Change, performance, Adres, Łódź, 1974

Concrete poetry artist, performance artist, film maker, mail artist and conceptual artist engaged in linguistic activities in an attempt to discover a new artistic language. Born in 1945 in Grodzisk Mazowiecki near Warsaw.

Ewa Partum studied at the State Higher School of Fine Arts in Lodz from 1963 to 1965. She went on to study in the painting department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw from 1965 to 1970, where earned her diploma through her work in poetry as art.

Since 1969 she has been engaged in linguistic activities in an effort to discover a new artistic language. She has taken part in linguistic actions and installations which have been exhibited both in galleries and outdoors. One example is her meta-poetry, the spilling and spreading of letters through existent or non-existent texts from the history of literature (with some help from the likes of Goethe and Proust). In the early 1970s she produced conceptual installations such as Legality of Space (1971) and Breakfast on the Grass - after Eduard Manet (photographs) (1971), as well as poetic actions and interventions in public spaces (Area for Poetic License (1971) and Metapoetry (1972)). In 1972 she founded "Adres" in Lodz, one of the most significant galleries of mail art and art theory; she managed it until 1977, showing, among other artworks, documentation from the Fluxus group.

 
   


Since the early 1970s she has been creating Poems By Ewa, "conceptual poetry" in the shape of poetic objects on which she imprints her lips while articulating sounds. The texts combine the imprints of her lips with specific letters, sometimes whole phrases. The first lip imprints (with red lipstick) were made in 1971. One of them was signed with the sentence, "My touch is the touch of a woman", a conceptual statement about femininity formulated on the linguistic level. Her later Poems take both a strongly feminist and a social tone, although this is never stated in a clear or obvious way.

Partum created a number of short films between 1973 and 1974 called Films by Ewa, though she gave them one common title: Tautological Cinema. Through these films, she analyzed the problem of the automatism of the film medium and the structure of film language as a medium of semantics.

In 1974 Partum staged a performance called Change 1974 (photographs) in Lodz, 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. At her 1980 exhibition Self-identification in Warsaw's Mala Gallery, the artist's nude performance was accompanied by a controversial series of photomontages of her naked figure superimposed on scenes of Warsaw; Partum appeared naked among pedestrians, at a crossroads, next to a policewoman, in a store queue and in front of the presidential palace. The title Self-identification defined the work as the search for one's feminine identity.

Partum continued to develop feminist themes in her subsequent work, and in the autumn of 1980 she presented the performance Women, Marriage Is Against You! in the O.N. Gallery in Poznan. Appearing in a wedding gown and wrapped in transparent foil labelled "For Men", she proceeded to cut through the foil and the gown itself with scissors while the wedding march played, finally emerging naked before her audience. In her 1981 Stupid Woman (photographs), Partum parodied the ways in which women try to conform to men's idealized expectations of them. Much of her work was banned by the Polish censors, who also forbade it to be reproduced in catalogues.

During the period of martial law in 1982, she presented her performance Homage to Solidarity in the "Underground Gallery" in Lodz. Naked and wearing red lipstick, she formed the letters of the word "Solidarnosc" one by one with her lips, leaving imprints on white paper – another Poem by Ewa, which she repeated in West Berlin at "Galerie Wewerka" in 1983. Influenced in part by the Fluxus artist Wolf Vorstell and Berlin's feminists, Partum decided to settle in the German capital. In 1984, as part of an art competition on the subject of the Berlin Wall, she created a photograph of herself standing naked in high-heels one meter from the wall, holding up a big letter "O" in her right hand and a "W" in her left [Ost-West Schatten(photographs)].

Partum's numerous solo exhibitions in Germany and Poland include a performance at the Museum of Women in Bonn in 1985, and a retrospective exhibition at Badischer Kunstverein in Karlsruhe in 2001 (Act of a Thought is an Act of Art). In 2006 two major Partum exhibitions were organized in Poland: The Legality of Space at the Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk and Self-identification in Krolikarnia (a branch of the National Museum in Warsaw). The Tate Modern in London also held a re-enactment of one of her early performances, Active Poetry.

Group exhibitions including Partum's art have been mounted in Spain, the United States, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Japan, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. These include: W.O.R.K.S., Conceptual Graphics "Reading of Our World" in Calgary, Canada in 1973; Prospectiva 74 in Sao Paulo in 1974; International Exhibition of Mail Art ‘75 in Buenos Aires in 1975; the Film Festival "Film as Film - Film as Art" in Lodz in 1977; Quatro in Milan in 1982; Contemporary Polish Art in Berlin in 1984; Polska 86, an exhibition of 20th century Polish photography in Boston; Black-and-White Poland in Paris in 1990; Jestesmy at Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw in 1991; Wack! Art in the Feminist Revolution at MoCA Los Angeles in 2007; and, the same year, For a Special Place: Documents and Works from the Generali Foundation Collection at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York.

English text on Ewa Partum by Ewa Gorzadek, www.culture.pl; May 2004, Courtesy of Polish Cultural Institute in New York.

The book Ewa Partum, edited by Aneta Szylak and Ewa Malgorzata Tatar, has been co-published by the Wyspa Institute of Art and Revolver Archiv für Aktuelle Kunst in Frankfurt, and distributed in collaboration with Revolver (spring 2007). It includes essays in both Polish and English by Professor Grzegorz Dziamski, Dorota Monkiewicz, Professor Andrzej Turowski, Lukasz Ronduda, Angelika Stepken and Aneta Szylak. The role of the publication was to bring together a variety of perspectives on the perception and interpretation of Partum's art, to deliver precise information about her output (especially regarding its chronology) and to problematize the specific threads in her art. As Wyspa's curator Szylak writes, 

Sharply innovative, her work has had a clear trajectory leading from the deconstruction of logos to an expansion of her own artistic language as a conceptual and feminist artist. She was the first Polish woman artist to encroach upon public space in the nude, publicly making a value statement about being a female artist, basing her art and its vocabulary on her specific experience as a woman, and connecting her artistic gestures with political statements and a visible presence in the public sphere. She announced that she would perform naked until female artists got equal rights in the field of art. This strong connection between purity of conceptual practice and a clear political statement is grounded upon very authentic intellectual and cultural premises, as is her work – along with such performances as Stupid Woman, Women, Marriage is Against You, Pirouette and Homage to Solidarity. Partum has always treated her body in a very dry, instrumental and modest way, trying neither to abuse nor amuse, leaving one with the sense that she is already far beyond the body-art practice of her times. Her newest work shows a significant shift in her area of interest: a stinging assessment of the economy and politics, as well as institutional critique."

Aneta Szylak is the curator of The Legality of Space. An art critic and curator, she co-founded the Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk and has curated many important exhibitions in Poland and abroad, including Architectures of Gender: Contemporary Women's Art in Poland at the SculptureCenter in New York, 2003.

Source: Polish Cultural Institute in New York

Photographs courtesy of Xawery Dunikowski, Museum in Królikarnia, Warsaw; Homage to Solidarity from the Signum Foundation collection in Poznań and the collection of the artist.