Polish Socialist Conceptualism of the 70s
Curated by Łukasz Ronduda
in collaboration with Barbara Piwowarska
Zofia Kulik, Przemysław Kwiek, Paweł Kwiek, Zygmunt Piotrowski, Anastazy Wiśniewski, Marysia Lewandowska, Neil Cummings, Paweł Althamer, and Igor Krenz
Opening: Sunday, Jan. 7, 6-8 pm
Artists such as Anastazy Wiśniewski, Zofia Kulik, Przemysław Kwiek, Paweł Kwiek belonged at the beginning of the 70's to the Soc Art movement (known also as Socialist Conceptualism, Second Socialist Realism or New Red Art). They wanted to create a new avant-garde political art. In these attempts to re-define the relationship between art and politics, a far-reaching critical stance toward a Communist regime can be observed. This critical stance, applied to the new Communist Party leadership (in the person of Edward Gierek), whose declarations about improving communication between ruling circles and society, an openness to modernity and innovation, soc-artists took seriously.
Soc-artists belonged to Communist Party, they tried to re-define it from inside.As is typical of subversive art the position of the Soc Art artists was based on imitating almost identifying with the object of criticism, and slightly shifting emphasis. They made clear distinction between the Communist State, which realized a 'real', authoritarian and not democratic form of Socialism, and the socialism understood as 'solidarity of working people', as the real potential of people for spontaneous self-organization and self-representation. Soc Art artists wanted to return to origins, to the most fundamental understanding of the words and values, such as socialism and Communism. For them the formation of social structures should proceed from the bottom up, from local, small communities and councils to larger structures, not the other way around 'from abstract state structures based on abstract ideology down to people. They wanted to invent truly socialist artistic activity which goal was to provide the subjects with tools for self-realization, self-representation and competent collaboration with other subjects in order to form initiatives and communities from the ground up. In 1971 they wrote: 'To improve socialist society is to improve the ways people communicate with each other, improve their ability to cooperate and coexist with other members of the group. The democratization of public life is only the beginning of a process of forming new interpersonal relations. The power which shapes them is not the state, but 'solidarity of proletariats'. 'All power to autonomous local councils!: Lenin's directive is nothing but a confirmation of how significant revolutionary processes are in our society'.
It must be mentioned that for Polish artistic circles at the beginning of the 70's any kind of political involvement still had negative associations with Socialist Realism. Soc Art artists were confronted with the task of proposing a form of socially engaged art that would at the same time differ from the Socialist Realist formula. They strove to achieve this by grounding their avant-garde, politically engaged work in attempts to combine so-called new languages of art (process-based art, minimalism, conceptualism, interactions, structural cinema happenings, collaborations) with politics. Essential principle shaping their work was chance and spontaneous collective improvisation with no script. For example they tried to transform official state celebrations into happening, into fluxus-like event. Soc-artists permanently addressed Communist authorities with several propositions to organize political or 'propaganda' events based on their artistic achievements. In 1971 they organized political spectacles (Think Communism, Pro Agit), structured by interactions, based on chance and improvised and spontaneous communication between participants. In this events artists used several political symbols and elements: song The Internationale, Lenin's head, red flag. The interactions used in those spectacles could only propagate ideas and models of a non-authoritarian social system composed of free, responsible individuals who maintain open, effective communicative relations based on freedom of thoughts and tolerance toward other worldviews or lifestyles. The interactions were structurally incapable of propagating ideology prevailing at the time. This attempt to create propagandist spectacles through a method of improvised multimedia interactions turned out to be a rebellion against the models of propaganda prevalent in socialist Poland.
The artists' proposal unveiled the structural inability of the authoritarian system to change its models of social communication, since such a change would be linked to the necessity of sharing power with others. It would require a transition from a system of command to one of social dialogue from one-way social control to dialectic of controlling and being controlled, and so forth. The Soc-artists' attempt at politicizing aesthetics constituted a third way as against autonomous modernist art on the one hand, and art aestheticising politics on the other.
The actions carried out by the Soc Art artists were rejected by Communist authorities, and the artists themselves were subjected to repressive action. The story of their 'flirt with the revolution' can be compared to that of Constructivist avant-garde in Russia of the 1920s and 30s. The pattern of relationships between avant-garde artists and Communist authorities were similar. Soc-artists were doubly repressed: they were excluded (by the political authorities) from the sphere where art and politics intersected and (by Anti-Communist artistic community) from existing art institutions, and finally, from Polish art history.
In Communist Poland there was no situation outside ideology, just as today in Capitalist Poland there is no situation free from the laws of the market. It is for this reason that the subversive strategies employed by Soc Art figures like Anastazy B. Wiśniewski (and his Yes Gallery) recall those employed by contemporary anti-corporate artists (like The Yes Men for example). As for the work of Piotrowski, Paweł Kwiek, Przemysław Kwiek and Kulik, their analyses of collective thinking, interaction, mutual cooperation among individuals, mobilization aimed at achieving artistic, social and political goals, the right of the individual (and of the group) to self representation and self realization, the concern for the common good, and for common public space, all demonstrate tropes taken up by the most up to date Polish Contemporary Art, by Paweł Althamer, Igor Krenz, Marysia Lewandowska and Neil Cummings.
Presentation of "Piktogram" art magazine (Polish-English bilingual quarterly) will accompany the exhibition. http://www.piktogram.pl/