One of the most outstanding contemporary Polish artists, long affiliated with the conceptual movement. Born on January 28, 1945 in Śrem
Between 1963-1969 he studied painting at the State Graduate School of Fine Arts in Poznań (currently the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts), where he has been teaching painting and drawing since 1967. Between 1981-1987 he served as president of the Academy. He also ran the Galeria Akumulatory 2 in Poznań from 1972 to 1990, where he provided a platform for both Polish and foreign avant-garde artists. Between 1991-1993 he served as curator for the gallery and collection of the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw.
Kozłowski held fellowships at the British Council in London in 1979, and at DAAD in Berlin from 1984 to 1985. He currently teaches at the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts and at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunste in Amsterdam. He lives and works in Poznań.
As one of the most outstanding contemporary Polish artists, long affiliated with the conceptual movement, Kozłowski has been exhibiting since 1967. His work consists chiefly of installations that incorporate media such as drawing, light, sound, photography and objects. He is also an author of art books, as well as working in photography, drawing, painting and performance pieces.
Kozłowski's rich and multifaceted work has its roots in conceptualism. It is marked by a critical-analytical discourse with art and the mechanisms of perception, self-reflection and the building of correlations between the grammar of the artistic language and the sphere of meaning. In the 1970s the artist created works of a purely linguistic nature; they reflected his interest in language games and puns, as well as in transposing the rules of formal logic to reality and vice versa. The pieces he created during this period included Modal Drawings, Semiotics Exercises, Metaphysics, Physics, Ics and Exercises in Aesthetics or Exercises in Ethics. In Art Mythologies, a sizeable series of works from the 1980s, Kozłowski deconstructed various art-related myths such as the myth of the artist and of artistic freedom, the myth of originality, the myth of value and unselfishness, and so on. They were chiefly installation pieces, most incorporating sound, which were aesthetically attractive and intellectually enticing. But at the same time they exposed themselves unabashedly to the viewer, as the artist laid bare the falseness contained in them. These pieces were cathartic, helping the viewer to shed any misconceptions about the social function of art and of the artist himself.
In another series, titled Art Realities, Kozłowski used irony to disposed of entrenched mental patterns and conventions that persist among the art audience. He insisted that art should not be used instrumentally by the viewers, who usually expect it to provide aesthetic sensations or consolation, or who want to perceive it as an instrument of pleasure. Kozłowski treats art idealistically, as a sphere of freedom unbound by convention and unlimited by any attempt to achieve specific goals. He is an artist who is highly wary of representation and who relativises the dominant criteria, adopting instead the principle that meaning is dependent on context.
In the 1990s Kozłowski made an attempt to enter the "third circle" (his own term), an alternative artistic territory that is "neither myth nor reality". In a conversation with Jerzy Ludwiński, published in the catalogue of the exhibition "Things and Spaces", which took place at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź in 1994, he characterised the third circle thus:
It would contain elements of both the former, that is, reality, as well as the latter, that is, art. In both cases, however, those elements would by no means be 'appropriations'. They would not entail any dependence on the contexts from which they have been extracted.
The artist therefore has absolute freedom in choosing the materials and methods he uses to create his work. He is an autocrat who can do whatever he pleases. He can use any element he deems fit, and each element then becomes a word, a symbol within his artistic statement. He can draw freely from the well of his own imagination and sensitivity, and then give life to his vision using real-life objects. Imagination is the ability to connect and build bridges between one object and another, and therefore entails an understanding of correspondence. It also makes it possible to bridge the gap between a concept and its visualisation by means of creative transformation.
All of Kozłowski's work since 1993 refers to the idea of the third circle. For its material, it incorporates ready-made objects, mainly everyday items that exist merely to be functional. Such objects have been an integral part of Kozłowski's art since the very beginning, but previously they were incorporated into multifaceted artistic statements in which the artist also made use of other media, such as drawing, photography, colour and sound. In these artistic arrangements, the objects usually participated "actively", performing their original functions: fans moved air, lamps shone, metronomes measured, a table was a table and a key was a key. What was groundbreaking about Sharp Objects (1993) was that the artist constructed his statements using ready-made objects that had been both taken out of the context of "real reality" and also deprived of any artistic interpretations they might have been given. "They acquire a new identity, and with it, regain their lost dignity", explained the artist during the above-mentioned conversation.
But the point is not simply to display the objects; what seems to matter most are the relations between things, because for Kozłowski, meaning is always a question of context. In this particular piece, the artist treats innocent objects very brutally, painting them all black and piercing them with sharp scythes. Still, when we look at them, we do not see them as victims. They appear to be armed warriors guarding their independence. The armchair does not allow anyone to sit in it, the TV set refuses to broadcast mind-numbing infotainment and the typewriter has rebelled against the use of the alphabet. These objects, camouflaged and armed, are playing a game with us. But if we look closely enough, we can see on each object a tiny unpainted bit of its original surface. This remnant of its previous state represents the object's passage from one circle to another.
Kozłowski dealt just as ruthlessly with the objects that make up his series Soft Safety (1994-1995), in which pieces of furniture, carpets and small household items such as radios, lamps, clocks, mirrors, ashtrays are taken apart and glued to mismatched counterparts. Here the artist assumes the role of a doctor, bandaging "cuts" and sticking Band-Aids on them. They have not simply been cut in half, they have been mutilated. The resulting creations still resemble pieces of furniture and everyday household objects, and the way they are arranged is suggestive of a "homey" atmosphere, but it is rather that of a hospital emergency ward than an apartment. The objects that Kozłowski has called into being in the third circle have not only freed themselves from their original functions, but have also begun to enter into surprising mutual relationships with one another. Their schizophrenic split identity had an even more powerful effect when, in the British versions, they were arranged in an inaccessible rectangle in the middle of Matt's Gallery in London. The game was all the more intriguing since their form continued to bear witness to their original utilitarian function.
We tend to develop close emotional relationships with objects we often use, treating them like good, reliable friends. That is why, despite the sharp irony and situational paradox of such works as Kozłowski's Sleeping Room - Nomadic Version and Living Room - Nomadic Version, the viewer can still intuitively understand the intentions behind the vision of the artist, the hypothetical nomad. In these installation pieces, bits of furniture and home appliances typically found in the bedroom or living room have been stacked on top of one another, and the objects at the bottom have been equipped with wheels. This temporary arrangement of objects into unusual configurations makes one think of a removal, an unstable situation, a transition between one established order and another, an episode of no special value.
The relationships between the objects that make up the work Temporary Objects (1997) are more fleeting and casual still. Here, the artist borrowed various items from people's homes and used them to build temporary formal compositions at the National Museum in Poznań. For the duration of the exhibition, these objects were awarded the status of works of art. But the situation was only temporary – once the show was over, they lost their new-found status and returned to the homes from where they had come, where they continued to perform their utilitarian functions. This project marked a further step away from Kozłowski's earlier use of ready-made objects, objects that remained in the third circle, belonging once and for all to the artistic domain. The "temporary objects" were more transient, stepping into the world of art simply to play a brief role and then disappear.
In 1999 Kozłowski exhibited his work from a new series titled European Standards at Matt's Gallery in London. In it, he makes both direct and ironic references to the political dimension of reality. One element that appears consistently in consecutive versions of Standards is embroidered tapestries sporting popular slogans such as "Poland for Poles" (in the Polish version), "Freedom of religion" or National culture.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, September 2004.
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