‘Perspectives and strategies – Marta Bosowska’s PhD dissertation at Gallery AT in Poznań’ by Janusz Bałdyga

Perspectives and strategies – Marta Bosowska’s PhD dissertation at Gallery AT in Poznań.

Marta Bosowska is one of the most exciting Polish performance artists. She has been actively participating in international presentations of performance art both in Poland and abroad. Since 2009, we have observed the development of her original art actions, as well as initiated by her curating projects, which aim to integrate the international community of young performance artists. A considerable scope of her activity is education treated by her as an integral element of her art practice. Marta Bosowska created an absorbing understructure of her educational programme. Her work resulted in her employment in my Performance Art Studio at Poznan University of Arts. Projects developed by Marta Bosowska are based on her experiences caused by an active participation in the international art movement. The artist’s consistent activity was noticed and appreciated in influential community specialising in performance art and ephemeral actions. We find a proof of that in her participation in new editions of Lviv’s biennale Week of Actual Art or an invitation to a prestigious international art festival ZAZ in Israel. I would like to draw particular attention to Bosowska’s interest in methods and strategies of recording performance. This type of reflection and resulting from it activities are starting points for delineating the scope of her latest projects. I would like to discuss here her PhD dissertation, which on the one hand was a summary of her activity so far, on the other it drew a perspective and strategy of her artistic development. The topic of her work – ‘‘Mnemonic Techniques. Residue as an independent entity and memory medium in performance.’ – moves the weight to the moment ‘after the event’. By doing so, it elevates the importance of trace, residue, left-over.

1. TOPIC: The key was in formulating the topic, amongst many different versions Marta Bosowska chose the one that clearly defined the issues she has been dealing with in her work. As a starting point, she chose an assumption, which situated her dissertation in space before her action and object linked with it. We stop ‘before’ because the artwork understood in traditional terms is not present yet. ‘The work’ shall be realised – we speak about future time to gradually move into past time. For performance, the present time is the domain in which the work is exposed so that shortly after its completion we consider it within the discipline of disappearance, or perhaps even the subject of forgetting.

2. ACTIONS: Since Bosowska’s dissertation is based on an ephemeral performative work, the process of preparation was based on an open series of actions and the analysis of character, meaning and senses of residue. Residue, traces and recordings were based on as many levels of meanings as it was possible. The consequence of that was setting a status of residue as an autonomic artistic entity. Memory about the event and an object left after the action defined the character of starting points for further investigation.

3. RECORDINGS: Following stage is all about preparation and precise selection of documenting material in the form of film and photo recordings. The key to the work at this time was a selection of a photograph, which depicted the performance. It became the work’s autonomic icon, a definite sign of an event, its emblem. Marta Bosowska puts forward questions about the ethical status of a recording, which documents a performance work. While applying unconditional moral categories and idealising them, she questions the existence of performance documentation. It only works as an archive and information, and it functions as part of the market. But what we do here is essentially the act of stepping outside the limits of substantive reflection. Bosowska proposes that ‘residue’ serves as a testimony of the fact that performance has taken place. They represent, not commentate the performance.

4. OBJECTS: Next, the artist searches for an object, which she wants to use in her planned event. Marta Bosowska assumes the following variants a) a found object b) an object as a result of transformation c) a created object. In the process of work, Bosowska chooses found objects; the first one was broken, it was a used army helmet. She introduced it into the action to hold a testimony of it, ‘a residue’ signed with a hand print, which was first immersed in silver dust. The second object was a swing. It worked as an introduction to the key object of the exhibition, a child’s merry-go-round.

5. ARCHIVE: The artist then moves to considering the topic of archives and the role of photographic documentation in it. By a provoking resignation from an archive or stocktaking documentation of performance’s elements, she leaves us free to an autonomous fact. We are ready to forget or keep in our memory a vanishing message. We are looking at the result of the event; the rest is open. Marta Bosowska does not belong to the group of orthodox performers. However, her disinclination to controlling her actions brings her works to the simple definition of performance – an open work, unrepeatable, based on a specific process. Andrzej Dłużniewski in a conversation with me used a term – performer’s strategy, not performance’s script. Learning the strategy brings us closer to the action itself, but it does not allow for hasty entering the territory.

6. SPACE: Let us pose a question if an observer is helpless in a situation of artwork absence. I believe ‘no’ – what is required from the observer is to change the strategy of observation and to expand the substance of action to the space shaped by the performer for his message to occur in the future. What comes to mind is a comparison with a marathon, which ends with a result, exhaustion and used running shoes. But all of it is superseded by an expanded in time process rich in crises, accelerations, doubts, etc. 

I believe that in the case of Bosowska we tend to focus on the run while being conscious that the final should allow us to see ‘used running shoes and exhausted energy’. While reading Bosowska’s texts, I have an impression that her strategy requires a firm intention to follow a careful guide. Being separated from her physicality and behaviour discipline, she gives us a record of reflections in the noise of chaotic statements, repeated, wandering and always searching for practical conclusions. 

Marta Bosowska perfectly follows the physicality of her body; she finds herself a place in space. The form in space is a ‘zero’ point for her actions – she names it ‘before’. Spatial conditions are usually wrongly recognised, and they allow to find places within boundaries – potential and not fully identified. While describing them, I could use such descriptions as – ‘too tight, too hot, too stuffy, too far’. Bosowska attaches importance to a major factor in the strategy of a performer – the choice of an optimal place for studied space. Part of that plan is a gesture, which I call a correction of space, for example, a form outside Fine Arts Academy building in Katowice was moved two meters away and by doing so, it changed the character of the place, because we found her in revolving, transparent doors. It is similar to occurring in the rotation field of the merry-go-round. Marta Bosowska achieved in Gallery AT a correction of place by situating in it a merry-go-round. As a consequence, we had an object hitting the wall, partial destruction and setting a new status for the torn away seat from the object. Through a particular exposition, it may turn into a leftover, or a relict.

It brings to my mind a folding chair used by Tadeusz Kantor in the show entitled ‘Kurka wodna’. It was exposed in a glass cabinet in a theatre lounge. There was a description next to the object with text engraved on a brass plate, and it created a unrepeatable status of the object. The situation may be perceived differently by the fact that during that time in a bar in Cracow’s Krzysztofory, the revellers were sitting on the same chairs which Kantor used in his show. At the back of the bar, there were several more of them, broken, waiting for a repair or being trashed. A similar mechanism of setting a new status for an object, or its fragment I can observe in Bosowska’s works. Finding places and finding left, marginalised, and external objects. The reversal of the status rank represents very often a starting point for her works.

7. A FORM. Another, important and in my opinion unique way of experiencing by Bosowska, also exhibited in the public defence of her PhD work, is the act of opening a constant process of learning the character and potential of her body as a performance subject and object. I believe that for Bosowska form is a better concept since, in contrast to body sensuality, it guides us more efficiently to a construction closer to an idea of a figure.

Marta Bosowska builds her performance in the process of constructing her form through a position, the exterior and a decision which place to choose. The middle sequence, which is called by the artist ‘between’ remains in her strategy an unknown up to a moment of completion. We have a chance to concentrate on the part of her work called ‘after’. This part is a residue, trace, icon representing the performance or a possible performance. This type of residue triggers the field of imagination, which fills the field of emptiness enforced by Bosowska. The gap is filled by the projection of an observer.

8. EXHIBITION. The key element which closes entire process was an exhibition in Poznan’s Gallery AT. The dominating feature of the show was a heavily worn down merry-go-round from a playground. Its position in the gallery resulted in a collision of its chair with the gallery’s wall. The catastrophe was caused by moving the axis of the object slightly in relation to the space axis. This seemingly small intervention had fundamental meaning for both the geometric gallery order and the status of objects inside it. As a result of hitting, a steel element broke away from the construction, and it created a new, autonomous entity, which is very close to the meaning of fetish or an object of a personal cult. What we deal with is a performance residue, a left-over, a trace. It may even be a separated, independent object defining the sense of suspended in time performance. The exhibition did not tolerate an indifference on the part of the observer. It expected personal identification of the object, which departed from its commonly known function.