Multimedia artist, curator, art organizer, pedagogue. Born on 21st February, 1949 in Nysa. He currently lives and works in Berlin.
Multimedia artist, curator, art organizer, pedagogue.
His artistic output involves films, photography, video works, paintings, and drawings. Waśko studied at the Faculty of Cinematography and TV Production at the Łódź Film School. In the 1970s, he was a co-founder of the Workshop of Film Form. He also lectured at his alma mater – between 1970 and 1983. In 1990-1992, he worked as artistic director at MoMA PS1 and at the Institute of Contemporary Art in New York. In 1997-1999, he headed the Internationales Künstler Gremium based in Cologne.
Ryszard Waśko debuted in the 1970s, as a member of the Workshop of Film Form (1970-1976), which was associated with the Łódź Film School and brought together not just filmmakers (such as Wojciech Bruszewski, Paweł Kwiek, Antoni Mikołajczyk, Józef Robakowski, Zbigniew Rybczyński), but also photographers, musicians, and poets. The Workshop focused predominantly on, as one would imagine, the film medium, and was mainly characterized by an analytical approach and the strive to break with narrative film, simplify its language, as well as to cleanse it of other, 'strange' elements. This stance was also apparent in the interest in human perception – especially augmented by a medium – demonstrated by its members. The same problem also permeated Waśko's practice. According to Ryszard Kluszczyński, it was the intermedia and intertextuality that were most prominent in his works. During that period, the artist was engaged in creating films, videos, photographs, also in the form of installations, frequently combined with traditional media, such as drawing. However, as Kluszczyński writes
if a work by Ryszard Waśko belongs to a different kind of art than film, it is precisely film which plays the role of the 'intertext' with regard to the work.
deconstruction of photography takes place using the attributes of the film medium which is a development of the medium of photography. Film determinants, such as time and movement, disturb and transform the photographic order of Waśko's works.*
The artist introduced the convention of film representation in the multidimensional photo installation The Accident (a Police Record) (1971). Photographs included in the series, were arranged in a sequence, showing details of an event as it progressed in time. His other works from that period focused especially on the issue of perception of movement (Four Dimensional Photograph, 1972) or manipulations of 'spatial structures in relation to the perception process'* (Reduction – Enlargement – Attempt, 1975; The Listing of Space Using Numbers 1-8 – Attempt II, 1976). In one of the most basic variations of this experiment, individual shots registered a shifting point of view, in a way that reflected the movement of a man's head, initially directed towards ground leveland gradually rising towards the sky (From 0° do 180°, 1971).
Waśko's also transgressed the genre boundaries (besides his analytical approach) in his films. He tended to introduce photographic-like static framing (The Padlock, 1972). More importantly, however, Waśko also focused on making use of the typical film features, such as the ability to create image sequences by means of applying an appropriate editing technique (Registration, 1972), non-chronological editing (The Wall, 1972), and attempting to place the viewer within the cinematically constructed space. The artist investigated the relationship between sound and film (something which other members of the Workshop of Film Form, such as Bruszewski and Robakowski, were also interested in) in e.g. System I – VI (1976).
Waśko also constructed installations that incoporated video, which enabled him to explore the interdependence between reality and its representation. In the installation Corner (1976), the artist placed, in the middle of a room, a screen with a direct transmission of the view of the same space. As Kluszczyński wrote,
Another important aspect of this work is the spatial character of the installation itself (the monitor) – it is a point where real space meets the representation of space, so the installation not only deconstructs the medium of video, but it also comes into an intertextual relation with sculpture and environment art.*
The artist also created video performances, through which he emphasised the relationship between physicality, body and the medium, where the latter acted as an 'extension of human activity' (e.g. The Fatigue of My Leg, 1976).
According to Kluszczńyski, Waśko's deconstruction of the medium eventually became equivalent to its renunciation. According to him, this forsaking was decisive for the transformation of Waśko's practice towards the end of 1970s. His departure from film and photography is already announced in the juxtapositions of these media with drawing in such works as Hypothetical Photograph (1976) and Hypothetical Film (1978). In the years to come, Waśko more and more often reached for other means of expression, which would be less affected by technological developments. Film, however, usually remained an important, if not the key point of reference in his works (e.g. Black Film, 1983; Checkpoint Charlie Hypothetisch, 1987; Quinta Essentia, 1988). In 1986, Waśko produced a multi-element construction, whose parts resembled film frames (Holistic Event / Hommage for the Street). They followed the movement of a spectator, creating a motion picture. Thus, the fundamental aspects of film, such as time, movement, space, and light, remained present in Waśko's realisations. At the same time, however, his analytical stance was gradually reduced.
Since the 1980s, the artist mainly focused on creating sculptures, objects, and installations, in which he often referred to the theme of memory, both personal and collective. For instance, in his Child Territories (1996-97), white cuboids with embedded flags, mounted on wooden carts, referenced a childhood game remembered by the artist. Together with his friends, young Waśko used similar handmade toys for playing war, where they represented movements of the armies. Flags, on the other hand, constituted fragments of the artist's own mythology, reflecting the countries he had visited. The same piece was also presented in a different version, created in Haifa (Child's Territory, 1997), where the flags were stuck into sand piles, also referencing childhood games.
Waśko also created several stagings of an action during which galleries and museums were becoming sites for a shared meal served by the artist. One of them was Meal for the Rich and Poor at the Wschodnia Gallery in Łódź in 1993, where guests were served red borscht in a very solemn atmosphere, conjured by hundreds of lit candles, which were horizontally inserted into the walls.
Small Rose Garden (1997-1998), an installation made out of several thousand plastic roses, evoking diverse associations, was one of the most famous works by Waśko from the 1990s. It was displayed in Łódź, Warsaw (Zachęta), Melbourne, and Bydgoszcz, each time changing its character slightly. The act of moving it from one place to another was also significant, as was illustrated in Waśko's banner installation presented at the 2nd Łódź Biennale in 2006, titled Flower Power. The banners showed photographs of Piotrkowska Street, as well as pictures taken in Jerusalem, with people's faces substituted by red dots, which made them look like red flowers, while a whole crowd resembled a field of flowers.
Personal and shared stories are also recurrent in installations, in which Waśko used old, private photographs. For instance, in his installation Passage to Anywhere (Stuttgart, 2000), the artist arranged a residential room, with furniture, a table, four chairs, and a chest of drawers. At first sight, this anonymous space was filled with a personal story, recorded on photographs found in an open suitcase, a video tape seen in the VHS player, or slides in the projector.
In the later stage of Waśko's career, the problems of media reality, shaping imagination, dreams, and everyday life, recurred. His Bedtime Stories or Nasty Bedtime Stories (2003) – cycles of paintings filled with writings (created in a labour-intensive encaustic technique) – relate to the experience of watching TV news before bedtime, as well as to childhood – memories of parents telling stories to their children as they go to sleep. As Robert C. Morgan wrote,
What Wasko is trying to achieve is a kind of oppositional irony between what his parents read to him as a child and the electronic pulse of corporate ideology that characterizes the present-day acceleration of information, manufactured to enhance the marketing appeal of advanced capitalism.
One of the most recent series created by the artist, I am Telling You a Secret (2006), comprises large format colour prints – photographs of domestic interiors complemented by texts, formatted in the style of film credits. The texts introduce action as well as make the photographs resemble film frames. Furthermore, they highlight the degree to which the imagination of a modern spectator is shaped by the language of media, for instance film. As Grzegorz Dziamski wrote,
We enter the world of the media utopia, deterritorized world, where space was suppressed, where everything is everywhere. It is not us who have changed, it is the world around us that has changed.***
Apart from his solo practice, Ryszard Waśko is also widely known as an exceptionally active organizer of cultural life. Between the 1970s and 80s, he was responsible for a number of important initiatives, which mattered not so much for his own output, as for Polish and global intermedia movement. In 1979, the artist came up with the idea of founding an Archive of Contemporary Thought. In 1981, before the declaration of the martial law in Poland, he organized, together with a group of artists, an unprecedented event – Construction in Process. It was a completely grassroots initiative, not even entirely legal in the reality of the Polish People's Republic, and moreover based exclusively on the good will of its participants. About one hundred artists from across the world were invited to partake in it, and were only provided with room and board. The travel and shipping costs had to be covered by the artists themselves. The participants included such icons as David Rabinowitch, Carl André, Sol LeWitt, Dan Graham, Robert Morris, and Donald Judd.
workshop of the film form
construction in process
łódź film school
In early 1980s, Waśko received a grant from the British Council and went to London; he later visited Germany on a DAAD scholarship. He started exhibiting in a plethora of locations in Europe and on other continents. During that time, he also lectured at different universities, such as the Arts Academy in Düsseldorf, Hochschule der Künste in Berlin and Essen, and Academy of Fine Arts in Enschede. He also continued to revisit the idea of Construction in Process. The second edition of this event took place in Munich in 1985, while the third one returned to Łódź, after the political changes of 1989, the fourth edition – also in Łódź in 1993, fifth – in the Negev desert in Israel in 1995, while the sixth one – in Melbourne in 1998, and the seventh – in Łódź in 2000. The third edition of Construction was accompanied by the establishment of the International Artists' Museum, which became the platform of cooperation for artists and intellectuals coming from various areas, disciplines, and locations, facilitating the organization of different shared exhibitions, gatherings, concerts, and seminars. The Museum was led by the visual artist and poet Emmett Williams, while its board included, among others, Vito Acconci, Daniel Buren, Sol LeWitt, David Nash, Dennis Oppenheim, Nam June Paik, and Lawrence Weiner. In Poland, the activities of the International Artists' Museum led to the foundation of the Art Biennale in Łódź, which took place in 2004 and 2006.
Ryszard Waśko's works belong to the collections of such museums and institutions as: Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich, Łódź Art Museum, Berlinische Galerie and Neuer Berliner Kunstverein in Berlin, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Arts Council in London, Haifa Museum of Art, Wilhelm-Hack Museum in Ludwigshafen, Art Collection of the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and Regional Museum in Bydgoszcz.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2008, update: AW, April 2015, transl. AM, May, 2016.
* translated by Maciej Świerkocki, http://www.galeriaff.infocentrum.com/waskogb.html
Selected solo shows
- Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź
- Ślad Gallery, Łódź
- Academy of Fine Arts, Enschede
- Folkwang Museum, Essen
- m Gallery, Bochum
- Brigitte March Gallery, Stuttgart
- Kunstverein, Kassel
- Hoffman Gallery, Frankfurt
- Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin
- Wschodnia Gallery, Łódź
- Labirynt Gallery, Lublin
- André Joliet Gallery, Duisburg
- FF Gallery, Łódź
- Wschodnia Gallery, Łódź
- Gallery 86, Łódź
- Herzeliya Gallery, Herzeliya, Israel
- Wschodnia Gallery, Łódź
- Bedtime Stories – Center for the Arts, Orensanz Foundation, New York
- Nasty Bedtime Stories – Gallery 86, Łódź
- Cut-up Portrait and so on – Senatorska Gallery, Warsaw
- Łódź – Berlin. Prace z lat 1971-1996 – Museum of the City of Łódź
- Contemporary Portrait, Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin
- Portrait of a Family in Time, Cinema Museum, Łódź
- One&One, Freies Museum, Berlin
- Do the Meditation Rock, Freies Museum, Berlin
- Genesis, TRAFO Trafostacja Sztuki, Szczecin
- Time Frame, Zak/Branicka Gallery, Berlin
- Rose Selavy, Vienna Art Week, The Breakfest Club, Vienna
- Timeline, The Room/New Gallery, Musrara, Jerusalem
- Farewell to Arms (with Alejandro Vidal), Neuer Kunstverein, Vienna
- Timeline, Sexauer Gallery, Berlin
Selected group exhibitions
- 12th São Paulo Biennal, Brazil
- Art as a Contextual Art – St. Petri Gallery, Lund
- Ślad Gallery, Łódź
- 22 Polish Artists – Kunstverein, Cologne
- Documenta 6, Kassel
- Encounter on Video – Museum of Contemporary Art, Caracas, Venezuela
- Film als Film – Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne
- Drawings and Photographs – Łódź Art Museum
- Works and Words – De Appel, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
- Polish Photography – International Center of Photography, New York
- Film as Film – Hayward Gallery, London
- Sydney Biennale, Australia
- Construction in Process, Łódź
- Biennale de Paris
- Sol LeWitt's Choice – Cenobio Visualità, Milan
- Presence Polonaise – Centre Pompidou, Paris
- Biennale des Friedens – Kunsthalle, Hamburg
- Process und Konstruktion II – Munich
- Concret Vier – Kunsthaus, Nuremberg
- Idee, Raum, Konstruktion – Kunsthalle, Bielefeld
- After Malevich Square – Wilhelm-Hask Museum, Ludwigshafen
- Zeitberliner, Stuttgart
- Homage to Joseph Beuys – Klaus Staeck Gallery, Heidelberg
- Berlin-Kulturstadt Europas, Berlin
- Niemandsland – Kunsthalle, Recklinghausen
- Balkon mit Fächer – Akademie der Künste, Berlin
- DuMont – Kunsthalle Cologne
- Berlin's Art-Scene – Berlinische Galerien, Berlin
- Construction in Process III, Łódź
- Farbe Gold – Künstlerhaus, Berlin
- 37 Rooms – Kunstwerke, Berlin
- In-Between – Venice Art Biennale
- Construction in Process IV, Łódź
- Medium Bild – T&A, Berlin
- Milk – Volkskunde Museum, Munich
- Central Europe: Art from the 60s – Schuppenhauer Gallery, Cologne
- Under One Roof – Podewil, Berlin
- Construction in Process V. Co-Existence – Negev Desert, Israel
- Footprint – Tacheles, Berlin
- Hansa Art-Special, Cologne
- Żywa galeria – Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- Shattered Latitudes – Lombard-Freid Gallery, New York
- Another Language – Haifa Museum, Israel
- Personal Touch – Art in General, New York
- Construction in Process VI. The Bridge – Melbourne, Australia
- Oikos – Regional Museum, Bydgoszcz
- Oreste Project – Italian Pavilion, Venice Art Biennale
- Haifa Installation Triennale – Haifa Museum, Israel
- Żywa galeria – R Gallery, Poznań
- From Here to There – Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart
- Markers – Venice Art Biennale
- A History of Polish Avantgarde Film, MoMA, New York
- Biennale of Polish Art, Łódź Biennale 2004
- The Workshop of Film Form, Electronic Arts Intermix, New York
- Open Systems, Tate Modern Gallery, London
- Pioneering Artists Video, Tate Modern Gallery, London
- Image/Text, Tate Modern Gallery, London
- Tents, Venice Art Biennale – Synagogue
- The Optical Edge, Pratt Manhattan Gallery, New York
- Multikino, Tranzitdisplay, Prague
- Time is always now, m Gallery, Bochum, Germany
- 1,2,3…Avant-Gardes, Tate Modern Gallery, London
- Yes, No? Other Options, Art Sheffield 08, Sheffield
- See This Sound, Lentos Kunstmuseum, Linz
- Group Show, Connect Gallery, Switzerland
- Eye World, Triple Candie Gallery, New York
- Painting in Photography, Givatayim Theatre, Tel Aviv
- Passing Through, Kunspunkt Galerie, Berlin
- Paris Photo, Carrousel du Louvre, Paris
- Tür an Tür. 1000 Jahren Kunst&Geschichte Deutschland/Polen, Martin Gropious-Bau, Berlin
- Wspólnota, która nadeszła?, Łódź Art Museum
- Ostalgia, New Museum, New York
- Polska fotografia konceptualna, Freies Museum, Berlin
- Anonymous, Perm Museum, Russia
- Inseldasein, DAAD Galerie, Berlin
- The -Decade of Revolts, Kulturhuset, Stockholm
- Zbrodnia w sztuce, Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków
- Art for All, Akademie der Künste