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WT 012/013

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In 1974, Andrzej Partum, poet, piano player, dadaist, mail artist, performer, and artist operating through various media, slung a banner across one of Warsaw’s streets. It read: THE VANGUARD SILENCE.

In 1981, after the martial law was proclaimed in Poland on December 13, the artists, actors, writers etc. made a statement known as “The voice which is a silence”. They protested against the military intervention and boycotted all official culture institution.

Paradoxically, this withdrawal resulted in an unprecedented contact between art and the public – art hidden in churches and private spaces seemed to reveal so much more. “Average” people participated in art to an extent which was not known before. Artists became aware of their role and extremely responsible for what they were doing. They also became morally engaged in the social context – through their art. Janusz Zagrodzki, art historian, analyses this phenomenon further in this issue of “tytuł roboczy” (“working title”).

It is needless to say that many of the works created throughout that period had an immediate, short-term message. But the really interesting thing is that a lot of them were difficult, critical, avant-guard (to mention only such performers as Przemysław Kwiek, Zofia Kulik, Zbigniew Warpechwoski, or Andrzej Mitan) – and yet they were very well received by the unique public of that time. Those works require extensive research and perhaps a separate publication.

The exhibition “Icons of Victory” and the accompanying issue of “working title” have no ambition to encompass the art of the 1980’s as a whole. Though it may not seem so – it was a complicated period, even if we only keep in mind such contradictions as official and underground; “church-wise” (later often ridiculed) and the not so much church-wise, traditional and vanguard, not to mention: good and bad. For some artists this was the time of depression and withdrawal, for some a period of difficult decisions, for others – the years of most creative engagement and fulfilment.

Our aim and intention (as the name of our organization: Association for Education and Progress may suggest) is education. Through art and documentation – we wanted to tell young people, who do not remember that period, about the mood, the atmosphere, the way people lived: about a life which was a bit horrible, and at the same time rather cool – but for sure it was very much different from what they know and experience today. We wanted to help them understand. That’s the reason for presenting so many photos and documents. We were also interested in the visual aspect of the 1980’s: the ephemera, posters, stamps – many of them were of artistic value. The issue includes texts written in red – it is our commentary to situations which may not be that obvious to those who did not live in Poland at that time.

The selection of works is personal, but on the other hand we wanted to present a whole range of options and attitudes. We didn’t want to present again the most known and popular works. Many works of art never left the studios of the artists, or were – unjustly – forgotten. Others never became popular, some were created contemporarily as the authors’ comment about the past. We are quite sure that we will continue to deal with that subject, we are still looking for works and documents, with a view for creating a permanent collection of Icons of Victory.

On the next page, we thank all our partners and sponsors: institutions and companies without whom we would never succeed in organizing this event. Here we want to present several individuals who helped us create this exhibition: Jerzy Ko¶nik, whose enormous collection of 1980’s ephemera made us first think about starting such a project; Janusz Zagrodzki – was as always our programme consultant; Janusz Byszewski donated his valuable collection of audio tapes, which can be heard at the exhibition, Tadeusz Sudnik traditionally assisted us with his “impossible sounds”, and Krzysztof Ciężkowski helped with some DTP issues. We also want to thank all the artists – they got truly involved in the implementation of the project.

We already mentioned the educational aspect, but our Association has yet another word in it’s name: i. e. “progress”. We are therefore also interested in the conclusions that can be drawn, and in whatever is still important and valuable –.shortly speaking: in finding an answer to the question: how the art and memory of the 1980’s can enrich us today.

Last year, when we worked on our other project called the Memory Bank, we noticed that many people that we talked to, remember the unique sense of community and concord that was so striking in the 1980’s. Of course it was possible in the face of “one enemy”. Nevertheless, we believe, that even in a pluralist world – some communities of thought and of work are possible – for sure without the pathos, maybe not so unanimous – but perhaps the more valuable. As we can see – even from that exhibition – it does not necessarily have to be homogenous and boring. On the other hand though, we are really happy that that decade belongs to the past – we felt it strongly when working on this issue – the mere fact that we can publish an independent art magazine seems to be a sufficient argument.

In the end we wish to mention Andrzej Partum again. To his VANGUARD SILENCE he made a certain commentary: “it places creative imagination among humble virtues, and protects the artist against being prematurely torn to pieces by the wild public, demanding more and more thrill”. We want to leave you with this thought, which is equally important today – as we believe that humble and silent art can speak much more poignantly that the one which is loud and spectacular.

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