'Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation' exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
review

Antoni Starczewski The Poliphony of Artistic Creation

The rhythm which marks out our lives stops only once – definitively. Time beats out the rhythm for us with every minute and second. It’s impossible to escape, although many times we dreamed about stopping it only for a moment. Our heartbeat marks out the internal compulsion to live and the biological determinants of every living being. This metre, which is beaten out by the organism, is aligned with the pace of the world around us – nature on one hand and culture on the other. 

Antoni Starczewski, 'Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation' exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
Antoni Starczewski, ‘Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation’ exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza

Starczewski’s search for universal expression

The waves of sound spread around the philharmonic hall. They blow around us from the right and from the left side, just like gusts of wind. They pulse in time and space. The conductor, who conducts the orchestra with hand movements, leads their harmonious and linear development. The conductors’ gestures give rise to intangible and abstract sounds. Similarly, Antoni Starczewski used both hands to create his work entitled ‘Układ na dwie ręce’ [A Two-Hands Arrangement] (1959-1960) which is located at the University of Łódź Library building, in a city where a monograph exhibition of this artist’s works, entitled ‘Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation,’ can be viewed at the Central Museum of Textiles. As the curators of the exhibition, Marta Kowalewska and Grzegorz Musiał, wrote: ‘It is a score which reflects the polyphony of a playing orchestra, rhythms, and shapes. It is a notation of movement conveying encodes information, as well as of the energy of sound waves.’1

Antoni Starczewski, ‘Układ na dwie ręce’ [A Two-Hands Arrangement] (1959-1960), 'Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation' exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź.
Antoni Starczewski, ‘Układ na dwie ręce’ [A Two-Hands Arrangement] (1959-1960), ‘Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation’ exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź.

This monumental relief (320x240cm) is composed of 160 various forms arranged in stripes, creating a rippled and extraordinarily dynamic composition. The work is an attempt to illustrate sound and to give it a tangible form. It also marks a breakthrough in Starczewski’s search to transfer the language of expression, its meaning, intensity and density from one medium to another. In this ground-breaking work, we can notice how seemingly distant language systems (music and visual arts; sound and ceramic sculpture) merge and cooperate in an effort to design a universal artistic expression, going beyond the elements which seemingly create genre limitations, in search for common ground. The creative process, just like an alchemist’s experiment, results in the creation of a universal element, allowing us to communicate beyond languages. 

It was not by accident that Starczewski himself saw the ‘Two-Hands Arrangement’ as a beginning: ‘My artistic birthday happened in 1960 and it was connected with the completion of first monumental ceramic piece,’ he said.2 The work consolidated all previous searches, development paths and techniques he would reach for in individual works. The installation is not only an attempt to capture the polyphony of sounds – it is a way to describe the polyphony of artistic expression.

'Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation' exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
‘Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation’ exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza

The notion of intermediality and attempt to formulate a new language

The notion of intermediality is an inherent part of Starczewski’s creative work. This is best demonstrated at the above-mentioned cross-sectional exhibition in Łódź. It brings together the early organic ceramic works and table compositions from the 1970s (including tables with ceramic ‘tableware’ imitating fruit, vegetables, and bread compositions), collections of prints and textiles and reliefs which continue to explore linear notations – including light relief works and their models. Ceramics, large-scale sculptures, textiles, music, poetry, performance actions and all kinds of activities in time and space-, create conglomerates of letters in the construction of thoughts absorbing the artist throughout his life. His extensive reflections on topics such as the ephemeral nature of time, presence – existence, the diversity in seeming uniformity, psychophysical and biological determinants and the issues of communication required equally complex research methodologies. He combined the apparent multitude of techniques, forms and topics into a specific alphabetic notation – an attempt to formulate a new language. As he wrote back in 1948: ‘I owe a lot to poetry. [Julian] Przyboś opened my eyes to contemporary visual arts. I measure music I verse and image. These three disciplines cannot exist without each other.’3

They constitute unity in apparent diversity, resembling letters forming the alphabet. Starczewski discovered that in the early 1960s; it was a pioneering approach at a global scale. This coherent development of an intermedial statement with full awareness of its structure was six years ahead of the breakthrough text by Dick Higgins entitled ‘Statement of Intermedia’ of 1966, which, coming from behind the Iron Curtain, opened the eyes of western critics to the fact that the changes in the sphere of culture had broken the traditional framework of expression and it was necessary – similarly to these phenomena – to join these seemingly stand-offish elements in artistic domains. Intermediality was to become a response to the problem. 

'Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation' exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
‘Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation’ exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
Antoni Starczewski, 'Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation' exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
Antoni Starczewski, ‘Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation’ exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
Antoni Starczewski, 'Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation' exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
Antoni Starczewski, ‘Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation’ exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza

The importance of co-existence, instead of domination

For Starczewski, it was a natural outcome of his search. On the one hand, it was an expression of in-depth studies of each technique individually. By analysing in detail a given sphere of interest and the elements belonging to a given domain only, he also explored areas which are common to all arts – areas where they communicate. Thus, studies of both ceramics and textiles were supported by a careful examination of the methods for working with the materials, their properties and historic conditions. For instance, with regard to textiles, the artist wrote that he attempted to ‘[…] get rid of the element of illusion and anecdote […] limit the expressiveness of form […], incorporate tapestry into the surroundings by means of its “inaction” – coexistence not domination.’4

This resulted in the fact that he would focus on the fabric itself, its properties and limitations, moving within that framework. His almost totally monochrome, flat textiles covered with linear arrangement of vowels, underscores or dashes do not surprise us with avant-garde and expressive fabric weaves transgressing the space. He would reach for apparent simplicity and rhythmical arrangement, starting from a harmonious weave of fabric, all the way to linear arrangements of characters. The linear form of notation, the metre and the sign itself were research areas which further shifted to the area of versatile printing techniques, complemented with music and performance art.

On the other hand, Starczewski’s approach resulted from his experience as a student which he had gained during his time at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź under Strzemiński’s tutelage. However, to Starczewski, Unism and his master’s stance were not lodestars or a pre-defined way he would follow. They became one of the points of reference for independent research, such as Strzemiński’s call to combine art and industry. It is worth mentioning a record of the development and assembly of a work in the public space of Elbląg, showcased at the exhibition in the Central Museum of Textiles. The monumental work, entitled ‘Koło’ [Wheel] was made of steel as part of the 1st Spatial Form Biennial organised in the city in 1965. In this piece, he included the system of characters he had created, arranged in 12 segments of the steel wheel. 

Antoni Starczewski 'Koło' ['Wheel'], 'Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation' exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
Antoni Starczewski ‘Koło’ [‘Wheel’], ‘Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation’ exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza

Furthermore, the work resulted from Starczewski’s fascination with the idea of linear notations and code systems. Using Freud’s psychoanalysis, it can be attributed to his family history. Starczewski’s mother worked at an establishment for the deaf. The issue of communication and the importance of gestures, an arbitrary system of signs, must have been part of his life since early childhood. Later on, his entire creative path was also based on the broadly understood study of the language of notation and communication. The importance of the alphabet characters, punctuation marks, numbers or symbols inspired by writing is present in nearly every work presented at the exhibition in Łódź. In his essay entitled ‘Structures and Natures of Notation,’ Sebastian Dudzik, invoking Claude Ritschard’s views, wrote that ‘according to Ritschard, the signs and their systems devised by Starczewski liberated the notation of its original content, thereby drawing our attention to its structural and composition features. This opens the door to recognising the text’s non-obvious, concealed qualities and meanings […].’5

Looking at Starczewski’s works, one could go even further, as it is also the volatility of arrangements and grouping as part of the sets that creates new meaning. Values are shaped in a space, created as a result of movement and object-object, object-subject and artwork-viewer relationships. Every interaction brings a variable value, just like an increase or decrease of temperature which affects the speed of sound.

'Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation' exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza
‘Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation’ exhibition, the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: Dariusz Kulesza

The ‘Wheel,’ mentioned above, provides yet another contribution to discussions in this sphere. Wheel segments refer to the universally accepted system of measures and time measurement. On one hand, there is the form of a clock and on the other hand, there is a geometric system of characters and their arrangements filling the fields of the object. This included one more system – the Earth moving around the sun. It is this linear and irreversible system that performs the last creative act. Through the sun rays falling on the steel elements of the sculpture, it is put in metaphorical motion, as it is the movement of visual reflexes on the surface of the work. It is volatile and unique, like each new day of our passing life. The seeming unity of the rhythm beaten out harmoniously by nature and culture reveals the beauty of nuances. These tiny details make every moment unique and remind us about the biological aspects of life.

To do this, it is necessary to understand the processes taking place in nature and culture. For art to affect us with the same rhythm, there needs to be full understanding of the properties of the technique used. Only then will art have a chance to become a cardiogram of our reality.


1 M. Kowalewska, G. Musiał, “Complementarity of Creative Acts” [in:] “Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation”, p. 25.

2 S. Dudzik, “The Structures and Natures of Notation” [in:] “Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation”, p. 97.

3 M. Kowalewska, “A Map of Infinity. On Biological Rhythm” [in:] “Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation”, p. 151.

4 M. Kowalewska, G. Musiał, “Complementarity of Creative Acts” [in:] “Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation”, p. 53.5 S. Dudzik, “The Structures and Natures of Notation” [in:] “Antoni Starczewski. The Idea of Linear Notation”, p. 92.

About The Author

Dobromiła
Błaszczyk

Founder and director of London-based arts organisation Contemporary Lynx, since 2013. Editor-in-chief and founder of the print magazine Contemporary Lynx with a global reach and international distribution, listed as one of the best art magazines in London by Sotheby’s Institute of Art and recommended by Tate Modern bookshop.

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