Galeria AT


 wersja polska

The Art of Book. Scene Three
Rafał Jakubowicz
Art will cease to be available everywhere, that
is to say artists will do it stealthily and show it
to their wives, husbands or friends.
 "The art of book" or "the artistic book" are the terms that can already be found in e dictionary of art history. Although, which is significant, the range of these terms cannot be clearly indicated. They are vague and, as Alicja Kepinska has pointed out, they do escape a definition. This fear of classification and of belonging to a category makes for the strength of the phenomenon we call artistic book.
"The position of book within the area of art is very particular. It is itself and at the same time not quite itself: it belongs to the field of "book" and to that of art, it is functioning - as Alicja Kepinska says - at two levels which lend their features to each other". The art of book has nothing in common with illustration that belongs to the utilitarian graphic arts. These qualities are different. The origin of the artistic book can be found in the intellectual-creative atmosphere of the late 60s and early 70s, at the time of the far-reaching transformations occurring within the conceptualist art" This particular trend brought a wave of reflection on the nature of art, especially on the numerous aspects of the art language. Art became the subject of theory.
In the work of the artists concerned with such an elusive field as the art of book there are no obligatory formal or ideological indications. It is not a discipline, not even a tendency in the traditional sense. The term escapes any definition. What is in common with the artists concerned with book is, in my opinion, a kind of consciousness, a mental readiness. The art of book, aiming at an individual contact with the reader, calls for the engagement of his sensibility and above all of his intellect. So if we say book has a conceptual origin it will not be far from the truth. We can put it in other words: the art of book is conscious of the transformations brought about by the conceptual reflection. It shares with conceptualism an interest in language and in meaning. "Conceptualism - says Alicja Kepinska - looked at the sort of activity we call "writing". Not because it was interested in the written narrative but in the writing itself. Its analysis led to the conclusion that book was not just a container of some subjects but an object by itself, one of self-reference"." The conceptual art brought a new look at writing and at book in general. Hence the book found itself very close to receive a new definition and to he adopted in the field of art.
The art of book has a long tradition. it is not simply linked to the conceptual art, to concrete poetry, post art, or in a broader sense to the area of the neo-avant-garde, but to the centuries of culture, at least five thousand years, that is as long as the history of writing. Sometimes it refers to the Sacred Book and so to the history of religion.
It is an object, an object on which the artist leaves his own mark, that of his "hand". A contact with it is a "physical" contact with a real object (whose form by the way is supposed to he that of a book). Moreover that contact takes place also at the aesthetic level which tends to he neglected or even discredited by the radical believers in conceptualism. Book as a "palpable object" fulfils an entirely different function than documentation in the conceptual art. The aesthetics of performance is not the purpose here, there is no wish to create "beautiful objects", to "emblish the world". The aesthetics is in the book an inherent part of the language, an active quality in the process of creating meanings. It is an element of the artistic strategy; an intentional use of visual resources in order to open the minds to the values that can be found in the sphere of "between". If we regard an object as belonging to the art of book it is not because of its specific language, the way it is done and most importantly because of its content. Or to put it in other words: sometimes the form does matter or the form of presentation or the message. "The artistic book - said Piotr Rypson – is just a term denoting various experiments with the space of the statements, with the text or with the text combined with a picture. The ways of treating the alternative carrier of the text relate to nature of the carrier, that is they try to use the media different from the book (...)". Alicja Kepinska defined the book as a "being between beings". She said: "We have here a process of translation when looking appears as reading, reading as looking or as hearing. That is to say, it turns out that a contact with the book moves and "shifts" the activity of senses: before that they were not engaged in this way. Moreover the book phenomenon is not bound for a final definition; it ignores the notion of "development" and does not create its own history. Indeed we will never know what it actually is: the phenomenon of book does not reveal its secret".
One of the few places-enclaves in which this area of artistic activity has found respect and understanding seems to be the AT Gallery in Poznan, run by Tomasz Wilmanski. "Book - says Tomasz Wilmanski - as a separate work of art was for the artists in the late 1960s a kind of refuge, a protest against the manipulation which could be seen in the commercialized art market existing then in the West".
At the AT Gallery individual shows of the artists concerned with the art of book used to be held already in the early l980s, that is from the first years of the gallery's existence. This particular exhibition in the cycle entitled "Book and What Next" brought together artists of several generations, earlier exhibiting at this gallery. Those participating in it were: Joanna Adamczewska, Joanna Hoffman, Jaroslaw Kozlowski, Waldemar Kremser, Waldemar Petryk, Cezary Staniszewski, Andrzej Szewczyk, and Tomasz Wilmanski. The exhibition was not a summary of the artistic book as such. It was a display by particular artists. Wilmanski invited to it the nature ones whose work was different from others by its ideas, message or formal execution. What had they in common? Book was the essential part of their creative experiences, closely related to their whole work and so it expressed their individual programme.
It must be noted that this exhibition "Book and What Next" is the third display devoted to the artistic book held by the AT Gallery. The first exhibition, organized by the AT Gallery was held in 1990 at the Raczynski Library. At the same time, at the Sienkiewicz Museum there was a display, attached to the exhibition, of over l50 books and prints belonging to the prestigious publishing house Rainer Verlag, offered subsequently to the Poznan Library. Most of the artists of this year's show displayed their works at it. So the present exhibition offers a possibility of having a closer look at the evolution of art by the afore-mentioned artists within the past decade. The second presentation in the cycle "Book and What Next" was held, in 1991, at what is at present the Academy of Fine Arts, a show-concert of acoustic books by Joanna Adamczewska, entitled in English "Acoustic Books".
An important feature of the artistic book is its uniqueness. In this field there is a vast medial variety. Piotr Rypson refers to the systematic division made by Clive Phillpot, curator at The Museum of Modern Art. It includes: "just books", "books works" and "book objects". Still, this division, when we take a closer look at these books, as it is with any simplification, seems not to be sufficient...
Andrzej Szewczyk presented at the exhibition under discussion one of his books-objects, written with wax and lead... These particular materials are the sign, emblem of his art. Wax is an animal matter Lead - a poison, substance of sadness, causing pain. Fluid lead sunk intentionally into the book covered with wax is an act of violence. And paradoxically the thing that can give pain becomes here a kind of writing. That is a medium.
Szewczyk describes himself as a painter. However his art goes beyond the area of painting in the traditional sense. One could say that he is having a game with painting. In 1981, at the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw, with which he has been co-operating for many years, he mounted an exhibition entitled "Space always the same, no matter whether it is growing or dwindling". He covered the floor of the rooms with shavings of coloured chalks. Another important exhibition of his was held in 1986 at the District Museum in Chelm, "The picture painting unified with the painting of walls". In it he put the question about the nature of painting and its limits.
In Szewczyk's art the border between book, object, sculpture, space arrangement and the picture is not stable. Jaromir Jedlinski, who Andrzej Szewczyk's attitude described as an "erudition of sensibility" noted in the essay on his one-artist exhibition at the Museum of Art in Lodz, in 1988, that a "writing of picture" is for this artist a "constant necessity". While Wieslaw Borowski remarked that Szewczyk's works "(...) are rooted in the dead languages being the source of our culture"."' It could be said that Szewczyk's works, in all its manifestations, no matter what are its resources, is related to the symbols of writing, to the idea nf the great Book, or the idea of Library. One may recall here his probably best known work, "Basilica-Library", exhibited first at the Foksal Gallery and then bought by the Museum of Art in Lodz. "Basilica-Library", consists of twenty one oak blocks of lead incrusted steles, placed on the salt covered rectangle of a floor in the order of the romanesque basilica church.
In Andrzej Szewczyk's work, in the view of Jarornir Jedlinski, the meaning can be found "(...) between the linear rows of the writing and the shape of the unreadable letter”. Szewczyk's writing cannot be deciphered to get the meaning. Its reception is supposed to arouse feelings. "The writing he uses is not a clear writing for semantic reading. It tries to get understanding by creating an analogy to life experiences, or a biographical analogy not necessarily of people living in the same period. Szewczyk - says Jaromir Jedlinski - tries to create  an analogy between his work and the viewer's biography". "Biography - Szewczyk maintains - is the current beat of my heart which enables me to live in this world"."' He uses the life-stories of some chosen figures in the history of culture, such as Abelard and Heloisa, Franz Kafka and Felitia Bauer, John Berryman, Dylan Thomas, Malcolm Lowry, etc. He stressed on many occasions the importance of those biographies which - he says - have greatly enriched him, because he could put beside them the intensity of his existence and the passage of time affecting him.
Another attitude towards the idea of Library has been shown by Jaroslaw Kozlowski. He was interested in books already in the early years of his activity, in the 1970s. He was fascinated with language, logic, analytical philosophy. he produced at that time such books as among others:  "A-B", "I.anguage", "Reality", "Grammar", "Lesson" ... His latest works are of a different character although they have been based in a way, if not directly, on those previous experiences.
In the exhibition at the AT Gallery he presented a work placed in space, made up of books painted white with emulsion, ranged one upon another in the shape of a column. The books filled tightly the space between floor and ceiling. This form of display and a relation to the place were essential. An attempt to pull out one of the books would destroy the whole construction. Having been painted over they lost their privileged position given them by the history of culture. They revealed their nature of objects. They could not be read, so they did not show their subjects. Their "inside" was for us - in practice and metaphore - inaccessible. What makes us recognize them as being still books, although they have lost their basic, utilitarian functions? The book we are unable to read is it still a book? If it is not, then what is it actually? So the status of these objects is unstable, their identity unclear, mysterious...
Jaroslaw Kozlowski's installation shown at the exhibition "Book and What Next", as are many of his other works is concerned with the problem of time, with its passage. "We can distinguish many categories of time, the would be very long indeed and would never end, we can - said Jaroslaw Kozlowski - analyze time in the terms of theoretical physics but we become helpless in experiencing it.
The "Library" displayed at the AT Gallery recalls the artist's earlier works. Among them is the space arrangement made up of piles of books shown at the exhibition held in 1993 at the HCAK in the Hague, as well as the work entitled also "Library", displayed in 1995 at the exhibition held at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, or the installation "Reading Room, Library" of 1997 being part of the show "The Spaces of Time" presented at the National Museum in Poznan.
Both at the exhibition in Oslo and at the Poznan museum there were shelves filled with books painted in white. They were pierced with a metal rod. So it was impossible not only to read them but also to pull them out which naturally enough was at variance with the idea of accessibility to the Library. "The very title of the work "Library"- wrote Philip Peters in his interpretation of Jaroslaw Kozlowski's work - suggests the place where many books have been gathered which can be used by everybody at will. (...) I guess that the library reflects the poor condition in which contemporary culture finds itself: only a few books have been left and even they cannot be read. Perhaps these are the relicts of a culture that used to flourish here in the past but now has become inaccessible, this could be our culture, now however it requires an archeological approach if we want to get to it. The world we live in shuts itself to us and it is we who have probably produced it. To put it in other words we have made this world unfit for living. It is empty like the museum room, empty like the library in which books merely fulfil the role of decoration".
Andrzej Szewczyk took up the idea of the Book, Jaroslaw Kozlowski that of the Library and Tomasz Wilmanski that of the Home...
"Tomasz Wilmanski - wrote Alicja Kepinska - installs in space a variety of qualities: objects, drawings, sounds, concentric cuts of paper, photographs; and he also makes books. All of them are catching the elusive senses which appear at the edge of nature and what is beyond it giving it impulses into the area of mystery". Wilmanski's books are related in various ways with his pictures, space arrangements, installations, performance activities. They find their place in a much wider whole. He is engaged in very refined games - linguistic, visual, also tonal. He is interested in the contact of very different, seemingly completely separate means of expression, brings together sound and a picture, picture and word, etc. It might be assumed that those qualities engaging various senses, cannot be translated one into another. It if they can it is only to some extent. A complete translation seems impossible. And yet at some moments there appears in such a clash something unexpected - an undefined sphere of mutual dependence, a hesitant, brief "moment of opening", or of "passage". The transgressive flashes happen not very often, casually, come on sudden. They take unawares also the artist himself. A sound completes the picture, and the picture the sound, thus generating the fields of reference that could "sparcle" only at that "meeting". I remember the pictures and the sounds that went with them at the exhibition "Landscapes" which was held at the AT Gallery in November 1999. The very sparing landscapes were travel reminiscences. The brief poetic texts by the author attached to each picture corresponded. with the visual and spiritual symbols of the "fields", "forests", "seas", "valleys", "mountains" and had been recorded simultaneously by the computer technique. So a new acoustic quality was produced, filling up the gallery rooms. The words were laid upon words. In the resulting noise one could catch only some bits of the text, something like new words seemed to be emerging.
Tomasz Wilmanski made a confession: "(...) books are for me a sort of calming down, in a sense they introduce order into my thinking. They encourage an intimate contemplation, a recollection".'"' He presented at the show two books: MOD and MOD 2. "MOD" is the reverse of the 1'olish word "DOM" which means "home". In its form MOD looks like a family album of photos. Indeed the idea of Home returns in many of his works. We may recall in this respect his pictorial-tonal work of 1994, displayed at the exhibition held at the BWA Awangarda Gallery, or the installation "Hush" (CI CHO SZA) from his one-artist show at the Center of Contemporary Art in the Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, held also in 1994. In the book MOD the idea of Home has been transposed into a sign, an icon - a clear geometrical form. He break up in it the word. It is reduced to its letters and these in turn are put together in new arrangements. The work suggests the word's inadequacy towards the meaning the word is supposed to include. The interest in language, its structure, rules shows a contrast between it and the theme it is to convey. In looking at Wilmanski's works we find in them both an intellectual orderly reflection and, to the same extent, an irrational feeling. A rigorous statement contrasted with obvious poetry.
Their is also a kind of poetry, among other features, in the work of other artists participating in tlle exhibition: Joanna Adamczewska, Waldemar Petryka, Waldemar Kremser. We can also find it - although it is thoroughly hidden - in the "minimalistic" production of Joanna Hoffmann and Cezary Staniszewski. But it must be stressed that this "poetic feeling" always goes with a clear artistic expression and a discipline in the use of the resources.
Joanna Hoffmann makes space arrangements, installations, produces books. She presented a book-object entitled in, English "Here and Now" and a sound work or rather a book with a sound record entitled "Music for Inert Repetitions". "Here and Now" is a small object that can be held in a hand. Object in the shape of pyramid. The word "and" was placed at its top. And it seemed to have the key meaning. "The stress laid on the conjunction recalls a statement attributed to Heideger that ill the title of his book "Sein und Zeit" the most important was the "small word" in the middle - commented this work Grzegorz Borkowski".
Cezary Staniszewski showed two object-books spread out like fans and entitled. "Categories". One of them was white, the other black. One of them comprised written in the Morse alphabet the positive features of man, the other the negative ones. Staniszewski worked out his own hermetic code system turning the strokes and points of that alphabet into groups of thin and thick lines (the thick lines represented strokes, the thin ones - points). Noteworthy was the simplicity of the resources and consistency in the treatment of the idea. "Book is for Cezary Staniszewski - maintained Tomasz Wilmanski - the basic language of the artistic statement, he fully realizes in it his ideas of art; of art based upon a precise, intellectually weighed out mental construction, holding with the world an analytical and sensually critical dialogue".
One of the books by Waldemar Petryk, displayed at the exhibition bore the title "Jules Verne 20 000 Miles of Undersea Journey". The rustling pages of carbon paper imitated water and the broken line-waves. In the water fishes were swimming drawn up with a contour probably cut out from a stencil. All of them were almost alike. Well - almost... The transparency of the carbon paper gave the impression of depth.
Waldemar Kremser recalled the time of the Holocaust. The exhibited books had been made in Berlin which probably was not without meaning. Their visuality looked like the objects which had survived the time of Extermination and are now objects of evidence. One of his books comprised a set of photographs, enlarged and showing faces of anonymous victims of the Warsaw ghetto shot through with an authentic bullet.
"The books of Joanna Adamczewska (including an unique series of acoustic books) refer to her own experiences and feelings the sources of which we are unable to locate although they touch upon some strings of our memories and experiences. From the impulses of that inner area merge - noted Alicja Kepinska - also other works by this artist finding their own place in the room they have been installed in". Adamczewska showed two works: "Archipelago" and "Salve Sancte Spacies". The "Archipelago" consists of small white stones placed on the desk with the alphabet letters stuck to them which can be arranged in any order. While the "Salve Sancte Spacies" are glass containers placed on shelves like jars with condiment and containing small letters of macaroni touched with coloured ink...
The artistic book is escaping any limitations. It moves in many directions and does it along its own roads or rather paths. It does it in silence. It avoids the massive public places and finds its own trail. It has no clear destination, it is bound for many points which it keeps defining all the time.
In the art of book there is a great variety of attitudes which has been shown clearly by the exhibition mounted by Tomasz Wilmanski. "It can be seen already that the book; spreads its activity in unexpected directions". "There is no need - says Alicja Kepinska – to wonder "what next?". 'We are unable to forestall its intentions with our expectations. Because it creates many forms of its identity: it confirmes its existence and escapes from itself". Having seen the works on show it is impossible to draw general conclusions or to forecast the future. Besides, it would not probably agree with the curator's intention. In order to see what time will bring we must wait for the next, the fourth scene in the cycle "Book and What Next"...
Rafal Jakubowicz
text from art magazine: EXIT new art in Poland, No. 4(44) 2000