Neue Bieriemiennost' was an artistic group active in the second half of the 1980s. It was founded by Mirosław Bałka, Mirosław Filonik, and Marek Kijewski.
Artistic group active in the second half of the 1980s founded by Mirosław Bałka, Mirosław Filonik, and Marek Kijewski.
It all started with friendship, common interests, and similar senses of humour and tastes in music. Mirosław Bałka, Mirosław Filonik, and Marek Kijewski met in the early 80s at the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw. Bałka and Filonik studied in Professor Jan Kucz’s atelier, while Kijewski (after a short episode at the Fine Arts Academy in Gdańsk) studied under Professor Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz. Together they explored the capital’s nightlife and took part in students’ events, which, at the time, were concentrated in the Dziekanka art school dormitories on Krakowskie Przedmieście street. During their fourth year of studies, a few days after the Russian first secretary’s death, Bałka and Filonik conducted an action that they called Adoracja Andropowa (Andropow’s Adoration, 1984). First they went to the Russian embassy in Warsaw, where they signed the book of condolences and then, in an atelier at the academy, they opened a chapel dedicated to Andropow with a picture cut out of the Trybuna Ludu magazine, which the professor asked that they keep locked as a security measure.
During their last year of studies, in the spring of 1985, the concept for the artistic group was born. In contrast to other groups active at the time – like Warsaw’s Gruppa – it wasn’t supposed to be an actual group, but rather a 'Consciousness' (Świadomość) connecting the artists. The original concept involved an openness, the possibility of other artists joining the group. And that’s what happened in Katowice in April 1985, where Bałka received an award for the drawing Sanitariuszka (Nurse) at a students’ contest and artists from Katowice, Poznań and Wrocław joined. Their involvement in Neue Bieriemiennost has not been noted in art history, and they also never took part in any of the exhibitions organized by Świadomość.
Neue Bieriemiennost' wouldn't be revealed until their graduation. In June 1985 Mirosław Bałka and Mirosław Filonik graduated in a spectacular manner: they took the commission from the university to Żuków, a small village near Warsaw. In an abandoned wooden house there, they presented Bałka Pamiątka Pierwszej Komunii Świętej (A Souvenir of the First Holy Communion, today in the collection of the Art Museum in Łódź) and an installation formed by marble heads, whose faces were supplemented by real flesh (Filonik). In an elaborate action involving local children, reinforced by the atmosphere of the place, Bałka took his guests on a trip into the past – into his childhood. His diploma sculpture was a self-portrait. Filonik decided on a radical gesture, breaking with the traditional idea of sculpture by using one of the most undurable materials. An elaborate installation by Marek Kijewski also didn’t survive: he graduated a few months later with a piece dedicated to the controversial musician Klaus Nomi. What was best remembered was the unusual graduation in Żuków and Bałka’s action, described by Anda Rottenberg as:
A ceremony connecting two events: the act of crossing the threshold of innocence and the act of entering maturity.
Although few would have described these three artists as innocent, nor would many have called them mature, either, because of the unusual, radical sense of humour of their actions, which was about to come into view during the group’s first exhibition.
Neue Bieriemiennost' materialised in the most important artistic space of the time and in one of few galleries which invited newcomers – in the Dziekanka atelier, led by Jerzy Onuch and Tomasz Sikorski in the dorm mentioned above. Due to the boycott of official contemporary art institutions and the closing of some independent galleries (like Repassage) it was one of only a few important places on the art map of Warsaw, at the same time remaining connected to the Fine Arts Academy (it was managed by its graduates and favoured by the dean Ryszard Winiarski). Although from the 1970s Dziekanka hosted mostly neo-avant-garde performers and media artists, in the next decade painters from Gruppa also presented their work in the gallery, as well as Leon Tarasewicz and, last but not least, Neue Bieriemiennost'.
The first exhibition by Neue Bieriemiennost’ took place on March 8th 1986. The date was not accidental – it was International Womans’ Day. The artists intended to work on dates and holidays from the so-called “red calendar” imposed by the communist authorities. It wasn’t possible to always work by this rule, but most exhibitions were organized "in favour of something", and they were never serious. As much as signing the book of condolences of Andropow wasn’t a real homage paid by the youth of Warsaw, nobody believed that Bałka, Filonik and Kijewski wanted to celebrate 8th March, 9th May, or Warsaw’s steel mill. An absurd sense of humour turned celebrating anniversaries into a mockery and gave them subversive meanings, even when the exhibited works and performances didn’t directly reference the holidays mentioned in the titles. The so-called “active vernissages” were a characteristic element of Neue Bieriemiennost’s exhibitions. The openings were diversified by actions or performances by the artists.
During the first exhibition Na rzecz kobiet (In Favour of Women), Mirosław Filonik presented Kobieta z pierza (A Woman of Feathers), made out of plumage and laid on a mattress, and then blown about by the audience, as in Adam Mickiewicz’s sentence “woman, you futile feather”. At the next exhibition, Poświąteczna (Post-festive) on April 1st 1986 in the Wieża Gallery (managed by Joanna Kiliszek in the tower of Saint Anna’s church in Warsaw), Bałka prepared an action based on the motifs of the Easter bunny, hats with rabbit ears and angry rabbit teeth that turned out to be metal snares. At the same time Filonik presented a cake, out of which a mannequin's head emerged, covered in glaze licked by tongues hanged under a canopy.
The exhibition Na rzecz pokoju (In Favour of Peace) was presented at the same time in Dziekanka and in the Tower, on May 9th 1986 – Victory Day. For the 41st anniversary of the ending of World War II, Bałka prepared a performance showing the helplessness of those years. He prepared 41 gypsum boomerangs, filled with dust, hay and ashes, and then he threw them against a wall on which a vacation slide was projected. None of the boomerangs entered the Mazury landscape and none of them came back. Kijewski referenced the anniversary differently, inviting the audience to dance to She Loves You by The Beatles, and at the same time destroying a plan of political divisions on an indeterminate continent. Filonik also presented his sculpture Honoloulou Baboon – it was quite a big gorilla, placed on a rotatable basis; the ape spun around when someone turned a crank. On an arranged beach a synthetic couple lay. The gorilla was at the same time threatening and helpless – it couldn’t move, merely spin around.
At the time Neue Bieriemiennost’ met and became friends with the milieu of sculptors from Poznań – the Koło Klipsa group and its former member Piotr Kurka. A similar axis of collaboration also existed between Dziekanka and the Wielka 19 gallery in Poznań. In December 1986 another exhibition of Bałka, Filonik and Kijewski was organized (featuring their friend Andrzej Łopiński). The exhibition Na rzecz Wszystkich Świętych (In Favour of All Saints), postponed a few times, was supposed to take place on Barbórka day – that is why the artists’ picture in miners’ hats was taken. The character of the exhibit was animalistic, its main hero was Saint Francis and its main villain – Pavlov.
At all Neue Bieriemiennost' exhibitions, the artists displayed individual works. An exception was the figure of Bokassa (or the „Palace Eater”) at the Na rzecz Jeana Bedela Bokassy (In Favour of Jean Bedel Bokassa) exhibition in Stodoła club in Warsaw. The main protagonist was the central-African emperor, famous for his wastefulness, cruelty and (alleged) cannibalism. The works by some members of the group (and again Andrzej Łopiński) were presented as gifts to the gigantic puppet and they were reminiscent, for example, of the Palace of Culture and Science. Bokassa’s figure was characterized by a phallus, a few metres long and suspended from the ceiling. At first the artists postponed the opening on purpose (the text Przesunięcie metafizyczne / Metaphysical Postponing by Anda Rottenberg was read in the meantime), and when the doors to the gallery were opened, they mimicked sailors, pulling up Bokassa’s penis and spilling a gluey substance, reminiscent of sperm, on the threshold of the room (the sculpture was re-made and the performance re-played during the exhibition I Could Live in Africa in Witte de With in Rotterdam in 2010. The African satrap, an exotic person from a far-away land, became an absurd metaphor of the PRL era.
The last of the 'in favour of' exhibitions took place in 1987 in the Dziekanka Gallery (managed at the time by Joanna Kiliszek and Tomasz Sikorski). This time the patron was the Warsaw steel mill, which gave sheets of metal to the artists. Metaloplastyka na rzecz huty Warszawa (Metalwork in Favour of the Warsaw Steel Mill) had nothing to do with metalwork in a traditional sense. Apart from works earlier embossed on metal sheets, the artists performed in front of the audience, hitting the sheets and creating a cacophony, inspired by the band Test Departments.
The last two exhibitions of Neue Bieriemiennost' – in the Rzeźba Gallery in Warsaw in 1988 and in the Arsenał Gallery in Białystok in 1989 – were only an echo of the former actions, although some great, unique works were presented, like Sprzedawca Soli ( Salt Vendor) by Bałka, Rozważania Zygmunta III nad kobietą upadłą na duchu (Deliberations of Zygmunt III on Woman’s Fallen Spirit) by Kijewski and XXX by Filonik. Along the way, the community spirit of the group had faded. During these exhibitions the name Neue Bireremiennost’ was already preceded by “Keine” and before the exhibition in the Sculpture Gallery, Bałka read a text informing of the dissolution of the group.
Apart from the exhibitions of Neue Bieriemiennost’ and a few individual ones, in the 80s Bałka, Filonik, and Kijewski were mostly featured in collective exhibitions. During this decade the question of the character of contemporary art, especially that created by the young, was often asked. Before it ended, important exhibits like Ekspresja lat 80-tych (80s Expression) in BWA in Sopot (1986, organized by Ryszard Ziarkiewicz) and Co słychać (What’s up) in the former Norblin factory in Warsaw (1987, organized by Andrzej Bonarski) took place. Every two years (from 1985) artists came to the New Art Biennale. Sculpture was especially recognized: after the “painting boom” of the first years of the decade, the time had come for this artistic medium. This change was already forecasted by the exhibition Figury i przedmioty (Figures and Objects), organised in Pułtusk (which then travelled to a series of Polish cities) and confirmed by such undertakings as Warsaw exhibits from 1988 A teraz rzeźba (Sculpture Now, Andrzej Bonarski) and Rzeźba w ogrodzie (Sculpture in the Garden, Anda Rottenberg).
When seen from this perspective, Neue Bieriemiennost' becomes a phenomenon typical of the second half of the 80s. Despite the concept of open consciousness – which soon turned out to be impossible to realize – Neue Bieriemiennost' was a small artistic group, one of many functioning at the time. The 80s was full of groups which – as some stated – had a strong autopromotional value and replaced artistic patronage. The collective created by Bałka, Filonik and Kijewski wasn’t much different from the others and is now mentioned together with Gruppa from Warsaw, Koło Klipsa from Poznań and Luxus from Wrocław. However, Neue Bieriemiennost' had a different concept, placing sculpture inside the political reality of the late PRL, when some of the official gestures and glitter couldn’t be taken seriously anymore. Their works came to life, became elements of performances and actions. Many of them, created with undurable materials, didn’t last, and sometimes from the beginning they had an expiry date. In the next decade, when Bałka, Filonik and Kijewski continue their work on individual paths, their sculptures stop, become rigid and require a different kind of reflection than those quick performances that only lasted one evening.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, June 2010, translated by N. Mętrak-Ruda, October 2015.
All the works' titles translated by the editors.