Henryk Stażewski. Always There
As a part of 6th WARSAW UNDER CONSTRUCTION Festival
Henryk Stażewski was a person who would incredibly transform each space he occupied into a fully meaningful PLACE.
“A PLACE is an area that comes into being when we enclose all the world’s laws in brackets and suspend them. (…) A PLACE is isolated, but at the same time, it must manifest itself. Its existence is not a subjective issue exclusively, and thus cannot be induced by means of purely private endeavours. A PLACE, as an artistic fact, needs to make its mark outside, needs to objectify itself in the world, while simultaneously A PLACE exists inasmuch as it manages to save itself from the world’s pressures and avoids to equate itself with what remains outside” – stated the creators of the Foksal Gallery – Wiesław Borowski, Hanna (Anka) Ptaszkowska and Mariusz Tchorek – in a manifesto published in 1966.
This quotation finds an astounding parallel in texts penned by the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre in the wake of the May 1968 revolution. In a 1973 manuscript entitled “Vers une architecture de la jouissance” [Towards the architecture of enjoyment], discovered by the philosopher and architecture researcher Łukasz Stanek, the French thinker calls for releasing the architect’s imagination through enclosing political and economic conditions in brackets, so as not to let them push architects to the margin of social division of labour again.
As explained by Stanek, by “enclosing the brackets” Lefebvre meant a “suspension by mind” and a temporary neutralization of forces that subdue architecture. It is only possible by demanding relative autonomy of discipline to release imagination and reclaim architecture as a practice where a fundamental transformation of everyday life is at stake.
In the context of previous, symbolic understanding of creating a PLACE and being familiar with Borowski, Ptaszkowska and Tchorek’s manifesto, Lefebvre’s utterance can be comprehended in a broader sense, not limited exclusively to architecture as a production of material buildings. Space is transformed every time we use it, which Lefebvre attested on another occasion, writing about a “social production of space."
Henryk Stażewski was a person who would incredibly transform each space he occupied into a fully meaningful PLACE. Memories of people he was particularly dear to allow us to draw a specific topography marked by his presence, consisting of his atelier where he also lived (shared until 1967 with the painter Maria Ewa Łunkiewicz-Rogoyska and her husband Jan, at first at 11A Piękna Street and since 1967 on the last floor of a block of flats in Świerczewskiego Street - now called aleja Solidarności), the Foksal Gallery's office and the SARP café.
These were the spaces that delineated his “natural habitat" in which, as expressed by Milada Ślizińska, “he was present every day“ as part of his ritualised daily rhythm that constituted an important reference point to all those who wanted to visit him. He started work at dawn, at noon sharp he appeared at the café. At evenings, robed in a dressing gown, he would host guests in his apartment-atelier. Long-time friends used to drop by almost every day, whereas foreign visitors have remembered these visits ever since. Stażewski’s circle of friends, who would gather around him, both at the SARP café and at home, included among others: his pre-war friends like general Teodor Naumienko and director of the Warsaw Zoo Jan Żabiński, Miron Białoszewski and Bogusław Choiński, Erna Rosenstein and Artur Sandauer, the Foksal Gallery associates Wiesław Borowski, Anka Ptaszkowska, Mariusz Tchorek, Jerzy Ludwiński, Zbigniew Gostomski and Tadeusz Kantor, later joined by Milada Ślizińska and Andrzej Przywara, Roman Owidzki, Włodzimierz Borowski, Andrzej Partum, Marek Konieczny, Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewscy who ran the Piwna 20/26 gallery, sports commentator Bohdan Tomaszewski as well as numerous female friends, among others Zofia Gawlikowska, Urszula Dłubakowa and Alina Oxińska.
Additionally, Stażewski’s apartment-atelier was an obligatory venue on foreign visitors’ schedules: it was visited by artists, gallery owners and collectors. It is impossible to enumerate everyone – the most frequently recalled names include Daniel Buren, Lawrence Weiner, Emmett Williams, Alan Charlton, Christian Boltanski or Arturo Schwarz. By the way, it is worth adding that the atelier used by Henryk Stażewski, Mewa Łunkiewicz-Rogoyska and Edward Krasiński happened to provide room for other artists’ actions: here in 1974, as part of “Galerie 21”, Daniel Buren performed his intervention, while a year later Marek Konieczny’s movie “Santa Conversazione” was recorded on the atelier’s terrace.
After Stażewski’s death in 1988 Edward Krasiński remained the only inhabitant of the suddenly empty atelier. The absence of a friend was strongly exposed by Krasiński; then it was drowned by subsequent interventions creating a new topos of the artist’s home, a new Gesamtkunstwerk. A symbolic moment of “taking over Stażewski’s atelier” was an exhibition Hommage a Henryk Stażewski at the Foksal Gallery in 1989 – Krasiński recreated the apartment-atelier’s interior by means of, among others, large format photographs taken by Tadeusz Rolke. Sticking a characteristic “blue strip” on them he metaphorically joined the topography of the apartment-atelier and the gallery again, albeit upon different principles than Stażewski’s.
Only a few objects that bear witness of the previous inhabitant's presence have survived: discoloured walls and wires on which paintings once hung and a few pieces of furniture, such as a red swivel armchair on which Stażewski has been immortalized on numerous photographs, a frame of the bed on which Stażewski made his sketches, now placed vertically at the entrance to the first room by Krasiński, a small table designed by Stażewski following De Stijl principles and a table with a metal "shark fin", crafted together by Stażewski and Krasiński as well as scarce keepsakes such as a teacup painted in colourful stripes, photos, tools, single oeuvres and a fragment of the abovementioned installation by Krasiński.
The exhibition “Always There” aims at defining the aura around Henryk Stażewski, recreating the atmosphere of his atelier and the impression in made. It includes statements by several people known to have been influenced by Stażewski. Words are reflected in thematically and typologically collected objects, artefacts and documents. Therefore, we are building Stażewski’s image from fragments of memories, places, material traces of presence and photographs. The image is incomplete and fleeting, but at the same very personal, and thus real. Complemented by the context of a former atelier, it reminds us a simple fact that it is people who create a PLACE.