7 Polish Performance Artists that Pushed the Boundaries of Convention
The art of performance has always been a realm of innovation and a nexus of creativity. The artist is not only its author but the main artistic material as well. These Polish performance giants took their works to new levels and revolutionised their mediums.
For Andrzej Dudek-Dürer, art is tantamount to life. It’s this dedication to his craft that allows Dudek-Dürer to experiment with a variety of mediums and performance art. He was born in the beginning of the second half of the 20th century in Wrocław and throughout his life, he continued to ‘display’ himself through photography, living sculptures, mail art and more. Andrzej Kostołowski, an eminent Polish art critic, characterises Dudek-Dürer’s approach as looking for ‘the most mysterious from the mysterious anastomosis of the spiritual and material elements’ in himself.
A Dudek-Dürer piece is recognised by its religious and spiritual syncretism. A majority of his works allude to religious and philosophical systems of the East and the West and to shamanic practices, as well as a large focus on Renaissance-era aesthetics. However, his skill as a performance artist really shines through in his photography. Dudek-Dürer capitalised on the medium’s ability to document reality as well as create a new image to communicate his performance vision.
Between 2004 and 2009, Honorata Martin studied painting at the Fine Arts Academy in Gdańsk. From there, her career as a performance artist flourished and manifested itself into an exploration of human emotion. The most famous of Martin’s works to date was Going out into Poland (2013), in which she wandered around Poland for two months on foot, starting in Gdańsk and ending her journet in Dzierżoniów in Lower Silesia. Her fear of a lonely march was her motivation to work on the performance.
The starting point of her work is the observation of deepest emotion to, as she says, ‘build atmosphere’. She focuses on conveying strong emotions and fighting our own limits and fears in her both brutal and humorous performances. Many of her works involve long stretches of time where Martin does nothing but exist and allows anyone to come and sit with her in intimate yet awkward settings. Her famous performances have put her as a top name in modern living art of the 21st century.
Oskar Dawicki employs a strategy of ironic meta-reflection in his performances, a characteristic similar to the work of all other members in the Azorro collective. Between 1991 and 1996, Dawicki earned a degree in painting from the Mikołaj Kopernik University in Toruń. During his education and after, he staged many performances including This Defines Me, I Define Myself (1994), I Don't Know (2002) and Tree of Knowledge (2008).
An intrinsic humour and interaction with the audience surround Dawicki’s most famous performances. His explorations of identity and existentialism through his works, such as his passing out of surveys asking ‘Does Oskar Dawicki exist?’ to his audience during the Ontological Show, has thrown him to the forefront of performance art and is likely to keep him and the Azorro collective there for long time to come.
Zbigniew Warpechowski was one of the first artists around the world to take up performance art in the 1970s. After dropping out of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, he was preoccupied with writing poetry, and it was actually poetry that sparked his interest in performance art. In 1997, Warpechowski received the Minister of Arts and Culture Award in recognition of his 30-year-long activity in the realm of performance art.
Warpechowski relies heavily on conveying the truth while performing. He invariably presents his actions live, making improvisation and risk part of the performance. In his opinion, the props he uses in performance acts are secondary elements. They are used primarily to occupy the artist. The essence of the performance lies in ‘the artist’s thoughts, body, and soul.’ Warpechowski views performance art as a means of practising philosophy; in order to create performance art, he must feel the need – either a spiritual or an intellectual one.
Jerzy Bereś studied sculpture at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts in 1948-50. Moving from typical sculpture materials like plaster and concrete to wood to eventually his own body, Bereś found his home in less-than-typical gallery locations. In 1968, at Warsaw’s Foksal Gallery, he presented his first ‘manifestation,’ which he titled The Oracle I (The Creative Act). In it, he used both wooden structures, as well as – for the first time – his own nude body. During the following decades, he organised his famous ‘masses’, discussing major Polish issues through performance.
Bereś’s careful choice of language, his provocative courage to display nudity and his engagement in the prevalent problems of reality set him apart from other pioneering performance artists. He made sure his manifestations were not mistaken with ‘happenings’ because his manifestations ‘have a programme, aim and seminal capacity.’ He strived to fuse object and action to create one whole performance.
The Łódź Kaliska group, comprised of Marek Janiak, Andrzej Kwietniewski, Adam Rzepecki, Andrzej Świetlik and Makary (Andrzej Wielogórski), is a photography, experimental film and performance art group that was founded in 1979. In 1980-81 the group changed their artistic programme to focus on more Dadaistic happenings, attacking and ridiculing the Polish neo-avant-garde. For their 20th anniversary, the artists chose an out-of-order toilet at the Museum of Art in Łódź as the location for their installation Pure Art.
The style of Łódź Kaliska's photography was grotesque, sarcastic and never-ending fun was the goal of their artistic projects. Through their criticism of Polish reality, their works became widely known as performances of hilarity and sharp social commentary.
Ewa Partum studied in the painting department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw from 1965 to 1970 and earned her degree through her work in poetry as art. From then on, her performance art was steeped in blending poetry into reality. In 1974, Partum staged a performance called Change in Łódź, in which, in front of an audience, a make-up artist worked on half of her naked body. At the conclusion of the performance, Partum announced that she herself was a work of art, making her body an element of the feminist discourse.
Partum engaged in linguistic activities in an attempt to discover a new artistic language through her performance art. Combining her display of her nude form with her connection to language, Partum made some of the sharpest contemporary feminist works. Her political works like Ost-West Schatten and feminist works like Women, Marriage Is Against You! create a portfolio of activism and ground-breaking performances.