Sculptor, performance and installation artist, set designer, theatre director, cultural event organiser. Woźniak was born on 30th August, 1952 in Płock.
Sculptor, performance and installation artist, set designer, theatre director, cultural event organiser.
In 1974-1979, he attended Sculpture Faculty at he Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he received a diploma from the workshop of Prof. Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz. In 1980, he started teaching at his alma mater in the Sculpture Faculty and at the Department of Set Design. Initially, he worked as an assistant to Jarnuszkiewicz, while currently he holds the position of a Professor. Between January 1980 and July 1981, he ran the Re'Repassage Gallery. In the 1980s, he started creating visual and theatre performances. In 1992, he established Academia Theatre at the Set Design Department of the Warsaw Academy – the team included mostly students, graduates, and lecturers of the Academy. In 1999, the Theatre moved to the Warsaw district of Praga. He is the president of the Association of Art Education ‘Ślad’. He curated exhibitions at the theatre’s seat (e.g. ‘Pierwszy po Bogu’ (First After God), 1999; ‘Akademickie studium aktu’ (Academic Study of a Nude), 2001). He founded the annual Sąsiedzi Festival for the residents of Praga, which was launched in 2002. His works belong to the collections of the Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko and the Museum of Art in Łódź. He lives and works in Warsaw.
The beginning of Roman Woźniak’s artistic activity fell on the period of social changes of the 1970s and 80s in Poland. His diploma piece (1979) consisted of monstrous men’s suits constructed out of boards and wood strips. As Grzegorz Kowalski reminisced,
for viewers aware of the crisis of the system, the young artist’s work was a clear comment on the hypocrisy and party rituals dominating the public life.
Immediately after graduating from the Academy, in January 1980, Woźniak took over the direction of the Repassage 2 Gallery from Krzysztof Jung and renamed it as Re'Repassage. Over the 18 month period of his management (until July 1981), the group surrounding the gallery mainly included: Nicole Grospierre, Dorota Gierzyńska, and Daniel Wnuk, influenced by the punk culture. During that time, Woźniak creat, ed actions and performances objecting to the grey reality of the Polish People’s Republic. The most memorable one in the eyes of his friends was the series of actions from 1980, created in collaboration with Nicole Grospierre: Stan intymny, kliniczny i idiotyczny (Intimate, Clinical, and Idiotic State), which Maryla Sitkowska described as
propositions of ‘another reality’, alternative to that which we see through our windows.
During the action Stan intymny in March 1980, Woźniak, dressed in a laced women’s dress, sat in front of the open window of the Re'Repassage Gallery playing on children’s glockenspiel.
He played a role of a mute mime – commenting on the everyday reality with his presence – Grzegorz Kowalski wrote many years later.
In November 1980, Woźniak conducted an action together with Kowalski, titled Zostaw proszę słowo (Please Leave a Word). They covered gallery walls with cardboard and encouraged viewers to write all kinds of things on them. The action was spontaneously repeated in the autumn of 1981, when, due to renovation works, the building was surrounded by a fence, which was soon covered by notices and slogans. Kowalski and Woźniak ‘extended’ the fence into the gallery interior.
In October 1980, during the 1st Biennale of Art in Poznań, Roman Woźniak presented Stan z pannami, an over hour-long performance inspired by a Biblical parable about the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The main element of the action was a six-metre table with ten papier-mâché heads. Sticking out of an opening in the middle was the head of the artist, who was playing a bamboo rattle.
In Poznań, perhaps for the first time, Woźniak presented the state of intense duration as a constitutive value of a performance – Grzegorz Kowalski wrote.
In the 1980s, Roman Woźniak started participating in initiatives associated with the church. He had previously participated in a couple of meetings in Laski organised by Janusz Bogucki. He took part in the famous Warsaw exhibitions ‘Znak Krzyża’ (Sign of the Cross) at the Divine Mercy Parish at Żytnia St and ‘Apokalipsa – światło w ciemności’ (The Apocalypse – Light in Darkness) at the Holy Cross Church, where he created an environment in the main nave of the crypt. Roman Woźniak’s interest in Biblical themes was already apparent in Panny głupie (Foolish Virgins). He was however mostly interested in themes from the Passion.
His church activities brought Woźniak closer to theatre, through engaging with the roots – religious rituals and miracle plays. In the 80s, the artist directed several visual performances based on the Passion. The first one took place at the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Warsaw in 1983 and was an equivalent of the stations of the Cross. The viewers walked together with members of the Akademia Ruchu theatre from station to station around the church. The performance incorporated random elements of reality – for instance, acting as the Calvary was a mound of sand with three bonfires on top. As Janusz Bogucki wrote,
Woźniak’s idea consisted in a reversal of the traditional situation. The movement did not revolve around the figures of Jesus Christ and those accompanying him on the way up the hill, but on the contrary: the residents and passersby who observed the procession as it went pass them.
Whereas Grzegorz Kowalski underlined the fact that
the figures and narrative of the Stations of the Cross were substituted by metaphorical symbols and situations. Thanks to that, any associations with liturgy or church rituals were subdued.
In 1987, together with Marcin Jarnuszkiewicz staged Sceny pasyjne (Scenes from Passion) at the Nowy Theatre in Warsaw. The performance was based on the contrast between the St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach which was played, and the visual elements, carrying a kitsch quality.
Sculptural elements constituted an integral part of the described actions and representations. Woźniak developed his sculptural practice throughout the 80s and 90s. Initially, his works were dominated by a synthetically represented human figure leaning against or inscribed into structures made out of wooden planks, e.g. Oczekiwanie II (Anticipation II) (1987) – three figures placed on top of wooden structures. With time, the range of used materials expanded (patinated plaster, straw, sawdust, bandages, plain canvas), while the sculptures became simple large-scale objects with distinct architectural connotations (e.g. Oracz (Ploughman) 1989, from the series Cztery pory roku; Pszczoły (Four Seasons: Bees) 1994).
Interpreters of Woźniak’s sculptural work highlight the presence of a spiritual element in it. Marcin Jarnuszkiewicz described it as ‘stretched between the Spirit and Matter.’ Grzegorz Kowalski in turn wrote:
Woźniak’s works are immersed in everyday life, but they also contest that reality through their content. They offer a position of reflection and contemplation – as an expression of human spirituality.
Biblical themes have also always been recurrent (e.g. Panny mądre i głupie 1994), as well as the problem of passing and death. The latter played a significant role in the sculpture series Hioby (Jobs), created after the death of the artist’s father. At the exhibition ‘Co widzi trupa wyszklona źrenica’, Woźniak presented an installation comprising three elements with a very personal significance. These were: a mirror belonging to his grandfather, which he had at his death bed, his father’s tool for making contact sheets, and limelight which he used in his own theatre productions. All three were connected by the symbol of light.
Since the 1990s, Roman Woźniak’s activity was predominantly focused on his Academia Theatre. Its performances contain a limited amount of dialogues and text and are rather based on movement on stage, dance, visual elements, and game of lights. He also frequently revisits Biblical and religious themes, juxtaposed with contemporary, often kitsch aesthetic (e.g. Salome 1997, Devotio moderna 1999, Karma 2000, Równia 2001).
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2006, transl. AM, September 2017.
All images are published courtesy of the artist.
Selected solo exhibitions
- 1980 Stan intymny – Galeria Re'Repassage, Warsaw
- 1982 Zeno – performance, BWA, Gorzów Wielkopolski
- 1987 Starcy – Galeria Młodych, Warsaw
- 1991 Rzeźba – Centre of Polish Sculpture, Orońsko
- 1992 Rzeźba – BWA, Poznań; BWA, Płock; Copper Museum, Legnica
- 1994 Pszczoły – Galeria Przyjaciół A.R., Warsaw
- 2001 Obiekty – XX1 Gallery, Warsaw.
Selected group exhbitions
- 1979 Młoda rzeźba warszawska – Sculpture Gallery of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers, Warsaw
- 1980 1st Biennale of Art, Poznań
- 1983 Znak krzyża – Divine Mercy Parish at Żytnia St, Warsaw
- 1984 Apokalipsa - światło w ciemności – Holy Cross Church, Warsaw
- 1985 W kręgu pracowni Jerzego Jarnuszkiewicza – Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw
- 1986 Figury i przedmioty – BWA, Puławy; BWA, Olsztyn; BWA, Szczecin (1987)
- 1989 Na obraz i podobieństwo – former Norblin Factory, Branch of the Technology Museum, Warsaw
- 1991 Magowie i mistycy – Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw; Działania z gazetą – Norblin Factory, Warsaw
- 1993 Drewno we współczesnej rzeźbie polskiej – Centre of Polish Sculpture, Orońsko; Sigma. Galeria. Repassage. Repassage 2, Re'repassage – Zachęta - National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- 1994 Inne przestrzenie – Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw
- 1996 Galeria Przyjaciół A.R. 1992-1996 – Xawery Dunikowski Museum at Królikarnia, Warsaw
- 1999 Figura w rzeźbie polskiej XIX i XX wieku – Zachęta - National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- 2001 Co widzi trupa wyszklona źrenica – Academia Theatre, Warsaw; Zachęta - National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2002); Leon Wyczółkowski Regional Museum, Bydgoszcz (2003)
- 2004 Forma człowieka – Xawery Dunikowski Museum at Królikarnia, Warsaw.
- 1983 Pasja – outdoor visual performance in the courtyards of Warsaw churches
- 1984 Duo Seraphim – visual performance, courtyard of the church in Żytnia St, Warsaw
- 1987 Sceny pasyjne – Nowy Theatre, Warsaw (with Marcin Jarnuszkiewicz)
- 1992 Patmos, Szwedzka 2/4 Theatre, Warsaw (with Marcin Jarnuszkiewicz)
- 1994 Sen Zuzanny – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 1995 Kalwaria – auteur television performance for TVP2
- 1995 Obrót – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 1996 Mojra – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 1997 Salome – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 1999 Devotio moderna – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 2000 Karma – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 2001 Równia – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 2002 Igraszki – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 2003 Chodzony – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 2004 Nieprzemijający urok zachodów słońca – Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 2006 Lament malinowy – Academia Theatre, Warsaw.