The performance art festival "Castle of Imagination" is one of just a few, cyclical festivals of this nature organised all over the world. It takes place in a very small town - Bytow, although ideally it should be presented in a well-known art centre. The presence of 180 artists from 25 countries participating in the festival is confirmation that being a performer is a distinct attitude towards oneself and the world, not towards art. Therefore, one can present his / her individual attitude everywhere with no fear that the art system will not accept it.
Upon suggesting this place for our festival to the artists concerned we did not foresee that it would gradually change. The historical space of the Castle in Bytow is no longer the same as we found in 1993. It has been changed by life. The basement has been adapted to a disco and pub. The courtyard that used to be torn and messed up is now tidily paved. There is a bandstand for rock, folk music or for groups of any other kind. Mysteriousness, the solitude of the Castle, the extraordinary atmosphere of the basements, the towers and narrow corridors and, finally, the gothic interiors used to be treated as very special places for the presentation of art. There arises a question if those changes of the festival space have had any influence on the art presented? Certainly no.
The limited and commercialised space have been mastered by artists in many natural ways. Performing in the disco or pub, or using the bandstand for an installation has become examples of the artists' full openness towards the new reality. And as it turned out, it was neither better nor worse. The audience is much more important. This time spectators were not shocked by the various installations or performance art events. The festival, during the last 6 years, has managed to gather its own public. A public which remembers the events of previous festivals. Even the unfavourable, local press this time did not attack artists or organisers. The atmosphere of scandal has calmed down. With a vexatious awareness that the beginnings were completely different. Let us trace what kind of art and what ideas were presented during this year's festival.
Paul Panhuysen (The Netherlands), performance "No music for dogs" & "Music for dogs"
Paradoxically, a very nice dog appeared during the first concert and listened to the sounds created by the artist. Paul Panhuysen installed strings with resonators made of paper and metal cans. The sound of electronic crickets, fed by photoelectric batteries, which produced this sound when the light was on, formed a background to this live event. As a matter of fact, in terms of form it was impossible to distinguish the first concert from the second. The different titles of contrary meanings gave deceiving names to the artworks. Deceivingly playing with art conventions, shaking the substance of work's designation and the composing of pieces with the use of common, everyday objects, all belong to the tradition of Fluxus, of which Paul Panhuysen was a member.
Ewa Smigielska & Wladyslaw Kazmierczak (Poland), performance "Ecstasy"
The significance of this performance was to condense and highlight ideological aspects of pop culture music; those implied ideological meanings underlying the seemingly neutral nature of techno music. Techno - anonymous music, a rhythm and an augury of man's functioning in a separate, technical and technological civilisation, which is beyond any culture. Techno is the ideology of a new lifestyle, a way of thinking and reacting to the world. In the world of the end of ideology.
Ecstasy - a chemical agent stimulating the physical efficiency of an organism, providing one with the illusion of superhuman power - is inherent in techno music.
Irritating, artificial rhythm dictated by two dolphins - trashy gadgets, the rhythm of two rotating fans, a rhythmical stroboscope, a flickering laser beam, ultraviolet light, smoke and rapid, extremely loud techno music were contrasted with the performers' slow behaviour and their chic clothes (suits, white shirts, bow-ties, dark glasses, neat hairstyles). Mirrors, hammers, sickles, white gloves, a violin, violin case and clocks were touched very slowly by the performers, raised and put down by the artists sitting passively, opposite each other at a large, black table. A minimal delay and the repetition of the actions by the female-performer, as well as more gentle way of presenting them, introduced the notion of women's disbelief in the utopia created by men. The rapid rhythm of the techno music provoked an aggressive, extremely dynamic reaction within the performers and audience. The performers acted against this and, in the final phase, stood stock still, holding simultaneously large, wall clocks fully lit and completely silent.
Victor Martinez (Mexico), performance "Bread book"
While Victor Martinez was running around the audience (with his calf bandaged and a Spanish language dictionary attached), Sakino - a Mexican performer, made dough and passed it through a mincer so that it was shaped into thin stripes. Victor Martinez then chose and spoke random words from the dictionary: text, translation, experience, taste, sacrifice..., and afterwards, set them alight. The fire burned as the artist was writing the following onto the dough: This is the book on bread. Once upon the time in Poland, in a big castle, the bread and the things that can be said about bread become one single thing. We said many things, but let's better taste them. 7:26 p.m. 24/6/98. Andrzej"
In the final phase, a selected member of the audience signed the bread. The shaped bread with captions was baked in a local pizzeria and eaten later by the audience.
Hortensia Ramirez (Mexico) "June is the God of Fire"
The artist placed a coat stand in the courtyard and then marked the yard with a diagonal line. She then set fire to the line and performed dancing (ritual?) movements, as if she was walking off balance, passing along the fire. Next, she took a cucumber out of her underwear and stuck it on a hanger, on which plastic bags filled with live frogs were also hung. She poured the content of the bags from one transparent plastic glass to another and drank it. A paradox of this performance lied in a misunderstanding with the life cycle of frogs, as they were only just one centimetre long. The artist expected them to be much bigger, but at the end of June, frogs have not yet grown that large. The artist herself described her performance as follows:
"Equilibrium, as a dualistic symbol, creates a discreetly distorted communication system, underlying experience. Mankind attributes values to the objective world and develops a desire to identify itself with the objectivity. In this dialogue, the information is also dual and distorted, while the desire guided subjective perception."
Linas Liandzbergis (Lithuania), performance "Mix"
The artist used fluids (milk, vodka, coffee, and tomato juice) which he mixed together. Next, he hammered a large photographic negative of his face to a plank. Then, Linas presented slides from two projectors, both showing his face and head with various objects. Together these images recalled surprising and grotesque associations. Sometimes, they were funny, sometimes not, as life can be. A soundtrack that accompanied the presentation was a mixture of recognisable rock music pieces and a variety of specific sounds - such us a helicopter. The objects, that "collided" with the artist's face, were a type of personal story about the past, about the non-pacifistic political system of the past, about being ridiculous, about humiliation, heroic endeavours of extrication from pressurised interactions that had been besetting him. During the performance the story was continued, but it was somewhat different. Existential. Treated with lightness, a sense of humour and grotesque dignity.
Young-Ja Bang-Cho (South Korea), performance "Art of life"
Young-Ja Bang-Cho stretched a woven, blue silk net on a bandstand that had been erected for another concert. The silk, which had just been taken off the cocoon, was raw and natural. Soft and warm. In this prepared installation, the artist moved and danced accompanied by the sounds of Korean folk music and the music of Buddhist temples. She forced her way through the net to descend from the bandstand and write, (paint) a line and some indistinguishable signs with her tongue and lips, on a very long roll of paper till the black ink in her mouth was finished.
Alastair MacLennan (Northern Ireland) & Zygmunt Piotrowski (Poland) - working activity
It was very important that the performance of both artists lasted a few hours in the courtyard, simultaneously to the other presentations. It had an undetermined beginning, form and name. Not too precise.
Both artists have been collaborating with each other for a long time in the international group, Black Market. Alastair MacLennan and Zygmunt Piotrowski in their creation make references to Zen philosophy and also, avoid the notions and definitions accepted for time base art. Searching for new terms obviously has its deeper sense. It is a form of escape from the art market. It abandons set notions and compels artists as well as spectators to do that.
Working activity was a fascinating occurrence. Especially in the beginning, when it was impossible to distinguish everyday actions from art. The artists' behaviour was very ordinary, inconspicuous, faint. Individual activities, which are not recorded by anyone, but seen by everybody. Like the presence of other people. After some time, the audience started to pay attention to the artists. Unnoticeably, they started to create a very strong image. Alastair MacLennan dressed in a long, black coat, decked out with photos and black balloons, held a branch with eels attached to it. Piotrowski, half-naked, with his coat lowered, concentrated an unidentified energy. The artists were slowly approaching each other, creating a mutual context, a form of interdependence.
The semantic level of the working activity had suddenly broadened. The statement, full of humility that we all are the part of nature, cosmic space, seemed to be a basic idea of their performance.
Victor Petrov-Chrucki (Belorus), performance "Dada - Dao - reflection"
The performance of Victor Petrov merged two actions: a shamanistic, healing activity and reminiscences about the rebellious attitude of the Dadaists towards culture. The artist dressed in a white smock and cap, like a surgeon, whirled above his head a bright electric light bulb over a previously laid black circle on the ground. He smashed the bulb. Sifting white chalk from a pattern stencil he sprinkled the caption DADA - DAO - REFLECTION on the black circle and then, pouring vodka on a figure of the Venus de Milos, he tried to set fire to it. Afterwards, he attached glass healing cups to himself and laid down in the circle.
Lee Sang-Jin (Korea), performance "The thinking man"
It was a bitter reflection about culture, but realised in a very light manner, with a sense of humour. The neatly dressed artist began his performance with several simple actions of washing popular toys and gadgets - teddy bear, for example. Then, he hung the washed objects on a wall and dried them. Next, he submerged his face in the wash-basin and afterwards, chose some young spectators and inserted a hanger into their clothes and hung them up on the wall. He gradually took off his own clothes and also hung them with the others. In the final moment, completely naked he hung himself on the wall, like Christ on the crucifix. Then he sat down and fell into thought. Like Rodin's "Thinking man" with the company of pop-culture gadgets.
Hercus Kuncius (Lithuania) & Malgorzata Kazmierczak (Poland) text "Seven dreams"
Hercus Kuncius had been invited to Bytów as a very special guest. As an intelligent observer of art. Surprised by the suggestion of performing - he agreed to a presentation of his text. The performance also took an unexpected course. Kuncius dressed in the sailor hat of a holiday-maker with a caption: m/s Ustka, Kapitan, delivered a speech, mumbling in a very elegant manner, while Malgorzata Kazmierczak read dispassionately the translation of his mumble into English:
- If I were the image of Julio Iglesias, I would call on Andy Warhol in New York. The old man would be happy to see me and would invite me to go with him to the unpredictable Central Park. We would walk, loaf around, be afraid, hide in the bushes, and then he would say to me: UNFATHOMABLE PEDRO, I LIKE YOU ...
- If I were a poor orphan, I would visit Gilbert & George, thriving in London, they wouldn't invite me anywhere, but they would promise to adopt me. I would thank them and say: HEY, GUYS, I'M OLD ENOUGH TO BE YOUR FATHER
- If I were as slippery as a snake and incorrigibly nosy, I would slip backstage at the Paris Opera Garnier, where supple and lithe Rudolf Nuriev awaits to go on stage. He would look at me intently and say: WAIT FOR ME IN THE TOILET OF THE NEAREST McDONALD'S
- If I were a conservative pope, I would drop into a chapel in the prosperous Vatican City to see how the restless Michael Angelo is doing under my patronage. I would distract him from his work, force him to descend to earth and say to him: MY DEAR, ISN'T IT TIME FOR YOU TO TAKE A BREAK AND RELAX...
- If I were an experienced surrealist, I would talk to the young Salvador Dali in sunny Barcelona. When parting, he would say: ANDRE BRETON, ANDRE MASSON, LUI ARAGON, MAX ERNTS, ROGER VITRAC, ANTONIN ARTAUD, ETC. ARE DRAINED MARSHES WHEN I COMPARE THEM WITH MY INFINITE OCEAN...
- If I were a courageous symbolist, I would knock at the door of "L'hotel d'Alsace", Paris, in 1900. If nobody answered, I would break the door down. And later Oscar Wilde would say to me: YOU GAVE ME A BIT OF WARMTH BEFORE MY DEATH...
- If I were an impenitent humanist, I would save Ernst Rö m's life. Then, wishing to thank me, he would say: I APPOINT YOU THE CURATOR OF "ENTARTETE KUNST..." - "IMMER BEREIT !!!" - I WOULD SWEAR, AND AFTER SOME TIME I WOULD PROSPER MONUMENTALLY
In the end, the artist stammered something briefly and added: Merci. At his final performance at the Cabaret Voltaire on June 23, 1916, that is 82 years and 2 days before Hercus Kuncius, Hugo Ball recited his legendary sound poems that have come to typify the Dada anti-art, anti-logic stance - a repudiation o traditional European values brought on, or at least exacerbated, by the brutality of World War I. Ball's rejection of intelligible content in his sound poems was not simply meant as an absurdist slap in the face of convention, but was conceived as a transcendental declamation. The poems were part of the Dada search for new forms and meaning in art that could purify culture. The necessity of purifying culture is still a live issue.
Norbert Walczak (Poland), performance "Constitution of Autonomic Heteronomy of a Subject - Subject" II reading
The artist transformed quite a long text of a constitution written by himself into sound. It was a distant paraphrase of the Polish Constitution passed last year. Norbert Walczak says: "It is a presentation of a constitution written by myself, a trial of accepting and implementing distant points of my personality, which I call "(non) identifications". The text of the "Constitution of Autonomic Heteronomy of a Subject - Subject" in its arrangement of articles and chapters is modelled upon the "Constitution of Poland" from the 2nd, April 1997. The show itself is a reproduction of a sound record of the constitution (which I previously read) using various kinds of multi effects for the sound treatment, which gives as a result a sort of improvised concert, where basically the only elements (the scale of sound that I have on my disposal) are words of several articles of my own constitution. As the source of the sound I do not use any additional instruments. Quite interesting, for me, is the way the record is reproduced. I put a music - strand constructed by myself on my head, on which 3 tape recorders literally "pull out" the tape with the recorded Constitution from my mouth."
Wojciech Stefanik (Poland), installation "Performance"
300 photos of clouds, or rather of the same view from the artist flat's window. Photos presenting windows of other rooms, in which the artist had previously spent some time - of all the windows of the gallery in Bydgoszcz, for example. The pictures were hung on the walls, scattered on the table. The space was divided by a curtain, on which a slide presenting the author sitting by a table during his performance in 1983, was being projected. From time to time, melodies recorded by the Poles living for many years in Chicago were reproduced. Wojciech Stefanik writes about his work as follows: "...each realisation is a fragment of a story with no beginning and no end. The story comes into being with an awareness of returning to well known places that accompanies the painter that keeps creating the same painting. The more it was to assume a form of performance, the more it was becoming an installation, and the more it was to be an installation, the more it was becoming a performance..."
Tokio Maruyama (Japan), performance "Transition"
The disruption of proportions between things: a small house, so small that Tokio Maruyama could sit on it, a small chair set on a plastic ruler which the artist held in his mouth, caused a sort of extension of the space in which he performed. The man suddenly became grand, but also, a fragment of the infinite space. The blue sheets of paper, scattered or glued to his body could mean the sky or air. The contour of his own shadow and the shadow of someone from the audience, merged with the contour of a tree branch could suggest the change of a scale, a kind of map or the statement that we all are the part of nature. The gigantic part, yet depending on the rest of the animated world. Coming across people and places.
Milan Kozelka & Silvie Milkova (Czech Republic), performance "Thanatea"
In the centre of the space, on the floor, a mysterious sign was created in a heap out of sand and covered by a pane of glass. A linear continuation of the sand form was edged with white and yellow lines. On the glass, the artists put commemorative candles and eggs painted either black or white. Beside, on a screen, appeared a film of severely handicapped people in their hospital. The image was accompanied by the music of John Lennon. This juxtaposition created a sense of absolute horror. The action of the performance had a very simple construction. The artists were lighting the candles at the edge of the glass. They presented two swords and two loaves of bread. Then, they extinguished the candles and placed them away from the glass. In the next phase they simultaneously smashed the eggs with their heads. The sense of aggression and devastation was increased by the act of breaking the glass with sticks and destroying the formed sign. "Thanatea" - the goddess of death appeared here as the goddess of these people's absence.
Przemyslaw Kwiek (Poland), appearance no. 60 "Painting, sculpture, performance, action Ministry of Culture and Art"
The performance was actually self thematic. Kwiek told about himself as an artist, who is treated with arrogance, sometimes grotesquely, by the state administration. The artist's conflict with the authorities occurs at an existential level. Diplomas obtained by him and the certificates proving that he is an artist, an art expert, are already worthless/valueless papers. His formal position in society has no relation to everyday life, which is for the artist an unending battle for survival.
Janusz Baldyga (Poland), performance
The artist used 4 planks joined by hinges and a fifth one, with incisions at a few points. Jars of water were attached to the hinged plank, which he joined in almost a square. He balanced on the planks forming a square and moving from one to the other, covered a certain distance. Eventually, the construction fell to pieces. He tried to make a square of the fifth one. With no result.
Andrzej Dudek-Durer (Poland), performance "Trans-formation"
This performance was a tale about the artist himself and his travels to many different places in the world. Very beautiful, nostalgic. Concentration - Meditation - Contemplation - Metaphysical-Telepathic Realisations were the main aspects of this performance. The music, his own compositions for sitar and electronic sounds and the projection of slides from his travels around the world were major components of the performance. Visual effects, the layered overlapping of images and the mutual mixing of different places. As in our memory. At the end, the artist signed and dated his performance as one of many on his way, and burned his signature.
Hector Ruiz Sepulveda "Sakino" (Mexico), installation
In the duration of a day, the artist sculpted out of dough the forms of the digestive tract and all other human organs - a heart, lungs etc. When they had been baked, he laid them beside a monitor, on which a film from the inside of a human body was being shown. The artist sat down next to it in an overall with a yellow and black striped hood. The installation did not last long. Afterwards the bread organs were eaten by the audience. The artist presents his idea like this: "Heartbeat, liver functions, the skeleton or the respiratory apparatus elements build up a metaphor of vital functions that are out of our conscious control. Some of my objectives are connecting the individual with his own inner functions and finding something that would be extraordinary in the ordinary life activities.
Yoshiko Maruyama (Japan), installation
In the Castle tower, the artist laid down photos of authentic DNA chains in a spiral. They were DNA of real, very famous and well-known people living in the 20th century. The artist wonders, how this image can be perceived after 600 years in a space that is already so old. She suggests that the actual photos of DNA at this time may become a mere relict.
Dziugas Katinas (Lithuania), performance "Virus"
The performance happened in a few places - in the pub, corridor and the castle's courtyard. It featured loaves of bread soaked in Coca-Cola, little bowls laid out and colourful pieces of paper stuck to a blackboard. The artist was dressed in pyjamas and had a surgical collar on his neck. With reference to the title one can state that Katinas wanted to present the antinomy of an artificial and commercialised world together with the world of nature which one must restore.
Eva Ursprung, (Austria) - performance "City Body"
The idea of this performance related to a few important issues raised by contemporary artists: including feminism, vegetarianism and violence. Let us not kill and live in harmony with nature. The title of the performance suggests that when living in a city we do not notice the beauty of nature anymore. We do not notice its rules or the tragic killing of its wildlife. We have lost our sensitivity. It was in great agglomerations where the technology to murder on a large scale was conceived. In the case of the performance of Eva Ursprung, all those threads were related and inseparable. The artist was entwined with cables, wired to the computer. At the ends of those cables were sensors which reacted to her movement and hitting by calling up musical reaction from the computer. Eva Ursprung was responding to the images of the video film and slides, which were both beautiful and dramatic, by playing the saxophone or hitting the ground with the cables. In the gesture of helplessness or compassion.
John Sturgeon (USA), video 1970s & performance "Saturn Return"
The artist showed a video film, which was a documentation of his performances from the 70s. It was a very moving show. Although they were quite simple, aesthetic and distinctly influenced by conceptual art, his performances even watched after 23 years still have a kind of verdure. Then, he began his live presentation. The performance had a very simple structure. The image of water and the sheltered shore of a river or a lake appeared on the screen. In front of the screen there was a bright electric light bulb hung just above the ground, which lit the floor and a metal bucket. The artist was casting stones into the bucket saying: These are the stones we hold while sinking. Then, he monotonously expressed a number of notions with the complement "father", "of the father" etc. finally stating in the end of the performance: Father, work to do.
Krzysztof Zarebski (USA) performance "Call girls - Cold girls"
From the very beginning the work of Krzysztof Zarębski has been based on a subtle play with the spectator and the usage of delicate, personal forms of expression. A well-know Polish performance artist, he is remembered for using leeches and freezing hair. This time, in his piece "Call girls - Cold girls", he used vibrators, artificial nails, women's erotic underwear, ice in a bucket for champagne and a teenage girl invited to take part in the performance. Its course consisted of certain points. Particular activities were not related to each other. In spite of that, tension built up by means of the erotic gadgets carried its own, quite obvious message: the most intimate sphere of our life has been commercialised a long time ago. The artist, living in New York, referred to that reality. However, reading the "social" advertisements in newspapers, we are all too aware that "call girls" are already present in a country that has just parted with communism.
Rolf Langebartels & Vera Preis (Germany), performance "Pair"
Rolf Langebartels and Vera Preis, dressed in white overalls presented a musical performance. The artists hung various objects on a special construction provided with tiny engines. The objects were moving from one side to another. From one artist to another. The sound aspect was reduced to an extremely small scale. The silent tapping of a triangle, the whirr of the engines and of the whole device suggested a sort of micro scale of activity. Its faintness. Something insignificant was raised to the state of great importance. Objects, photos, sentences.
Piotr Krajewski, (Poland) lecture & video "Media / Performance"
He focused on the theme of process itself as a work of art, showing examples on video and CD-ROM, of how that process is embodied by the physical presence of an artist, and how the physicality of an artist often disappears in favour of the presence of the viewer in an interactive situation.
The visual examples - famous photos of Hans Nemuth, Valie Export's and Peter Weibel's activities, performances of Stelarc and Jarone Lanier and The Audio Gruppe registered during the WRO festival, and also installations of Jeffrey Shaw.
Grzegorz Borkowski (Poland), text
Translated by Malgorzata Kazmierczak