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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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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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