Witkacy - Robakowski
CONFIDENCE MENOpening: February 6th 2009, 6-9 p.m.With the exhibition WITKACY–ROBAKOWSKI at the ŻAK | BRANICKA gallery, two of the most important personalities in Polish art meet face-to-face for the first time. Both confidence(con) men, tricksters, swindlers and eternal practical jokers, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz – called “Witkacy” (1885-1939) – legendary artist, painter, writer and dramaturge, philosopher, photograph, and enfant terrible of the inter-war polish and international art scenes, is confronted by Józef Robakowski (born 1939), an artist of the polish neo-avant-garde of the 60’s and 70’s, co-creator of Film Form Workshops, and the author of such well known videos as “View from my Window” and “My Video Masochism.”
Mystification, parody, self-referential irony and plays with shifting identities are some of today’s most popular artistic phenomena. Only few know that Witkacy was already working with these ideas at the beginning of Twentieth Century. In 1921, he composed his text “Manifesto (festo-mani)” in which he derided the contemporary trajectory of art and ascertained that the only honest artistic position is a lie. “The most beautiful art – and who knows if not the most challenging – is a lie (…)always conscious of itself, are the wilful deceptions, however small, much more so than the unconscious superior lies.” Many years later (1988), video artist Józef Robakowski wrote in his own Manifesto, “Manipulate! (I Manipulate!)”: “I am convinced that an artist is a sort of perfidious swindler, a social ulcer, whose vitality is an exact manipulation of his own account…”
ZAK | BRANICKA juxtaposes three original series of Witkacy’s photographs from 1931 and 1932, in which the artist poses and assumes different grimacing faces, with Józef Robakowski’s “My Video Masochisms” from 1986 and “The Astral Photography” series that he developed in the 1970’s.
Witkacy’s photos are experiments with changing identity, purposeful and conscious humiliation, and reflexive irony that mock the perceived “Myth of the Artist.” He produced such photographs throughout his entire life, most of which were titled so absurdly as, “Unknown Photo of Unknown Movie Star, Carfaldo Ricci.”
In “My Video Masochisms”, Robakowski, making contorted faces at the camera, simulates piercing his cheeks with wire, drilling through his ears, and taking an immersion heater into his mouth. Deadpan, the artist plays as though he is suffering through his art and in its name. His contrast with his contemporary movements (e.g. Viennese Actionism) and ironic disembowelment of them is a glimpse partially into his nihilism and partially into his absurd sense of humour. Beginning in 1971, the series of hypothetical “Astral Photography”, provided with such witty titles as “Self-Portrait in Absinthe Fumes” or “The Imaginary Form of a Stomach Ulcer”, is a parody of the language of conceptual art. It is accompanied by a pseudo-scientific tract written based on the agglutination of lies and absurdities regarding a new method of creating photography performed by putting a negative against one’s forehead.