Agnieszka Kulazińska, Will only the best ideas be realised?

Contemporary art is hanging between the idea and its materialisation. Everybody knows Mona Lisa, although not everybody has seen the original painting. The work of Zuzanna Janin I Saw My Death[1] was assessed even before the artefact came into being. The idea of announcing one’s own death, organising one’s own funeral was shocking; the artist was accused of unnecessary provocation, and was suggested to be mentally ill. The installation based on this idea turned out to be something else, not an rebellious gesture but a philosophical meditation abut life and death, an attempt to talk about the taboo which the process of dying is in the contemporary culture.

It was similar with the cancelled presentation of cosmetic products by Alina Żemojdzin – the sentence was passed even before the work had been presented.[2] The realisation was linked to the experiments by Nazis, rejecting from the artistic concept what was inconvenient – one part of the project was a forged marketing campaign around a product – which sent interpretations on a different track. The whole of Poland was discussing a work which nobody really saw, and all the discussions were based on a journalist’s interpretation. There have been many similar cases. Passion by Dorota Nieznalska is associated with genitalia on the cross. However, in this case we have to talk about manipulation, and not with assessment of the idea instead of the final result.

Are we allowed to assess concepts only? Should we look at them from an aesthetic perspective? Does contemporary art require materialisation? Roman Ingarden with his belief in the primacy of necessity in art defined artefacts as “(…) specific intentional creations which require a certain physical being foundation and find it in some physical, accordingly adapted things, but in its essential characteristics exceeding its features. They are also schematic creations which in many ways consist of non-defined places and they also have certain only potential moments. The creation is nothing but a starting point for aesthetic experience which makes them specific and updated.” [3]

 The piece of art, by Ingarden, is located in a virtual space and is neither material nor ideological as it is an intentional subject. The creation of the artist’s awareness, which by its materialisation reaches awareness of the recipient, gives it a solid shape. According to Ingarden’s theory, a piece of art is composed of a physical and conceptual subject, both parts being necessary to initiate the aesthetic process. Obviously Ingarden didn’t assume freedom of choice, he only wanted to highlight the specificity of artistic works.

Nicolas Bourriaud in his book Relational Aesthetics writes: “A piece of art is a dot on a line”.[4] Relational aesthetics which he proposes is a conclusion drawn from creations of artists of the 1990s. Bourriaud notices that art is a form of dialogue which takes place outside the commercialised communication channels, a dialogue which on the one hand resulted in a work of art and on the other hand resulted in a dialogue required to receive art. Art operates in a interstice, in a slit of the system.[5] Artefacts and exhibitions, as Bourriaud puts it, create „free areas, and time spans whose rhythm contrasts with those structuring everyday life, and it encourages an inter-human commerce that differs from the “communication zones” that are imposed upon us. (…) Art is a state of encounter[6] Form, according to Bourriaud’s theory, resembles with its structure a performance, it is nothing but recalling of a process and a reference point to build up new social relations. “Producing a form is to invent possible encounters; receiving a form is to create the conditions for an exchange, the way you return a service in a game of tennis.” [7] Even traditional works are only summarising certain stages of artistic relations. “The aura of an artwork no longer lies in the hinter-world represented by the work, nor in form itself, but in front of it, within the temporary collective form that it produces by being put on show.”[8] Bourriaud stresses that art is a domain of human relations where the form stimulating the inter-human communication in the most effective way are used. The art work is required creates temporary communities, establishes communication channel. Bourriaud`s theory might be associated with net-art. Creating temporary communities of users is listed as a one of the features of art existing in the Internet. 

The starting point of The Dump-recycling of thoughts was, a blog of Maurice Benayoun, a French artist and theoretician. It may be briefly described as a dumpsite/storage of ideas where concepts for works in theoretical, hypothetical form, concepts too complex to be realised, not fully identified, volatile ideas which come to the artist’s mind every day are stored. A blog as an artistic project? Do the published ideas ever materialise? When do they become works?

Recycling is one of the various methods aimed at protecting the environment. Its objective is to minimise consumption of resources and of volume of waste. Roy Ascott, a British artist and art theoretician, defined contemporary times as the time of the second deluge – the deluge of information. “The volume of gross available data is rapidly growing. (…) It is a chaotic flood of information, data stream, non-peaceful waters and whirls of communication, cacophony and deafening media yelling, war of images, propaganda and counter-propaganda, confusion of minds”.[9] One feature of the contemporary world is overproduction of information and images. May contemporary art be analogically defined by overproduction of ideas? The is a specific recycling of thoughts; however, it is not their end but rather a beginning. The ideas exist thanks to the Internet blog. Why would we want to produce new ideas when we may use existing ones? This question is inherent in Benayoun’s blog. In the world where ideas are of highest importance, the artist provides access to the stream of his creation to the imagination of other artists and curators; the blog is a form open to discussion.

The Dump-recycling of thoughts was an exhibition about artistic concepts and about a process of creation, an attempt to raise questions about the strategy of evaluation and reception. The project wandered between provocation and experiment. Its realisation was a bit risky. Will the artists agree to use ideas of another artist? Will we end up showing white walls only covered with print-outs of their refusals? What is the role of curator? Is a curator`s task to be only one of the players? Benayoun`s projects implementation, their interpretation are inherent in the blog.

Art development is about constant recycling, returns, reuses, interpretations – surrealism discovered Arcimboldo, baroque “dressed up” the saints by Michelangelo, avant-garde rejected classical paradigms of creations, postmodernism took up a game with them. The notion of a game seems to be of key importance to be able to understand both the project and the blog.

Each of the artists invited to take part in the project/encouraged to join the game had several options to choose – they could refuse or subordinate themselves to the ideas of another artist. It was surprising that nobody refused and proposed showing their own work instead. Łukasz Ogórek was closest to it as he showed his previous realisation and used a comment on the blog as a different way to interpret it. Łukasz Jastrubczak was looking for a way to replace Benayoun’s ideas with his own. The video entitled “Tutorial” shown at the exhibition was entirely evocative of the process of creation. The scene similar to a police visit to the scene of a crime showed a man sitting with his back to the spectators and telling them how to hack a blog. Łukasz’s project was a specific revolt, but it is still unclear against whom. The curator? The blog’s author? For me it was more of a funny comment on the nowadays popular function of an artist-celebrity famous more for themselves than for their works, dreaming about fame for whatever it takes, which is frequent in the world of visual artists.

 Dave Ball followed the instructions at first sight. The inscription to Players and the Wall / the World was as follows:To me, the act of creation is similar to a game of tennis where you play with yourself and the wall / the world is hitting the ball back, better or worse.

When during a meeting you face ‘the competing player’ – someone who is responding, who is searching for weaknesses in our defence or attack and is not hesitant at all – and then as if with a magic wand, the game is continued as never before.

The worst scenario to me is when there is no hitting back at all. The ball is flying in the air but is never coming back.” Dave’s work showed a lonely player against the background of a huge block of flats. The tennis player took positions to return the balls but the balls were hit past her, landing on the grass together with many others. At first glance the video was a realisation of Maurice Benayoun’s concept. The artist however made many subtle shifts, changing the concept/meaning of the work. The original idea was to show tennis as a metaphor for the process of creation. Dave set his work in an urban environment using an existing table for table tennis. The player, in contrast to the surrounding blocks of flats, was alone, no one else is passing by, there was no other sound to distract her. The picture was accompanied only by the monotonous sound of a hit ball with the background noise of public transport. Dave shifted the meaning of the original idea from the image of the creation process to a situation describing an individual alienated in an urban environment. The work shows how many subtle nuances are to be considered before we may claim that a specific work is plagiarised.

The works by Łukasz Ogórek, Łukasz Jastrubczak and Dave Ball define the limits of the project.[10] The second one doesn`t exist without the subject of its false hack attack. The majority of the artists have chosen a middle way – interpretations of the ideas published in the blog or rather a creative dialogue – development of the concept and translating it into their own works.

The majority of the works commissioned for The Dump-recycling of thoughts don`t need the blog posts to exist as a separate artistic entities. Awareness of their beginning from the ideas of another artist raises a lot of key questions which may help to understand contemporary art, wandering between the avant-garde claim “everybody can be an artist” and the post-modernistic statement “everything has already happened”. What is the relation between a copy and the original, the relation between a concept and a technique; what is the border between plagiarism and quotation, between an artist and a curator[11].

The classical aesthetic situation has always required three elements to co-exist: an artist, a piece of art, and a recipient. In the 20th century art the middle one has been successfully eliminated. It is not a sine qua non requirement. However, a fourth element has been added to the classical triangle – a curator. According to institutional art theory it is a necessary element for the piece of art to be valid, as it has introduced the institutionalised world of art to the classical set-up.

Omar Kholeif in his review from the Unrealized Potential exhibition highlighted that ideas published on the Internet are a challenge to protection of intellectual rights.[12]

What makes artists different from the rest of society? 20th century art aimed to liberate from the supremacy of the art object to become the realm of pure ideas. Artistic skills have stopped to be the most important part of artistic creation, the core of the creative process conceptions have started to be. At present the final work may be done by someone else, may be a matter of coincident, and also an art recipient may be its co-author or its validating factor.

The works presented in the The Dump-recycling of thoughts exhibition resulted from dialogue. The was interpreted not only, as the title could suggest, a dumpsite for unwanted materials, but is rather a non-ending artistic project encouraging dialogue and also to join a game regulated by art rules, by putting it in a context of art. The Dump-recycling of thoughts  was one of the games possible to be proposed. What is interesting, none of the invited artists has referred to the intention of Benayoun.[13] They took up the game with the ideas and not with the project developed by the artist.

[1] The artist “died” in the project by going through the cultural scheme of the dying ritual – she put obituaries about her death in the press, she fixed a date for the funeral at one of the cemeteries in Warsaw, the funeral ceremony was attended by mourners and also by the author herself made up as an old woman. The video from the funeral was used by Janin as a starting point for the installation presented inter alia in the Galeria Manhattan in Łódź. The work evoked many dramatic responses from other artists and intellectuals.

[2] The most controversial was the fact that the artist declared that the cosmetic products were made of human fat left after liposuction. A journalist writing about the planned exhibition associated it with the Nazi experiments. As a result the work, which played with pop culture, was given a completely new meaning.

[3] Roman Ingarden, Aesthetics Studies, v. III, Warsaw 1970, p. 156

[4] See. Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Les Press du reel 2002 (English translation), p. 21 translation of the author

[5] Bourriaud uses the term `interstice` taken from a theory of Karl Marx: „ The interstice is a space in human relations which fits more or less harmoniously and openly into the overall system, but suggests other trading possibilities than those in effect within this system” p. 16

[6] Ibid  p. 16-18

[7] Ibid p. 23

[8] Ibid p. 61

[9]. after Pierre Lévy, The Second Deluge, Art Magazine (13-14 (1-2/97)) 

[10] The blog was a starting point of The Dump-recycling of thoughts, the exhibitions was developed like an Internet forum. That`s why I decided not to describe all the works of the artists in the curatorial text recalling only the ones which constitutes the frames for the exhibition meaning. The learn more about the rest of them, please visit the rest of this  blog where  the virtual version of the exhibition can be found, commented or interpreted.   

[11]. Museum of Curators, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

“At the end of the 20th century the curator was consecrated by putting him on the top of the artistic pyramid. As he managed to gradually change into an author, and then into an artist, I suggest taking this historical logic even further and creating the first museum of curators in the 21st century. It will be a place to discover the full scope of the major exploits of curators in the last 30 years in the form of documentation, as well as reconstruction or models of exhibitions that marked the history of modern art. One of the alternatives of this project could facilitate reconstructions by removing all elements of exhibitions which the artist would demand, like canvasses, sculptures, installations, video, etc. In original arrangements only a frame of dust on the wall, the humming of a video projector, or the imprint of a bronze sculpture on the carpeting should be retained. This operation would bring a double advantage in reducing exhibition costs (insurance, transport, renting pieces of art) and would help one to see the material aspect of the curator’s gesture – the semantic and spatial thread binding separated fragments of sense.”

[12] The review is about the exhibition Unrealised potential that took place between 17 July and 12 September in  Cornerhouse Gallery in Manchester and was about the potential of unrealised artistic ideas.

[13] Kama Sokolnicka was the only one who referred to the entire concept of the dumpsite for ideas. The installation was composed of the gallery’s dumpsite – the waste after each exhibition. She located the waste behind a wall, leaving to the recipient a window/opportunity to have insight / secret commune with a private process of creation.


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