Ewa Malgorzata Tatar: Detailed description of the exhibition “Women’s Art 1980”

Women’s Art 1980 – exhibition

In a smaller space of the “L”-shaped gallery, art pieces from Pinińska-Bereś’s cycle Psycho Furniture were shown. There was the white Tent from 1976 with a tube-chimney whose open entrance ironically encouraged the viewers to express themselves while, at the same time, pointing to the impossibility of performing the gesture outside the field of dominant culture: “If you have been suppressing / your voice for too long / if you feel bad / enter the Tent and shout! / P.S.: Leave your shoes outside!” Another work was the pink Venus of the Sea Froth (1977) and the pink-and-white Bed with Rabbit (1975). In the same space, the artist performed Washing, and  the installation stayed up after the performance. During the performance she washed pieces of fabric and hung them up to form an inscription: “feminism.” This can be read as a critical act from inside the feminist movement, and from the perspective of the practice of the artist it can be viewed as an attempt to return to the personal and erotic dimension of feminist reflection.

Where the spaces intersected the curator put Pinińska’s Banner (1980), an artifact left after one of her private performances held outdoors—addressed only to the eyes of the camera and some invited guests—in which she reflected on the balance of the personal and the political, and the feminist and the artistic, in her practice. The main gallery space was organized by the pink stream of soft fabric spilling out of the centrally positioned Well of Pink (1977), which can be perceived as symbolic of the artist’s strategy—nonconfrontational, ironic political subversion, confined, however, to the field of art—and can be treated as a poetic metaphor for the act of speaking. The photos and works on paper of other participants were hung around the space, according to the photo documentation and my interview with Izabella Gustowska. Krystyna Piotrowska’s installation of pieces of papers with handwritten quotations from literature by women writers—the fragments related to the creation of women’s consciousness,  experiences, and acts of establishing subjectivity—was displayed there (and her four “antigravity” drawings were put on the roof beam, crosswise through the gallery space, self portraits very characteristic for this period of her practice). Teresa Tyszkiewicz’s photos from her movies screened during the symposium—Day by Day (1979/80) and The Grain (1980)— were also included in this section. Both dealt with feminine sexuality viewed through cultural oppression and negotiated through film techniques. She also exhibited drawings: one was made by sticking a large amount of tailor’s pins, one by one, into white paper (later she used different materials to stick pins into). Natalia LL’s photographic documentation of a performance for camera was included—a “séance” titled The Pyramid (1979) from the The Dreaming cycle. Also exhibited was Ewa Partum’s photomontage series Self-Identification, in which the artist examines the alienation of women in the People’s Republic of Poland as well as the alienation of the woman artist’s practice in the context of the political reality and art institutions of those times. In the mezzanine of the gallery, Anna Kutera showed her Hairstyles (1978) from the series Situations Stimulated. She also made a commentary during the symposium about the need for freedom — describing her attitude not only as artistic but also social.

During the symposium Natalia LL and Partum also made live appearances. LL sat on a chair in an empty space and read aloud from a book (unfortunately on one remembers which one) while assuming various bodily positions until the chair fell over. As in the Dreaming or States of Concentration series, the emphasis was on the inner experience and a sort of iconoclastic exclusion of the viewer’s presence during the action—the artist stresses the need for the incubation/sublimation of an idea originating in the collective experience into an art form using inner illumination. Partum presented a performance piece called Women, Marriage Is Against You!. She used scissors to cut open a plastic envelope with a card reading “For the man” and then cut her wedding dress in pieces, thus symbolically freeing herself from the cultural myth predestining the woman to a passive role in society, degrading her to the private sphere—from the cultural myth according to which a woman can only attain happiness through marriage, to which girls are socialized. The performance’s documentation was used in a Polish Film Chronicle newsreel about Partum called The Emancipationist from Poland. After the performance, the artist presented her films and, standing naked, talked to the audience for a long time about the cultural oppression of women. Gustowska herself showed a 16 mm movie referring to her cycle Relative Similarities (1979–90). In the film (related to the phenomenon of) she appeared with her sister, who is eight years older than her,both dressed in swimming suits and blond, curly wigs. On site, Gustowska made some comments about the movie—as she describes it, she created the narrative situation.