Activities with Dobromierz, 1972-1974 - KwieKulik
The art duo KwieKulik used art to speak about the experience of being parents, as well as artists bound by bureaucracy and the authoritarian rule of the communist government.
One of the 900 photographs that belong to the series Activities with Dobromierz (Działania z Dobromierzem) shows a naked male toddler lying on his back in the centre of the frame, surrounded by single or paired copies of books. The floor (a fragment of which is visible in the upper right-hand corner of the image) was covered with black fabric, on top of which plain terrycloth baby nappies were laid out. On the latter were placed such literary volunes as Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, Antoni Kępiński’s Psychopatologia nerwic (Psychopathology of Neuroses), and Tadeusz Kotarbiński’s Hasło dobrej roboty, as well as other, even more niche publications: Normy moralne (Moral Norms), Jakościowa teoria informacji (A Quality Theory of Information), Historia kultury (The History of Culutre), Współdziałanie (Cooperation), a guide to semiotics, and the magazines Studia filozoficzne (Philosophy Studies), and Notatnik robotnika sztuki (Diary of an Art Labourer).
The baby surrounded by this cloud of intellectual inspiration is the son of two avant-garde artists: Zofia Kulik (b. 1947) and Przemysław Kwiek (b. 1945), who worked as a duo called KwieKulik between 1971 and 1987.
Activities with Dobromierz was an attempt to relate mathematical and logical operations (in which immaterial symbols, such as x,y,z, are used) to analogical operations on material forms in specific life situations. – wrote Łukasz Ronduda, an expert on the KwieKulik oeuvre.
In other words, KwieKulik used art to speak about their experience of being parents as well as artists bound by bureaucracy and the authoritative rule of the communist government. Bearing this in mind, Ronduda notes, the series goes beyond simply proving that a limited number of spatial relations between objects (there are ten basic configurations) can produce an unlimited amount of “aesthetic time-results”.
Activities with Dobromierz is also a bold reflection of the material circumstances and the mindset of the artists:
By combining the responsibilities of parents with art activities, we create various arrangements of our son and everyday objects, containers, or surfaces – inside our apartment or outdoors, during walks – and record each such combination on film.
– wrote Zofia Kulik.
Poor living conditions are connected to the ideological musings of Kulik and Kwiek, whose leftist beliefs made them too radical for the conformist party apparatus.
Unlike many forgotten or simply mundane examples of conceptual art, Activities with Dobromierz remains an inspiration for and an object for study by curators and art institutions to this day. This might have something to do with the surrealist air of some of the situations captured on the hundreds of colour slides. The significance of Maksymilian Dobromierz in this work of art is as methodological as it is instrumental, while the series’ controversy has been epitomized by the picture of Dobromierz sticking out of a toilet and gazing at the camera lens.
From today’s perspective, the use of the artists’ own child to perform operations analogical to those carried out by mathematicians and logicians seems extreme, while some people still consider it ethically dubious. Despite critics’ fears, Dobromierz has grown to be – whatever it might mean – a normal person, with a family and an academic career. The relationship that KwieKulik had with their child is also reflected upon in the less remembered piece Using Our Own Child in Our Own Art (Użycie swojego dziecka w swojej sztuce, 1977), in which the artists made a gallery space available to their son, on his fifth birthday. The exhibition of his drawings became revenge for their previous treatment of Dobromierz, turning him into, in Ronduda’s words, into “an independent subject.”
Activities with Dobromierz finished as the child grew up. Zofia Kulik wrote in 1975:
What a shame that we didn’t realize some of our ideas when Dobromierz was still small, static, unshapely [...]. Now it is too late.
On the other hand, the artist was glad that not all their ideas were put into life, but instead were in the form of detailed notes. According to her, in this way a viewer may “be even more satisfied, [as] verbal documentation will provoke thier own visual associations. It is likely that some audience members will realize their own versions of the activities, by putting make up on their child, dog, etc., or will connect such entry to an image seen elsewhere.” Effectively, Activities with Dobromierz is still an open work of art, which constantly awaits new continuators.
Author: Adam Mazur, January 2015, transl. A. MicińskaAdam Mazur