documenta 7, Kassel, Germany, 1987
Warpechowski decided that this artistic event with an international profile would end his 20-year activity in the field of performance art and mark a turn in an entirely new direction, but life proved him wrong. In order to get to Kassel, the artist had to face a great many of administrative difficulties caused by the Ministry of Art and Culture of the People’s Republic of Poland. At the Fridericianum, Warpechowski, who was eager to share his work with the international scene, presented a retrospective of his major performative achievements.
The material begins with a short footage of the performance Fish – Water, presented first at Andrzej Partum’s Poetry Office in Warsaw in 1972, where the “real” presence of water was contrasted with its “conceptual presence” in the form of an inscription on a sheet of paper. In his own characteristic manner, the artist juxtaposed divergent realities. Letting the fish die on the sheet of paper, he appealed to our distorted perception of phenomena and objects, addressing the strengthening domination of concepts that obscure reality. It was a warning: “just as the fish cannot survive immersed in the illusory and conceptual water – people cannot live long in the seemingly real and rational reality.”
The following performance recorded in the footage is Avanti Poppolo, which had its premiere in Kassel. Warpechowski used a plaster figure of a man, which he pushed along a painted arrow to the “goal”, soundtracked by the workers’ anthem Avanti poppolo. Bandiera Rossa!. To reach the end of the road – to achieve the goal – meant to fall down from the table and break into pieces, to which the artist reacted with despair and loud wailing. The expressive depiction of the process of thoughtless pursuit of the goal set by ideology – which despite its illusory character eventually starts to appear as real and natural – together with the choice of music give the performance not only its existential edge, but also make it a pungent political commentary.
Next, Warpechowski embarked on actions whose essence consisted in the „hypostasis of nothingness”. He sketched the course of a situation similar to what he had done in 1973 at the Lublin Theatre Spring under the name Nothing + Nothing + Nothing + Nothing. The action consisted in cutting the inscription “Nothing” on the artist’s head, arranging the cut hair to form the same inscription and setting the hair aflame, in order for nothing to remain.
In the same vein, at documenta 8 Warpechowski also repeated his performance Release of Utility, inspired by Lao Tzu – Book of Changes and Buddhist meditations on the void. It reached its climax with breaking a clay jug, i.e. the eponymous “release”, allowing the artist to demonstrate “pure utility”. One can easily discern a reference to Heidegger’s jug, which the philosopher used to grasp the essence of the thing.
The subsequent performance referred to the action March (see: March). This time, the artist marched with a small figure attached to his leg. Then he poured paraffin on its head and tried to set it aflame. He also poured paraffin in his own hair, which he got ablaze right the next moment.
Apart from the above mentioned performances, in Kassel Warpechowski presented also: Dialogue with Fish, Nail + Historiosophic Cross and Champion. His performances received a massive acclaim, with German press hailing him a classic performance artist.
(Description on the basis of: Łukasz Ronduda, Polish Art of the 70s. Avant-garde, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw 2009; Zbigniew Warpechowski, Zasobnik. Autorski opis trzydziestu lat drogi życia poprzez sztukę performance, słowo/obraz terytoria, Gdańsk 1998)
Place: Dokumenta VIII Kassel, Niemcy
© Zbigniew Warpechowski
Ownership form: deposit