ABSURDITY AND MYSTERY OF A BODY
from: EXIT 3/1999
Jerzy Truszkowski has been one of the most colorful personalities of
young Polish art of 80s. He took part in all important art manifestations of that period.
One can hardly think about any meeting on a national scale where he didnt appear. (1) What was his field of activity? They were many. He staged performances,
made films, sung, played with a punk group, painted, wrote, and used to give theoretical
lectures kept in a tone of his erstwhile hero, Witkacy. The multimedia artist - or if we
have to describe Truszkowskis attitude more properly - the total artist, i.e. one,
who transforms (at least tries to) his own live into art.
From a present perspective his performances form a portion of his work that seem most
important, since they brought him true recognition both in the country and abroad, while
being closest to his theoretical statements.
Truszkowskis performances from 80. have been described in Elisabeth Jappes
anthology: PERFORMANCE-RITUAL-PROZESS. HANDBUCH DER AKTIONSKUNST IN EUROPA (Münich - New
Photographs of one which is the best known - FAREWELL TO EUROPE (1987), was recently
included into a large exhibition BODY AND THE EAST. FROM THE 1960S TO THE PRESENT (Museum
of Modern Art Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana, 1998).
Also Geurt Imanse, the author of most extensive text on Truszkowskis work so far,
devotes due attention to performing activities of the Polish artist. (2)
At the very early stage of his career Truszkowski worked out his own, quite unique formula
of performance, where he fully developed sadomasochist elements already present in the
Polish performance, particularly in the works of Natalia LL and Zbigniew Warpechowski (3) - formula of private, intimate rites of blood. FAREWELL TO EUROPE,
mentioned above, is probably one of the best known performances by Truszkowski, probably
also the most mature one, and very characteristic of the artist.
Young man (Jerzy Truszkowski) gets his draft card. On January 3, 1987, few days before
leaving for the army he launches a farewell ceremony of a sort in a flat of his friend
(Zbigniew Libera). In a field cap of his father on his head (adorned with a grey metal
five-arms star and crowned eagle (4), with a help of surgeons
lancet he cuts a cross on his forehead, and a pentagram (another five-arm star or ancient
symbol of health which also keeps away evil forces) on his chest, underneath a small metal
figure of Christ, hanging on a chain. Rivulets of blood are streaming down the
half-naked body of the artist. All this is performed (in video version) to the sounds of
loud music. But there is more to it. With the same lancet, he has cut signs on his skin,
the artist cuts his moustache. It is how Geurt Imanse interprets this performance: cold
war, splitting of the world into two military blocks, memories of WWII and its
consequences for Poland. (5) Agata Jakubowska, Polish art historian,
simply states: In such actions like FAREWELL TO EUROPE (1987) he carved on his skin
a pentagonal star, a Latin cross, swastika, and other symbols referring to totalitarian
societies, now permaeted with personal and political meanings." (6)
In my opinion this performance, particularly important for Truszkowski in his whole oeuvre
(as he stated in a letter to Elisabeth Jappe), has a lot in common with rites of passage,
well know to many young men. Draft into the army attests that their bodies doesnt
any longer belong solely to them. Community claims its right to exert a control over
bodies of adolescent males, to discipline them, and reshaping into an armed arm of power.
What is left to draftees? Hope that they will luckily survive a military adventure without
their bodies being used in a wrong cause. (Motive of the army appears and reappears in
Truszkowskis oeuvre from the very beginning, in his early works, such as VOYENNIY
FLAG [WAR FLAG in Russian] (1985), through SELFPORTRAIT IN A GALA UNIFORM WITHOUT INSIGNIA
OF RANK (1988), to a fairly recent work WE WANT YOU (1998).
In late 80. Truszkowski worked on pictograms crowded with human-crosses and human-stars -
simplified human figure inserted into a form of cross, and that of a star. Later, when he
became fascinated with an idea of Eurasia, he produced a series of square paintings
divided into 225 small squares, each filled with encoded signs, while variegated color
allowed for insertion of simple geometrical forms: crosses, squares, stars, etc.,
like in a HUMAN BEINGS IN THE WORLD (1991) or in FOREST OF POLISH COATS OF ARMS (1991) or
in LABIRYNTH OF MONGOLIAN AND SARMATIAN TAMGAS (1991). In some of those paintings the
artist used only differentiated color and geometrical forms (LABIRYNTH OF STEPPE, 1991)
The artist juxtaposed a swastika with a cross, a five-pointed star with the
national flag, David`s star with military emblems. In his early performances Truszkowski
emphatically confronted these symbols with the pain of his own flesh being cut with a
scalpel. Now, the inexpressible drama of physical and psychic torment is transferred
to the visual form of his paintings. It is worth trying to enter into the spirit of their
uniquely vibrating calligraphy and tormented textures. Thus formed by the artist the
pictures become meanigful again thanks to and through the individuality, which rouses them
from the inertia of platitudes and restores to life. " Wrote Maryla Sitkowska about
Truszkowkis paintings. (7) In 1992 during his visit to Japan,
Truszkowski realized series of performances under a common title BLOODY MASS, where he has
returned to symbols cut out on the skin. It was a meaningful return. Nineties meant for
Truszkowski a time of repetitions and replications. The artist begun to reproduce his
earlier works, transferring them onto large, color photographs (in Cibachrome technique)
which thus stood for remakes, and records of things past, while being new ventures
in the same time. We live in an epoch of reproduction, and repetition; of never ending
multiplication of images to the point of utter trivialisation where, stripped on any
meaning, they turn into handy, well known symbols.
For the media, agonizing Algerian mother becomes an Arabian Madonna, contemporary Mater
Dolorosa, argues Ewa Mikina. (8) By the same token, Truszkowskis
photographs in a field cap, with a red cross on a forehead (still from FAREWELL TO EUROPE)
becomes an allegory of 20th-century soldier. Is Batman giving one-dollar notes to street
beggar a personalization of a Good Samaritan, or a movie hero helping those wronged and
impoverished by merciless capitalism?
What we can find on movie screens all over The World are [
] representations of
banality and death", argues Truszkowski. (9) Recent works by
Truszkowski confront the world of banal images; using and reproducing them the artist
verges on absurdity. What else can be said about such Cibachromes like PROBLEM (1997) or
NO PROBLEM (1997), LEGLESS WITH BATMAN (1998), or LEGLESS WITH SANTA CLAUS (1998)? Every
comment would be absurd.
Sandra Korsak is right, when she writes that those works can easily pass without any
comment, what they demand is our deep respect, esteem for a human body in its whole
fragility, and imperfection. (10) Already in 80s Truszkowski wrote
about nihilism of intellect and mystery of a body. Since our intellect is able to
formulate every imaginable assumption, to create every possible construction and
theoretical system, it is by its nature nihilistic. The source of values lays in emotions,
and feelings, foremost those, which are closely related to the body. (11)
translated by Ewa Mikina
(1) Full dossier of activities in which Truszkowski took
part during 80s can
be found in his biogram in Co slychac?, ed. M. Sitkowska,Warszawa 1989, p.
(2) G. Imanse, Can You Tell Me Where My Country Lies? Pare
twórczosci Jerzego Truszkowskiego przywolanych na scene / Some aspects of
JerzyTruszkowski`s Work Brought into the Limelight, Galeria Prowincjonalna,
Slubice, 1994, pp. 18-22.
(3) See, J. Truszkowski, "Witkacy, nihilisci, suka - solipsystyczny
komunikacyjnej adaptywnosci" , in: Co slychac? Op. cit. p. 117.
(4) Emblem of prewar Poland: during communist era eagle went by without
crown, returned only after 1989.
(5) G. Imanse, Can You Tell Me Where My Country Lies? op.
cit., p. 22.
(6) A. Jakubowska, "Body Art in Poland", in: Body and the East,
1998, p. 126.
(7) M. Sitkowska, "Jerzy Truszkowski", in: Time and Tide, Tokyo,
(8) A photograph presented at the World Press Photo 1997. E. Mikina,
"Problem", in: Jerzy Truszkowski, Re-, The Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok and
Samara Art Museum, 1998, p.17.
(9) J. Truszkowski, "A Male Subject or the Screen Doesnt Need a
Jerzy Truszkowski, Re-, op. cit., p. 76.
(10) S. Korsak, "Re: the Most Difficult Man in B., Poland", in:
Truszkowski, Re-, op. cit., p. 28.
(11) J. Truszkowski, Nihilizm intelektu, Czysta Forma, tajemnica
, in: Co slychac?, op. cit., p. 118-119.
Grzegorz Dziamski (b.1955), professor at Adam-Mickiewicz-University, Poznan.
He is the author and the editor of several esseys and books on contemporary
art, including Szkice o nowej sztuce (1984), Performance (1984), Awangarda
po awangardzie (1995), Od awangardy do postmodernizmu (1996).