The Flight of Icarus
12 September – 04 October 2020
Exhibition dedicated to the memory of Zenon Polus accompanying the Zielona Góra Biennale 2020
The Flight of Icarus is an exhibition dedicated to the memory of Zenon Polus (1953-2013), artist and organiser of cultural life in Zielona Góra. It would be difficult to overstate his achievement, taking into account the fact he co-founded the Institute of Visual Arts at the University of Zielona Góra, an institution which has, since 1992, educated a great number of presently renown visual artists; a co-founder and a long-standing curator of the New Art Biennale (1985-1996); a remarkable artist, the author of numerous sculptures, paintings, installations, prints, drawings, projects; and a university lecturer. The exhibition is a presentation of diverse artistic approaches: his friends, acquaintances, collaborators, and students exhibit, in some instances, pieces strictly related to their relationship with Polus and, in others, freely alluding to his work, person and biography.
The homage to Zenon Polus is a reminder of a person without whom a continuation of the idea of the “Złote Grono” [Golden Grape] and the New Art Biennale – comprehensive exhibitions dedicated to visual arts in Zielona Góra – would have not taken place. The Flight of Icarus is staged as part of the Zielona Góra Biennale, a new joint initiative of the University of Zielona Góra, the Zielona Góra Municipal Office, the Salony Foundation, the Lubuska Land Museum, and the BWA [Art Exhibition Office] Gallery, beginning on the 15th of October as a presentation of artists undertaking reflection on burning issues of current times.
Art Has Already Been, Before We Think It
… Their city – a slab of bark burrowed into a labyrinth
Which – having died – crumbled of a trunk.
Their state – a handful of island drifting into blues skies,
Their existence – a scurry of cockroaches.
Clouds’ humble backs I dispel with speed,
Somewhere behind me the wind howls like a dog,
I’m not asking the way, I shan’t look for ways –
I myself am the way beyond the end.1
When I think back on Zenon Polus, the terms suggests itself: ‘an artist hidden’. The essence of his practice was not any aim, but the practice itself. He knew that one can, without embarking anywhere, set out on a journey at any moment and in any chosen direction.
An eternal readiness for this sort of travelling Polus called: freedom, autonomy, independence. A world of art thus perceived by him was described by Lyotard as “a world of exhausted ideas, finite interpretations, as a petrified world without a contribution to changing trends in contemporary culture.” Zenon was wont to refer to precisely this sort of interpretation. Like some other artists challenging the status quo, he put forward a species of manifestation which I would describe as ‘the art of withdrawing’. He moved away and, simultaneously, moved closer to a meaning, with which, however, not everyone could agree.
It is worthwhile to view the artist through the prism of his post-German house in Kosobudki (former Neu Kunersdorf), which was his hide-out and realisation as well as simultaneously being his removal, his separation from art, since there was – he claimed – no place for him in it. There exactly, in the wild, he watched the world from a distance. He knew that being in the world is a game the rules of which he was not able to accept.
* * *
Browsing through Zenek’s work – his drawings, drafts, slips of paper – I discovered a record of a track of a snail’s passage through boards of a jetty built on the bank of the Pliszka river. I was moved by the lapidary record of a momentary instance of a minute existence. A trace of an apparently insignificant moment. A line after line, a minute by minute, the snail had been moving. The artist was able to perceive this as a moment that was special, valuable, unique. I thought that the small sketch speaks surprising volumes about him.
Another particular piece, moving in its simplicity, is Wysoka fala nad Pliszka [A Tall Wave over the Pliszka]. From twigs, he built a construction, a structure, a wave – which was not to have any addressees. He did it for nature, for birds and animals. Such a ‘bridge’ and ‘non-bridge’ does not connect to any bank, one cannot walk on it, it is a pure composition deprived of any specified function, while constituting, at once, a projection of emotion, referring to our experience of affectation. The making of The Tall Wave was a moment of reflection for the artist on the essence and meaning of creation, producing a kind of ‘art for art’s sake’ existing without an audience.
Skrzydło Ikara [Icarus’ Wing] was an installation which, for Zenek, constituted an emergence of a novel quality. It is simultaneously a house, a wing, a shelter, and a flight. It is also a questioning of the object, place, space, of the phenomenon of presence. An interrogation of identity of the very object, which became arrested somewhere at a threshold, looking for its meaning and function. Polus considered possible a rejection of art in favour of something endowed with greater capacities: namely, an idea, which should be understood as a complex of conceptions, ultimately offering a completely new image of reality, which ceases not to astound and amaze us.
The difference between nature and culture only ostensibly appears to be enduring and immutable. In reality, it is unclear, unobvious, eschewing valuation. It is inextricably related to the essence of the human. Whenever the human starts speaking about nature, attempting to give names to objects and natural phenomena – they capture it in a network of cultural concepts and significations. Zenek’s explorations concerned not only novel ways of the artist’s and their work’s existence, discovering and acquiring new spaces for it, but – above all – new means of artistic expression. Renouncing disposable narrative, anecdotal content in favour of pure forms, he underscored an intrinsic autonomy of art.
In his creative approach, Zenek withdrew from previously occupied positions, as if all that had been art, to him became devalued. He did not want to bear any responsibility for meaning and sense, he did not want to interpret reality, or produce its model. He wrote: “an interest in nature means not only being present in nature or protecting its resources; it is, above all, spontaneous, unforced reactions capable of freeing in the human what is fresh, original, good, or – properly theirs.”
Nature constituted for him an opportunity for consolidating or even discovering an authenticity in being an artist. The naturalness was expressed in his spontaneous ability for ‘fresh’ perceptions of the environment, maintaining an intense and sensual contact with nature and people.
Artists invited to The Flight of Icarus exhibition are art-makers from various periods of Polus’ artistic practice, his closer and more distant friends, artists accompanying him since the time of his embarking on his own creative path, acquaintances, collaborators, and creators who remember the times of the first edition of the New Art Biennale. Moreover, here we have artists who saw Zenon from afar, observing his artistic, academic or educational activity without a more proximate relationship. Each remembers his flight differently, carrying within them other memories of the artist.
Pieces presented at the exhibition refer to Zenon in various ways, they are: a reflection, a recall, a memory, an allusion. The Flight of Icarus is a set of objects and practices, which, instead of generating obvious meanings, prefer to provoke. This is reminiscent of wandering the labyrinth “without a map and a stable point of reference.” Inherent in those works is a necessity of creating individual worlds, forms, signs, referring as much to the past as boldly looking towards the future.
The exhibition is a peculiar collection. Polus would have certainly used Krzysztof Pomian’s phrase, claiming that it is “a collection of things strange and curious”. According to Pomian, “collections participate in the exchange between the visible and the invisible world.”
Collecting in memory does not exist on its own, it requires an impulse, a kind of recalling and reinforcing. The Flight of Icarus is a vehicle transporting us in time, space, changing contexts and meanings, provoking memories, not unlike when we flip through pages of an album of old photographs.
1 Jacek Kaczmarski, 24.8.2000 [unrhymed translation]