GENESIS OF SPACE CRYSTALLIZATION
My creative approach and the current state of my work have been shaped by many situations in my life, first in my native Poland and then out there in the world which I have been travelling for over thirty years now with the Space Crystallization art action.
My childhood and youth were marked by the undesired burden of life under the dark and illogical reality of the communist system. This encouraged me to find my own personal space where I was able to regain balance and logic and live my life as a decent and reasonably happy human being. I found respite in nature and the surrounding landscape. Already as a child, I would escape from mundane worries and feel liberated while learning from the logical order of nature whose beauty compensated for the absurdities of the period’s drab reality. This experience and understanding inspired by contact with nature have continued to inspire my art. It is no accident that already at the beginning of my artistic journey I decided to take space as my creative medium and sculptural material.
In my interview with Elżbieta Łubowicz, I related this period in my life:
“Already as a child, I experienced space as I roamed the fields and meadows and climbed the trees in the forest, rolled down a slope and walked on stilts. All these children’s pastimes made me confront many laws of physics, particularly concerning motion, and chemistry. For example, walking on stilts was about gravitation. It was exhilarating to experience mobility and the delicate invisible force of the wind caressing my face, to listen to my own voice amplified as it echoed back from a neighboring hill… And particularly, to see far, my gaze taking in the horizontal landscape’s multiple planes! The landscape that would look so different at various times of the day: on a sunny day, at noon, it appeared boundless, an autumnal morning revealed it draped with curtains of fog and it became inaccessible to my sight in the dark of the night. […] Playing and observing, I got familiar with so many natural phenomena, for example by contemplating a stable form of a rock rising from water, created by the centuries of crystallization and erosion processes. Its shape was sculpted by the invisible mobile force of the wind pressing against its surface, by volatile air conditions (temperature and humidity) and by the action of water eating it away; the working of matter in its all three states: solid, gas, and liquid.”
The outset of my creative journey and subsequently formulating my artistic program were connected to my interest in the theater. My personal experience with Tree of People para-theaterical experiment of Jerzy Grotowski and his Laboratory Theater in Wrocław in the late 1970s was a pivotal moment. My active involvement in the project completely changed my intellectual and emotional perspective. It opened my mind to hitherto uncharted territories of creative exploration that I began to define myself. Grotowski’s method of reaching the “roots of man’s primeval sensitivity”, the universal sensitivity, through direct work with the spectator, let me better understand myself. I could see my true potential and value, I could self-define my approach as an artist and I could choose a certain path opening before me and inviting me to begin a long and still continuing journey.
Grotowski’s experiment really helped me resolve vital questions I faced as a young art adept: Do I really care about what is currently considered “hot” and attracts the interest of many who are inspired by a dominating fashion and snobbishly excited by any newest trend? Or perhaps, I care more about intensely experiencing the space that surrounds me, filled with air which is really there although invisible to my eyes?
And so, I made my choice. I chose space and air as the territory of an unfashionable but relevant truth to be worth exploring. At this time, I also made a fully conscious decision to distance myself from artistic ideas of others even those I respected and admired. I wanted to be a creator not a follower or a copyist of someone else’s conceptions.
During this period, I started to develop a theory I would later incorporate into my program. I became fully aware of the existence of the objective world, that is the cosmos, nature, and science investigating the phenomena occurring in this world and their underlying mechanisms, and the subjective world encompassing everything created by the human mind.
At this point, I made a decision that my art would derive from the objective world the mechanisms and laws structuring natural phenomena, including those invisible to our eyes but present in space. As a creative artist, I would be the sole connector to the subjective world of culture and civilization. I also decided to probe yet uncharted territories, to become the explorer and discoverer of the unknown, interested in expanding culture by opening onto new aesthetic realms rather than concentrating on a single perfect work of art.
The direct defining impulse was provided by a class project focused on the problem of equilibrium set by Professor Leon Podsiadły when I was in my fourth year of the MFA program at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław. Working on the project, I started the cycle of mobile sculptures called Instruments of Equilibrium. In my works, I harmoniously combined elements taken from the objective and subjective worlds, nature creations with manmade machines and instruments, and thus created a new – and innovative – reality.
Ten years later, a new branch sprang from the Instruments of Equilibrium trunk: the Space Crystallization cycle. A kind of artistic action focused on working with space, the project has continued for the last twenty-seven years in various locations all over the world. It is my personal intervention into public space aimed at redefining it. Since 1991, I have continued working on both cycles simultaneously.
The earlier Instruments of Equilibrium are sculptures built as delicate structures of “hard” but very thin line. Although their openwork skeletons penetrate into the surrounding space, they are still objects that can be moved and they are designed to be viewed from the outside. They exist and are displayed in some specific space thus subscribing to the traditional definition of sculpture. The conception of the Space Crystallization cycle, although derived from these experiments, in a way reverses these orders. It is space itself, the accumulation of invisible phenomena governed by certain laws, that becomes the sculpture, the work, the material of which the sculpture is constructed and also its potentiality for existence. The visible crossing lines of permanent matter that I introduce into a given space (using various materials, hard and soft) help one mentally grasp the invisible. They are contours outlining boundaries in the process of “space crystallization” consisting in its being divided into separate but adjoining volumes (“crystals of space”). I invite the viewer to enter this articulated space but not to contemplate an aesthetic object (although I do not reject aesthetic experience), as with the Instruments of Equilibrium cycle, but to appeal to their primal and primeval sensitivity, to wake it up by means of physical change, through confrontation with some spatial distortion.
By creating around the viewer an ethereal and ephemeral scenography, in contrast to the extant heavier and often geometrical elements structuring the allocated space, I want to knock them out of their mundane routines and stereotypes. Just as Jerzy Grotowski had once made me break free of intellectual and emotional stereotypes with his para-theatrical experiment.
My artistic program, formulated in the early 1980s, set the framework for the projects realized over the following years. My accumulated experience of working with space has kept the program evolving and it has remained in constant motion to explore still new areas of creativity. The program’s evolution has been spurred first of all by the various – and varied – cultural contexts I have encountered during my artistic journeys to culturally distant places.
To be able to share my art with local people, to reach their primal sensitivity, I always have to familiarize myself with their culture which has for centuries shaped their life, mentality, and perceptual habits. Therefore, as I take on the space crystallization of a specific space, I first analyze its history, function, and architectural contexts to decide how to redefine it creatively; what materials to use and what techniques to employ in the sculpture’s construction to make it enfold harmoniously in the assigned space.
In my artistic program, I declare that space itself is the primal matter of my sculpture. Invisible to the human eye, elusive – until something visible, like a line of some hard material, defines it.
At the beginning, it was a line created by nature, like a tree branch. Over time, however, while confronting the still new aesthetic contexts of spaces assigned for my projects (I call them “existing energy”) and striving to make my artistic vision (“introduced energy”) harmonize with a particular space, I have started to use other materials to define lines. For every particular project, I would purposefully select structural materials for their properties and aesthetic values. While not in a starring role, they are nevertheless important for the aesthetic expression and impact of my spatial compositions.
By choosing wood, metal and glass to construct my hard line, I have faced the challenge of building engineered structures not unlike those employed in architecture or civil engineering. In 2002, I introduced soft, elastic lines resulting in structures constructed by balancing tensions. This has led me to empirically explore the fascinating world of physics and mathematics and these disciplines have become my instruments of choice to realize my aesthetic and structural goals.
Consequently, it is mostly scientists who are my understanding, supportive and faithful public, unlike the majority of humanists who tend to ignore my program and instead interpret my creations in the context of art history and some subjectively perceived connections to works of other artists.
Educated as an artist rather than structural engineer, in a sense I feel like the builders of ancient temples and medieval cathedrals who erected imposing monuments without making structural calculations and detailed architectural plans. My structures arise based solely on logic, intuition and experience accumulated over the years. These are not written down on paper but exist in my mind, memory and creative act – and this obliges me to personally execute my structurally complex sculptures.
In a way, I am like a pianist-cum-composer who plays his own music. I cannot imagine asking somebody else to perform my “spatial concert”. I cannot imagine employing subcontractors, assistants, even large teams as other artists do.
It is not possible for any assistants to have the same intuition, the same subtle feel for keyboard of my piano. Entrusting the realization of my project to a technical team would amount to offering my public a product instead of living art. Also, by substituting some technical firm specializing in the realization of “artworks” for my personal and manual involvement, I would have depleted my experience which grows through working and experimenting with space. And it is indispensable for constructing new sculptures.
Another reason for my insistence on personal physical involvement is my declaration that the Space Crystallization series is about creative public action. Through my work in public space, I give people an opportunity to participate in the creation of a work of art, the aspect emphasized and appreciated by the directors and curators of the Yokohama Art Museum who watched my performance in 1999.
Regarding the aesthetic and emotional aspect of my artistic projects, I have to emphasize that I purposefully demolish the structural principles I have encountered and remembered by applying the approach of testing senses through negation and confrontation with the absurd as I declared in my first program formulated in 1981 and explored in my MFA graduation project Alogical Mechanisms. In my sculptures-cum-structures I often defy the common structural logic informing architectural and engineering projects – but not the laws of physics – in order to create a different image and different aesthetic.
My artistic program, its first part formulating the basic premises of my approach, was put down in writing in 1981 and simultaneously I started to pursue my own path. Although the program had already informed the series of sculptures exhibited in Wrocław, it was only published – fragmentarily – in 1986, during my first year in Paris, in the exhibition catalogue of La Jeune Sculpture. In 1990, it was translated into English and submitted as part of my application for the residency program at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, USA. There, its English version was edited and it went public accompanying my exhibitions in New York (1990) and Provincetown (1991). Its second part, devoted to the Space Crystallization project, was formulated following my first work with space as the sculpture material of choice which was realized at the Hudson D. Walker Gallery at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown where I invited the public to enter my sculpture.
With the passage of time and new experience accumulated through experimenting with space, materials and volatility of visual perception, the form of my artistic program has also evolved but its fundamental premises have remained the same.
ON MY WORK – ARTISTIC PROGRAM
I want my sculpture to be an ephemeral phenomenon rooted in two different worlds: biology on the one hand and machinery and instruments on the other. Of the traditional conception of the sculpture as a form that has weight, is made of permanent materials and designed to be viewed from the outside, I retain line, the line speaking through the properties of the material from which it derives: warm wood (fiber, naturally formed branch), cold metal (that can be cut, bent, wrought, drawn out), transparent glass (cut, broken, fused, etc.); and space, articulated with line and split up into volumes. Then, appropriating senses from the worlds of biology, machinery and instruments, I analyze the problem of sense and absurd. I search for a moment of equilibrium. My pursuits result in lightweight, delicate structures-objects integrating these senses into a new value based on the principle of compatibility. This is how I started the cycle of mobile sculptures called Instruments of Equilibrium which I have continued ever since. They are mobile objects designed to measure balance. This is a SPECTACLE of a kind starring the mobile line and volumes of space it defines. This is how the space is structured – it is constructed by line. The spectacle of the relation between the interior and exterior, physical and mental equilibrium (in a broad sense of the word). The spectacle enfolding as the spectator moves.
Another path, which I started later as a direct consequence of my approach, is the Space Crystallization cycle, the action project initiated in 1990 in Provincetown, at the Donald Walker Art Center. There, I decided to invite the viewer to enter my sculpture. So – in contrast to Instruments of Equilibrium – it involves intervening with line into an existing space, its physical and semantic properties predetermined, in order to create new mental and aesthetic values. Space Crystallization is drawing space with line.
Not only do the sculptures from the Space Crystallization cycle reveal their interior but they also draw the viewer in, stimulating reflection amplified by emotional reaction. In my creative process, intellect, accumulated experience, intuition, temperament and emotions are of equal importance. Rather aiming at a finite work focused on perfection and beauty, every new completed sculpture sums up my earlier experiences and marks a consecutive stage in my journey to explore yet uncharted territories.
Space Crystallization consists in modifying some specific space, predetermined physically and semantically, by means of the line crossing onto itself in precisely defined orders. In other words: it is about splitting the space up into volumes/”crystals” in order to create new aesthetic and mental values activating the consciousness and subconsciousness of the human spectator who is encouraged to enter thus “activated” space. I invite them inside my sculpture, which initiates the transformation of the passive viewer into the active participant. Following the changing perception of the line drawing, they are forced to adjust their bodies to the changing spatial context… And so, the emotions inspired by an aesthetic experience are augmented with those arising from an unusual spatial situation and knocking them off their stereotypical behavior. I offer them the active space.
The active space results from a happy encounter of the “existing energy” with the “introduced energy”. The site’s existing energy is all that characterizes the particular space: its architectural idea, proportions (width, height, length), materials (concrete, stone, wood, plaster, glass etc.), function (office building, gallery, church, urban square, forest, landscape…) and also the kind of projected viewer who would perceive my vision through the stereotypes and canons of their specific vernacular culture.
The space’s introduced energy, in my work it is line whose expression is defined by the properties of the material and also by the visual image and situation it creates (various orders of crossing: geometry, chaos, concentration, disintegration, rhythms, contrasts, analogies and similarities, proportions between the empty and occupied sections; the shape of line: straight, rounded, vertical, horizontal, oblique).
All these factors contribute to the space’s objective activity which is confronted in the act of perception with the subjective activity enfolding within it: the spectator’s individual psychology and the cultural filter shaping their perception of the proposed aesthetic situation.
Reaction to the materials:
- Wood: lightweight, warm, natural; usually appeals to the aesthetic aspect of human emotions.
- Metal: technological, heavy, cold, used to construct machines; often perceived as anti-aesthetic.
- Glass: technological, cold, heavy, possible harmful to the body in direct contact, transparent, volatile in response to light; it equally inspires positive and negative emotions.
- Cellophane (“stretch” tape): lightweight, transparent, nice to the touch, elastic; at the same time technological packing material.
Space Crystallizations, that is proposed active spaces, aim at reaching and stirring man’s primal (universal) sensitivity. They represent an attempt to penetrate through cultural stereotypes (of what supposedly constitutes Polishness, Americanness, Japaneseness or Frenchness) in order to appeal to the universal human emotionality and enrich the individual by providing new experiences. By inviting the individual human being into the spaces (sculptures) I create, I want to liberate them from mundane existence and limiting stereotypes and to offer them instead a special and festive experience not unlike an epiphany.