Filmoteka Muzeum

Jan Świdziński


Jan Świdziński - (born on 23 May 1923 in Bydgoszcz - died 9 February 2014 in Warsaw), inter-media artist and performer, lecturer and art theoretician, author of the contextual art manifesto and contextual art practitioner.

He graduated in painting in 1952 from Jan Cybis’s studio at the Higher School of Fine Arts, which later became the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. After graduation he worked in architectural teams, also as a graphic designer in the magazine Razem. During this time, he developed his theoretical knowledge, on the wave of popularity of structural linguistics he became interested in formal logic and the way in which the utterance works. His most important work from this period is the series of paintings “Semantic Signs”.


In the early 1970s he published an article entitled “Spór o istnienie sztuki” (‘Controversy on Existence of Art’), which became an important text for the conceptualism that was developing at that time in Polish art. He took an active part in the creation of the authors’ galleries and was a co-founder of the Galleria Mała in Warsaw, which was one of the first to exhibit photography. He was also a member of the programme councils of the following galleries: “Współczesna”, ”Remont”, “Zero” in Warsaw, ”Sztuki Współczesnej” in Wrocław and “Pole Gry” in Bolesławiec. During this period, he also started to cooperate with the Film Form Workshop at the Film School in Łódź, where he developed reflection on new media.


The defining moment for Świdziński’s work was the conference he organised in Lund in 1976. At the conference he presented and then published the manifesto “Art as contextual art” to be later consistently implemented in his creative work. The manifesto drew attention to the dependence of the functioning of an artistic activity on the context, which was a polemical development of anthropological theses formulated by the American artist Joseph Kosuth.


In the 1980s he emigrated from Poland, but still participated in exhibitions in his home country. He established a permanent cooperation with the Le Lieu Art Centre in Quebec, which began to function in accordance with his postulates of contextual art. During this time, through his activities, he was developing his own distinctive language of performance art, published numerous publications and lectured at universities in Calgary and Vancouver. As soon as the transformation of 1989 began in Poland, he returned to his home country. He took the diagnosis of postmodernism seriously – he criticised the subordination of art to the dictate of the market, stressed the condition of the exhaustion of culture and postulated equal treatment of other cultures in the context of progressing globalization.

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Artist's works in Filmoteka