Agnieszka Jankowska-Marzec talks to Professor Maciej Kurak, a Vice-Rector of Science and Artistic Affairs at the University of the Arts in Poznań, an editor of the book “Bunt. Nowe ekspresje” [Bunt. New Expressions].
Maciej Kurak, an editor of the book “Bunt. Nowe ekspresje”
Agnieszka Jankowska-Marzec: I would like to start our conversation about the book “New Expressions,” which you edited, with a personal question. Although you have never completely given up on graphic art, you gained recognition thanks to your site-specific installations related to various social issues. Did you become interested in the activities of the Bunt group due to sensitivity to social issues that manifested themselves in their works? Or maybe what attracted you most was the interdisciplinary character of their activities?
Maciej Kurak: I think that both aspects you mentioned are important because we can draw analogies between the Bunt group’s approach and the activities in which I engage. The creative endeavours of the Bunt group members were driven by their interest in social issues. The impact of the works they produced was so strong because they were connected to challenges related to possibilities for a new, better society coming into existence. For example, Stanisław Kubicki, one of the group members, deserted from the army of the German Empire but did not permanently settle in the liberated Poznań region that was incorporated into Poland following the Greater Poland uprising. He instead emigrated to Berlin to participate in the Spartacist uprising. All these events from his life had a strong influence on his art. Stanisław Kubicki’s expressionist works – poems, prints, and paintings – are focused on topics related to an individual’s role and function in society. The artists from the Bunt group, considered representatives of the second wave of Expressionism, knew exactly what were the characteristic aesthetic features of the avant-garde movement. Having used these aesthetics, they went along with the model of creating innovations referring to Peter Bürger. He defined avant-garde artists as those who did not focus on creating styles by introducing new qualities but were able to skilfully use art resources to develop new theories and cultural practices. A certain value unveiled itself in connection with the above, which was further away from the consequences of consumer culture that was related to the change in approach to art and society. This was important in the 1960s as well as it is nowadays.Hungry for more?
A.J.M.: What was the most inspiring thing in your work as a book editor?
M.K.: Obviously, the experience of contributing to this publication and cooperating with other people is very stimulating and motivating. A very important thing for me was the fact that when creating the book, new topics were revealed related to changes in approach to a creative process. Unfortunately, we did not manage to include these topics in the book because the publication has a limited volume, but I hope that I will soon be able to return to them. There are three main topics discussed in the book “Bunt. New Expressions” or, in other words, three key issues. The first one comprises discussion related to academic fields in graphic art – visual communication, graphic techniques, and graphic arts. The last of these three mentioned fields has a definition which is getting acknowledgement in artistic institutions of higher education and, as a result, the structure of graphic departments gradually changes. As it turned out, academic discussions on graphic arts are now conducted in relation to broader fields of activities. This topic was elaborated on, e.g., during the international Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana. It was also present and visible in the actions of activists who utilised the potential of graphic arts, e.g., activities in the public space of the Pixadores group or interventions of Ganzeer carried out during the Arab Spring. The book also discusses the expressionist gesture of the Poznań avant-garde. The starting point here is, first of all, the pragmatic aesthetic of John Dewey, which concerns the expressive ways of experiencing art. Another important thing stemming from avant-garde ideas is a reflection on art being dispersed in everyday life. The threads in the book stemmed from traditional aesthetics that is focused on the subject of art. Then they analysed the aesthetics of creative processes that focuses on art events. In this context in the texts, I refer to progressive reflections by Bogusław Jasiński and Jerzy Ludwiński. Such an area of change inspires and activates me strongly. The book presents just an overview of the threads I mentioned, so they definitely need to be discussed in more detail in other research publications.
A.J.M.: In the article included in the book, we are talking about you having attempted to list characteristic features of Poznań Expressionism. How is it then different from other “expressionisms” which were developed in art in the early 20th century?
M.K.: Expressionists from Poznań were mostly characterised by their commitment to the ideas related to constructing a new social order. Their activity was stimulated by events that led to the incorporation of the Poznań region into Poland and the outbreak of proletarian revolutions. The reality so full of conflicts influenced the form of creative expression of expressionists from this region. It was even more unique due to the fact that the Bunt group included members from different countries. They were creatively active during the period of social unrest that resulted from economic development combinedwith state imperialism. The Poznań avant-garde published its texts and pictures in revolutionary periodicals, i.e., “Zdrój” and “Die Aktion” to exert even greater influence on the society. Expressionist gestures were aimed to attract the audience’s attention to the values that were far from stereotypical ways of presenting art. Their goal was to pass on to the social ideas that contributed to creating a new sense of community going far beyond local interdependences and correlations.
A.J.M.: Can works by expressionists from Poznań be considered influential on contemporary artists? If so, in which respect – formal solutions or ideological inspiration?
M.K.: The activities of expressionists from Poznań related to multiculturalism, universalism, the ones based on collaboration with artists and activists from other countries and representing other cultures, are currently widely discussed. When it comes to the Bunt group specifically, their activities are noted for going beyond the formal assumptions of the avant-garde. Contemporary artists who merely copy the avant-garde gesture make it impossible to overstep institutional determinants related to art. Nevertheless, the fact that they are focused on the area that absorbs events beyond the principles of functioning of art in the institutional and market context may lead to the development of original concepts and new formal solutions. One such area is the aesthetics of creative processes, which is different from the classical aesthetics operating based on artefacts. In modern culture, art was shaped mainly by capitalism glamourising things which were consumed. All this happened until the Avant-garde times. This was when the idea of combining art and life, so utopian in the context of traditional aesthetics, came into being. However utopian, it becomes real if we look at it from the perspective of the theory of aesthetics of creative processes described by Bogusław Jasiński.
Although Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof was forced to postpone the retrospective of Katharina Grosse “It Wasn’t Us” due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is hard to resist looking at and wondering about her immersive installations of saturated colors which we will hopefully experience in person in the near future.
A.J.M.: Could you tell us something more about the concept and goals of the exhibitions organised by the Department of Graphic Arts of the University of the Arts in Poznań? How do they relate to the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Bunt group, which we celebrated in 2018?
M.K.: The exhibitions organised as part of the project “Rebellion. New Expressions”, which took place in the years 2014 –2020, perfectly complemented the celebration of the centenary of work of the Department of Graphic Arts.
First of all, the Bunt group is recognized for its graphic works. In addition, one of its members, Jan Jerzy Wroniecki, was the co-founder of the artistic institution of higher education in Poznań and the head of the Department of Graphic Arts. This was the main reason we decided to celebrate the centenary of establishing the Department of Graphic Arts together with the centenary of the formation of the Bunt group. The project was the basis for deliberation and discussion related to graphic art and its impact on the society. It provided an opportunity to reveal creative expressions that served the general order and stimulated changes in widespread patterns of thought. References to the Bunt group in contemporary artists’ activities became the pretext for analysing the role of graphics in culture and for exploring certain issues once again, which, although being defined at the beginning of the 20th century, still remain crucial. The topic of the first exhibition in the series, entitled “Reflex”, was cultural geography. We presented local phenomena in the context of global culture. Regional mechanisms of the formation of social behaviour models were revealed. The exhibition entitled “Leaflet” showed the potential of graphics as a means of social communication. The project “+” revealed the powerful effect of contextual elements on the form of creative expression. In the project, I just mentioned that the role of graphic art was limited to co-creating the framework of another event – a presentation of avant-garde groups entitled “Bunt and Yung-Yidish – an Exhibition That Never Was…” Apart from the exhibitions, other events were organised as part of the “Rebellion. New Expressions” project – presentations, meetings, actions, conferences. These events ignored clearly defined boundaries between theory and practice, and thereby, they complied with the principles of aesthetics of creative processes.
A.J.M.: In your theoretical analyses on the role of contemporary graphic arts in the culture, you refer both to the 20th-century history of this art field and its function, as proposed by Mieczysław Porębski. In your opinion, at what stage are graphic arts now? Is it the stage of creative coexistence with other fields of art? Or does it find itself in an exceptional position in comparison to other fields of art thanks to being so focused on its medium being intact from the technical point of view?
M.K.: The reference to the morphology of a work of art was the beginning of a discussion that then focused on the function of creative activities. The change in approach resulted from the analysis of the criteria of classifying contemporary works as graphics. Any activities close to the aesthetics of creative processes contributed to undermining the primary features of traditional aesthetics. Graphic arts are no longer seen merely as an activity related to a matrix but mainly as a creative practice utilizing certain media, focused on constructing an event where a passive viewer becomes a participant. Such a piece often comprises multiple elements, and the expression through graphics is an element of a bigger artistic activity. If we understand it this way, artistic work consists of assuming teleological axioms which truly affect the surroundings. Graphical interventions are a way of participation in a public space. Graphic art uses the power of public media influence (which is available to a big group of participants/big audience), and therefore it fulfils a useful role or corrects our lives. Such a visual form of communication often enhances the communicated message and, at the same time, it is a creative expression that reveals a number of hidden dysfunctions and flaws of social systems. Certainly, today graphic arts are in full symbiosis with other fields of art. They skilfully penetrate and, most of all, transmit the content which shapes culture.
A.J.M.: Thank you for the conversation.
Bunt. Nowe ekspresje/ Bunt. New expressions
Publisher: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Artystycznego w Poznaniu
Editor: Maciej Kurak
Project: Marcin Markowski