Description by Filmoteka Muzeum
The action March performed in Stuttgart is one of the most explicit examples of the use of the language of aggression and self-aggression with the aim of amplifying the message encoded in the performance. It also develops the threads from the action at BWA Gallery in Lublin in 1983, which was interrupted by a group of hooligans sent by the security services. Beyond the reach of the agents, Warpechowski could carry out the complete version of the performance.
He sat on a chair, with a plate of paraffin and a paper bird at his feet, opposite the cage with a living bird with a 3-metre long tape attached to its leg. In the first part of the action, the artist started pulling his own hair and engaged in a “dialogue” with the bird in the cage, referring to his earlier “dialogues with fish” (e.g. at Lublin Theatre Spring in 1973). Tenderly at first, he was uttering the words “I love you” with an ever increasing roughness in the voice, which eventually made them sound like a military command. Having taken the bird out of the cage, the artist attached the other end of the tape to his shoe and embarked on the “march”, pulling and tossing the bird. Later on, he cut off the tape, leant over the plate with paraffin and rubbed the liquid into his hair, which he soon set aflame, much to the horror of the audience. At that point he immediately left the room.
The situations which tapped into the artistic means of aggression often had existential meaning. Here, burning the hair was one of the gestures that served the purpose of materialising the notion of “nothing”. However, there is also a clear political message to the performance, understood as an act of protest against martial law in Poland. The paper bird (in Lublin it was a wind-up toy bird) is “what communism aimed to do with man, the true and free bird”. The life of a living bird remains utterly dependent on the course of the military-like march performed by the artist.
While the original performance in Lublin was interrupted against the artist’s will (“the wind-up toy won”), the situation arranged in Stuttgart received a massive acclaim worldwide, with the photo of the artist and his hair on fire becoming one of the most iconic images of performance art (e.g. it was published on the cover of the book Performance Ritual Process Elisabeth Jappe from 1993).
References: Z. Warpechowski, Zasobnik. Autorski opis trzydziestu lat drogi życia poprzez sztukę performance, Gdańsk 1998.