THE AVANT-GARDE IMAGINED
“Geometry of Imagination”, an exhibition at the Gdańsk City Gallery
“Geometry of Imagination”, an exhibition at the Gdańsk City Gallery, featuring works by the international collective Sputnik Photos with a guest appearance by Peter Puklus
I find myself in front of photographs which are quite rich in content. They imply ideas, rationale, explanations and initiatives. I am virtually reading all this extra content and this gives rise to a firm belief that what I see at the exhibition represents notions and content which are universal for our times and the place we live in. I do not perceive it as a serious matter though, when I remind myself that the title of the exhibition refers to imagination, rather than the real world. What is more, a geometry of imagination suggests existing transformations within these mental images. If we consider the scientific field geometry stems from, i.e. mathematics, we acknowledge various perceptions of surfaces, distances, surface areas, constants and dimensions. Generally speaking, we are confronted with different geometries of seeing and presenting an object. They are all an imagined geometries recorded by means of photography and perceived, as previously mentioned, “to be the medium going much beyond the picture frames”. The very act of capturing a picture within a stable frame represents the moment inspiration falls upon an artist. The decision made at this precise moment determines how the audience assesses the artistic value of the artist’s pursuits and his or her personality. At this particular exhibition the artists present another kind of creative process. Within one picture or topic they create visual structures made of multiple constituent parts. The presented works are creative frames, the results of artists’ interventions in the objects they see and stem from the way their presentation to the audience is altered. This barely noticeable effect is the result of the fascination and openness to the multifaceted tradition of the Polish avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s. Sputnik Photos collective wish to make reference and engage in dialogue with this avant-garde movement. I perceive this interplay between the topic presented and the ideas I have just mentioned as the manifestation of a unique opposition to photography by members of the collective. Photography is a tool broadening our horizons and enriching knowledge, but despite that, what I see here is a narrowing of perspective. It is worth mentioning that in the heyday of the global avant-garde, photography managed to rise through the ranks and started to be perceived as a form of art. Revolutionary means of expression developed by avant-garde movements (which were also implemented in Poland) are present at the Geometry of Imagination exhibition and their role is to reveal human life problems from existential and social perspectives, and to specify the area and time of their presence.
The fusion of the past and the future
Avant-garde ideas reflected the desire for a revolutionary transformation in the way people perceive, think and function. What we see at the exhibition instead are records of generally familiar and long existing socio-political tensions. What is more, they were recorded based on forms and ideas which are extinct, discredited and often utopian. These were not even complete ideas, to be precise, but rather excerpts of situations occurring in the development of the avant-garde. Geometry of Imagination is a collage assembled of avant-garde quotations. In other words, it is polyphony of freely assembled elements taken from avant-garde, constructivism, futurism, modernism with added phenomena and behaviours present within avant-garde movements, often standing in contradiction to one another. An abundance of artists’ approaches to selected works and a subjective selection of stylistic conventions combines to form a rather fatalistic picture of the world beyond the gallery space. The works present the problems of visual decline (as seen in works by Jan Brykczyński, Adam Pańczuk), social conformism, stratification and hierarchy (works by Peter Puklus), moral/ethical dualism (works by Agnieszka Rayss), oppression within a system (work by Karolina Gembara and Rafał Milach), and the degradation of the natural environment (works by Michał Łuczak). If we try to analyse and interpret every single work as an individual unit, separate from other works, we easily notice how talented the artists are. Their craftiness and skill reveal are revealed in an instance. Despite all this, when such an abundance of ideas are combined in a restricted space, they act to the detriment of every single one of the works. The works lack a common pursuit of the truth (a willingness to acquire knowledge and learn the truth) of how it used to be, how reality is now overall and what it could look like in the future. The relational nature of these works emphasises the contradictory content in every single piece. In certain cases the fact that an artist did not correspond with the source he or she selected is brought to light, which enhances the cultural defeatism of the works as a whole. Was this necessary to see present time? Avant-garde ideology, which has always been oriented towards the future, has been providing artists with ideas for over a century already. It also is the primary source of inspiration for art forms in the 21st century. So, which direction does contemporary art follow? Is it still wavering between what was already here and what is yet to come?
Where to look for a solution to this grandiose riddle among all phenomena combining the process of constantly drawing from the past, reinterpretation, translation, attempts at inclusion and never-ending repetitions? Is it possible to make a confident step backwards and, thereby, deny everything that had ever happened? Could we simply go back to the very beginning, as it is shown in the work entitled “The National Planting Machine” (Narodowa Maszyna sadząca)? Maybe we would be able to initiate changes through open conflict and confrontation, which would be achieved by following the steps presented in the work by Karolina Gembara and Rafał Milach entitled „Seeding” (Wysiew). Unfortunately, the most frequently used practice is using the method encapsulated in the work by Agnieszka Rayss entitled “Falling Soldier – Reconstruction” (Padający żołnierz – rekonstrukcja), i.e. to revive the dead over and over again or to passionately look for meanings in the echo’s echo. Such an attitude and perception are definitely too little to survive and too much to die. We are constantly suffering due to the lack of art’s causative power and the resulting stimuli. I am suffering myself.
A work by Peter Puklus – a few hundred pairs of hands, one on top of another. These hands are worn by work, to the greater or lesser extent. In this work they act as autonomous entities and are the only carrier of our identity. They represent our origin and lifestyle and show our individuality encoded by lines on the palm. They are the starting point for activity or inactivity. Hands have causative power in relation to reality and thus they remind us that “we do not exist outside of this world, we emerge from the world and exist within it”. Geometry of Imagination is a result of us being in the world. What is needed most of all, however, is determining future gestures by proposing new ways of perceiving things, instead of consolidating outdated meanings. The causative power of action and a common responsibility for the result of an action or inactivity must be constantly emphasised. An avant-garde Polish classic said: “Art = maximum amount of creative output. Non-creative output, which is not different from what already was created, is not a work of art, no matter how closely we adhere to the recipes of the late masters. The form of existence creates a new form of awareness. When this new form arises, new content is generated”. Who will be brave enough to make a step into the unknown?
Written by Karolina Kliszewska
Translated by Joanna Pietrak
Edited by Maggie Kuzan