, attempting to translate the abstract language sings into concrete images.
In 1974 Bruszewski and Kwiek realised their subsequent works, the time focused on the on the problem of the articulation of space. Soon afterwards the group of artists who were using the video camera was joined by others: Jolanta Marcolla, Jozef Robakowski, Zbigniew Rybczynski, Anna Kutera, Razimmerz Bendkowski, Ryszard Wasko, Andrej Paruzel, Janusz Szezerek, Janus Kolodrubiec, the Laboratory of Presentation Techniques (Jadwiga Singer, Jacek Singer, Grzegors Zgraja, Marek Kalaczkowski), Antoni Mikalajczyk, Romuald Kutera and others. As a result the range of main preoccupation's was considerably extended and great variety of works created.
As in case of experimental film, in the area of video the overwhelming majority of works dealt with the problem of the relationship between reality, its audio-visual representation, and the recipient. They were revealing the relative character of the perception which is being mediated with the electronic image, the fluency of headlines between reproduction and creation, and the resulting possibilities of manipulating reception. The confrontation of the "electronic reality" with the spectator's knowledge of the world provoked him to reflect upon the nature of the medium itself, and also upon the possibilities of communication. The above issues recurred most frequently in the works of Bruszewski (tapes and installations) and Mikolajezyk (mostly installations). In the meantime Robowski and Wasko continued to experimental with mechanical and biological records of the kind initiated by Robakowski in the film "Ide" (I am going), analysing different aspects of setback between equipment and its user. These experiments encouraged the development of video-performance (as a new type of realisation) which was soon to become one of the prevalent means of expression of video artists in Poland.
It is worth noting that, in addition to videotapes, performances and numerous installations, there appeared a few works of interactive character made by Andrej Paruzel (in the years of 1978 1979), which required the active part.
The study of video as a new medium of artistic expression was with the analysis of television, which, despite its technological identity with video was recognised as a separate medium of opposite nature. It was also at that time that Polish media artists first announced their detachment from TV - a stance they maintained until the and of the eighties. Their opposition was of an artistic, but also an overtly ideological character. As Robakowski wrote in 1976: "Video art is entirely incompatible with the utilitarian character of that institution (television), it is the artistic movement, which through its dependence, denounces the mechanism of the manipulation of other people."
The beginning of the 1980's marked with the enthusiastic fervour of the Solidarity movement, which in the area of avant-garde art resulted in the spectacular event of "Konstrukcija w procesie" (Construction in Process) exhibition, organised in Lodz in October 1981. "The Construction in Process" as well as same other exhibitions during that period, notably "Nowe zjawiska w sztuce polskiej let Sedemdziesiatych (New Phenomena in Polish Art of the Seventies), Sopot, July 1981, and "Falachron" (Jetty), Lodz, October 1981 provided an opportunity to survey the achievements of Polish avant-garde art in the previous decade, in which film and video came to prominence.
The imposition of martial law in December 1981 caused the collapse of the existing system of artistic life. The boy cott of state patronage led to the emergence of new, independent system of the function of art in social life. There appeared alternative venues for art events galleries housed in private apartments, art pilgrimages, artistic picnics and open air session bringing together the artistic, critics and public. One of the newly established venues "Strych" (the Attic gallery) in Lodz, hissed "Neime Kino" (Silent Cinema Festival), organised in the years of 1983-1985. At that time it was the most important presentation of avant-garde cinema, video art, other manifestations of creative activities, such as performances, concerts, happenings and the like.
The majority of Polish avant-garde moving image art works made in the eighties (as well as nowadays) were recorded on magnetic tape. The lack of access to film facilities (available to the Film Form Workshop) made it necessary for independent artistic to resort to video equipment which is both easier to handle and more readily accessible (law technology). The art of video has thus become the basic means of artistic expression used by independent media artists in Poland.
Polish video art in the eighties developed in two main directions. The first one was rooted in the tradition of conceptualism and was most fully expressed in the works of JÛzef Robakowski himself, has been frequently treated by him with ironical detachment and self-criticism towards the self portrait inherent in the structure of each work. As he himself wrote: throughout the whole life of my art I feed myself upon manipulation, which helps me build a clear personal image."
The other tendency, in apposition to the primacy of intellect, stressed the significance of emotions and their irrational sources (even if it was occasionally expressed in clear, rational way). Jerzy Truszkowski (and later Krzysztof Skarbek), whose works were representative of that attitude, emphasised the intuitive and spontaneous inspiration of their activities: their works being actually representative of the post-conceptual phase in art. Of related character were the works of Zbigniew Libera, despite the fact that he reduced the impact of the emotional element, making his realisations more of a contemplative-meditative nature. From time to time the spectator who is interested in the message of these works is forced to transcend and overcome the emotional dimension of the work. Even then, however, the emotional response constitutes the point of departure for further interpretations.
A separate position within the trend is occupied by the realisation of Barbara Konopka, whose contribution to Polish video art lies in new type of sensibility, which is rooted in a dreamlike poetic and combines musical inspirations with performance art. In konopka's works the contemplative character of the message is complemented with an interest in the visual dimension of its realisation.
The contemplative quality is also present in the works of Zygmunt Rytko, whose visually effective constructions convey the message about the inability to carry out any projects, by their very nature, such projects are situation within a cosmic paradigm of the infinity. Rytko's realisations demand that the spectator should assume a hermeneutic, concentrated attitude. The presence of the rational elements links his works with the tendency represented by Robakowski.
Outside the above defined framework, the neodadaist works of Adam Rzepecki (who occasionally collaborates with Grzegorz Zygier) can be placed, as well as the computer projects of Maciej Walczak, who creates "live" audiovisual concerts with the visual and audible motion being marked stressed. The computer programme scores are performed differently each time, which reminds one of the musical background of these artists.
The situation thus creates can be characterised as follows: whereas the prevalence of the medialist tendencies in the seventies resulted in the alienated, analytical character of Polish video art, the eighties witnessed the primacy of the subjective element. The opposition between medialism and intermedialism, which defined the pace of changes of the avant-garde art moving image in Poland in the seventies, the eighties gave way to the tension between rationalism (disciplined control over the work, detachment, irony) and irrationalism (immediacy, emotionalism, meditative quality).
The youngest generation of video artists in Poland in the beginning of the nineties finds its place outside the area of the conflict, programme-theoretical discussions and antagonisms rooted in the stormy decade of the seventies. The works of the above mentioned Barbara Konopka, krzysztof Skarbek and Maciej Walczak, as well of Miroslaw Emil Koch, Jan Brzuszek and Leszak Niedochodowicz refer to individual sensibility, and construct a paradigm consisting of both scraps of personal biography and elements of the universal, symbolic-archetype of collective memory. The growing number of young artists approaching video makes me suppose that the future of Polish video art belongs to this generation.