Category Archives: Essays

The Contingency and Fiction of Performance Art Documentation: Theory and Practice

This article considers the contingency of performance art documentation: how an accidentally acquired image or deliberately created documentation influences one’s memory of performance art events and creates a fictional action that exists only in one’s imagination. This phenomenon is illustrated with examples of widely known, iconic performances as well as primary sources, such as interviews with artists and documentalists. Consideration and analysis of whether technological improvements change the contingent and fictional nature of documentation are also included. Finally, the article analyzes the problem from both the perspective of a researcher, as well as an experienced individual who has documented hundreds of performance art pieces.

The complete text was published in the Art Documentation Journal, Vol. 4, no. 2 (2021), pp. 188–197.


Contingency and Improvisation in Performance Art from the 1970s to the Present

The first part of the article focuses on how an accident or unexpected event may influence a performance piece. Examples of accidents with creative potential are described. The second part concerns improvisation; it investigates what it means to improvise in performance art and reveals the political potential of improvisation. Even though artists reluctantly admit they improvise or make errors, examples of such cases suggest this is not uncommon and usually involves unexpected audience interaction or occurs when the piece’s structure is open. The article is based on artists’ statements, performances described in the literature, and those witnessed by the author. The theoretical part is mainly based on articles by Alessandro Bertinetto.

The complete text was published in the Art and Documentation Journal, no. 22 (2020), pp. 9-16.

Contemporary Polish Performance Art – Between Old Masters and Young Activists

The article presents a brief history of Polish performance art – from its birth in 1978 to the present. The first part focuses on its roots and those aspects which shaped its present state. Artists during the communist regime separated themselves from politics keeping in mind how art was used in social-realism. The second part focuses on the period 1989-2000, when artists started to move different topics, but the form in which they were expressing their stance remained “classic”. After 2000, some artists became art activists and use performance art strategies in fighting for social change. Another new issue is the emergence of contemporary performance artists – choreographers. These shifts cause a conflict between artists in a discussion about the definition of performance art and the role of art and artists in society, especially in the context of art education which tends to preserve the “traditional performance art” model.

The complete text is available at: Contemporary Polish Performance Art – Between Old Masters and Young Activists.

Perfoactivism: from Three Weeks in May to The Museum of Arte Útil

From the very beginning, performance art has been anti-institutional and counter-cultural.  Because of that performance artists tended to look for other channels to achieve visibility, often intentionally avoiding it. Since the late 1960s performance art has been exhibited in independent art spaces, at festivals organized by other artists, as well as in public space as guerrilla actions. This paper discusses a subjective selection of the most interesting socially or politically-engaged performances, which at present have taken the form of perfoactivism, functioning outside the art market and popularly understood art institutions. This article is also a review of criticism around artivism, focused on writers such as Gregory Sholette, Boris Groys, Grant Kester, and Claire Bishop.

The article was published at: Annales Universitatis Paedagogicae Cracoviensis, vol. 13 (2018) and is available at:

The politics of performance art in Poland before and after 1989

A paper delivered at the 51st AICA Congress. 

The history of performance art in Poland reaches back to the year 1978 when the word was used for the first time on the occasion of the I AM (International Artists Meeting) – a performance art festival at the Remont Gallery in Warsaw. As Łukasz Guzek pointed out, when thinking of this kind of art, art critics use either a diachronic (historical) or synchronic (ahistorical) approach. The first one leads towards depicting performance art as a practice always present in art and immanent in artistic activity. It blurs the specificity of performance art as a genre and its connection to the modernist avant-garde. It also neglects the local circumstances of its birth. [1] This kind of approach is represented e.g. by Rose LeeGoldberg.[2] The synchronic approach presents performance art as a separate discipline. Its advantage is the recognition of local characteristics, which is important in this case, as it is tightly connected with the political and social environment. In this approach, the key point is the emergence of the word“performance art” as a moment when the discussion about this genre of art begins. For the purpose of this paper, I will take a synchronic approach and will take 1978 as a date when performance art emerged in Polish art history, although many performance artists call their earlier actions “performances” post factum.

Among artists who participated in the first performance art festival in 1978 only Krzysztof Zarębski continued to practice performance art.[3] He started his career as a painter and his performances were very erotic and sensual. He used erotic gadgets such as dildos, artificial nails and lingerie. The artist went to New York in 1981before Martial Law and therefore decided to stay abroad when it was imposed. In his performances he fetishizes mass culture products and media, which distinguishes him from the Western trend of criticism towards mass culture. Another performance artist from the oldest generation was Zbigniew Warpechowski whose background was in poetry. He did his first performances together with TomaszStańko – a jazz musician. Jazz was obviously connected with freedom and improvisation in art and for Warpechowski it was a way of presenting poetry in a non-traditional way. He called his first performances “poetic realities”.   

As we can see just based on those two meaningful examples, despite the conditions of the regime – of isolation and state control over most aspects of life – or maybe actually because of that, art was supposed to be pure and free from politics. Artists had in mind the way art was instrumentally used by the communist regime at the time of social realism so they did not want to engage directly in politics. Engagement in politics has been doubtful since Walter Benjamin wrote: “Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art.”[4] The other option at that time was to associate oneself with the Church but for most artists this represented a similar form of a mental oppression.  However, practicing an anti-institutional art which was functioning outside the official circuit, the academy and official Artists’ Union were under these conditions – became paradoxically – a political gesture as Jacques Ranciere would like to see it. The politics of art here means an interference into the sphere of senses and it shows something that was unimaginable before. Above all – in the case of performance art – it changes and questions the language that was used to describe the life of the community – making it possible for new subjects and new postulates to exist in the political field. Since performance art has no definition, from now on, art is not what fulfills the imposed criteria, but what revolutionizes and creates its own rules. At the same time, art loses all norms that decide what can be or what cannot be art which goes in accordance with a permanent crossing of its own borders by art, which is a certain paradox. Among the pioneers of Polish performance art only Jerzy Bereś – who called his actions “manifestations” or “holy masses” (e.g. Political Mass, Romantic Mass, Philosophical Mass, Polish Mass etc.) thought that art is a moral sphere, hence the political engagement of the artist is his/her moral duty.[5] But the strong moral stance was characteristic for performers of that time in general. Zbigniew Warpechowski before one of his performances wrote a Decalogue for Performance Art.[6] Also, Władysław Kaźmierczak says that: “To be a performer is an attitude towards the world and oneself, not towards art. Performance’s struggle is a silent, heroic fight for the freedom of expressing momentous and significant ideas.”[7]

In the USA the birth of performance art is tightly related to the art of protest. LucyLippard indicated that art activism and organizations such as AWC, BlackEmergency Cultural Coalition, Women Artists in Revolution did not come “from the raised fists and red stars of the ‘revolutionary’ left as from the less consciously subversive reactions against the status quo that took place in the mainstream – primarily in minimalism and conceptual art.”[8]The critic then pointed out that they were blunt and blatantly noncommunicative. This statement comes in accordance with what Polish performance artists active in the 70s and 80s say. Kwiekulik (a duo: Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek) wrote, that in the reality of the regime it was impossible to create conceptual art, hence the success of contextualism formulated by Jan Świdziński. Zofia Kulik said: “We, however, could not be pure conceptualists, because we would have cheated ourselves into believing that were fine, there are no institutional nor existential problems, there are no potboilers etc. How could one then practice conceptual art in Poland? Till now Ican’t comprehend that.”[9]The example of the group is interesting as one could say that their methods such as the project: Art of the Ministry of Culture and Art which was a mail art action – sending letters to theMinistry of Culture and Art – was a proto-activist action. As Klara Kemp-Welchnoted: “the sense of the correspondence with officials steps outside of theproblems raised by it that refer to art, and becomes a fight for human rights,pointing at the pure human aspect of being an artist.”[10]An interesting exception in Polish performance art was the Orange Alternative –a group which organized absurd demonstrations since 1986. Today we could alsocall them pioneers of Polish art activism.  

Martial Law in Poland in1981 meant the beginning of the so-called Dark Ages of performance art and –any art – in Poland. Artists announced a boycott of official/public galleries. Some events were organized in artist-run-galleries or private studios. The majority of performances were about the state of emergency, oppression, and uneasiness. Even though the context of Martial Law evoked a political interpretation of all actions – artists did not declare openly their engagement in politics. Peter Grzybowski – a member of Awacs group (with MaciejToporowicz) once said that: ‘our performances may be interpreted as political, but we didn’t want to make them this way. We wanted to be as far from politics as possible’.[11] One of their actions was the performance Awacs[12] (KlubPod Ręką, Kraków 23.05.1981) in which a blindfolded Toporowicz led by signals from Grzybowski was supposed to jump on light bulbs lit on the floor. The performance was potentially life-threatening as the action scene was surrounded by an electric wire and Toporowicz had a heart condition. As Łukasz Guzek noticed, artists at that time were not apolitical but non-political.  This non-politics had a political reason – it resulted from the lack of faith in that an individual may change anything. Escapism was more and more understandable under the conditions of Martial Law but it was even more difficult to isolate oneself from politics because of it. Focusing on existential problems was, therefore, a form of political stance.[13] It is interesting, as the same structure of the performance, was later used by Grzybowski when he did his solo performance RemoteControl between 2003-2006 – supplementing it by images from capitalist and post 9/11 world reality. Here he was himself jumping on the bulbs and the remote control was operated by another person. So the political and economic system changed but the artist remained oppressed by it.

Even though Poland was isolated, the politics of gender was slowly getting through. Some female artists (Ewa Partum, Teresa Murak, Maria Pinińska-Bereś, Zofia Kulik and Natalia LL) moved proto-feminist topics. The only known proto-queer artist from the 80s was Krzysztof Jung. The postmodernization of art shifted its interest from the form to the context. The democracy that was brought back in 1989 meant that Polish performance artists started to be able to travel freely around the world which is extremely important in the case of art which requires the physical presence of the artist. The date also marks the beginnings of institutional critique and becoming a part of the international circuit. The 90s were a time of transition and so-called critical art which meant criticism towards capitalism, Church, globalism, ecological issues etc. The artists became more and more aware of the global social, economic and political problems. The content became more and more socially engaged, commenting on the surrounding changes in reality, however, the language of expression was still the same as the one developed in the 70s and 80s.

The new generation of artists who started their careers in the conditions of a newborn democracy was more likely to be involved in social activism. In the year 2000, the C.U.K.T group traveled around Polish clubs and alternative spaces with a presidential campaign for a virtual candidate, Victoria Cukt, whose main slogan was “politicians are redundant”. The public was asked to enroll into the political party  Victoria CUKT, to sign a petition to the Parliament to make her become an official candidate (in Poland one needs to collect 100 000 signatures in order to register) and to write down their postulates, which automatically became a part of her political program. Nowadays, 18 years later, the scandal of Cambridge Analytica proved that real politicians do use Victoria’s method.

Evenmore so, the crisis of 2008 caused a new wave of art activism in the world. Boris Groys wrote: “A certain intellectual tradition rooted in the writings of Walter Benjamin and Guy Debord states that the aestheticization and spectacularization of politics, including political protest, are bad things because they divert attention away from the practical goals of political protest and towards its aesthetic form. And this means that art cannot be used as a medium of a genuine political protest – because the use of art for political action necessarily aestheticizes this action, turns this action into a spectacle and, thus, neutralizes the practical effect of this action.”[14]But the question is – is this always a spectacle? Stephen Wright in his famous Toward a Lexicon for Usership suggests that participation and usership are a remedy for spectacularizing.[15]As Andrzej Turowski wrote: “If democracy is a means of improving collective life (rather than a political utopia), and politics a means of achieving asocially desired order (rather than political power), then the art of the particular sparks that unrest without which democracy as a form of critical participation in the collective project would be unthinkable.”[16]

In 2011 Cecylia Malik and Modraszek Kolektyw mobilized hundreds of young people who, dressed in blue butterfly wings, protested against developers who intended to build another estate in the last green enclave of Kraków, where a rare butterfly (a blue) resides. The artist is a well-known activist, her recent actions also include the action against tree cutting Polish Mothers at a felling and the Mother River action against the artificial regulating of rivers and building of dams, during which women entered the Vistula river holding signs with other rivers’ names. Paweł Hajncel joined a Corpus Christi procession as a “Butterfly Man” for the first time in 2011, for which he was prosecuted later. He has repeated the action every year in various costumes since 2011 and was arrested for the last time on May 31st, 2018 as offending religious feelings in Poland is prosecuted. Monika Drożyńska is an artist who uses embroidery as a means of expression – however, she turns it into an “embroidery activism” – by organizing a collective called Golden Hands which embroiders slogans weekly and also before manifestations. Anyone can join. The form of embroidery is, of course, a feminist way of expression and, as traditionally associated with beautiful and “feminine” objects, when contrasted with explicit content it became a subversive form of expression in which delicate form meets a radical message.

Political engagement of the new generation of artists who now often become art activists relatively new in Poland, even though performance art has been always connected with social activism since its birth in the 70s. This shift causes conflict between artists in the discussion about the role of art and artists in society, especially in the context of art education which, in its nature, aims at preserving and strengthening the old forms rather than provoking a new way of thinking. Therefore, most interesting cases of perfo-activism in Poland come from artists from different backgrounds than performance art. And this is exactly as it was in the 70s when performance art was a marginal genre for the most radical.

[1] See: Łukasz Guzek, “Above Art and Politics – Performance art and Poland,” in Art Action 1958 – 1998, ed. Richard Martel (Quebec: Intervention, 2001), 254.

[2] Por. RoseLee Goldberg, Performance Art. From Futurism to the Present (London-New York: Thames & Hudson, 2010).

[3] There was also Janusz Bałdyga, but he participated as the Academia Ruchu Theatre group.

[4] Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, trans. Rodney Livingstone Edmund Jephcott, Howard Eiland (Cambridge, MA-London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008), 42.

[5] Guzek, “Above Art and Politics – Performance art and Poland,” 258.

[6] Ibid.


[8] Lucy Lippard, “Trojan Horses: Activist Art and Power,” in Feminism Art Theory: An Anthology 1968 – 2014, ed. Hilary Robinson (Malden, MA-Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 76.

[9] Tomasz Załuski, “KwieKulik i konceptualizm w uwarunkowaniach PRL-u. Przyczynek do analizy problemu.,” Sztuka i Dokumentacja, no. 6 (2012): 79,

[10] Klara Kemp-Welch, “Sztuka dokumentacji i biurokratyczne życie; Sprawa Pracowni Działańm Dokumentacji i Upowszechniania,” in KwieKulik. Zofia Kulik & przemysław Kwiek, ed. Łukasz Ronduda and Georg Schöllhammer (Warszawa: MSN, 2012), 517.

[11] The interview recorded on the CD enclosed to the catalogue: Ruchome-nieruchome. Performensy Marii Pinińskiej-Bereś, (Kraków: Bunkier Sztuki, 2007).

[12] Maciej Toporowicz, “AWACS Performance Kraków,” High Performance 17/18 (Spring / Summer 1982): 57,

[13] Łukasz Guzek, Rekonstrukcja sztuki akcji w Polsce (Warszawa-Toruń: Polski Instytut Studiów nad Sztuką Świata; Wydawnictwo Tako, 2017), 453-54.

[14] Boris Groys, “On Art Activism,”  e-flux, no. 56 (2014),

[15] See: Stephen Wright, Toward a Lexicon of Usership (Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum, 2013).

[16] Andrzej Turowski, Sztuka, która wznieca niepokój. Manifest artystyczno-polityczny sztuki szczególnej [Art That Sparks Unrest. The Artistic-Political Manifesto of Particular Art (Warszawa: Książka i Prasa, 2012), 88.

The network of performance art festivals as an independent art institution – a historical survey

Performance art emerged out of the rebellion against art institutions understood in
a colloquial meaning of the word – i.e. museums, collectors and commercial galleries.
Performance artists of the 70s tried to work “outside of the system” – hence the
extreme cases such as performances for no or very limited audience by Chris Burden
(Transfixed, 1974), Vito Acconci (Photo Piece/BLINK, 1969), or private action by
Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh (One Year Performance, 1983–84). In America,
it was a time when official art places were contested (I avoid the word: ‛institution’
deliberately) – the protests organized by the Art Workers’ Coalition and women
organizations against the closed circuit of white, male, heterosexual art of selected
artists. The fact that performance art does not need sophisticated infrastructure
fosters its existence in an alternative circuit. That circuit is predominantly also
independent financially because festivals, meetings and shows have happened in
many places of the world almost without any budget. From the very beginning artists
have founded independent institutions (such as Franklin Furnace gallery set up in
New York in 1976 – today it exists as an archive deposited in the Pratt Institute)
or art magazines (such as the Avalanche in New York). In USA performance artists
organized themselves around some concrete art spaces. […]

The whole text was published in the Annales Universitatis Paedagogicae Cracoviensis. Studia de Arte et Educatione vol. 12 (2017) and is available at:

What is the Diameter of Performance Art?

“The length of the reins determines the diameter of the arena” and performance art tends to stretch these reins. The exhibition which opened at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Opole focuses on two important questions of the today art.

FIRSTLY, IT WAS SHOWN that performance is a motor for art. in general through the fact that this art form constantly crosses boundaries and redefines art in its broadest sense. The next very important topic is the role of art. documentation and the question whether documentation can become an independent work of art in itself.

The full text was published at Exit, no. 2 (90), 2014,


Performance is live art, it is time based and it happens in a specific place. A performer (or a group of performers) by connecting a space, site and time, undergoes an action that is presented to the public. In very specific cases the public may not be present or the notion of a public may not be clear. The action itself can also be unspecific and the presence or absence of a performance artist may also be unclear. The essence of a performance shifts the attention of a spectator towards the process of creation. This process provokes spontaneous reactions in him/her, causes strong tension and prepares the ground for direct encounter in which a physical, psychic and mental interaction is strongly experienced.

Performance art in its early stage, when it was on the margin of art practice, was presented in spaces that were of minor importance, degraded, abandoned and unimportant for commercial art ventures. In Poland the process was similar – performance artists avoided so called official galleries that were institutionally controlled by censorship and politicians. However, performers through undertaking their counterculture actions, were actually coming closer to existing institutions, galleries, theatres and clubs in order to continue more successfully in art. Having initially existed outside of a conventional frame, performance art unexpectedly became a mighty power, able to express important and critical statements.

The idea of creating site specific performance appeared much later and was inspired by the earlier experiences of sculptors and architects. Art institutions willingly joined the process of creating and preparing such performances – bringing artists out of the galleries.

For performers the choice and the specifics of the site has always had a fundamental importance. This is not only with reference to the sites’ physicality and apparent contexts. The site may also comprise a spirituality, history or events that were important or associated with specific people. Artists constantly have searched for new places to meet new audiences or subject themselves to inspiration that they have not experienced before.

Site specific performance is most often time-based over an extended time. The interaction with a spectator or another member of the public is in this way fuller, analytic, reflexive and emotionally similar for all participants. Site specific performance is also a rewarding experience for an artist, who while making a performance that lasts a few hours, has to overcome loneliness, extremes of temperature, smell, humidity, rain, the discomfort of flies, insects or an accidental crowd of a few thousand teenagers coming back from a rock concert! An artist may be prone to strange questions, as site specific performance highlights the previous absence of live action in the same space.

Site specific performance may appear as a result of coincidental circumstances or as the result of an offered available space. A site specific performance may be a few hours of minimalist action or a short dynamic expression by a performance artist.

In site specific performance there is a mutual interaction between the context, the making of an idea and the very structure of the performance. Performers often search for specific places and original contexts in order to better present their ideas or discover a whole new sense. A specific context may become the inspiration and the beginning of a new performance. The question of taking an environment into account, however, is more complicated, since in performance one may talk about various contexts. A context may be outlined by the reaction of the public or indicated by one’s own body or dress, used images, signs or items. A context may be created by a performer, a public, an accidental event during the performance, the specific site, its past, the art of other artists, political events or with reference to some other reality. […]

Full version of the text was published in Performance, Intermedia, ed. Grażyna Teodorowicz, Szczecin: Stowarzyszenie OFFicyna, 2011, 4-9.