INTERVIEW WITH ZOFIA KULIK AND PRZEMYSŁAW KWIEK
Interviewed Maryla Sitkowska
Warsaw 1986 - 1995
Zofia Kulik, Przemysław Kwiek, Maryla Sitkowska
KwieKulik - Art and theory ilustrated by life events,
ART OUT OF NERVES
Table of contents:
- Introduction - History of this text ...
- PART I - Introduction
- PART II - At home
- 1. Home, tradition, influences
- 2. Studies
- 3. First period (1968- 1974)
- 4. Second period (1974-1977)
- 5. Third period (1978 - 1987)
- PART III - Off
- 1. Receivers
- 2. Critics
- 3. Neoavangard
- 4. Avangards ...
- 5. ... alternatives
- PART IV - Off-off
- 1. "Solidarność"
- 2. Boycott
- 3. Labor unions
- PART V - About oneselves
History of this text is very long and it starts at the beginning of 1986, when KwieKulik duet wasn't yet disintegrated.
In the years 1984-1985 a group of critics associated with Stowarzyszenie Historyków Sztuki in Warsaw has began a project of interviews with artists on the model of questionnaire made in the second half of the 50's. The aim of questionnaire ,,Artist 84-85" was the recognition of world views and attitudes of variously domaines creators and generations towards the then social-politic situation and mainly towards martial law, boycott of official artistic life, independent expositions, critic, trade unions, etc.
One of the last, and the longest interviews was that made with Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek. I've met with artists after their performance ,,To buy an artist" in Dziekanka in 11 march 1985.
The interview was made by me in February 1986 in their still redecorating house in Łomianki-Dąbrowa. From these sessions has stayed about 8 hours of recording, which was typed out, edited, and then it was given to people reliable for the questionnaire,the fee was given - according to the rules of ,,To buy an artist" action, to artists, as I stressed ,,for P.D.DiU.".
Interview just in first edition exceeded the project of questionnaire. It didin't also obey the questionnaire questions. It was so interesting material, that we decided - Zofia Kulik, Przemysław Kwiek and I to broaden it to longer intervwiev. We intended to publish it, of course. We keep broadering it, with breakes, until middle of 90s. It was precising the answers, widen some of the topics, reduction of the other -important for questionnaire, and less important for the artists. Despite that artistic and personal situation of Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek, in that time, had changed thorough, their comments concern the period of cooperation as KwieKulik, so that they don't cross - in reminiscences and in references to concrete events - the end of 80s. In this way the most important value of interview, which is the record of state of mind of the artists in crucial for polish art, artistic and their own life period, was saved.
CZĘŚĆ I - WSTĘP
Maryla Sitkowska - What are the threats to art nowadays according to you? In general, in Poland and you to yourselves?
Przemysław Kwiek - In general, it is the lack of freedom, in Poland - the lack of freedom and money . . .
Zofia Kulik -. . . and in our case - the lack of freedom, money and will.
PK - Yes, exactly. Ha ha ha! The lack of freedom, money and will.
MS - What do you mean "the lack of freedom"?
ZK - This does not mean the lack of freedom at the stage of creating a work of art... Let me give an example from the past. By the end of the '70s we needed -I do not remember what for - some copies from foreign catalogues from the Academy library. So we went to a photocopying service in Rutkowskiego Street, the only one available to the public at that time. However, there they told us to go to the censor's office, because those were foreign publications. At the censor's office in Mysia Street we were told that we could not obtain permission because there were some copyright regulations or something like that - we wanted just one copy of single articles. Finally, the censor agreed to make an exception for us, yet he made the condition that we had to write an application and we had to state in the application that we needed the copy for scientific research. Moreover we were not allowed to make copies of any consecutive pages. And there was also a demand to write an application form to borrow a book from the Library. Well, yes... Can we speak about freedom here? I think that this is the very problem. I always mean concrete things. It is enough if there is more than one case like that, and they are - as you know - very common and frequent, so I claim that I lack freedom, even though I can walk in the street and can do whatever I wish at home. Yet, I cannot! My activities do not go forward as I wish them to do. In other words, I stand in one place. If I want to go in a certain direction and I remain in one place, I am not free.
PK - This is a recurrent topic which we constantly tackle: practical limitations. If we speak about the degradation of a Pole compared to a foreigner, we speak exactly about this: about the limitations on free activity in general. It is difficult to speak about free creativity, this is the limitation on the freedom of deeds and the lack of possibility of- as Zosia said - going forward. Consequently, this causes an impediment to freedom.
MS - So, this means that no-one hindered you from creative work...
PK - No. However, there were strong existential restraints, It was so difficult to live that is unimaginable! Materials, organising, arranging for things, placing them, this unfortunate photocopying, etc. Thousands, thousands of such things. What happens in the world, in normal societies? The effort of the whole society is directed towards overcoming such petty obstacles Many Poles laugh at American gadgets, because they instilled in us the conviction that if there is a gadget that opens a can automatically, this must be a joke or a deviation. Of course, this is not true because the sum of such gadgets in all spheres of life makes man freer.
ZK - Well this is one of many concepts. I wouldn't look at it only from one point.
PK - Certainly, or else the opponents of capitalism from those countries would speak about the overgrowth of consumption, over-production and the alienation of man in his own place - all this is not true. Let's take an example of our "Neo-expressionists", "Kultura Zrzuty",1 "nihilists" and traditionalists concerned with enslaving and the sacrum. The people who busy themselves with metaphysics, human existence and the happiness or unhappiness of an individual, those who concentrate on themselves and the rest of Poles with their soaring acts of faith and who do it in absolute isolation from practical problems and, finally, from the problems of luxury as I call them. If someone in the West deals with these things in such a way, i.e. getting separated from reality - they do it while having luxury as their background! Unfortunately, if one wants to achieve a high standard of living, one has to attain it through very hard, dirty, mundane everyday work that contradicts the metaphysical divagations on an individual topic made already in comfort. The world outside can afford it because it has already come through the period of struggling for comfort and yet, thousands of people work hard on all these petty things as if they were half-beasts- as you can might call it. However, in our country they want to tackle - and they realty do it - metaphysical issues with a dry bread-roll in their pocket and standing up. That's horrible!
ZK - Come on. It's not so. lam not convinced by your examples. I would treat the lack of freedom in our situation as hindering someone from their work. This pertains equally to a businessman, an employee, a teacher, or an artist. To everyone.
PK - I agree with this. We are not contradicting each other.
ZK - But you talk about some can-openers. Not only do Poles laugh at this but Americans do as well. Do not exaggerate these achievements in can-opener.
PK - This poor opener! I quoted it only as an example of making practical things easy. There are millions of such things. We can easily speak about an electric typewriter, a photocopier or a computer in every household as well. We can speak about a great number of shops, agriculture machines, robots, etc.
ZK - OK Someone solves small practical problems somewhere
PK - And that's it - when you say ''someone solves small practical problems", every serious man waves his hand with contempt - huh! small practical problems. This is not the kind of problems we have!
MS - So - what's the conclusion? We ought to deal with petty things in order to create a perfect whole?
PK - And work on them really, really hard. Work hard for a long time so as to achieve luxury in which we could ponder over existential issues.
ZK - No, that's not so! It is not like that: first this, next that. No.
PK - So, the alternative is as I have just said: a dry bread-roll and artistic events, similar to our soulful friends - standing in the cold, hungry; without any advertisement, etc.
ZK - It does not matter. It does not. You yourself said that during the Solidarity times nobody objected to being poor or living uncomfortably. That is not the point The point is to feel that something is happening and that it has a sense.
PK - I agree that if a room is cold and there is a candle burning one can give a lecture or organise a scientific symposium. However, if any state includes luxury in its programme and simultaneously neglects this luxury completely in practice and does not know what kind of work or method leads to this luxury, then- excuse me -I consider it an interesting domain for me. And I would like to remind you of one of your projects. Do you remember? We organised adjustable aeroplane seats for the public in the gallery. An air hostess discreetly served drinks and snacks. In such conditions a performance took place...
ZK - NUnfortunately, not realised... However, because of such various feelings of discomfort and as the sum of these feelings we made a piece called "Art from Anger" ["Art of Nerves"]"
This is a slogan, a seal that we carved in rubber. We stamp with it those works which were created because some nonsensical circumstances and difficulties annoyed us.
PK - We prize these small difficulties and petty troubles exceptionally highly contrary to many artists "We are lying in ambush and waiting for events, especially bad ones, to take part in them." This is our motto because we consider it one of the Polish problems. The problem which people abroad do not realise at all. It is simply unimaginable for them! So, how can you speak about any sort of partnership? When we say that we showed something abroad, that they came here on the occasion of various "Iam", ect, then we do not speak about these differences and our shortcomings in comparison with the abroad. Certainly, this is a simplified picture. I do not think that we can speak about any partnership! Our piece "The Light of the Dead Star" shown in Amsterdam in 1979 speaks about this among other things. One of our writings, sent to the festival in Arnhem, where we could not go because we had been refused passports, contains a sentence that the world is divided, consequently there are two different worlds. Hence we cannot speak about any partnership-like relations or any equality of rights. This division will exist even after political systems become similar.
ZK - The other piece tackling the same issue was our appearance and a leaflet "Heavy Complaints Kill Life" in 1978.
PK - It is mostly stressed in the text. The text transfers it in an artistic way.
ZK - "... poor people queue to buy some oranges for a long time"...
PK - However, we are less interested in the divagations on political systems. Socialism, communism or capitalism - these are secondary matters, which are elevated to the primary level thanks to the mass-media; certainly the mass-media are in the hands of people who deal with such issues and who speak about them just for themselves. A common man is being politically indoctrinated while the real reasons for small afflictions and troubles remain unknown. No-one speaks about them in Poland, they are pushed away to the secondary level.
ZK - Yet, is anyone cheating here? Is someone pulling someone's leg? Why is it so? Do these ideas, these oral declarations lie? Does anyone have bad intentions? Is this someone's incapacity?
PK - No. I think this is a typical example of the discrepancy between general laws like the Constitution, the Human Rights Convention, the censorship law, etc. and executive regulations. It turns out that the executive regulations not the general laws govern a particular action, even though these general laws assume the already mentioned equality of rights or partnership. Are general laws controlled by international bodies, while executive regulations and even the decisions of an individual are the domain of a single-party system or a group of people in a country? ... At any rate, general laws are one thing and executive regulations -another. And now comes the question: who is trying to fool whom? I am convinced that we can say that still - someone is cheating someone else. We can say so, even though no-one is cheating. Understand? This means that if someone rebels - like "Solidarity" rebelled once -they can say someone was cheating, although no-one was actually cheating. Moreover, he can profit from it. That's what all revolutions are about - the king as innocent as a lamb, suddenly dies at the gallows: although he did not do anything wrong himself. In my opinion we should find those who are guilty of the lack of creative autonomy in the sense we understand it here, i.e. contradictory to the declared freedom; even if there aren't any guilty ones. As a warning and as a lesson to society. And I must say that I sometimes introduce certain vindictive elements into my art. It does not matter that sometimes the ricochet reaches me, too. This is calculated in the rules of the game. I would like to remind you of the Malmo catalogue which included my works from the series "Commentary Art" : "Man-Dick" and "A Bird from Plaster to Bronze in the Barracks of Fine Arts" combined together. However, these pieces, even if taken separately, were constructed with the same anger and ...the consciousness that they might offend someone. We achieved a great success - it turned out that someone got offended! It hit the bull's eye and it was so strong that I cannot recall anything stronger at that time. And the reaction to it was - in my opinion - poor anyway.
ZK - You would have punished yourself differently?
PK - I would have granted myself a huge scholarship, ha ha ha!
ZK - If you had made it a painting, perhaps they would have bought it; however, since it was done in "different media"... You are absolutely outside die scope of their interest.
PK - Well, perhaps! A very good and worthwhile remark. Had it been a painting or a sculpture, it would have been locked in a drawer and... silence. Dwurnik told us about Geno Malkowski who wanted to hire his painting for an exhibition in Zacheta from Hermansdorfer in 1985. The painting was very a propos its topic -"Human existence, the fate of the Earth" - the war, albeit Jaruzelski war, etc. Of course Hermansdorfer refused. Later I asked Edzio: Well, if he hadn't refused, would Geno have shown it? You bet he wouldn't! Ha, ha, ha! And Geno knew it, and Hermansdorfer did, and Dwumik. Yet, now the painting is no longer restricted. Dwurnik did not have any troubles because of having painted it, etc. Nevertheless, in our case it was shown in a form that was not typical of traditional artistic practice and already in a foreign publication. It was this that made the issue so irksome and painful. It was so because anyone in the street can act in a similar way which made it dangerous for the authorities. An average man from the street will not paint a picture; however, anyone can take a camera, cut flowers from a flower bed and make a caption, eg. PRL*. Any citizen can turn out pieces like that without any traditional training in art, which was later confirmed by the activities of "Orange Alternative" ("Pomaranczowa Altematywa).
*Polish People's Republic, the name of Poland under communist government