Andrzej Dłużniewski was born on 3rd August, 1939 in Poznań, he died on 16th December, 2012 in Warsaw. His practice covered painting, drawing, poster design, photography, installation art, as well as literary forms – which ranged from belles-lettres to concrete prose.
In 1958-60, he studied architecture at the Wrocław University of Technology, and in 1960-61, he audited at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw. In 1961, he started working at the Polish Television as a prop manager and stagehand, and after his short stories were published in Współczesność, he also earned the position of a junior writer there. In 1962, he began studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw at the Faculty of Sculpture in the workshop of Marian Wnuk and in Oskar Hansen’s workshop of spatial forms, from which he graduated in 1968 (with a diploma in sculpture). In 1970, he became a lecturer in Interior Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (in 1971-73, he simultaneously taught at the Łódź State Art School), and in 1991, he received a professorship. In 1980-1993, together with his wife Emilia Małgorzata, a painting graduate, he organised exhibitions, lectures, and meetings of Polish and international artists (including many Fluxus presentations) in his apartment at 20/26 Piwna St, which at the time constituted an important artistic centre. That period of activity is documented in the catalogue Piwna 20/26 Emilii i Andrzeja Dłużniewskich 1980-1993 (publ. 1994).
He was a recipient of the Katarzyna Kobro Award (2003) and Jan Cybis Award (2006).
In 1991, he published a book titled T. – a blend of a monograph and an auteur piece describing various relationships between visual arts, poetry, and reflections on basic, yet important notions. The book was published on the occasion of Andrzej Dłużniewski’s exhibition Słowa i rzeczy at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle. In 1997, the artist was in a car accident, as a result of which he lost eye sight. In 2000, he published a collection of philosophical anecdotes titled Odlot. He lived and worked in Warsaw.
Intellectual and rich with reflection, Andrzej Dłużniewski’s practice does not lend itself easily to analysis. The artist has often modified the ways of using the language of art and reached for a wide variety of means of expression, depending on a particular medium necessary to present a problem or question that preoccupied him. Dłużniewski was equally keen on using written word and drawing or photography, he painted, created collages, built para-objects, authored performances, processual art forms, environments, and spatial installations, without favouring any of these mediums.
Dłużniewski was one of the most consistent avant-garde artists. Even though his works could be connected to some of the artistic trends and programmes occurring in the past thirty years, he did not affiliate himself with any specific doctrine or movement, and remained an independent artist. His linguistic inclinations and use of non-conventional media placed him closer to conceptualism, as did meta-critical art which the artist was fond of. Dłużniewski also endorsed the creative position of the international Fluxus movement, however neither conceptual art nor Fluxus created coherent stylistic systems, so when it comes to referring to both of these phenomena in the context of his art, one could rather speak about an affinity of attitude. For this artist, ‘the sense of art grants credibility to the sense of life,’ since, as he wrote:
it is not the task of art to react to reality, but reality should react to art.
Andrzej Dłużniewski employed his own concept of art, grounded in the notion of utility understood as ‘utility in the most noble sense, seen as an intellectual provocation, an impulse.’ Art was in fact a purely mental activity, which the artist visualised through particular means – however the role of these means was merely to express a problem. Another important notion relating to Dłużniewski’s art was ‘engagement.’
All levels of engagement which society can expect from an artist lie in the art itself, in its purest form; even if it is completely abstract and deemed difficult by the public – it is an equally socially, politically and philosophically engaged form of expression.
In 1968, Andrzej Dłużniewski produced one of the most controversial diploma projects at the Faculty of Sculpture. It was a large ‘sandbox’ with dry sand in which the artist formed fantasy landscapes and documented his activities on photographs. The diploma committee was initially reluctant to grant him a diploma, however after a long discussion, it was decided that the piece may be considered as a sculpture.
One of the earliest works by Dłużniewski is the series of ink drawings Ikonogramy (197-74). The 55 works in the series reference the symbols of pictorial and painting language. At a 1977 exhibition in Foksal Gallery, Dłużniewski displayed six works under the shared title Obraz wobec obrazu. They were concerned with the relationship between that which lies within the image, i.e. the semantic field, and the external sphere, which exceeds the frame. The piece Exterieurment displayed at Repassage Gallery was similar in character; it was as an opposite of an environment, so it also expressed a reflection on placement of an artwork in respect to the extra-artistic sphere. Dłużniewski played with expectations towards art as a practice perpetuating presumptions and stereotypes in his ironic piece Obraz, replika, kopia (Image, Replica, Copy). Using these three words, the artist composed clusters of notions, representing more and more absurd configurations: An Image of a Replica of a Copy, a Replica of an Image of a Copy, or even A Copy of an Image of a Copy of an Image of a Copy of a Replica of an Image of a Replica of an Image. In 1979, in an old tenement house in Foksal Street, Dłużniewski displayed his work Ślad po obrazie. In an abandoned apartment, a mark was left on one of the walls after a removed painting. The artist took a picture of that empty spot, as if he wanted to emphasise the fact that art exists even when we don’t see it, as a potentiality carrying a meaning. Dłużniewski’s art is ephemeral, unconventional, and most of all intellectual.
The artist keenly introduced paradox and irony (e.g. inverted stairs, an image of an absent painting), carried out operations with words (Pląkąt at the exhibition Auteur Poster at the Warsaw-based Współczesna Gallery in 1972), which were often the basis of his works. Dłużniewski never ceased writing literary works, however it wasn’t until the eighties when word began to appear in his visual works on the same level as the thus far used means of expression. Reflection which searches for meaning through word and image comes up in several series of collages from that period: Podwójny różowy pieprz (1980), Artyści żyją na granicy dwóch światów (1981), and Literatura piękna (1982). In mid-80s, Dłużniewski focused on exploring the relations between the meaning of words and their grammatical gender in different languages. While browsing through an album of drawings by Dürer, he noticed that death was presented as male, as opposed to Slavic iconography, which presents it as a female figure. It turned out that more of those differences exist, relating to such fundamental concepts as war (feminine in Polish, masculine in German), heaven (neuter in Polish, masculine in German), faith (feminine in Polish, masculine in German), and space (feminine in Polish, masculine in German). The artist does not attempt to answer the question why this is the case, but rather remains at the level of questions and tries to find a perfect form of representing them. Wishing to apply order to the theme in these works, he marked the genders with colours – red for masculine, blue for feminine, and green for neuter. In the projects, which took the form of spatial compositions or paintings, colour played both a symbolic function and that of systematising the linguistic analysis carried out by the artist (Rodzaj i cień, 1985; Obszar żeński, 1991). The piece Łąka i śmierć (1987) is a long canvas, a fresco drawing showing a dozen human silhouettes representing different European languages, with relevant colours marking their body parts according to their assigned gender. A figure of death, either male or female, is falling down below each silhouette. The picture makes a reference to the Elysian Fields, to strolling people whose souls are departing.
In 1988, Dłużniewski started working from memory, basing his works exclusively on what he remembered. His wife Małgorzata and Maciej Sawicki painted the pictures according to his concepts. The artist presented his work Geonauci in a 2000 exhibition at the CCA Ujazdowski Castle. At the edge of a large cube painted in white, he positioned miniature bronze sculptures, tiny figures of creatures, which, according to the artist’s description, were invisible and made a short visit to our planet. More information about Geonauci can be found in the book Odlot.
Andrzej Dłużniewski’s pedagogical work, which he carried out since the 70s, was a very important area of his practice. His workshop, which he called Intermedia Workshop, borrowing the term from Dick Higgins – one of the Fluxus artists, was a site of discussions on the problems of values, artist’s ethics, creative stances, artistic decisions, and responsibility for choices.
After losing his eye sight, the artist continued his pedagogical work, with the help from his assistant supervising the visual aspects of the students’ works. His work at the Art Academy, the book Odlot, which he wrote for two years after the accident, and the miniature Geonauci sculptures helped Dłużniewski return to working in the art field.
The book Odlot includes a chapter titled ‘Wenus Kozienicka,’ which tells the story that happened to Dłużniewski forty years ago in Kozienice, and had its ending in 2000 at the Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko. While he was still a student, he found two human vertebrae, excavated during roadworks. He took them with him, and years later found them in his home drawer. He then decided to learn more about them. According to a pathologist, they belonged to a young woman who died in 1938. The specialist also described which part of the spine they came from and gave an approximate age of the woman. Dłużniewski also managed to learn that the location where the roadworks took place in Kozienice years ago, used to be a site of a Jewish cemetery. The artist decided to create a piece which would be a form of a monument to the dead woman. He made bronze casts of both vertebrae and inserted them in between vertical cuboid blocks of white marble. He presented this at the Kaplica Gallery in Orońsko, and later the sculpture was permanently installed at the Orońsko sculpture park. On the day of unveiling of the piece, Dłużniewski travelled to Kozienice and buried the bones in the same place where he found them.
He simultaneously continued his painting practice, devising the concepts and the formal aspects of his paintings, which were then produced by someone else.
This relates to the paradoxical situation that this idea to paint came to my mind, to my mind – this is very important – after I lost my sight. Of course, not all by myself, but with the help from my wife and Maciej Sawicki, who used to be my student and now is my friend, and also with the help from my son, Kajetan. Previously, I painted very rarely, and if I did, it was more drawing-like or was produced for different reasons. That situation of not being able to see enabled me to see ‘inside’. Everyone who loses eye sight after a long period of being able to see – I’m not talking about those who are blind from birth – experience that characteristic ‘seeing inside.’ This is a completely different way of seeing. The visible reality disappears, but some other visions emerge – more from the head than from experience. Before, I was involved in abstract and conceptual art, and therefore ideas have always been more important to me and now the transition to painting those ideas is not that hard – the artist said.
He created text paintings, such as Jak Picabia, 1998 (white and black and red letter), Kak eto?, 1998 (written in cyrillic with a painted green sun), Jeśli czerwone, okrągłe i męskie to niebo [der Himmel], a niebieskie, kwadratowe i żeńskie to ziemia; to co to jest to białe i dalej, czym zatem jest szare, 1999, Jak trudno liczyć motyle, 1999 (with an almost invisible text), and Bóg, 1999 (the word written in red).
Simultaneously, in 1998-1999, Dłużniewski created silhouette paintings showing the monuments: Goethe/Schiller (with a blue sun), Zygmunt Krasiński (with a green sun), and Voltaire (with a red sun).
In 2001, he started working on the series of collages Burleski. The starting point for these cut-outs was a K-shaped figure with red hands, wide shoulders, and head profile, cut out from wallpaper in 1964. He produced eight collages in the form of friezes, very modest in form and emanating with warm humour. In them, the artist conducts an intellectual game with history, literature, and makes a reference to episodes from the Bible and everyday events. In one piece from the series, figures form a wobbly line holding each others’ hands, bringing to mind Bruegel’s painting The Blind Leading the Blind. In the same year, Dłużniewski designed the work Niebo-Ziemia – an object in the form of a chest with a lid measuring 80x80x80 cm, in which he placed sixty four prisms with the titular words written in several languages and colours corresponding to their genders in those languages.
In 2003, Dłużniewski created three paintings which paid an homage to Kazimir Malevich: Obraz niebieski, Czarny kwadrat, and Czarne słońce. Dłużniewski also entered a dialogue with another great 20th century artist in his piece Kłębki (Pamięci Rose Slavy – podwójny ukryty dźwięk) – a tribute to Marcel Duchamp, who once created a work that was conceptually akin. Dłużniewski enveloped a red and blue ball of wool in a wooden frame, which, when shaken, made a rattle sound. The same year also brought Konik z drewna, in which the artist used a figure of the chess knight, and which referred to the short story Chess published in Odlot.
In 2005, the Museum of Art in Łódź hosted a large retrospective exhibition Spacer z Andrzejem Dłużniewskim w stronę sztuki, accompanied by an extensive catalogue of the artist’s oeuvre. In 2006, Dłużniewski received the Jan Cybis Award – one of the most prestigious distinctions in the field of painting, awarded since 1973 by the Warsaw District of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers. At the exhibition accompanying the award ceremony, Dłużniewski presented a set of over twenty new works which were a continuation of the earlier method of ‘picturing’: plain colours on unprimed canvas and words. The artist interprets the role of the raw background in the following way:
Only the backdrop is metaphysical. In my paintings, the greyness of the canvas is that Void which fascinated me as a little boy in religion classes. The large, empty space of the blackboard on which the religion instructor drew Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory in the bottom left corner, and left the rest in the Void.
The theme of chess, which had previously appeared in the artist’s works, returned in the exhibition Szachy (2009), where Dłużniewski showed works he created together with his son, Kajetan, who was their co-author. Pieces from an old chess set became a basis for several deeply reflective compositions, filled with warm humour and treating the rules of the game with a grain of salt. Ślizgawka Pana Hulot is a lonely, black piece placed on the black and white board – it is not, however, positioned on a square, as is normally the case, but on the intersection of squares. In the piece Szekspir i Duchamp, the black of the chessboard squares gradually transforms into lighter and lighter shades of grey, as if dissolving into infinity. Two objects have been placed in the opposing spots: a chess king, in the first black and white row, and white wooden egg on the grey smudge. Fort Knox is four rooks placed opposite one another, while Przestrzał is two black knights sitting on the white, bordering squares located diagonally from each other.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, February 2004; update: December 2012, transl. AM, August 2017
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