Zbigniew Oksiuta is an artist and architect. In his work he blends the fields of art, architecture and biology. He is the author of numerous architectural designs, sculptures and projects on the borders of these fields. Since the 90s he has been involved in creating an innovative form of art called bio art or biotech art which lies somewhere between art and biology and makes use of the latest developments in biotechnology.
Artist and architect. In his work he blends a few different fields: art, architecture and biology.
He was born on April 4th 1951 in Mulawicze (close to Białystok). He attended the Faculty of Architecture at the Warsaw University of Technology between 1970 and 1978. He founded the Centre of Theatre and Ecology Research in Jelenia Góra, which he ran in between 1979 and 1981. In 1981, he left for West Germany and has lived and worked in Cologne ever since.
In 1986 Oksiuta received the Friedrich Vordemberge scholarship and the Cologne City Award for artistic activity. He won three awards for his artistic concept of the Memorial of the Old Synagogue in Wuppertal: the German Architecture Prize awarded by the Federal Chamber of German Architects Award in 1994 for an outstanding work of architecture in North Rhine-Westphalia, in 1995 the German Architecture Prize for using concrete in architecture and another one for using stone in architecture. Oksiuta represented Poland at the Architecture Biennial in Venice in 2004. At the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz in 2007 he was awarded for his Biological Habitat project in the Hybrid category.
Oksiuta is also the producer and film director of Architecture Now (2000), Isopycnic Systems (2001), Mesogloea (2002), Breeding Spaces Technology (2005), and Made in Space (2007). He has given guest lectures at a number of universities and art and scientific institutions including: the German Space Agency in Cologne, Zachęta – National Gallery Warsaw, Slade School of Art in London, the Architectural Association in London, Columbia University in New York and the Pratt Institute in New York, The School of Art Institute of Chicago, Southern California Institute of Architecture Los Angeles and the University of Toronto and University of Waterloo in Canada.
While studying architecture Oksiuta organized ecological campaigns, for example, Źródło w lesie brzoskwiniowym/ Spring in the Peach Orchard (Warsaw, 1976-78) or Od nas zależy / It is up to us (Warsaw 1975, together with Janusz Kapusta). During one of his performances Oksiuta walked around Warsaw with a transparent cube attached to his back with a sign saying ‘I’m carrying 0.19511 m3 of air’. He was interested in architecture in a wider sense – in connection with anthropology and art, as well as its relationship to the human body. In 1975 Oksiuta conducted pomiar objętościowy własnego ciała / a volumetric measurement of one's own body, as a result of which he obtained a 'bodily module' (1 oksiuta is therefore a cube with one side measuring 40,77 cm) which he could then use, after converting it to cubic metres, to calculate how many times his ‘I’ would fit into a given cubic capacity. He believed that architecture is a costume for an institution, and its form is a result of the nature of the institution. He wanted to reach a clear understanding of architecture, and searched for its language beyond the norms based on functional form.
I studied at the Warsaw University of Technology, although from the very beginning I was interested in expanding the term architecture. There is something like pure architecture. Like searching for a space in which you can enclose yourself, separated from everything else, and survive due to the temperature, due to privacy.
As one of his projects, Oksiuta built a house from architectural illustration boards with his own sketches (Dom z rysunków / House made of drawings, 1976), and lived there for a few days during the winter. In 1978 he prepared his graduation piece Osiedle Laboratorium / Laboratory Estate, although the University did not allow him to present it inside the pneumatic dome he also designed. In 1979 he initiated the creation of the Centre of Theatre and Ecology Research in Jelenia Góra, which on the one hand was a long-term project oriented on protecting the environment and on the other was focused on preparing immediate actions in a quasi-theatrical form, for instance warsztat ekologiczny / Ecological Workshop.
After his trip to Cologne when martial law was declared in Poland Oksiuta worked as an architect for a while and soon began sculpting as well.
At the time, I was interested in spatial constructs that related to the premises. I built large mechanisms that were strictly connected to them. Their scale and investment were huge and so the term urban installation was created, that included the whole building from the inside and outside.
In projects such as Atlantis (Cologne, 1985) or Only Love Reduces Entropy (Cologne, 1986) the artist merges elements of old factory architecture with technical equipment constructed by himself. When put in motion they presented a very appealing visual spectacle, although completely incomprehensible from a logical point of view for the audience. At the time he also made pieces out of cardboard, creating monumental porticos, gates, signalizing in an ironic way the necessity for a change of function and meaning in architecture. These actions, temporarily in nature, were inscribed into the urban public space.
The ephemeral nature of architecture is an idea expressed by Oksiuta in Project for Europe (1995), in which he aimed to install three identical, glazed pavilion-galleries in three European cities (Cologne, Warsaw and Paris) for a period of two years. Open 24 hours a day and available directly to the artists and audience, they would provide a permanent connection to art and the exchange of ideas without the need for a gallery or institution to intermediate.
At the same time Oksiuta’s concept for the Old Synanogue Memorial architectural complex in Wuppertal was being realized. This monument and place of contemplation is also a complex which includes a library, an exhibition space and a conference hall. The structure is composed of various architectural forms: a part of the façade of the tenement house tilted away from the street, a brick cylindrical structure and a concrete building in shape resembling the simplest children’s drawing of a house. Beside it is a garden with diagonally planted apple trees and the shape of the old synagogue filled in with asphalt.
In the 90s Oksiuta constructed forms made of cardboard and industrial parts such as ventilators and lamps, or personal items like blankets, pillows and shirts. These were projects on the verge of architecture, sculpture and design.
Oksiuta worked on a project called Space Garden, in between 2003-2007. It is a liquid polymer membrane ‘biosphere’ (shaped like a bubble) placed into zero-gravity conditions, which is used for growing living organisms. It is based on a Klinostat, a device simulating microgravity.
Inside the moving frame I placed a bioreactor made of agar – a jelly-like substance made of algae. The conditions inside are optimal for the development of organisms, for example, a radish could be grown in there. It is the beginning of farmland that could float in space – a bearer of new biospheres.
In 2007 Oksiuta presented the project Biological Habitat, a futuristic vision of space and objects to live in that were grown like plants. The key element is a bubble-shaped structure made of gelatine which grew on its own. It can even be expanded to the size of a residential facility and after hardening it is becomes as resistant like concrete and transparent like glass. It can also float on water. ‘The idea is not to make a new ‘home’ or ‘shelter’ but a live system, and in the future a live space.’
Selected solo projects and exhibitions:
- 1976-78 – Origin in the Peach Orchard campaign, Warszawa
- 1981 – Ecological Workshop campaign , Jelenia Góra
- 1984 - Spring Pyramid, Cologne
- 1984 – Triumf, Cologne
- 1985 – Urban Installation – Only Love Reduces Entropy, Stollwerk, Cologne
- 1985 – The Sun releases Wuuhm, Cologne
- 1988-94 – Memorial of the Old Synagogue, Wuppertal (with Busmann & Haberer, Volker Puschel)
- 1991 – Project of a Square with a Bank, Kunstraum Wuppertal
- 1995 – Architecture Abstracts , Centre for Polish Sculpture, Orońsko
- 1996 – Bio-illogical Art, Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 1998 – Project for Europe, SARP, Warsaw
- 1999 - 66 99, Kunstraum Fuhrwerkswaage, Cologne
- 2003 - Spatium Gelatum, BWA Gallery, Wrocław
- 2007 – Breeding Spaces, Arsenał Gallery, Białystok
Selected group exhibitions
- 1980 – Terra 2, International Exposition of International Architecture, Museum of Architecture, Wrocław
- 1986 – Pozycje zmian (Positions of change), Friedrich Gallery, Cologne
- 1987 – Utopia i rzeczywistość (Utopia and reality) Eastern Gallery, Łódź
- 2003 – City Transformers, The Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk
- 2004 – La Biennale di Venezia, 9th International Architecture Biennale, Venice
- 2004 – Archilab 2004 Orleans, 6th edition of the International Architecture Exhibition
- 2007 – Ars Electronica, Linz
Author: Ewa Gorządek, Centre for Contemporary Art at the Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, October 2008, Translated by: Zuzanna Wiśniewska, September 2015