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The Legality of Space – plein air installation by Ewa Partum

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Date: 21–23 April 1971

Participant: Ewa Partum

Organizers: Ewa Partum and BWA Gallery, Łódź[1]

Location: Freedom Square (plac Wolności), Łódź

The installation appeared in an open space between two houses near Freedom Square in the center of Łódź. Ewa Partum exhibited numerous boards with prohibitions: actual traffic signs and others, created by the artist, bare absurd messages—for example, “Prohibiting prohibited” or “Permitting prohibited.” For the opening, invitations were sent out. Since the road-signs had been borrowed officially from the Transportation Department of the city, they were guarded by the police, and some of the passersby took it as an exhibition of traffic signs. During the opening, Partum drove around the square and from the car with a megaphone shouted the captions placed on the tables. The artist published a catalog of the performence in 150 copies. Her installation was not granted any attention from the official Polish art world. The local media reacted with curiosity and compared Partum to Dalí, the Spanish Surrealist, because her work was equally “crazy.”


[1] Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych [Office of Art Exhibitions] was the name of the city galleries in Poland in the ’80s.


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Presence – performance by Ewa Partum

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Date: 17 November–17 December 1972

Participant and organizer: Ewa Partum

Location: Address Gallery, Łódź

Partum was one of not many women artists in the era of the People’s Republic of Poland interested in the critique of art institutions. The issue manifested itself emphatically in the context of the figure of the artist and of space in 1972, when, at Address Gallery run by her since 1971,[1] she showed Polish (Krzysztof Wodiczko, Zbigniew Warpechowski) and international Conceptual art (for example, Endre Tot, mostly in mail-art forms).

In the performance Presence, as the gallery was open only during the artist’s presence, Partum identified the object of art with its subject. The piece can be viewed as a woman artist’s response to the notions of space and the institution, as a proposal to perceive space through the aspect of the body’s materiality—one of the main elements of the subjective construction. In terms of Conceptual art, Partum’s strategy can be described as breaking with the institution as that which sanctions the object of art, and breaking with the object of art itself as an artwork.


[1] The gallery was functioning till 1977 first located in the Club of Creative Unions based at ZPAP [Association of Polish Artists and Designers], then since March 1973, in the artist’s apartment. In 1971 Partum published a leaflet gallery manifesto that was republished in 1972 in Robotnik Sztuki [Art Worker], an art magazine published by EL Gallery in Elbląg.


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The Dialogue – street action for film by Anna Kutera

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Date: 1973

Participant: Anna Kutera

Location: Wrocław

In wintertime the artist engages passersby and provokes very simple interactions with them in busy but not significant places in of Wrocław. The six-minute black-and-white 16 mm silent movie documenting this action is divided into five parts and every one of them is marked by a caption with a slogan describing the artist’s actions. The first étude, “Good morning!,” shows simple welcome signs. The second one, “Presentation,” introduces the viewer to longer conversations (that are not heard) between the artist and the chance acquaintances. We can assume, according to one of the captions, that the artist accosts them, saying, “My name is Anna Kutera. Here is my photo. I am a student of the Fine Arts Academy and just right now I am shooting a movie about how I am introducing myself to you.” After that she hands her portrait photo to everyone. Some of them laugh or smile, some have further questions, but all the interactions are absolutely friendly. Other études are entitled “What time is it?” and “Where is Anna Kutera’s street?” The latter one, the funniest, shows a group of passersby trying to help. The last episode is the most tautological one: it refers mostly to the medium itself. It is entitled “Goodbye!” and we see the artist herself in the similar frame as that of the photo. She smiles, laughs, saying something to the person behind the camera while saying goodbye by a gesture of nodding the head. After cutting, which gives the impression of some rehearsal, we see her now serious, just nodding and turning her back to the camera.

Through the simplest gestures and the category of a chance encounter, the artist asks here about the role of the artist in society and puts the accents not on the art piece itself, but rather on social interactions. Kutera was a member of the Polish group of Contextual artists who participated in the exhibition “Contextual Art” in 1976 in Lund with Jan Świdziński. She also represented the Polish Contextual movement in Toronto at the Center of Experimental Art and Communication, during the meeting and discussion with Joseph Kosuth in 1976.


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Procession – performance by Teresa Murak

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Date: 1974

Participant: Teresa Murak

Location: streets of Warsaw, Poland

In the very early spring of 1974, the artist put on herself a cress seeds coat grown earlier (the working method being a reference to the tradition of handiwork and “female labor”), and set out on a Procession through the streets of Warsaw, thus introducing the figure of Mother Nature into a realm of specifically belonging to culture. This gesture, primarily referring to the relationship between the feminine and the natural being—also a main focus essential to feminism, albeit differently—present in corporal feminism, was at the same time a political one, an intervention in urban space which manifested a sensitivity extremely different to that officially valid in the People’s Republic of Poland.

The cress seed, a small fast-growing plant with a distinctive smell, became Teresa Murak’s trademark. Co-existing with the artist, in most cases the plant becomes the subject of her examination and the object of care while her art practice connected with the seeds is based on the idea of co-existence.

The action was documented on photos as well as it exists as oral history. A young Polish artists, Anna Lesniak, made a project Fading Traces (2011), in which she asked the female artists who were active in the 1970’s in Poland to tell about their practices. While we hear from the off Murak’s story, we see the track of her walk filmed by the Lesniak contemporary.


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The Introduction – performance by Anna Kutera

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Date: 1975

Participants: Anna Kutera, Piotr Olszański, Lech Mrożek, Jerzy Olek, Kazimierz Helebrandt, Romuald Kutera (film documentation), Niels Lomholt (Denmark), and anonymous artists from Budapest, Prague, and Zagreb

Organizer: Festival of Students from Baltic Art Schools, “F-ART”

Location: Gdańsk

The performance was presented during the festival. Kutera sat behind a table. She provoked interactions between herself and the nine invited male members, whom she called by their names to take their places by her side. This performance is part of  cycle Stimulated Situations, and it was documented in a photo series and a black-and-white ten-minute 16 mm film (which were shown during the exhibition “Contextual Art” in 1976 in Lund, Sweden). The actions were presented to the viewers only by the mute gestures of Kutera herself or her partners (we always see a one-to-one relation), as well as by the accessories held by the partners. The pretext for this intercourse was the situation of creation portraits of Kutera and showing her through relations with people in different social and cultural roles. But in the images we see her every time in the same place, beside the table. The partners sat on her left. Every meeting lasted only around one minute in silence and action was introduced by Anna in these words: “I am happy to be together with a group who understands the meaning of being together in art and getting to know each other without words.” She describes it as a very difficult emotional situation of intimacy. All encounters seem to be similar, the changes are very subtle—which creates a large field for interpretation and calls the viewer’s attention to compare details and look for a significance, or even giving up when the most important—what happened in the immanency of the space and time in between the social actors—is no longer available to understand.


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Prayer for Rain – land-art performance by Maria Pinińska-Bereś

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Date: Summer 1977

Participant: Maria Pinińska-Bereś

Location: Field of Prądnik, Kraków

Since 1977 a couple of Polish artists made land-art performances that took place only in the presence of the camera or nearest friends invited especially. In all of them, Maria Pinińska-Bereś connected land-art and feminist strategies, which can be compared to the art of Ana Mendieta. This performance started when the artist, wearing a green-blue, ritual-like dress and sandals, kneeled down on her knees with hands and face near to the grass. Then she marked out a circle and scattered around the stones she found inside. Using a knife she cut the grass in the circle and marked the circumference with pink flags put in the places of the stones she removed before. When the installation was ready, she took off her sandals and trampled the ground with her bare feet, in kind of ritual dance. At the end she lay on her back in a goddess pose. The way the performance was carried out, her preparation, and the usage of the color pink, which was a kind of marker of her artistic practice, show how she connected the cultural and essential or natural influences on the female subject. In other land-art pieces she used similar means to reorder the place or build into the natural environment—one defined as the asylum for art and woman artists in totalitarian Poland, where the access to gallery space and art institutions was limited. Her art has a huge ironical potential, which was also visible in Prayer for Rain.


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Three Women – exhibition

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Date: 6–23 February 1978

Participants: Anna Bednarczuk, Izabella Gustowska, and Krystyna Piotrowska

Location: BWA Poznań “Arsenał”[1]

The first articles exploring the phenomenon of feminist art in Western Europe and the United States were published in Polish art magazines around 1980.[2] In those times the first minor exhibitions of feminist art appeared—exhibitions of the type “women choose women,” curated by artists who also took part in them. The first genuine feminist exhibition was “Three Women” with the participation of Poznań-based artists, in the city gallery of art. The title of the show was probably inspired by the title of Robert Altman’s movie of the same name. A catalog was also published with the biographical notes of the participants, reproductions of their most significant self-portraits shown (among others) in the gallery, and with the collage of their artworks and inspirations. During the opening, hostesses dressed in Playboy-bunny costumes served a cake in the form of a female breast, which gives the ironical frame to the art pieces that were very conscious of the category of masquerade and the cultural impact on sexed subjects, made with the usage of embroidery, lingerie, and other so-called female attributes. Self-portraits by Anna Bednarczuk made as reduced fabrics, Krystyna Piotrowska’s Better Face in Your Mirror?—a kind of drawing and graphic catalog of faces and their parts—and Izabella Gustowska’s photos and photomontages of female bodies and flowers were on display, among others.

After the show only one review was published in the local press and the exhibition passed without a bigger impact on Polish art. It only appeared recently in the catalog text of the “Three Women” (conscious reference) exhibition of Ewa Partum, Natalia LL, and Maria Pinińska-Bereś, curated by Ewa Toniak, that opened in 2011 in the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw.


[1] Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych [Office of Art Exhibitions] was the name of the city galleries in Poland in the ’80s.

[2] S. Morawski, “Neofeminizm w sztuce,” Sztuka 4 (1977): and B. Baworowska, “Wystawa sztuki feministycznej w Holandii,” Sztuka 3 (1980). After her residency in New York in 1977, Natalia LL appeared in 1978 with a cycle of gallery lectures on feminist-art phenomena.


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Emphatic Portraits – poster action by Ewa Partum

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Date: 1978

Participant: Ewa Partum

Organizer: ZPAP [Association of Polish Artists and Designers] Festival of Fine Arts in Warsaw

Location: Streets of Warsaw

Ewa Partum took part in the ZPAP Festival of Fine Arts in Warsaw with posters which connected different aspects of her previous works. The statement from her 1971 poem, “My touch is the touch of a woman,” was transformed into “My problem is the problem of a woman,” which was printed under the photo of her performance Change at Address Gallery in Łódź (1974) in which she let half of her face be artificially aged. 600 posters of Emphatic Portraits were put up all around Warsaw. In 1979 she repeated a similar poster campaign.

Her intervention—public display of an old woman’s face instead of an attractive young girl usually used in advertisements—was intended to point out that the urban space was the place of an artificial self-identification of women. It was not understood in that way though, and her action met a critical response in a weekly, popular magazine published in Poland in those years, Kultura. Written in sarcastic tone, the review accuses the artist of trivializing existential human tensions and narcissism.[1] Partum responded in the same magazine, stressing that the aim of her action was to articulate the consciousness and individual feature of the feminine problematic: “I consider feminist art important as that which gives the opportunity for the self-definition of a woman artist through her experience in ‘being woman’ in a patriarchal society.”

Document: Ewa Partum: “Ewa Partum’s Real Problem” – A Reply (1979)


[1] Andrzej Osęka, “Prawdziwy problem Ewy Partum” [Ewa Partum’s Real Problem], Kultura 37 (1979).


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Women’s Art 1978 – exhibition

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Date: April 1978

Participants: Suzy Lake (Canada), Noemi Maidan (Switzerland), Natalia LL (Poland), and Carolee Schneemann (USA)

Organizer: Natalia LL

Location: PSP Jatki Gallery, Wrocław

This was the second exhibition of what’s referred to as women’s art in Poland and the first international one where the practices of foreign participants were represented by mail-art pieces.[1] Natalia LL was the first Polish artist who contributed to international feminist-art exhibitions and publications since 1975, and her art was published among others’ work on the cover of the monographic feminist issue of Heute Kunst (issue 9, 1975) edited by Gislind Nabakovsky. LL also had the opportunity of a half-year stay in the United States, mostly in New York City, in 1977 (through a Kościuszko Foundation grant), and afterwards she gave a series of lectures on feminist art in Polish art galleries.[2] In the Wrocław show, LL exhibited her Categorical Statements from the Sphere of Post-Consumer Art (1975), Schneemann’s artist’s publication Cezanne, She was a Great Painter (1975), a photo by Suzy Lake showing a woman with her body bound by a rope—shown as an installation, with the rope in space separating the art from the audience—and Maidan’s collages on maternity covered by traditional nappies hanging on the walls.


[1] Review of the exhibition, B. Baworowska, “Sztuka kobiet,” Sztuka 4/5 (1978): 69–70.

[2] Natalia LL, “Feminist tendency,” in Natalia LL. Texts (Bielska BWA Gallery: Bielsko-Biała, 2004).


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Women’s Art 1980 – exhibition

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Date: November 1980

Participants: Izabella Gustowska, Anna Kutera, Natalia LL, Ewa Partum, Krystyna Piotrowska, Maria Pinińska-Bereś, and Teresa Tyszkiewicz

Organizers: Izabella Gustowska and Krystyna Piotrowska

Location: ON Gallery, Poznań

The first national exhibition of the practices of Polish women artists interested in negotiations of feminine subjectivity was organized by two artists who run the gallery associated with the Fine Arts Academy. Izabella Gustowska, when asked about the concept of the show, said she had been familiar with most of the artists from previous exhibitions at ON except for Ewa Partum, whom they invited due to her clear-cut artistic position, and Maria Pinińska-Bereś, whom, in turn, they wanted to honor as a pioneer of a certain kind of sensitivity. This was why the “L”-shaped gallery’s smaller room was devoted entirely to Pinińska-Bereś. The pink-quilted fluid rug spilling out of her Well of Pink ran across the floor of the larger room above, where the works of the younger artists were on display together with photographic works, films, and works on paper. The invited artists presented performances or live lectures (except for Krystyna Piotrowska, Teresa Tysziewicz probably made a comment to her movies) during the two-day symposium opened by speeches of the theorists Alicja Kępińska and Jerzy Ludwiński. What the different realizations had in common was, in my view, their focus on the issue of space and the representations of the subjectively understood feminine body.

“Although the exhibition had not been thought as a feminist demonstration, the title provoked questions about distinguishing the characteristic of art created by women artists—their peculiar features and goals. The organizers wanted to provoke such a discussion and posed questions that had never been asked in Poland before. […] I do not say that nothing like women’s art does exist, because art has no sex (is sexless),” wrote Grzegorz Dziamski. “But look at what women artists do and wonder if in the pieces presented by them there is something you will not find anywhere else—another sensibility, other imaginations, a different approach to the world.”[1]

Beside the Polish Film Chronicle that reported on Partum’s performance, the exhibition was not reviewed in the media and stayed forgotten for a long time, mentioned only in Dziamski’s articles on women’s art and in the catalogs of Presence III and ON Gallery. The thematic was continued by Gustowska in the “Presence” exhibition cycle in the 1980s and 1990s.

Detailed description of the exhibition

Document: Izabella Gustowska: WHY? (1998)


[1] Grzegorz Dziamski, “Drobne narracje,” in Drobne narracje. XV lat galerii ON (Poznań, 1994), 6–7.


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The Dialogue – video-performance by Anna Kutera

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Date: 1985

Participant: Anna Kutera

Location: Gallery Labyrinth 2, Lublin

No documentation remains of the first action performed in Osieki. The video-performance was repeated three times: at Gallery Labyrinth 2 in Lublin, Poland (1985), Philip Waters Gallery in Banff, Canada (1985), and during the “Polish Manifestation” exhibition in Drents Museum, Assen, the Netherlands (1986).

The title dialogue takes place between the artist in the gallery space and an image of herself prerecorded on video playing on a TV screen. The conversation concerns the situation in which the artist found herself: the relationship between herself and her image, and their relation to the audience and the gallery space (the actual one as well as the empty one in which the recorded performance took place). The final dialogue concerns a misunderstanding between the two Annas: the TV one whose space of action is clean and neutral and the live one whose space of action is always relational, always considered an encounter, never neutral. She suggests that her TV image consider her art in the illusionary freedom gap and even does not take responsibility for her actions because she is only an image.


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Hommage à Solidarity – performance by Ewa Partum

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Date: 9 August 1982

Participant: Ewa Partum

Organizer: Czyszczenie Dywanów

Location: Czyszczenie Dywanów [Rug Cleaning] Gallery, Łódź

Rug Cleaning was an independent art space in Łódź during the martial law in Poland in the 1980s. Partum was invited to perform there on the first anniversary of the state’s legalization of the Solidarity movement as a workers’ union. She stood naked in front of a long banner of paper on the wall that had “Hommage à” written on it and talked about the internal emigration of artists after the marital law in Poland had been announced. Then she imprinted with her lipstick-painted lips the letters “S,” “O,” “L,” “I,” “D,” “A,” “R,” “N,” “O,” “Ś,” and “Ć” on the paper after speaking each of them separately, after which she scattered flowers on the floor and lit candles.

In this performance Partum managed to accomplish an individual transgression—the subversive use of her autograph—the imprint of her lips, used before in her conceptual poems. Here, as a flesh-and-blood woman, she finally appears as the subject of expression in the act of the rhetoric of the pose[1] . Her action can also be read as the act of rewriting and reviving the passive[2] allegory of Polonia established in nineteenth-century iconography. The action was reenacted by her in Wewerka Gallery in Berlin in 1983, after her emigration from Poland in 1982.


[1]A Craig Owens term.

[2] Polonia, the allegory of Poland is always shown as a  passive figure.


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Only a Broom – performance by Maria Pinińska-Bereś

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Date: December 1984

Participant: Maria Pinińska-Bereś

Organizer: Labirynt Gallery

Location: Labirynt Gallery, Lublin

The performance took place during the exhibition “Intellectual Tendency in Polish Art after the Second World War” and it was one of Pinińska’s first gallery appearances after the martial law was lifted in Poland, during which she refused for political reasons to participate in any art shows organized by official institutions. The first time in her artistic career dressed only in black, without any of the pink attributes so characteristic of her art, she entered the gallery space and, in the midst of the crowd, started to sweep the floor with a broom with a long handle—that was also a flag mast with the little grey linen flag at its end. As the broom cleaned the space under the feet of the audience, the flag made the air above everyone’s heads vibrate. After a long while, when the action was over, the artist hung the broom on the wall, making the inscription on the flag fully visible (“Only a Broom”) and left the gallery. Using the popular feminist-art motif of bustling around, and the figure of a witch, in an ironic and characteristic way, Pinińska-Bereś made a comment on the political situation in the Polish art world of those times and in a symbolic way removed a spell that hung over art practice and the art space—she was a supporter of the thesis of the supremacy of the aesthetic over the political in art.


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