What both performance art and critical art1 share is a similar nature of their intervention into social and political spheres. Both of these artistic trends tend to rely on a similar strategy namely strategy of subversion - self-identification with the subject of critique followed by subtle changes of meaning. Syncretism plays a role here of a complementary strategy - combining things which should never be combined. Similarly to performance art, critical art does not express criticism in a straightforward way leaving some of the meanings intangible for the audience. Ambivalence is more of a principle here than an easy structure indicating critical nature of a given work. Additionally, both arts share their classification as marginal arts as well as their readiness to undertake critical issues.
This does not exhaust the list of similarities, which does not go on to say that the trends are identical, even when they provoke fierce opposition from all conservative, institutionalised activists.
Critical art selects a specified and visible ideological option. It contains strong signs and symbols which must stimulate strong emotions. Performance art, on the other hand, in its main stream avoids such an ideological bias and is not "pre-programmed" with issues to attack. It remains open and rapidly reacts to the world. It is not engaged in regular disputes with ideologies, it avoids self-mythology, introduces more of a blurred and complex picture of the world and performance art as a living art is surrounded by changing contexts which must be accounted for, e.g. place-specific features, varying audiences, technical possibilities.
Critical art is in a way pre-programmed with a number of disputable (controversial??) issues: Catholic morality, sexuality, body awareness, great ideologies. Its stiff programme represents a restriction in flexible reaction to the world. It often happens that a work of art is noticed through an escalating visual or... ideological provocation. Critical art strives to be present in renown art galleries, it is ready for a conflict or a scandal and a great controversy in the media. It does not feel well when marginalized although following a few scandals, that is exactly what happens to it. This is contrary to performance art which indeed searches for marginal places.
Critical art applies its own logics where crisis spots become confirmation of its own rightness and a necessary material for further works of art. Such a standpoint is not characteristic of performance art although one might find similar standpoints of individual performers (Brener, Kantor, Kulig). Luckily, this is not a rule and discussions provoked by particular works remains a priority.
Through its self-definition and especially seizure of the adjective "critical", critical art deprives any other art of being "critical", which is an obvious abuse, an act of violence or even a false axiom.
Performance art does not have to be critical at all times yet it may, or even should, contain self-criticism, as with Derrida. It is not possible with critical art which is always critical towards some group of people and never towards itself.
Performance art often takes on a form of strong social and political criticism.
The 11th festival was marked by restriction of the freedom of speech in Poland and it was especially during this year's event that a relation between performance and critical arts became visible. Apart from the discussion on the freedom of speech another important issue was the war in Iraq, memories of the beginnings of freedom in Poland but it was also the repressive nature of today's culture or culture traits that was on agenda: insignificance of our own selves in today's world, excess of iconic theories, works and authorities, excess of institutions and procedures. During the festival we commented upon the court sentence in Dorota Nieznalska's case and the conflict which arose around the "Let them see us" exhibition which was designed to oppose homophobia in Poland. It so happened that the festival hosted Tomasz Kitlinski and Pawel Leszkowicz as well as Dorota Nieznalska who had participated in the exhibition respectively in Gdansk and in Ustka.
Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska / Slupsk - "Body & Sin" performance. The performance was staged in the "Dolphin" cinema in Ustka. It started with a simple presentation of a picture of a magnetic toy acrobat turning around its own pivot - from a video camera via a projector onto the cinema screen. The acrobat would perform funny and artificial figures. Through similarities of parts of its outfit, the acrobat resembled the figure we subsequently saw on the screen - the person of the judge from a documentary on Dorota Nieznalska's trial "The sentence".2
The performers acted separately. Rybska presented various objects stored in transparent containers on the table. She showed them to the audience keeping a necklace which emitted light. Among the objects there were: paprika, pasta, cornflakes, two dildos, plastic fluorescent crucifix, handcuffs, a black whip, condoms. All the objects were stored in glass or other transparent containers. Simultaneously, Kazmierczak took off his jacket and started to cover his white jacket with plastic rubbish sacks which formed a kind of cloak or frill. Then very slowly he spread black mud from the Dead Sea over his face. He then dried his face, head and hair with a hair-drier. After removing the rubbish sacks he put on his jacket again Rybska fastened him to the chair with handcuffs to hit him with the whip. Towards the end of the presentation, the performers started baying like wolves. The performance referred back to the primary system of human priorities, one unspoilt by ideologies which became tragedy of the artist and of the artistic world. In a place called Modelarnia in Gdansk the performance was witnessed by Nieznalska who could not resist seizing the whip from Rybska and hitting with it the image of the speaking judge. This constituted an additional, unexpected action provoked by the artist. The "The sentence" performance was presented for the third time in an auditorium of the Anderson School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Tomasz Kitlinski & Pawel Leszkowicz / Lublin / Poznan - performance "To cut". The performance constituted an extremely simple manifestation in demand of tolerance for homosexualism. They stood on stage within some distance from each other and back to the audience. The tape recorder played a lengthy (11 minutes) parody of a speech of a woman hating gays. We heard virtually all popular, vulgar opinions on homosexuals. In essence, their performance was a terrifying critique of the culture and - needless to say - social homophobia. At the end of the recording they both turned around and held each other by hand. Their come-out was indeed a simple finale of the performance. Incidentally, Pawel and Tomek met in 1995 in Ustka during the "Polish Performance" festival organised by Baltic Gallery of Contemporary Art.
Vanessa Gilbert / Providence / USA - "I want to live in America" performance.
Vanessa took us on a small trip away from the cinema - to an Internet cafe, a cash dispenser and the harbour. These were three points were advanced technology could be met which was primarily imported from America. Gilbert lay flowers and put candles in these places claiming that each state should be free to live as it desires and not in the way America imposes on it. The Internet cafe (flowers + a notebook with her thoughts in it), cash dispenser (flowers), the wharf (a few dollars sunk in). Yet, in other words, the world, Europe trails very closely behind America at the same time being a much more attractive place on Earth and international corporations radically change the false impression of Americans that everyone would like to imitate them.
Nicola Fragione / Monza / Italy - "Rapporti orali e trasversalità sonore" performance. Nicola Frangione is an inter-disciplinary artist experimenting in many media: visual arts, book illustrations, music, poetry, video, theatre, visual poetry and mail art. He is one the major figures of Italian performance art, representing its main poetic stream - sound poetry (poesia sonore). In Ustka he gave a spectacular, beautiful sound-and-visual performance.
Jed Speare / Boston / USA - "Sub - mission Regarding Juliett 484" performance. Jed Speare showed an interesting film and a lively interaction with it. He sat down on a chair and moved in a strange, uncoordinated fashion. The film had quite a complex behavioural narration - from an image of street sweeping up to pictures from the interior of parts of the Juliett 484 submarine. The black-and-white, archaic-like film with jumping stills introduced aesthetics of American underground and amateur films. Jed Speer's performance was an interesting reaction of the artist, some sort of his reply to the contact with the submarine and the reminiscence of totalitarian times.
John Boehme / Victoria / Canada - "Nine Holes" performance in town. This was one of the strangest performances I have seen in my life. Early in the morning, on a rainy day and so practically without any audience Boehme started a game of golf dressed up for a typical golfer on the harbour quay. With a perfect stroke of his golf club he hit the ball over the port channel - 80 m. Then he put his golf club behind the belt of his trousers and jumped into the river. He swam across leaving the audience on the right side of it in trouble. We could continue watching the performances only after we have driven to the other bank. Boehme was an extremely friendly player who easily established fantastic contact with people he accidentally came across. His urban golf - turning the city people's entertainment into a city entertainment - was extremely well perceived by accidental passers-by. Probably because it represented a critical view of culture, depriving the game of golf of its snob and posh nature. A similar performance was given by John Boehme in the Gdansk Shipyard and titled "Nine and Dine". He started his game of golf in the Modelarnia building and finished it by gate number 1 at 21.00 eating an enormous hamburger from McDonald's. Yet another performance was presented by John Boehme in Ustka and Gdansk titled "Ready for the Day". The performer presented a typical morning toilet of a businessman before leaving for work. It is a classic performance repeated in many places varying course of action depending on context. He used a camera wired to the video projector for the performance. He watched himself in the LCD camera screen as if in a mirror. The picture emitted by the video projector is displayed on the wall or on the screen. Boehme shaves with a credit card, cuts out hairs from the nostrils and by approaching the camera he produces an anti-aesthetic magnification of his face. In the final stage, he pomades his lips, cuts his hair, wears elegant shirts and other parts of outfit and is ready for the day. The performance is an ironic critique of the model of contemporary man. Shaving with a credit card, wearing a funny toupee on the head, putting on an excessively tight suit would always have a comic effect. In the collapsing shipyard the performance was read as a particularly cruel joke.
Marilyn Arsem / Boston / USA - performance "Foreign Policy". The performance by Marilyn Arsem had a very simple course of action. The artist put a pot with a plant on the table, watered it and cared for it only to take out a stone from her bag and use it to hit the plant in the pot. Once the pot had fallen into pieces she bandaged the whole thing and repeated the same activities. The performance ended with the pot and the plant completely destroyed. The performance given in Modelarnia ended with a part of speech by G. Bush from an Air Force One aircraft during which he claimed that he felt a proud commander of the American army which has a long-standing tradition of bringing humanitarian aid to people. A couple of hours after the attack on Iraq. The performance by Marilyn Arsem was a commentary on her country's foreign policy. The "Foreign Policy" performance was repeated in New York in Chashama.
This is what Lukasz Guzek wrote on American performance: "The moods of their performances were primarily meditatively sad, slightly bitter which resembled the Polish spirit of the 80s during the martial law. Is this the spirit of America at war? Does culture sense this mood? Surely this is the conclusion drawn by opinion-making circles. This general impression is even stronger as American performance thus far was primarily known in its version staged by Fluxus artists." And before: "The Americans were nice people but in artistic terms they turned out to be bores; their works were intelligibly and clearly structured conclusions on issues far from obvious or simple. They were great aestheticians but at the same time academics, which combined with the excessively clear narration deprived their works of dynamics, this living force which makes the performances art - be it hash, unclear or even stupid - capable of raising emotions and inspire with some kind of vitality."
Referring to this comment we might agree that he has got the point. American cultural elites take over the responsibility for the bad image of America in the world, they adopt some form of criticism (not only in arts), yet they do it in a too serious and too careful a way since they do not sense any support or social protest in the meaning of one from the 60s and 70s.
KKO Group (Marta Jurkowska, Malgorzata Migula, Emilia Musial) / Poznan / Lublin / Gdansk - performance # 1 "Let it be". The Castle of Imagination is a festival promoting beginning performance artists. This year it was a female group KKO (homophone with the Polish word for "cocoa" which the girls apparently love) that presented themselves. It appears, however, that the group was established only for the time being and we should not expect any continuation of their activity. Their performance titled "Let it be" referred to religion: in front of a kitsch picture of Madonna sitting on a cloud and pouring flowers, whose dress rim is being lifted by a pigeon, the three girls sat. One of them thrust herself with pain onto the floor and the other two lay her on the bed in front of the picture. Something red started leaking heavily from between her legs. While she is suffering the other two start signing "Let it be" a capella.
In the already-known performance by KKO titled "Plague" the girls make the audience burst out with infectious, hysteric laughter. The bewildered public see no reason at first why they should laugh. Later on they join in laughing, however, due the absurdity of the situation and because the others do. Application of human laughter which in itself constitutes a message of a kind expressed by our body could be meaningful should it be followed by some sort of conclusion, the point of laughing for nothing / in vain.
Milan Kohout & Mari Novotny-Jones / Boston / USA - "Weight" performance. The performance was most likely a presentation of the ideological conflict between the publicly announced pacifism of the Church and their argumentation allowing for the possibility of war. Mari introduces a female plot of a woman suffering from the loss of her relatives (at war?). Lukasz Guzek wrote in "Spam": "In Ustka they showed a little theatre, a pretty dramatic HE - SHE story. We saw an interesting effect of smashing watermelons in the final part which was naturally accompanied by fountains of flesh bursting out onto the spectators and a most refreshing smell dispersing in the art gallery. In our mind, performance art is an opposition to theatre and therefore the etude was not a performance as such. Yet it was loved by members of the audience as it had a number of aesthetic sensations, which are sometimes absent from performances proper.
Angel Pastor / Barcelona / Spain - "Moi, je me presente" performance. The artist formed a ball with his own clothes + newspapers, with which he sort of identified himself. He then cut his bare feet with a razor, put them in two buckets with sea water and walked out from the art gallery pulling a ball behind. I would not like to call this performance a ritual yet anything Pastor did could have been understood as focusing on something which was yet to come. His identity was constructed with something temporary - some pieces of clothing staffed with newspapers.
Magda Sowierszenko & Eugen Proba / Slupsk / Bochum - "Maria Magdalena" performance. From the closed art gallery we could hear sounds of a porn film. On the gallery door Eugen wrote a telephone sex line number and invited audience one by one, handing out condoms to the men. In all, 12 spectators were invited inside where Magda, wearing hardly any clothes, washed the legs of each in-coming person. Magda - Magdalena, the biblical prostitute - had her legend evoked to deal with the complex issue of paid love for a woman (women?) as well as the return to normal life.
Antoni Szoska / Krakow - performance "Body, Mind, Art czyli jak pokazac wyznania chaotycznego umyslu 'international'" / "Body, Mind, Art or how to present confessions of a chaotic ‘international' brain". The performance was accompanied by a chorus from a Polish children's song "wlazl kotek... i mruga." The artist's credo: "My art express the id, ego and superego of a teacher at the fine arts academy - at a university level." In his art we immediately identify great erudition enabling him to play without restrictions with a number of quotations taken from icons of modern art, philosophy, literature, rock music, folk art and the absurd reality. Szoska presents his intellectual background, its orderlilessness, relativity, surprise at every bit of a word, sound, memory, thought, dream and daydreaming suppositions. We do not know exactly whether the professor (MA) while uncovering his brain de-constructs ideas, plays with Nietzsche, the Beatles and folk songs or whether he is trying to show the whole helplessness of his "weak sentences" against the ocean of culture icons in which he moves about with a hedonistic liking. Performances by Antoni Szoska must be addressed to an integrated audience and most favourably to the Cracovian audience which perfectly understands all of his gestures and absurd speeches. It proved perfectly right in Providence, Boston and New York where the audience felt like spacemen, remaining in complete ignorance of this "performer-ironist's" performance.
Artur Grabowski / Krakow -"C.V." performance. The idea behind the performance was focused around the hundreds of institutions overwhelming us from birth to death. The performer hammered dozens of Polish abbreviations to the door with long nails: PKP, ASP, PZU, MGR, UM, RP, PRL etc. and then suddenly escaped from them. For the remaining time he was accompanied by the biting institutions. The performance was dangerous and required great physical strength. Luckily, the performer was not hurt by the nails which falling towards the artist in the final stage of the performance.
Dominik Zlotkowski / Zielona Gora - "mickiewicz + polmos = euro / citizen henryk z." performance. Zlotkowski is a young performer artist. In his presentations he deals with social issues (prostitution, power, bureaucracy, consumption society, politics - in its pejorative meaning) and moral issues (conversion, sanctification, dogmas, pursuance to perfection, archetype of saviour). At least that is what he declares. The performance given dealt with and combined only a few of them.
Aleksandra Kubiak / Zielona Gora - "For them" performance. The performer was hanging below art gallery ceiling in UV light. In her lips she had a plastic straw leading to bottle from which she would drink something. The performance was accompanied by soundtrack with a rhythmical sound supplementing the psychedelic picture.
In Gdansk, Aleksandra Kubiak gave a performance titled "I love". She appeared naked and knelt on the table with inscription "I love" on her belly. She started pinning needles to her belly. She then painted her body with red lipstick and asked men to kneel by her side and touch her "bloody" body. The men who were selected were confused by the situation but let the performer lead their hands on her body.
A slightly different version of the performance was shown by Aleksandra Kubiak in Providence: she was hanging in UV light inside a submarine (the performance was nearly identical with the one she gave in Ustka). whereas in Boston and New York she pinned boiled eggs to her body and white paper flowers attached to syringe needles. The magnified image of the artist from a video camera made a great impression.
Christian Schmidt - Chemnitzer / Berlin / Germany - performance. The artist stood on a ladder for 6 hours.
Yin Peet & Antoni Szoska / Boston / Krakow - performance - "Cross to Lingam" - a tribute to Dorota Nieznalska. The performance was devoted and dedicated to Dorota Nieznalska and highlighted critical nature of performance art. The artist made a huge phallus figure of wire (‘Ligam' in Hindu is the name of mythical penis), which she went on to change into a cross, put two brooms into it with bread loaves on them. The performance was arranged around a strange totem. During the performance bread was given out to the audience and the rest was crashed and scattered on the floor. Then we witnessed a relatively long scene of the bread bits being swept and the whole thing was finished with a joint dance of Antoni Szoska and Yin Peet.
Mari Novotny - Jones / Boston / USA - "Sub Rosa" performance. Mari sat down and peeled potatoes in an extremely expressive place. She had a monitor under her feet with a video film with recorded hands of a small child. The performance lasted for 6 hours.
Milan Kohout / Boston / USA - "Word of God" performance. Milan is a Czech. He used to be a film producer and editor and a founder and active member of KARTA 77 - a human rights organisation. He would frequently visit Poland. He (apparently) participated in the strikes of the Gdansk Shipyard. During the performance Milan Kohout locked himself in a cage with three chickens and read out the Bible to them. This was to resemble to atmosphere in the Gdansk Shipyard during the strikes. There were recognisable recordings of talks of militia commandeers from 1970 about moves of the manifestation. Petrol was poured onto the Bible. Everybody was expecting it to burst in fires but luckily it never happened.
Vanessa Gilbert / Providence / USA - "Memento Mori" performance. This performance was related to American reality. The performer dressed up for a sexy Statue of Liberty which was in the final part sprinkled with personal data plates. The personal data plates she used were the same as American soldiers wear but instead of personal numbers we could read quotations from Homer and American poets on them. Paradoxically, these "everlasting" plates remind us that we might be expecting an opposite situation. They are produced and worn to enable identification of a dead soldier's body.
After its Polish part the festival was moved to the USA: Providence, Boston and New York. In America the festival constituted a separate project and it was called Juliett 484 after a Soviet submarine which is exhibited in a port near Boston as a tourist attraction. The Modelarnia building, ethos of the Gdansk Shipyard and the said submarine served as a framework of the bravery underlying the joint venture of Polish artists and artists grouped around MOBIUS and the Schools of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. All this was aimed at finding funds for the artists. Incidentally, it could also be said that it was an example of non-threatening trickery and at making the Polish-American exchange well-understood by an excessively bureaucratic foundation.3
The artists were not, however, obliged to interpret the idea literally and create their performances on demand as this would be completely impossible and without purpose.
The concert by Marek Choloniewski - although staged aboard a submarine - did not change its formal structure or the structure of meaning.
Performances given by Antoni Szoska and Vanessa Gilbert were presented in Park Tower nearby, yet they did not make any reference to the context of the submarine.
Neither did the performance by Artur Grabowski and Pawel Kwaśniewski who told us further parts of the stories of Jose Rodrigez Montoja. On the other hand, the claustrophobic space of the submarine and its surroundings inspired to act in this unique context. Marylin Arsem gave her performance in the largest room aboard the submarine designed for a KGB officer whispering something (we do not know what?) and looking at a mirror facing the corridor. Mari Novotny-Jones was cooking some soup in the galley, completely lacking space and making the odour of burnt fat spread all over the boat.
Aleksandra Kubiak. In Boston and New York she pinned boiled eggs to her body and white paper flowers attached to syringe needles. The magnified image of the artist from a video camera made a great impression.
Jed Speare repeated his performance from Ustka but this time aboard the boat and his film became autonomous and was shown non-stop.
Milan Kohout, maniac-like stubbornly, used his loudspeaker to continuously repeat his impressive discovery "there is sand under the water here" repeatedly sinking his head in a barrel filled with water and sand. Expectedly, he disturbed the other performers without paying attention to the decisions made before.
Artur Grabowski gave a spectacular performance titled "Successor - Admiral" on a platform by the submarine.
Ewa Rybska & Wladyslaw Kazmierczak "The Giants" performance". On the platform beside the submarine, the artists hung up about 100 large photographs of the strike in the Gdansk Shipyard. Performing as if in slow motion, the performers collected field flowers and grass and put them on paper trays in front of each photograph. The performance took a few hours. The point of the performance was laid down in the following words: "Presented photographs were originally taken during the historical workers' strike at the shipyard in Gdansk / Poland, August 15th -31st 1980, when ‘Solidarity' came into being. The workers created the first independent union in the whole communist system. They developed a unique movement bringing back the human dignity and elementary human rights. Because of this strike, the consciousness of the Polish people was changed; they started to believe in the possibility of creating a free country with democratic rules. This strike also brought us to intensive thinking about the breakdown of the Yalta Agreement, which divided Europe into two parts and pushed Poland into a totalitarian ideology. During the strike the Soviet navy stood all the time in the Gdansk Bay in visible distance. The Navy wanted to give a signal and visible pressure that they would defend the communist ideology and Soviet empire. The peaceful revolution in Poland was very threatening to the totalitarian system. Today's context: demobilized Soviet submarine / photos of shipyard workers reminds us of a gloomy time, which we hope, will never come back.
The action by Grzegorz Klaman was the least intelligible. He glued the word "Solidarity" to the submarine and celebrated doing so with a bottle of champagne which could not, however, be broken against the submarine rubber casing. We might speak here of the victory of democracy over totalitarian system but what followed was completely impossible to understand: Klaman climbs the boat and hangs a black-and-white-and-red flag. We do understand why Klaman had made such a flag but we do not understand why use it in this context. In the case of this artist I believe we might occasionally talk of a syndrome of complex over-criticism. His further performances in Boston and New York do - to some extent - explain his unexpectedly simple standpoint which is criticising Solidarity for its excessive conservatism and dependence on the Church and they compare Walesa to Lenin(?).
In New York and Boston the performers were not forced anymore to remember of the context of the submarine.
Artur Grabowski presented two versions of the same performance dealing with Polish qualities: advantages and downsides. Yet what turned out to be very fresh and interesting was his spontaneously presented story on three Polish performers in Budapest who were forced to give a performance by Hungarian mafia. In New York Grabowski performed in Brooklyn - BPM Performance Space.
Ewa Rybska & Wladyslaw Kazmierczak gave a performance titled "Paranoia is un-American" which turned out very spontaneous due a breakdown of the sound equipment. Since the player did not work properly we could only hear parts of the recording. Structure of the performance was based on a sentence displayed in frame in one of the pubs in Providence "Paranoia is un-American." As tourists who have to have their American visas we had experienced this paranoid over-sensitivity of Americans in security issues and the simultaneous absurd lack of the feeling of security due to the inability to control everything and everyone, due to excess of contradictory procedures. Americans, on the other hand, do not see exactly what is happening around them similarly to Poles in communism. They silently accept restrictions to their personal freedom and the freedom of their friends visiting the USA. Memory of September 11th had paralysed the once-free America and turned it into a dream only for loyal, simple people seeking better work. The performers made a parody of the border crossing: the border was a stretched piece of string and minute American flags. A detailed control, taking the shoes off, peeping into each part of the body... In the background we could hear a conversation on the title. The Americans were surprised with the wording and did not know exactly what they were saying. Obviously, the perception was different in the art gallery in Brooklyn where only the artists participated and different in Chashama - 100 m away from the Times Square. There was an original idea of hiring a helicopter and fly in it over NYC throwing down colourful pieces of paper with the "Paranoia is un-American" slogan, filming the action and presenting the video film in the art gallery. When the performers applied to the organisers, however, they were advised to quit their project asap.
The term critical art is exclusively a Polish invention. In other countries they rather speak of radical or anarchist art or contra-culture art as in Russia. [back]
The following sentence is hereby pronounced on behalf of the Republic of Poland on this 18th day of June 2003 by Regional Court in Gdansk Criminal Division 4 by Mr Justice Tomasz Zielinski accompanied by lay judges Mr Edmund Pieś and Mr Jerzy Gardzielewski and minutes recorder Ms Ewa Wrona after hearings attended by Prosecutor Jolanta Zukowska of the Regional Prosecutor Office in Gdansk on the 16th day of September, 18th day of November 2002, and the 13th day of January, the 3rd day of March, 28th day of April, 2nd day of June, 15th day of July 2003 against Ms Dorota Alicja Nieznalska daughter of Boguslaw and Stefania, born on the 19th day of September 1973 in Gdansk, charged with offending religious sensitivities of numerous individuals by offending an object of religious worship, namely placing male genitals in the central piece of a metal cross in the period between the 14th day of December 2001 and the 21st day of January 2003 in Gdansk at the Passion exhibition held at Wyspa Progress art gallery, i.e. with violating Article 196 of the Penal Code:
The defendant has been charged with acting against Article 196 of the Criminal Code.
Facts concerning the case as outlined below leave no doubt. Ms Dorota Nieznalska exhibited an installation tilted Passion in the Wyspa art gallery. The installation comprised a metal cross with photograph of male genitals placed in its central piece along with a projection of a film showing a man body building at a gym. The installation was exhibited between 14 December 2001 and 21 January 2003 in the art gallery. None of the people questioned in the case hereof directly saw the installation. Each of the people learnt about the installation being exhibited from the media. Some of the claimants attempted to see the installation after its demounting yet they never fulfilled their intention.
Circumstances of the case leave no ground for debate. Judgement on the case in question has been based on the interpretation of Article 196 of the Penal Code and the subsumption of the factual evidence in the sense conveyed by the above-mentioned law achieved through its interpretation.
Article 196 of the Penal Code penalises offending religious sensitivities of others through offending an object of worship in public. It is doubtless that a cross and also the particular cross used for the Passion installation is indeed an object of religious worship, namely it is a symbol dear to Christians. Although Ms Aneta Szylak pointed out as a witness for the Defence that the cross might as well be interpreted as the so-called Greek cross or as a cosmological symbol and that a cross is a symbol of suffering as such, it remains doubtless that in the Polish context, in the Polish tradition of civilisation, the cross is unambiguously associated with martyrdom of Christ.
Furthermore, it needs indicating that it is this meaning of the cross that had been assigned to it in this particular installation by the very name it had been given by the artist. The artist titled it Passion which word does not only mean "commitment" but is as well associated with the martyrdom of Christ. Co-occurrence of the cross and the word unambiguously assigns perception of the cross as a Christian one. While a cross is indeed a symbol of suffering, it needs to be indicated that it in the context of Christian civilisation it is so only for the reason that Jesus Christ died on one.
Moreover, it is doubtless that the cross was subjected to indignity. In the Passion installation, in its metal cross element, in its central piece traditionally used for placing the body of Jesus Christ on it, a male member, male genitals were placed instead. It is obvious for all that the co-occurrence of the title "Passion" and the cross with male genitals placed on the spot traditionally used for placing Christ on it offers a juxtaposition for a Christian believer with a unique interpretation, which unfortunately is the juxtaposition of both objects placed on the cross: Christ and the genitals. In the Judge's assessment, it is doubtlessly offensive for Christians.
To become penalised by Article 196, an act is required to be committed in public and it is indeed doubtless that in this case the offence did occur in public. Given a situation where one hangs the cross in one's flat, the act would not be penalised by Article 196 even were the flat to be open for public. This cross, however, was placed in an art gallery open to public as an element of the Passion installation. It has been brought up in this trial that the art gallery is visited by a specific audience, namely people involved in art and even narrower: in modern art. This circumstance does not, however, cancel the public nature of the exhibition with a piece by Ms Dorota Nieznalska. Under the above circumstances, it is maintained that the act possesses all necessary qualities to fall under Article 196 of the Penal Code.
The Defence brought up the issue of intention as significant in the case. It is doubtless that Article 196 typifies an offence which may only be committed deliberately and it expectedly does not specify whether this deliberation need be potential or direct. In some cases, existence of a potential deliberation is excluded due to such a peculiar nature of an offence which indicates that it may only be committed with direct deliberation. As for Article 196 of the Penal Code, the Judge shares the view that the act it penalises may as well be committed with a potential deliberation. This argument, however, is purely academic since, in the Judge's assessment, the Defendant committed the offence deliberately. A distinction needs to be drawn, however, between a direct deliberation oriented at offending particular people and their religious sensitivities from one which is instrumental. It is the latter which, in the Judge's assessment, served the Defendant. Doubtlessly, it was not a direct, thoughtful intention of hers to offend any individuals. As it was rightly pointed out by the Assistant Prosecutor in their final speech, the Defendant strived to achieve an artistic and personal success and to do so she was even ready to offend religious sensitivities, as the Judge finds it impossible to accept that a person with a degree, living in Poland where 95% of the population are Catholics would not realise the repercussion of placing male genitals on a cross where usually there is a figure of Jesus Christ to be found. Therefore the Judge has ruled that the Defendant committed the offence with a direct deliberation.
In the course of the trial the illegality of the act committed by the Defendant was in one instance negated. In particular, the Side seems to have been attempting to create an exclusion area, or a "countertype" for art, maintaining that an artist should be excluded from illegality of their acts even providing that the acts do possess all formal qualities of an illegal act. The Defendant submitted an opinion issued by the Chair of Material Law at the University of Gdansk which provides evidence for the existence of such a countertype. So, a piece should be created by an artist which would make it work of art and the artist would be supposed to aim at artistic objectives. In the Judge's assessment such a countertype simply does not exist as it is not provided for by the law; and otherwise construction of such customary exclusion areas is highly risky. This particular countertype is against Article 32 Item 1 of the Polish Constitution as it excludes certain circles from being responsible for offending people due to a certain circumstance which applies in their case namely their being artists. In the Judge's assessment, such an interpretation is unacceptable.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that assuming such a countertype would not solve the case for its vague and discretionary qualities. First of all, one wonders how to tell whether it was an artist that committed the offence. Is it supposed to be an individual with a degree in arts or is a secondary school sufficient or is it one who eagerly - like boys and girls - paint graffiti on the walls. Are they also artists? Secondly, how to tell whether a piece is a work of art. The issue is relative as for some only paintings by Renaissance masters are works of art while for others these are outdated. For some, the Passion installation is good art as it expands the borders of sculpture while for others it is simply nothing. And an exclusion area may not be construed in such a way that the decision whether a case actually falls under it would de facto depend on discretion of some unspecified individuals.
Similarly with the third quality: the offender was striving to achieve artistic objectives. This remains a quality completely lacking description as what should be the procedure in a criminal case for proving that it was such kind of objectives that the offender was striving to achieve? It would exclusively depend on the Defendant's will who would always be in position to declare that a particular act - obscene as it might be - was aimed at artistic objectives. Assuming such an interpretation, a collection of penal laws would need to be simply removed as any individual would be in position to declare they are an artist and feel entitled by this circumstance to undertake any actions including such that would offend other people's sensitivities.
Yet another issue was brought up during the trial - the issue of culpability. The Defence that turned its attention to the circumstance that the Defendant consulted her intentions with her circle and that the piece was in a way ordered by Gdansk Municipality which co-financed the work. In the Judge's assessment, the above-mentioned circumstances do not, however, exclude the Defendant's culpability. Firstly, what is meant by consultations in one's own circle? The world and Poland alike is not confined to a circle of artists with a liberal viewpoint but comprises many other people including devout believers. The fact that the Defendant did consult her intentions in her own circle does not exclude her culpability. The consultation with the Municipality or rather application submitted to it was rather general in wording which is hardly surprising as artists would not willingly reveal content of their work before an exhibition. Therefore the officials were rather light-hearted to co-finance the work without even becoming familiar with its content or nature. The very fact that the artist's work was granted a subsidy does not exclude her culpability.
An offence against Article 196 of the Penal Code is an offence against material law, i.e. it is committed once no fewer than 2 people feel offended in the particular context of this regulation. It leaves no doubt that during the course of trial there emerged more than 2 people who claimed to feel offended by the installation and ensured us that they would also feel offended were this installation to be shown in public and were they to see it. This is so because it is not the whole of the Passion installation that is offensive but what caused the offence was using the section of a cross - traditionally used to place the figure of Jesus Christ - to place male genitals.
Finally, the last significant issue was the so-called contribution on the Claimant's side. In the course of the trial it was maintained that if one is not willing to see the piece one does not have to see it. It is, however, not the case. Above all, it must be said that Article 196 penalises an offence against an object of worship when it is actually committed and not when it reaches the public in any way whatsoever and offends people's sensitivities. It is therefore not necessary for individuals to face the piece; instead the act becomes penalised once it is exhibited in a public place and individuals become aware of the fact it is exhibited. In such a case the act possesses all the necessary qualities to be penalised. It is therefore indifferent whether the Claimants saw the installation in the Wyspa Progress art gallery or whether they saw it on television; and whether they saw it in its complete form or only after de-mounting. It is sufficient that they were conscious of the fact that there was an installation exhibited which comprised of a cross with male genitals placed on it. To assess the contribution of the Claimant to the penalised act the simple logical relation conditio sine qua non should not be accounted for since it is doubtless that formal logics prevents the act penalised by Article 196 to be committed with no contribution on the Claimant's side. Should the claimant never and in no way become familiar with the fact that there is such a work being exhibited which would offend their religious sensibilities when it is seen, no offence penalised by Article 196 would occur. This is not to mean, however, that once the Claimant becomes familiar with the work from - say - television then they contribute one of the qualities to the penalised act - they simply feel offended.
Should we adopt the strictly logical approach outlined above, a paradox would emerge in which even a victim of murder would be partially culpable for act committed by the offender because she appeared in a given place at a given time thus enabling the offender to commit an act penalised by Article 148 of the Penal Code, i.e. murder. Therefore such an approach may not be accepted by the Judge.
A question was posed in the course of the trial why it is only Ms Dorota Nieznalska that had been charged while the Passion installation was made public also by other people. This issue has a strictly procedural nature. The amended Criminal Proceeding Code does not authorise the Judge to expand indictment onto other people in any way. Therefore the case was not considered by the Judge. The Prosecutor indicted Ms Dorota Nieznalska exclusively and the court proceedings were only related to the indicted person.
The Judge rejected probative motions made by both sides as redundant. Primarily, the motion made by Ancillary Prosecutor to allow for an expert's report was rejected as irrelevant since the trial dealt with offending religious sensitivities and not the potential of offending them. Therefore the evidence was completely inapplicable. As for the motion to reconstruct the Passion installation, it was found unnecessary and unhelpful for one particular reason: that neither side questioned the fact that the cross with genitals on it was only an element of the installation. Moreover, the Claimants maintained that even if they were to see the installation as a whole they would feel offended by the cross as such. This is why no direct inspection of the cross was necessary as its actual appearance was never questioned.
The motion to allow for an opinion from an History of Art expert to provide evidence that in the Catholic culture, in both texts and paintings, the co-occurrence of suffering and nudity is widespread was also found groundless. Pursuant to Article 168 of the Criminal Proceedings Code, commonly known facts need not be proved. While it is evident that nudity is widespread in the sacred art, it must be observed that it only occurs as a natural condition of the human body - we basically see naked bodies. It is however not the case, at least to the best of the Judge's knowledge, that parts of human body would be represented in separation. In the sacred art there is no motive of separated male genitals placed on the cross in order to be associated with Christ.
As for the motioned assessment of art engagé, the Judge also rejected the expert's opinion for the reason that it is the Judge and not the expert that is in charge of this particular assessment. The Judge does not negate the value of art engagé or any other art since the Judge is not willing to play a critic of literature, painting or sculpture. The very fact, however, whether a piece is or is not to be considered as a work of art be it modern or archaic art remains irrelevant for the fact that religious sensitivities of people may not be offended.
As for the sentence, the Judge shares the view of the Ancillary Prosecutor concerning reasonableness of imposing limitation of freedom on the Defendant. The penalty of fine, on the other hand, has been considered as unreasonable for one good reason: The scandal ignited by the Defendant will inevitably make the Defendant become a celebrity, who she already is, invited to numerous exhibitions and therefore payment of 2000 PLN would not pose any difficulties to her. Therefore, the Judge has found the penalty of limitation of freedom justified.
The Judge has not, however, acceded to the request of the Ancillary Prosecutor to impose social work in favour of Caritas since its not a public utility institution and the court would therefore need to request agreement from this institution for imposing such a duty on it, which may take place during the executive proceedings.
The Defendant has been found guilty and therefore charged with complete cost of the trial.
The sentence is subject to appeal.
The right to apply for sentence justification on paper and subsequently to appeal to District Court in Gdansk through the medium of Regional Court in Gdansk Division 4 Criminal serves within 7 days.
Thank you for everything. [back]
For many months we have been searching for similarities of the Polish and American artists and common contexts which could result in a joint project. In fact, it turned out that we have everything in common; we are artists, we share the same views of the world yet - paradoxically - this was not good enough to attract any financial support. It was great politics that turned out to be a perfect excuse for the support. It was probably Bob Rizzo who thought that the Soviet submarine, which was used as a local tourist attraction, could be something which connects the Polish and the American. How artificial and grotesque the idea was was transparent. Yet for the sake of performance art we have also invented this useful story on the significance of our artistic project. "Another submarine sailed in the water of the Baltic Sea in service of a totalitarian state. The actual presence of the Soviet submarine brings back memories on the cold war and the totalitarian system as well as the tragedy of the Kursk submarine vessel which came from the same production series. It could have been one of the war vessels patrolling the Gdansk Bay during Solidarity strikes in the 80s, it could have visited Ustka or another port on the Baltic Sea. Demobilised after its long service and not armoured anymore it was purchased by Mauno Koivisto - Finnish President's daughter's husband - and anchored in Helsinki to become a restaurant called Juliett 484. Since it caused false alarms in the NATO alarm system it had to be withdrawn from the port. It was chartered to Florida and then purchased by a Providence foundation - Collier Point Park, Providence, Rhode Island. Today it is a tourist attraction and a teaching aid but at the same time a silent and vulnerable monument of the cold war and the communist system. With the Polish part of the project located in Ustka (a port) and the Modelarnia building on the area of the Gdansk Shipyard right next to historical places where the peaceful fight with the totalitarian systems started, the Juliett 484 has gained a distinctive political context." [back]