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Performance is live art, it is time based and it happens in a specific place. A performer (or a group of performers) by connecting a space, site and time, undergoes an action that is presented to the public. In very specific cases the public may not be present or the notion of a public may not be clear. The action itself can also be unspecific and the presence or absence of a performance artist may also be unclear. The essence of a performance shifts the attention of the spectator towards the process of creation. This process provokes spontaneous reactions in him/her, causes a strong tension and prepares the ground for direct encounter in which a physical, psychic and mental interaction is strongly experienced.
Performance art in its early stage, when it was on the margin of art practice, was presented in spaces that were of minor importance, degraded, abandoned and unimportant for commercial art ventures. In Poland the process was similar – performance artists avoided so-called official galleries that were institutionally controlled by censorship and politicians. However, performers through undertaking their counterculture actions were actually coming closer to existing institutions, galleries, theatres and clubs in order to continue more successfully in art. Having initially existed outside of a conventional frame, performance art unexpectedly became a mighty power, able to express important and critical statements.
The artists performing in Kalisz in November are some of the most interesting representatives of performance worldwide.
Paweł Kwaśniewski (Warsaw) – is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his artistic activity. The artist, a graduate of Warsaw’s Academy of Catholic Theology has since 1984 presented over 300 performances in museums, art centers and galleries in more than 60 countries within 5 continents.
Kwaśniewski is an exceptional performer on the Polish and European art scene. He uses an absurd ironical commentary in parallel to his actions and this performance construction is fixed. Both the commentary and action takes various forms, some of which are sometimes repeated. Kwaśniewski talks about himself, about art and about different forms of survival. He says how much his art costs him and indirectly he speaks of the hypocrisy in art. Frequently enough, he tells made up, surreal, fairy tale stories of irrational character in a recurrent form of repeated sentences, situations and incoming ever-changing images. He forces the spectator of his performances to follow his imagination. The wit, absurdity, helplessness, and an accompanying uncontrolled reaction of material things are the performer’s integrity. Paweł Kwaśniewski is one of a few artists in the world who can ironically address his artistic activity and even the performer’s mistakes during live performance. He is an artist who deprives art of its myth-making properties.
Omar Ghayatt (Bern, Switzerland). Omar Ghayatt made his first steps into art practice in Cairo. Later he presented his work in southern France and then in Poland, during the festival “Castle of Imagination” in 2005. At the time, he was the only performing artist in Egypt and he decided not to return to Cairo. He settled in Europe, in Bern, Switzerland, where he studied scenography in Zurich and became an internationally recognized artist. His travels in real, cultural and artistic circles are a unique happening on the European scene. We all need travel as a phenomenon. Omar Ghayatt is an example of a man who belies stereotypical opinions towards the Arab world. He claims himself that the real, historical Egypt has nothing in common with Islam.
Ghayatt is a truly modern and avant-garde artist, but he does not pretend to be a man from the western world. He does not blur the memory of his country, of the difficult and sometimes brutal reality of Islamic societies. It is fear, life without goals and hopelessness filtered by artist sensitivity that were his reasons behind leaving Egypt. In that context, his art is a complex dynamic construction referring to modern aesthetics and traditional customs, theatre, private experiences and the current politics of many places of the world.
Intuitively, the artist adopts a strategy of joining human emotions in order to form aesthetics with even far off events in the history of the globe. He showed some emotionally moving objects during his first stay in Poland during the performance festival “Castle of Imagination” in the seaside town of Ustka. These were extremely rare fossil seashells found by him in the Sahara desert. By his presentation of shells in Ustka he wanted to connect existing and non-existing seas. As a person, Omar Ghayatt is a complete contradiction to the stereotypical image of a Middle Eastern man: he is a pacifist, an intellectual, a pleasant and warm person with understanding. His character addresses the irritating suspicions of Europeans who stereotype those they perceive to have “wrong intentions”.
Irma Optimist (Helsinki, Finland). Irma is a performing artist with a Ph. D. degree in Mathematics and a lecturer at the School of Economics and Business in Turku, Finland. She took her name “Optimist” in ironic reference to the surrounding and tormenting Scandinavian sorrow. Since 1989 she has gained as a performer international fame and a unique position among European artists. Her actions were presented in Finland, USA, Japan, Canada, Germany, Austria, Poland, France, Lithuania, Estonia, Belorussia, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Slovakia, Hungary, Israel, Great Britain and Ireland.
The Performance Art of Irma Optimist strives to disturb the logic of science and scientific thinking. However science for her becomes a tool. As a mathematician, she is a specialist in the mathematical theory of chaos. Using the principles and rules of mathematics, she attempts to address human corporeality. Optimist believes that her brain is just as important as the other parts of her body. According to her, performance is primarily an intellectual process, which is potentially a useful tool in understanding the many mysteries and contradictions of our body, our identity and the many aspects of our social and political life.
Her actions are dependent on time and space, they depend on her direct presence and they come into being at the interaction between the artist and audience. They are not linear constructions, they do not tell a story or are determined by a punch line. They are a fluid analysis of reality.
The artist’s sense of humor is extremely valuable during the live actions. She totally encircles viewers with the probability of every claim. Her actions are a combination of learning, fun, wonder and a questioning of commonly accepted rules, even with regard to doubting her own thesis.
Jeffery Byrd (Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA). The artist is both Professor and Dean of the Art Department at the University of Northern Iowa. Jeffrey Byrd is one of the most important contemporary American performers and he has presented his art throughout the world. He has participated in performance festivals in the biggest cities of USA, in Canada, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Columbia, Mexico, Italy, Northern Ireland, Wales, and the Republic of Cuba. In his art he tries to join various cultural and artistic traditions. He connects the grand tradition of European culture with the culture of the Japanese ( Butoh theatre ) as well as connecting his sexual sensitivity. We never know precisely what sequence of explicit images he will propose. It is always a surprising process of subtle, transitory thinking, a process of thinking about art and about being a human being.
Jeff Byrd came to Poland ten years ago. He presented two actions in Ustka and in Cracow. Their descriptions may bring us closer to his art. “The Bath of Venus”, an obvious quotation from the famous painting, became yet another inspiration for a performance by the American artist. Byrd wearing a black petticoat and black high heels, with his head and face painted white as a Butoh dancer, stood by a container of water and played the role of a grotesque prima ballerina. He exalted and moved, singing a fragment of aria, making the performance seemingly similar to a surreal image. Drawing attention to the aesthetic qualities of opera music and (partly) aesthetics as such perhaps, inner delight ended with a nostalgic lack of fulfillment. “Blind Angel”. In Cracow Byrd concentrated our attention on the body, conformed to minimalist actions from Butoh theatre. The artist focused on finding two points: perhaps two worlds or just two quotations from contemporary art history. We do not know precisely, we barely sense we are dealing with Beuys’ ideogram (a cross with arms of equal length) or gold flakes of Yves Klein. The geometry of a cross, suggesting the authorship of Malevitch or Mondrian, was with difficulty abandoned by the performer towards complex relations of subjects, metaphors, texture, the matter, and symbols. The visual aspect of the performance had probably nothing in common with art history. What we saw, was probably constructed by accident and we should only be concerned with the journey from point A to point B, with a kind of inner self transformation, an intriguing transition into the abyss, decorated by a rose with gold petals.