Where we meet Robert the architect, and his assistant, Teresa. The scene takes place in a small architect’s studio – TAMS, on the 11th floor of a Central Business Complex in town P.
A young man bends over a scale model. The model is 120 by 200 in size. The man’s name is Robert. He is wearing a dark suit and a turquoise neckerchief wrapped around his neck. His hair is neatly sleeked back, and he smells of perfume with the dominating scent of myrrh. It is still too early in the day for his impeccable look and manner to impress anybody. A woman stands at the opposite end of the table. She is probably a few years younger than the man. Her face is pretty (though it has been quite some time since she has been complemented on her beauty). Her hair is thin and sparse, her complexion extraordinarily pale. The woman’s name is Teresa. She is nervous, looks at the window and wonders whether the man is already beginning to suspect just what exactly happened that night in the studio.
The man bends lower over the model and a slip of paper falls out from his right trouser pocket. It is a photograph he had torn out from a newspaper that morning. He thought it was peculiar and decided to keep it so as to give it a more thorough look back home. The picture shows a fat middle aged woman dressed in protective gear with a helmet and a head lamp. She is posing in a narrow underground tunnel (the text indicates that it is the tunnel constructed under the river bed in P.). The photo is of poor quality – one may think that the chubby face of the woman is equipped with two pairs of eyes.
Composed solely of DIY instructions for the public.
“Selected drawings” (years 1972 – 1981):
- crayon shavings collected in a 10 litre aquarium, to the height of 4 cm
- 10 000 dots made with a black magic marker on the inside covers of a hotel bible
- a dotted line of one mile, marked with the drops of diesel oil dripping from a car going at the speed of 12 mph
- crayons in different colours (at least five packages), cut into equal parts, 10 mm each, glued to the ceiling in uneven intervals
- a black square, 12 metre long, burnt in grass. A lighter, rope, 4 wooden pins, a watering can, a water barrel
- five crayons squeezed in holes drilled in the wall in equal intervals
- a hundred attempts at drawing an ideal circle in a lined notebook. The drawing is each time erased with a rubber, and the bits of the erased paper mixed with the graphite and the rubber are piled in a small heap next to the notebook
- a sign hidden behind the wardrobe saying: D E A D T R E E S A R E A
9. a line at the height of 130 cm running along the entire length of the room, drawn in a single stroke of the hand
- crayons of different colours ground in a meat grinder – the dust scattered on the pavement, just before the entrance door to the gallery
In which a fragment of a radio show is played. The programme is based on an interview given in 1971 by an American artist, introduced as S.R. The artist, whose full name we never learn, travels across countries of the Eastern Block. The journeys evoke in him a longing for childhood in the province and memories about a “first conscious work of art”.
– Do you remember your first ever visit to a museum?
– Absolutely (laughs), perfectly well!
– Is it a funny recollection?
– Very funny. I was more or less seven years old. It was the mid 1940’s. We lived with my parents in Rutherford. My father decided that it was time to do something with the seashells I would hoard in my room. Actually, it wasn’t just shells, there were also insects, rocks, tree bark; I also had a few bee and hornet nests, bracket fungi, and pine cones. But it was especially shells that I collected, I loved them! I was in awe of their spiral shapes – it was like small architecture – like tiny houses, town districts from Mars. I would spend hours studying them through a magnifying glass, measuring them and taking notes. I felt as if I was solving the mystery of the Universe, learning the original formula of things. With the shells I would also bring sand to the room, probably some saprophytes too (laughs). I remember feeling the tiny specs of sand on my bed sheets before falling asleep.
– What did your parents think of your passion?
– I think that they were even a little proud that I had a hobby, which definitely made me different from my peers. Though they were not thrilled with the sight of mud on the floor and sand in my bed. One day my father called me and told me to follow him to the basement. There was a plaque nailed to the door saying EARTH MUSEUM IN THE SUBURBS. I remember it very well – the neat capital letters, dark green oil paint. And inside, in the biggest room in the basement, my father had installed wooden shelves with empty jars for preservatives, different cases, and even an empty aquarium which I had used for the stick insects I had as a small child. He must have chucked out a hole ton of garbage to make room for it all, it was really quite moving. I spent the entire weekend moving my collection to the basement, putting everything in meticulous order. I created my own taxonomy, separating everything into classes and subclasses, pseudoscientific categories. I named the shells and produced paper labels with descriptions. Most of the information I either invented or developed on the basis of the little information I could find in the books my parents brought me from the town library. Apart from the “permanent collection”, I also arranged a special section for “temporary exhibitions” which focused on the marginal specimens in my collection: rocks or chitinous shells of insects. I remember having organized a special exhibition of the “material evidence” which confirmed the hypothesis whereby dinosaurs became extinct as a result of the earth being hit by a meteorite. All the evidence I had colleted the same summer in our backyard (laughs)! I dug out some random bird bones, a strange looking rock – and that was enough to construct the rest of the story. It was the year World War II ended, I heard different stories which I would filter, they sounded like from another planet. I was busy creating my own museum, on the basis of my own private canons. My world was in the basement.
– Is there anything left from this childhood experience of yours?
– The basement has been buried and the house demolished in 1949. The museum is probably still underground. Exactly where it should be. All that was put in order ended up in a tomb, doomed to decay. The thought about the death of mausoleums, where things become fossilized, excites me. That is why I treat “The museum of art in the suburbs” to be my first fully conscious work of art. …
Where one of the “unintentional monuments” to be found in P. is described. The character of Anna is introduced – a teenage girl who thinks she is an artist and plasters the town walls with letters to unknown addressees in the form of poems.
Sewage is being discharged to the river from a set of six pipes sticking out of a relatively small pool just by the main bridge in P. The black sludge is pulsating rhythmically, spurting into the water. When looking from the bridge, it is as if a thick sticky smoke was gushing into the water from horizontally installed chimneys.
It once used to be a popular place, kids would hang out here, smoking cigarettes, snogging and touching or writing obscenities on the concrete bridge spans. It all ended on a certain spring morning when the pipes began to spurt out the stinking substances – organic waste from the town hospital. When the pipe spit out a piece of an umbilical cord, the locals began calling the place the “cesspool”, quickly forgetting it was once jokingly referred to as “the fountain monument”.
The 17 year old Anna Herbert recalled the fact in her short poem, glued in 24 copies to objects in the vicinity of the bridge:
a fountain lost
by a pipe
Where we meet a Polish architect who dreams of building a museum which would stimulate art – a museum which would fold and unfold, depending on the current concept of how to use it. This part of the radio drama takes place on board a helicopter flying over P.
– So we are dealing with, how do you call it, a tool of visual impact?
– Yes, it’s an example of a now. I would want for architectural space to be formed live, in a sculptural manner. I dream about architectural visual concerts. We are not interested in building sarcophaguses for art, we want to stimulate artists – let them take on the challenge posed by this kinetic structure.
– Can we now switch to the deficit of good ideas in art? As I understand, you are assuming that we would not have to have any more good ideas for interesting works of art or exhibitions?
– Yes, we can simply run out of good concepts. At the same time, the art which we are storing in the existing museums will no longer have any meaning to us. It’s quite possible.
– And what are your feelings, how do you imagine, if at all, art in the future?
– Art is unpredictable in its development. Let me stress is again – it is impossible to predict its future.
– So what is the role of the newly built museums if we cannot anticipate art’s form in the future? It may turn out that we no longer need all those walls, ceilings, storage facilities. What would be the purpose of solid buildings if art is no longer material, if it is elusive, resembling sessions in telepathy…
– We have made the assumption that a contemporary gallery or museum should have the duty to reach out to what is still unknown in art. And not only in terms of exhibiting but also encouraging and provoking the birth of new art…
– In other words, in contrast to art which…
– In contrast to art which means possessing, dominating, disintegrating. Just like the building itself, which can at any time be hidden away underground, new art is to be a backdrop for events – in terms of cognition, untamed creation, collective action, experiencing the presence of others, of nature.
– So what is the task and duty of the architect who wants to erect buildings for art?
– The architect, or the artist, should never make finite works but instead build systems of backgrounds to expose and present the different users of these spaces. The task of the architect is the expose actual events…
The scene is maintained in a style of a stand-up comedy. A thirty something man is reading notes about his artistic achievements from a piece of paper. The situation takes place in a night club, at about 2.00 a.m.; the room is filled with cigarette smoke and humming conversations. The man is standing by the mike, centre stage, in a spot light. Few people are giving him the time of day.
… It seems that both the words, just like rocks, earth or sand, tombstones and slaughterhouse waste, create a language whose syntax is governed by ruptures and fissures. Take the time to focus on a single word long enough and you shall see it open up and transform into a series of errors, disintegrate into bits, each containing its own emptiness.
I have also preferred the urban, neglected but living outskirts of the central eastern towns to the cold corpse of Western Europe. To me, the West is one huge smelly ruin. Its sentimental predilection for architectural mummies forces it to surrender to the eternal adoration of rubble. I think that conceptual art, which is entirely based on written data, is only half the story. One mustn’t concentrate solely on the mind, but also remember about the matter There is no escape from physicality. Nor from the mind. I believe these two things are on a constant collision course. It could therefore be said that my artistic work is a misfortune. A silent catastrophe of the mind and the matter. …
Where another part of a radio programme based on the interview given in 1971 by an American artist, introduced as S.R., is played. The artist is visiting Eastern Block countries which this time makes him ponder on the relations between drawing and geology.
– Your actions against the landscape and works related to language seem to be linked by means of a drawing from 1966 titled “The Hourglass”. It reminds me of an archaeological excavation site. It seems to suggest that the natural elements – the mountain chains, ravines, water reservoirs, etc, are, just like architecture, letters in a landscape coming together to create words and sentences, while their disintegration is a semantic one.
(photograph projected from a slide projector onto a wall: no. 62 a)
– I’m happy you’ve mentioned this work. “The Hourglass” was created soon after my return to art, in 1965, after a two year break. For some time I did not want to make art, I was tired of it all. I would get a rash on my skin the minute I touched paint. I was bored with the very thought that I would again come across somebody in the studio and would again have to talk about art. But then, it all came back to me, in early spring of 1965. At the time, I had just begun a comparative study of artistic, industrial, natural, urban, etc. forms as part of a specific intellectual project which went definitely far beyond a purely aesthetic endeavour. I think that “The Hourglass” highlights the obnoxious presence and material nature of the meta-language which modernist criticism and art has forgotten about, carefully separating the word from the image.
– Could you describe the work in greater detail?
– It’s a drawing in pencil on a horizontal sheet of white lined paper. The sheet may evoke associations with an official table, it is filled with handwritten words, on the lines. All the words are partly buried in “sand” made up of thousands of pencil dots. The text is a mixture of terms from natural sciences and grammar. Formally, it is a tectonic hierarchy of layers, eroding words. They have also become fossilized in the sand, creating deposits and awaiting the cleansing power of an excavator. My vision, as you see, is basically a geological one. My seeing of a geological formation overlaps, for example, with the interpretation of the drama of the contemporary industrial landscape; it is definitely far from an environmental idyll.
Where we come back to TAMS architectural studio to learn more about P and the events which had taken place in the building the previous night.
The architectural scale model is excellent. The buildings have been cut out from high quality wood. A water course is running across the middle. The direction of the current of the miniature river can be switched by pressing a small button hidden under the table top. The model is not so much a meticulous reconstruction of P, as it is an intuition of what the city could become, was it not for
an unfortunate coincidence
which was to mess things up for the urban planners four months later.
Looking at the model, one sees that the river in P. splits the city in two almost ideally equal halves. Narrow sidewalks for pedestrians, made up of cements slabs, run over the bridge. The river runs from the south northwards (The city has been well organized though it would be hard to find anything sensible to do here – thinks the man leaning over the scale model). The western part is occupied by industrial buildings, ubiquitous parking lots and a number of shopping centres. In the east, there are mainly communal housing projects from the 1960’s – some already abandoned. The buildings are beginning to turn into wild gardens: the balconies are overgrown with weeds, small trees stick out from the roof tops. There are no indications that these vacant structures could ever be demolished.
Every four years since 1970 (always in October), an Exhibition of Art in Industrial Space is organized in P., in collaboration with the workers from the Glass Works just to be shut down. The workers will soon lose their jobs, as will they lose any interest in art.
Snowflakes are whirling in the air outside. The man points his finger to one of the buildings on the model, just by the river bank. He freezes. Long minutes pass. He clears his throat, trying to get the attention of those gathered in the room and finally says, loud and clear:
a c l o t.
The woman turns around – her face is lit up with a radiating smile. She is happy not to have to pretend anymore that nothing had happened. She comes over to the man and begins stroking his face with her pale hands. She places her head on his shoulder and whispers to his ear: One must not concentrate solely on the mind. There is no escape from physicality, nor is there from the mind. We are on a collision course
Warsaw-Stockholm, February 2012
Sebastian Cichocki (b. 1975) is a vice director of Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Between 2005–2008, he worked as director of the Centre for Contemporary Art Kronika in Bytom, Poland. In his curatorial and publishing projects, he often refers to the land art and conceptual traditions.Selected curated and co-curated exhibitions: Yael Bartana … and Europe will be Stunned, Polish Pavilion at the 54th International Art Exhibition, Venice (2011); Early Years, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2010); Daniel Knorr Awake Asleep, Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw (2008); Monika Sosnowska 1:1, Polish Pavilion at the 52nd International Art Exhibition, Venice (2007); Yane Calovski and Hristina Ivanoska Oskar Hansen’s Museum of Modern Art, CCA Kronika, Bytom (2007); Sculpture Park in Bródno (Olafur Eliasson, Rikrit Tirivanija, Susan Philipsz, Paweł Althamer etc.), Park Bródnowski, Warsaw (2009–2011); Warsaw in Construction, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, public space, Warsaw (2009, 2010). Author of critical texts and art-related literary fictions. Chief editor of the humanities quarterly Format P. He has published in periodicals such as Artforum, Cabinet, Mousse, Krytyka Polityczna, FUKT, Muzeum, Czas Kultury, IDEA arts+society, Camera Austria.