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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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Natalia! – performance by Natalia LL

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Date: 1975

Participant: Natalia LL

Organizer: Fourth Meeting Festival Art in Belgrade

Location: Turkish Hall, Belgrade

Natalia LL emphasizes the conjunction and disjunction of the work of art’s experience by the viewer and the artist-as-producer. During the performance, an actress read out a text—a “libretto”[1]—which was then repeated by a chorus of university students. LL played the role of the conductor of a spectacle taking place in a room with excellent acoustics: “The impression was extraordinary, because the chanted words were for me a message of the forgotten language of some unknown civilization. The energy of the words blasted in the historic interior.”[2] The gesture was based on a purely intellectual procedure, focused on the analysis of a word—the artist’s name, one of the components of subjectivity: “Treating letters as individual elements, ‘bricks,’ which form words, and changing the order of letters, I used them for constructing new words. In this way the building NATALIA! originated as a result of the multiplication.”[3] What is also interesting here are the games played on the author’s figure in the text, where the subject manifests itself and deconstructs itself through the interventions on its name, and the subjective position taken by the artist on a variety of levels.


[1] Natalia LL, “PERMAFO — SUMA,” in Prace Natalii LL 1970–1973 (Galeria PERMAFO: Wrocław, 1973).

[2] Natalia LL, “Natalia! (1),” trans. K. Bartnik, in Natalia LL, Teksty (Bielska Gallery: Bielsko-Biała, 2004), 290.

[3] Ibid., 285.


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NUDE/MODEL – exhibition and performance by Orsolya Drozdik

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Date: 4-10 January 1977

Performed by: Orsolya Drozdik

Opening : András Halász (1946), Zsigmond Károlyi (1952), Károly Kelemen (1948), Miklós Erdély (1928-1986), László Beke (1944)

Location: Club of Young Artists, Budapest

Orsolya Drozdik – then member of the postconceptualist artist group, the Rózsa Circle (1976-77) – drew a female nude in the exhibition space for a week. The “exhibition” was opened every day by four different male artists and an art historian. The visitors were not allowed to enter the room where the artist and the model were working, but could only see them from the door which was covered by gauze. Emese Süvecz (curator) made oral history interviews with the participants to reconstruct the event.

Document:

Emese Süvecz’s interview with the participants of “Nude/Model” (2007)


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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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MAJ 75 — F

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Date: 1981

Concept: Vlasta Delimar

Participants: Breda Beban, Rada Čupić, Vlasta Delimar, Sanja Iveković, Jasna Jurum, Vesna Miksić, Vesna Pokas, Bogdanka Poznanović, Duba Sambolec, Edita Schubert, Branka Stanković, Iris Vučemilović

Location: Maj 75 — F (samizdat)

Maj 75 was a self-published magazine initiated in 1978 by a group of Zagreb-based artists— the Group of Six Artists, or “the group of friends,” as they refer to themselves in the introductory pages of the magazine.1 In connection to their self-organized “exhibition-actions,” the publication was conceived as a “magazine-catalogue,” another hyphenated neologism with which they attempted to overcome conventional and institutionalized ways of presenting art. Comprised solely of pages presenting artworks, the magazine can be viewed as an alternative exhibition space, enabling the artists to communicate their work to the public without the mediation and the sanctioning authority of art institutions and curators. Between 1978 and 1984, seventeen issues were published (marked by letters of the alphabet instead of numbers), with an additional one produced in 1990, and commemoratively called Ex-Maj.

The F issue, published in 1981, was conceived by artist Vlasta Delimar as a presentation of female artists who were active within the Yugoslav “new art practice” scene. The introductory page stated that very few female artists had been featured in Maj 75, which was the main motivation for dedicating a special issue to them. The magazine was produced in the home-run print studio of Delimar and her then partner and Group of Six member, Željko Jerman, with whom she worked on technical execution of each issue. By proposing and realizing her concept for the special issue on women artists, including herself, Delimar brought forward her own creative, and no longer just technical, “behind the scenes” contribution to the magazine, together with enhancing the visibility of the work of other Yugoslav women artists.2

From the 1950s to mid-1970s, the Yugoslav art scene was dominated by male artists and male artist groups; prominent women artists, such as Sanja Iveković or Marina Abramović were the exception. By the end of the 1970s, the situation started to change and more women artists were becoming active art-scene protagonists, especially with the “return of painting” in the early 1980s. The F issue of Maj 75 is a small testament to this change, even if not all of its contributors have continued to pursue their artistic careers, and today’s audiences would be unfamiliar with some of the artists’ names. A number of the Maj 75 contributions included in the issue were explicit gender-conscious interventions that responded to the history of art as a male-dominated narrative.

Guide for the chronology (Ivana Bago: Something to think about: values and valeurs of visibility in Zagreb from 1961 to 1986)


1 The group included Boris Demur, Željko Jerman, Vlado Martek, Mladen Stilinović, Sven Stilinović, and Fedor Vučemilović. The name of the magazine Maj 75 (May 75) referred to the date when the group came together to start its collaborative work.

2 Vlasta Delimar is not credited for the concept of this issue of the magazine. However, the assumption that the issue was her idea based on the motivations stated above was confirmed in an e-mail to the author (July 14, 2014), and also in the catalogue titled Vlasta Delimar: To sam ja / This Is I, which accompanied her solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb in 2014, and was edited by Martina Munivrana.

 


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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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