everything talks with Jaroslaw Kozlowski.
Jaroslaw Koslawski is well known for his association with independent or alternative exhibition spaces in Poznan, Poland. He also ran the Academy of fine art in Poznan for five years and organised the sculpture program at the academy in Warsaw for a period. His most comprehensively documented activities centre around Gallery Akumulatory 2 which he started in 1975. everything talked with him during a recent visit to London.
|e: Long before you started Akumulatory 2 you were associated with Gallery OdNowa in Poznan. How did that association come about ?
JK: I was asked to become involved. The gallery had been opened as a platform for young artists and Andrzej Matuszewski asked me if I would be interested in helping to run it, he gave me the opportunity to create an entirely new program.
e: That was presumably a great leap for you, you were a student at the time weren't you ?
JK: Yes I was and of course for me it was a most important lesson. I got much more from working for Gallery OdNowa than I ever did from studying at the Acadamy; especially because Osnowa was part of a very interesting network of galleries that existed across Poland from about 1956, when the first alternative space, Krzywe Kolo Gallery began in Warsaw after the period of social realism. In the meantime there had been others such as the Krzysztofory Gallery in Crakow, Foksal Gallery in Warsaw and the Mona Lisa Gallery in Wroclaw. These galleries had been very active and had somehow created a very new situation for art in Poland.
e: Was not that part of the problem with the official galleries?
JK: Yes of course, but what was different was not only that the new spaces were being run by artists but that they were also avant-garde artists. And at this time avant-gard had a meaning. Another thing about these galleries was that the emphasis was not soleley on exhibiting. In between exhibitions we organised discussions, meetings, seminars. There we lecture programs Ect and the gallery became a meeting place to talk and think about art away from the isolation of ones own studio. In this sense it was fulfilling something which was lacking at the academy. Such discussions at the Academy, at that time were not easy to find.
e: And the work you exhibited at OdNowa, was that, as with your later works, built within the space ?
JK: Yes it was. I showed there a few times and the first time was in 1967. I did what you would now call an installation. I think I called it an arrangement.
e: What happened after OdNowa ?
JK: OdNowa closed down in the early 70s because of political reasons. In 1971 or 72 my friend Andrzej Kostolowski and I wrote a kind of manifesto called "Net"". We sent out to artists all over the world to invite them for exchanges of ideas which ignored the existing gallery situations. A kind of alternative network of artists. A list of all the artists involved was also sent out. After one year I decided, because I had recieved so much information in response, to make some kind of exhibition of this material in my home. I invited ten people to see it. The police came, somehow they were already prepared with some sort of interpretation of what I was doing; that I was involved in some kind of anti-communist political structure which was opposed to the system. They nearly had me thrown out of the academy. Then for one year I was under very heavy investigation by the secret police and for five years I was not able to leave the country. They took my passport.
e: Were you stopped from exhibiting ?
JK: No, that was OK, they didn't go that far. I started Akumulatery 2 just because I had no alternative. I could not exhibit in my home anymore because they somehow destroyed my privacy. They went through all of my books, my papers, everything. It was really a very heavy experience for me for the first year, but I decided to ignore it and continue the activity in a more neutral space. I started Akumulatory 2 in a small room in the basement of the students hostel. We used this space for a few days each month.
e: Can I ask you about your works of "No political context"? Were they done as a response to treatment by the secret police ?
JK: These works were from the green series. I Started the first ones with some green paper I found and I first cut out the shapes of different objects from it. They were called "Green object out of any political context". I then showed the rest of the paper which was called "Green context of the green object out of any political context". This was the beginning. It was a very strange time in Poland, at the beginning of martial law. The galleries were all closed for a few months and many artists decided that they would not show even if they were to open again. To me this was ridiculous because art is to be seen and artists should be active. So I made the green exhibition when the gallery reopened under martial law. I painted the gallery walls, the first was called "Green wall out of any political context" the second was "Green wall out of any political context, but blue" and so on - up to "Green wall out of any political context, but upside down". The last one was "Red wall out of any political context but green - which is however painted red". It could have been a response to earlier events but at this time I was becoming more involved with works relating to language, logic and paradox. It was a deliberately provocative work.
e: You were running the Academy in Poznan between 1981 and1987. In the light of what you've been saying that must have been an unusual appointment. How did it come about ?
JK: I was elected by the students. That was the first and only election at the beginning of 81, before martial law. There was a board of ninety people, one third professors, one third young teachers and one third students. It has never happened again. At the end of my time I was replaced and I think things have gone backwards. The American dream is what is now being pursued and it's a strange dream, even in America. We do not have the same traditions to build it on. The new system is capitalism as quickly as possible, so everyone wants to be a star artist and art is seen as a commodity rather than part of cultural life.
e: It's interesting that the "Alternative" spaces were set up in Poland as a reaction to the degree of government control and here as a reaction to market control.
JK: Yes of course, there are many similarities. Somehow the power of the free market plays the same function as cultural politics in power. But of course the free market is much more sophisticated. Our situation was simple because the rules were very primitive and it was easier to find ways to subvert them. The free market is in some sense more perverse, it can make you happy.
e: In your book "The Academy" you ask a series of standard questions about art and the artist on each page, alongside a section of an image of which we never see the whole. Your last question, on the final page, is; "How much is the frame ?" This seems like a comment on the arbitrary nature of financial values placed on art as product, whilst at the same time broadening the question to; "How much is the context?"
JK: It's very much about the context of art, about how artists are and how they are expected to be, and about what art is. We go to the gallery for some culture or some thinking. "Academy" is asking those questions; where does art start, where does art finish.