The New Media Canon of Polish Art
#photography & visual arts
full-width, The New Media Canon
of Polish Art, ‘Vehicle’ by Krzysztof Wodiczko, 1971-1973, photo: Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, Krzysztof Wodiczko, "Pojazd", 1971-1973, fot. Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi
New media is still a budding branch of art, but it already has an established canon of works synthesising science and art – which has inspired other artists and contributed to the development of the field. While this canon is evolving, here, Culture.pl takes a look at the cybernetic classics of the late 20th century with some examples of robotic, network, interactive and structural artworks created by Poles.
‘Senster’ by Edward Ihnatowicz (1970)
Senster is not only the first-ever robotic sculpture steered by a computer, but also the first robot to react to emotions. It was created by a Polish refugee, Edward Ihnatowicz (1926-1988), who settled in Great Britain during the World War II. At the end of the 1960s, he cooperated with Philips to construct a humongous, sensitive steel behemoth with three legs and a long, dinosaur-like neck, whose name is a portmanteau of ‘sensitive’ and ‘monster’.
The creature’s built-in microphones and cybernetic radars allowed him to react to sound, motion and the emotions of his surroundings – he followed the softer ones, and in response to sharp movement and high-pitched sounds, he backed away by raising his neck and freezing.
In the mid-1970s, Senster was disassembled and his skeleton was placed in front of an office of a company in the Netherlands. In 2017, the AGH University of Science and Technology and the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków cooperated to bring the artwork to Poland and renovate Ihnatowicz’s most important piece, which established a new genre: robotic art.
‘Video A (Sytuacja Studia)’ by Paweł Kwiek (1974)
Video A (english subtitles)
Appearing in the 1960s, video art was in the orbit of the most important mass medium of the period: television. Pioneers of the discipline like Nam June Paik, when cheaper and more mobile cameras became widely available, such as the Sony Portapak, started a small battle campaign against the language of TV. Paik used a Portapak to record an alternative to Pope Paul VI's visit to New York in 1965 and manipulated the television signal to display a more zen image – straight horizontal and perpendicular lines.
Wojciech Bruszewski was connected with the Warsztat Formy Filmowej (Film Form Workshop) at the start of his career. He moved from deconstructing the language of film to ever more complicated conceptual and interactive installations. His video installations from the late 1970s and early 1980s wove images together with sound generated through performance.
During the communist regime era of the People's Polish Republic, the fact you could format a television broadcast was in some sense obvious, but artists took this technical knowledge into their workshops. At the forefront of this were the members of Warsztat Formy Filmowej. One of them was Paweł Kwiek, who in 1974 created the pioneering Video A (Sytuacja Studia) (Video A (Situation Studies)). This performative piece was created in the television studios of TVP and transmitted live. Giving the studio team simple instructions, Kwiek pulled back the curtain of television's artifice and showed the possibilities when controlling it.
'Kura Telewizyjna' by Wojciech Bruszewski (1979)
Similarly critical like the work of Kwiek and the better-known American examples, was Bruszewski's Kura Telewizyjna (TV Chicken) from 1979, which was dripping with the artist's inimitable humour. Constructed by the artist and hooked up to a television, the piece generated the sound of a clucking chicken. The noises would change according to what was being shown on screen. Bruszewski described it as follows:
The object reacts to television programmes and everything that changes its luminance. It was actually stored in a place where hens are kept. It later fell victim to a burglary. I'd like to see the face of the thief after they tried to plug it into the electric grid.
‘Vehicle’ by Krzysztof Wodiczko (1973)
Krzysztof Wodiczko (born in 1943) is a designer-artist working at the intersection of art and technology. In his practise, he provides commentary to social, political and economic affairs.
One of his most famous works is Vehicle, which was constructed in the times of rampant communist propaganda. The several-metre-high four-wheeled platform could be put in motion, but it could move only forward as its user-driver walked back and forth. Moreover, for the vehicle to move, for example, 10 metres, the operator had to walk 20 metres.
‘Regardless of the walker’s direction, as the economy did in the propagandist parlance, Vehicle could only move in one, “right” direction, that is, “forward’” – Karol Sienkiewicz wrote for Culture.pl. The artwork is in the Museum of Art in Łódź.
‘Lovers Leap’ by Mirosław Rogala (1995)
Long before Google Earth, the world-renowned creator of interactive art, Mirosław Rogala (born in 1954), designed an installation which allowed the audience to move from Chicago to Jamaica. Lovers Leap is a system of two screens facing each other, creating a space for a viewer to move, stand still, jump and wave hands to move away and towards the crowded, built-up urban scenery and Jamaican nature.
Rogala, who emigrated to the United State after his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, became known as the creator of the first interactive audio-installation eGarden in Chicago. Lovers Leap (also available on CD) was created in cooperation with Ludger Hoyestadt and Ford Oxaal during his residency in the ZKM in Karlsruhe in Germany.
He was inspired by a lover’s leap on the route between Chicago and Jamaica which, tragically, attracts unlucky lovers looking to commit suicide. Rogala’s artwork features such a spot: a bridge over the Chicago River from which the audience can digitally ‘jump’.
‘Global Mix’ by Marek Chołoniewski (1998)
Marek Chołoniewski - Global Mix (1998)
At the end of the 1990s, when the Creative Commons licenses were yet to come, a Kraków-based artist and composer, Marek Chołoniewski, born in 1953, responded to the then-debate about the blurry state of authors’ rights by establishing an Internet platform for creatives to share their works. This was the beginning of GlobalMix, an Internet opus composed by all users – an ever-evolving, unbound by time and belonging to everybody.
The project’s website (globalmix.studiomch.art.pl) accepts artworks of between one second and three minutes, which piece together a collective Internet composition. Its creator says that ‘in its basic assumption, the project is utopic and has a known origin and an unknown future.’
‘C.U.K.T.’ by Wiktoria Cukt (2001)
Wiktoria Cukt (Centralny Urząd Kultury Technicznej), a virtual presidential candidate, photo: Arkadiusz Bartosiak / Forum
The Tri-City group C.U.K.T. (Centralny Urząd Kultury Technicznej) (Central Bureau of Technical Culture) found its way into the annals of history thanks to its original works made at the turn of the century, which combined echoes of critical art, rave culture and a fascination with the possibilities of a then-fledgling Polish Internet.
During the presidential elections in 2001, C.U.K.T. created a virtual reality candidate, Wiktoria Cukt. The disembodied candidate entered the race as the manifestation of direct democracy – she took on the views of anyone willing to vote for her, and her slogan was ‘Politicians are expendable’. Her campaign rallies were inclusive and positive affairs, always taking the form of a rave.
Billy Gallery (2012-present)
HOW ART WORKS? - a serious movie about problems and solutions.
A decade later, the artistic duo Tymek Borowski and Paweł Sysiak became Internet pioneers by bringing to life the Billy Gallery. This Internet gallery, the first in Poland, was not only a virtual space for art, but was also an art piece in and of itself.
True to classic avant-garde conventions, Borowski and Sysiak began with a manifesto – an animation titled How Art Works?, made in the format of a YouTube explainer. The Billy Gallery is a creation designed for its medium, not an attempt at transplanting the conditions of a real gallery into a digital space. The gallery is open to circulating its contents, which were posted simultaneously on YouTube and were capable of being disseminated further.
In recent years it was rare to come across artists who simply and seriously declare their own cultural diagnoses, promoting conclusions and postulates about the mechanics of how art works. It seems that Billy Gallery is the first such attempt since the times of Applied Social Arts (2007) and Manifest Nooawangardy (‘Noo’ Avant-Garde Manifesto) (2009).
'Symbiotyczność Tworzenia' by Elvin Flamingo (from 2012)
In his multi-year and multi-stage projects, Elvin Flamingo links bio-art with technology, but his output, as Piotr Krajewski writes:
steps out beyond the simple dichotomies of nature-technology, biology-culture, natural-designed forms, building or constructing environments, creation-simulation. The artists prepares and starts processes, which then have to become taken on by nature itself.
The best-known culmination of his approach can be seen in his work Symbiotyczność Tworzenia (The Symbiosity of Creation), which won an award at the Biennale Sztuki Mediów WRO in 2012. It is in a state of constant creation via the habitats the artist built for a colony of exotic ants, which lives in a network of glass flasks, tubes and corridors. The artists not only designs a space for insects to live in, but also scrupulously records every movement they make through video, sound recordings and Internet streams, and amplifies and converts the thousands of sounds created by the ants into music.
art and technology
new polish art
Originally written in Polish by Agnieszka Sural, 24 Oct 2017, and Piotr Policht, Sep 2018 and Sep 2019; translated by AP, May 2018, and AZ and AZ, Sep 2019; edited by LD, Sep 2019
Sources: ‘Klasyczne Dzieła Sztuki Nowych Mediów’ (Classical Works of New Media Art), ed. by Piotr Zawojski, senster.com, agh.edu.pl, globalmix.studiomch.art.pl, Culture.pl