Page 1



Girl Clown was a mutant, hybrid character, playing with her own thoughts. Neither a tragic nor a comic, but a remix of fame, misfortune (the fallen movie star) and nothingness; born through the knowledge that the building on Charing Cross Road almost contained too much History to mention.

Pavilionesque No. 3 Artistic Director: Paulina Olowska Editor-in-chief and coordinator: Joanna Trznadel Graphic Design, DTP: Alicja Pismenko Authors and Artists: Daniel Baumann, Shirley Beljon, Vincenzo de Bellis, Piotr Błachut, Isabelle Cornaro, Sacha Van Dorssen, Katarzyna Fazan, Bruno Fernandes, Valeska Gert, Irina Ionesco, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Maja Krysiak, Marta Kudelska, Christiane Kuhlmann, Jesús León, Aleksandra Liput, Zofia Małysa-Janczy, Nadja Massün, Kazimierz Mikulski, Stefan Moses, Pavlína Morganová, Tomek Mróz, Jill Mulleady, Selina Ogilvy, Paulina Olowska, Dominika Olszowy, Xavier Rodriguez, Szymon Rogiński, Eva Švankmajerová, Karin Székessy, Agnieszka Taborska, Roland Topor, Alex Urban, Marnie Weber, Witold Wojtkiewicz, Tori Wrånes, Joanna Zielińska, Bogdan Zimowski Translations: From Czech: Stephan von Pohl From French: Joanna Cygan, Zofia Małysa-Janczy From German: Rebecca Law From Polish: Anda McBride, Piotr Mierzwa Copyediting and proofreading: Krzysztof Gutfranski, Padraig Robinson Edition: 1200 Printing: KNOW-HOW Published by: Walker Art Center, Academy of Fine Arts in Prague & Razem Pamoja Fundation The project is made for the occasion of the exhibition The Paradox of Stillness: Art, Object, and Performance at the Walker Art Center and Paulina Olowska’s guest teaching at The Studio of Visiting Artist at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. The magazine was supported by the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague within the Specific Research Programme 2020, financed by the Ministry of Education, Youth & Sports. Contributours from AVU Praha: Leonor Barbosa, Natalia Borkowska, Marina Medef, Marina Carvalho, Veronika Čertíková, Chan Yuet Ling, Hana Chmelikova, Cho Do Hyun, Elena Ciolino, Radu Daria, Dominic Hafner, Isadora Hashimoto, Kristína Haviarová, Huang Sungwan, Martyna Kiełka, Hanna Kucera, Monika Kučerová, Žofie Kunštová, Dori Lazar, Lin Man Yiu, Fiona Martínez, Mia Milgrom, Eve Miller, Pollita Mijao, Eve Murray-Fairhall, Marcela Putnová, Jana Svobodová, Zlata Ziborova Special thanks: Else Bechteler-Moses, Vincenzo de Bellis, Sabine Breitwieser, Adam Budak, Isabelle Cornaro, Jadine Collingwood, Tomáš Džadoň, Zuza Golińska, Agnieszka Gratza, Eva Grigar, Vít Havránek, Elżbieta Jeznach, K-A-V-K-A knižní a výtvarná kultura, Miloš Mušicki, Michal Štochl, Nicolas Topor, Dorota Trznadel and to Joanna Zielińska for inspiration and guidance © 2020 the artists, the authors, the editors, the photographers, Walker Art Center, Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and Razem Pamoja Fundation. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduction in whole or in part in any form. ISBN: 978-80-88366-09-6 6

SCARY, FREAKY and DISGUSTING ‘The mind, under certain phases of excitement, plays with terror’ John Ruskin

After the Different Forms of Marionette Theater (Pavilionesque I) and Feminsation in Puppetry (Pavilionesque II) comes the time for the Grotesque (Pavilionesque III). The grotesque, from the Italian word grotto, is a layered term that has been with us and mutated for ages. It is a decorative motif in ancient Roman fresco paintings, discovered on the walls of emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea [Golden House] in the late 15th century, which arabesque forms were later imitated by artists such as Mantegna, Pisanello and Raphael, and became ubiquitous not only in wall painting, but also engraving, marquetry, maiolica and other decorative arts during the Renaissance and beyond. They depicted bizarre hybrid creatures, whose porous bodies combined plant, animal, and human attributes and masks, caught in a web of fanciful floral and architectural patterns. Mikhail Bakhtin saw them as a manifestation of the carnavalesque, folkloric festivities, a way of releasing social stress, full of humor, satire and chaos. Following Wolfgang Kayser’s Romantic notion of something ‘ominous, nocturnal and abysmal’, the grotesque was allocated to the underground, since it was perceived as subversive and rudely transgressive. The aesthetic overstepping of boundaries and a breach of decorum is also present in different forms of commedia dell’arte, burlesque and vaudeville. In her text Why contemporary Women artist are obsessed with Grotesque? Tess Thackara argues that ‘the grotesque is inherently associated with the feminine, long having shaped depictions of the female body— prostitutes, femmes fatales, and sorceresses.’ Drawing on the research carried out with the Academy of Fine arts in Prague and invited art historians, as well as through interviews with contemporary artists, we have gathered material that feels relevant to the aspect of grotesque understood as carnal attraction to disgust. The cover photo of Valeska Gert with her eyes ecstatically flipped embodies what the issue tries to grasp — the interior penetration and the playful profane. Paulina Olowska




Valeska Gert photograph


Girl Clown

Selina Ogilvy etching

Alex Urban


Selina Ogilvy photographic contact prints


Stefan Moses photographs


SCARY, FREAKY and DISGUSTING. Editorial Introduction

Paulina Olowska


Shirley Beljon photograph


Jamian Juliano-Villani

artist pages


Dominika Olszowy animated video still


Tori WrĂĽnes artist pages

Dominic Hafner alphabet


Creepy the predecessor of Grotesque An interview with Marnie Weber Paulina Olowska

Marnie Weber photographs

24-25 14

Isabelle Cornaro film still



Edward Kienholz

but with what style!

instalation view

Christiane Kuhlmann




Isabelle Cornaro

Valeska Gert Katarzyna Fazan drawings


Edward Kienholz instalation view


Jamian Juliano-Villani artist pages

Kazimierz Mikulski


Poisonous Pastry Shop by Witold Wojtkiewicz


Zofia Małysa-Janczy

Marta Kudelska

Eva Švankmajerová

The Childhood of Ernesta Thot



Alex Urban

artist pages Pavlína Morganová


Marnie Weber


Karin Székessy photographs



From the Grotte to the Grotesque, a “still” journey Vincenzo de Bellis


Irina Ionesco photographs


Cemetery of Eternal Rest An interview with Dominika Olszowy Joanna Zielińska

instalation views

Dominika Olszowy

45-47 46

Nadja Massün photograph



KABUKU A quick survey of Japanese grotesque legacy Bruno Fernandes

Elena Ciolino


Jill Mulleady




Tomasz Mróz artist pages


I’m sick of the Earth and the Universe Agnieszka Taborska

List of illustrations

106-111 Special

ˇ A-Z

Friends of Pavilionesque

drawings, alphabet

Roland Topor

Nohoch Burlesque Xavier Rodríguez

The Postsurrealist Negation of Negation


Jamian Juliano-Villani artist page


Sacha Van Dorssen Next issue preview

Backof the back Cover Isadora Hashimoto


Jesús León photographs



Bogdan Zimowski photographs


Back Cover Jamian Juliano-Villani painting



Creepy the predecessor of Grotesque an interview with Marnie Weber by Paulina Olowska Paulina Olowska: To begin with, I’d like

Marnie Weber:

to ask you how do you feel about the word


‘grotesque’? When you create your work, do you

different from grotesque. Creepy is like the

think about this term at all?















you’re 19

moving in a direction where it makes you feel

for example ‘The Sea of Silence’ with the



















amusing because I always try to hit that point


between funny and dark, sad and amusing — it’s

well. A sympathy towards your characters. Would

a real sweet spot that’s hard to hit. But then

that be a closer aspect to grotesque?

when you’re moving into the grotesque it becomes like this amplified passion, like a parallel or paradox between the dark and the light. To me grotesque is more of an extreme paradox, like a dramatic moment. Tragic, and funny at the same time. PO: When

I look

MW: are


You so



empathetic already.

because That,


women me,

is the grotesque element in puppetry — the objectification and dumping of emotions onto these figures that aren’t alive. So another expression of grotesque is a distortion of






reality, which is also a distortion of reality

as art. That’s why grotesque and art are so

distorted, like philosophy mixed with bar room

perfect together because they both challenge

jokes. What makes it grotesque in my mind, is

reality. The idea was that the Spirit Girls

the distortion that occurs when you’re being

— who I imagined in my created narrative as

viewed by other people in the wrong manner and

having died — came back to life but never

you don’t get to create your own persona. As

spoke. When we performed as the Spirit Girls

a performance artist you create this persona

we always wore masks and never spoke. And then

and then you know people will project onto it.

I thought, well, how would they speak if they finally got their voice? Through ventriloquist dolls! So they each got a ventriloquist doll that matched their outfit. And when they finally got a chance to speak it was all jumbled and

For me, performance is really important in my art practice. I was exclusively performing between







I was performing, making costumes, sets and props, as well as my own music. I strove to

move people emotionally. I later transitioned

was a rock opera with theatrical stage sets...

into making installations, movies and artwork.

Over the years we have played, we transformed

Of course I want to please myself in the work

into more of a rock show, still telling the

I make, but I aim to have someone walk into the

story of the Spirit Girls. One of my goals with

room and feel emotionally moved. You’d think

the Spirit Girls was to fill the void from when

this is a standard aspiration but it actually

I was a teenager and there were very few female

isn’t that typical in today’s art world.

musicians; there certainly weren’t many doing

PO: I think that in contemporary art for a long time we’ve been told that there is a lot to read before we look and understand. I feel there is too little dialogue between art and spectator, that is created based on simple, child-like looking and absorbing, rather than

Theatrical Rock. I wanted a female Theatrical Rock band so I made one. Later, I wanted to explore a narrative of Witches and I just couldn’t see how they could work together so I eventually put the Spirit Girls to rest with one final grand performance.

referring to readings of art history. We are


told in art schools that art is somewhat of

in your art?

a layered thing and a lot of students might be missing the point of this one-on-one passing on of a certain emotion. And this is exactly what I enjoyed in your films so much.






a series

MW: was



















Day of Forevermore’. I played the old witch lead character who oversaw a land of witches

MW: Good to hear that they don’t box you in.

PO: Many



that allow you to build some of the







with Witches. They have a lot to do with my interpretation






the whole history of being viewed as objects

characters over years.

— a grotesque distortion of who they were which MW: Yes, especially with the Spirit Girls.

led to the rape and murder of suspected witches

I made four films about them over

in history.

a period of

six years, as well as a series of installations, and collages. When I first thought of the Spirit Girls they were a band of girls who died in the 70s and came back as spirits to put on their rock operas. Our first performance, in 2005, 22

PO: Women have a much better understanding of the grotesque and a much closer idea of the real or the scary with periods, giving birth, getting old and so on. I’m finding more and more

that artists such as Valeska Gert or Dominika

PO: Do you talk with your daughter about your

Olszowy, who work in the theme of grotesque,

work? Does she like anything in particular,

place the idea of the kitsch object beside the

or does she have a special reaction to any

frame of a masterpiece. This makes me wonder,

of your work?

do you in your work ever build on an idea or MW: We don’t talk a lot about my art but it a concept of an object as a prop for a film or was a fascinating experience working together an installation? on my ‘Day of Forevermore’ movie in which she MW: To me a ‘prop’ can be heavily emotionally

was a lead actor. In the film she played my

loaded. It can be a conduit to allow a performer

fictional daughter, the young Witch. She looks

to open up and create a real magical connection.

a lot like me as a young girl and so over time

It’s almost like it opens the floodgates to

I have come to realize that she was playing me

emotions. And so when I discover a particularly

as a young girl and I’m playing my mother as

curious and charged object and I get that tingly

the Witch. I walked into that one not knowing,

feeling, I know it is going to become a prop in

it went right by me. Sometimes you have to

one of my narratives. It is kind of an intuitive

get deeply involved in things in order to

process but you have to have the emotional

get through them. The subconscious leads you

connection from the start. For instance I was

through these things and then the subconscious

using Sears catalogs in my work. My mother

wants you to look at them afterwards. It is

would buy clothes for me from them and when

similar to how you

I found the catalogs I had a real emotional

meaning. Making movies is the same

charge, and it wasn’t just the thrill of the


buy. They were heavily loaded with emotional

can run free.

symbolism that had so much to do with motherdaughter control issues for me.

look at your dreams for thing for

— it’s like a place where the subconscious



Roxy’s by Isabelle Cornaro Roxy’s was the first environment of Edward Kienholz that I saw. It recounts a brutal memory from his adolescence — a visit to a brothel in Las Vegas during wartime, indicated by a portrait of General MacArthur, with a uniform jacket hanging on the coat rack and a calendar dated June 1943. In the photographs from the vernissage taking place in 1962 in Los Angeles, the guests are well-dressed: as a moralist concerned about the human condition, Kienholz asked them to present themselves respectfully towards the effigies of prostitutes that form this Tableau d’assemblage. Kienholz is also the only one to have represented abortion (The Illegal Operation, 1962) — where the objects remaining from the scene make us visualize the absent bodies and the ongoing drama — and, right after the assassination of Martin Luther King, the lynching of a black man by five white men in an outburst of violence (Five Car Stud, 1969 to 1972). He wanted to create “an art of repulsion”, in direct opposition to the narcissistic nature of abstract expressionism and against the fetishism of industrial goods and the materials typical for Pop Art and Minimalism. In the half-light of Roxy’s, jazz music oozes from a jukebox, a slot machine enumerates the visits. The phantom clients abandoned their bottles, cigarettes and cigars. The details — a bunch of dolls, a china cat figurine, a letter from a little sister, a pump, a lipstick that looks like a cartridge, a broken mirror — all form a set of signs full of affects and pathos, being at the same time the signs of American culture and a direct critique of the American way of life — like the later Jack Smith’s film Song for Rent, made in 1969, which is more queer and carnivalesque in its form, where the national anthem is played on repeat while the protagonist throws around objects typical for American mythology, no matter if it’s a corncob, a can of Campbell’s Soup, or black-and-white pictures of pioneers or soldiers. In the half-light of Roxy’s, sculptures of prostitutes represent the brutality they were subjected to: broken up into sectioned puppets, deformed, hybridized with objects, plants, animals. A mannequin torn apart on top of a Singer machine stand, with a rose stuck in the neck, its chest being devoured by a squirrel, has the names of its torturers and the word “FUCK” incised in the skin. A black doll, a mannequin of a child, is splashed with brown liquid trickling from its pelvis along the thighs. Another one is reduced to a severed head, covered in blood from the top of the skull, hanging from a dressing table made of chicken wire and feathers. The long legs of another mannequin are grotesquely attached to a torso without arms, with a head of a doll of a much smaller size, exaggerating even more the incongruity between its recomposed limbs. Another mannequin has its legs spread wide apart, fixed to a bust made of a cylindrical garbage can with an open lid inscribed with “LOVE”, serving as its face. When the lid is closed, the body becomes headless. The madam has a boar’s skull as a head. Following the example of historical forms of grotesque invented within the walls of the Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea, and surpassing its purely decorative derivatives, these images, permuting from one to another, put up a brutal opposition to the rationality of classic forms, in order to contribute to philosophical and political reflection on the world. This is where my interest for Kienholz came from. Paradoxically, he would make me think about certain landscapes by Nicolas Poussin, which are also philosophical meditations. In these landscapes, painted according to the principles of ideal perspective, the immense nature occupying most of the space of the canvas, is indifferent to the passions and dramatic actions of the human beings that populate it (Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake, 1633; Landscape with Travellers Resting, 1648; The Seasons, 1660). It is on the basis of some of them that I created installations made of pedestals. They form an image constructed as a landscape, in which banal objects — bargain-hunted at flea markets, and thus inherited from the cultural history of expansionist Europe — are placed irregularly. In a practice that could be described as a spatialized montage of heterogeneous items — like a film bringing together images from different sources — these objects-signs, heavy with affect and references, precipitate the presence of absent bodies from cultural, political and psychological history. 28

From the Grotte

to the Grotesque, a “still” journey by Vincenzo de Bellis

I could not help beginning, as I often do from

exploration of the caves was then still pioneering,

grotesque’s etymological origin, to understand not

the prerogative in Italy of the North Eastern area

only what that word means but from where it takes

and a few other northern cities (with the exception

its meaning. Grotesque is derived from cave (French

of Rome), although the south of the peninsula is

grotte), which in turn comes from the Greek word


krypte, where kryptein means “to hide”. The word

thoughts crowded the speleologist’s mind, while he

initially referred to cave paintings and then to

was lowering himself in the immensity of the void.

certain types of decorative frescoes. Grotesque only

The air became warmer and the breath became labored

acquired the meaning of ridicule in 17th century

by the effort — penetrating underground was violating

France. But it’s not just any ridicule. The connotation

a centuries-old taboo well rooted in the premises.

draws its fullest strength from a ridicule associated

The Grave, as the place was called, kept at a safe

with the astonished restlessness of the deformed,

distance from sensible people. It had, in fact,

the unnatural, the bizarre and strange. Grotesque is

always been used to dispose of all kinds of waste,

a sinister caricature, a paradoxical and absurd comedy.

despite the prospect of water pollution. The bats,





A thousand

that came out at sunset or during the winter morning Then, almost instantly, I thought of my own origin,

mists, were none other than the restless souls of the

and decided to tell a story that begins exactly 82

many dead, fallen by mistake or by force.

years ago. On January 23, 1938, a young speleologist named Franco — who was short in stature, shy and

Having finally reached the bottom, Franco found himself














descended anxiously on a rope ladder and marine-type

layers of rock well highlighted and illuminated by

wooden pegs. He was supported by a rope that was

the beam of sunlight, penetrating the large hole

securely held by some local youth. He was hanging

and an immense chaos of rock fallen from the vault,

from a sinkhole just outside of Castellana, a small

above which imposing stalagmites had grown. Full of

town of 10,000 inhabitants, located 30 kilometers

contagious enthusiasm, in the days and following

south of Bari, in a region called Puglia, in the

months he returned to descend into the Grave. He was

deep south of Italy, otherwise known as the heel

accompanied by Vito, a young local who in turn, in

of the boot.

the following years, will play a fundamental role in cave exploration. From the chaos of blocks and

The activity of these men on such a scale was

concretions, in the light of their acetylene lamps,

a decidedly unusual scene in those times and in that


place. Indeed, it was absolutely unique, since the

horizontal fossil tunnels. The bed of an imposing





a succession



ancient river descended to lower levels, which in




a Mare.


a very

the presence of rock fractures widened into large

unusual activity for those who are the clichés of

caves or narrowed in corridors or tunnels, with a few

the Italian people, and in particular that of the

lateral branches, for a total length of 3,200 m and

South, in a few months some problems were solved,

a depth of 70 m, up to the charm of the White Cave

including the very significant one of creating an

terminal, discovered precisely by Vito.

elevator and stairs to overcome the 60 m altitude of the Grave. Already in 1939 it opened the path of

In addition to being by far the largest caves in

the caves to the first visitors, reaching a total of

all of Puglia, Castellana offered unique alabaster

up to 300 thousand visitors per year. In 82 years

concretions. Once the waters had ceased to excavate

of activity, the caves have been the set of films,

the underground ducts, salt and tunnels remained

theatrical pieces, and have brought tens of millions

exposed for millions of years to the dripping of

of tourists to visit the wonders of the underground

rainwater rich in calcium carbonate and mineral salts,

world. They soon became one of the essential bases

deposited everywhere in the form of stalactites,

for the development of tourism in Puglia and the town

stalagmites, settlers, lace, castings, trays and

of Castellana, which exactly 70 years ago, in 1950,

anything that a fervent fantasy can imagine. The

changed its name to Castellana Grotte.

concretions presented different colors, from red to brown and black, depending on the presence of

From the Caves I come and to the caves through the

mineral substances, up to the blaze of the pure

grotesque I return, with a journey that took me

calcite white of the final cave. Some extraordinary

physically very far, but also a journey that is all

eccentric concretions showed an anarchic growth,

done from a desk chair and through a computer screen.



A journey that is only seemingly immobile and which

physical law, but lateral and in all directions,

is one of the many ways of describing what could

due to crystallographic reasons or to the persistent

really mean The Paradox of Stillness.








dominant air currents.

The enthusiasm of the discovery convinced the local authorities, at all levels, about the opportunity to equip this cave for tourism: Castellana possessed an invaluable treasure underground, capable of changing the economic and employment prospects of the Murge, at the gates of the suggestive Itria Valley, between 35


Cemetery of Eternal Rest an interview with Dominika Olszowy by Joanna Zielińska

Joanna Zielińska I’d like to begin with the origins of your artistic

of young female art colleagues, whom I appreciated highly

language. Your practice has been often positioned at a junction

for their artistic abilities. There were the following groups

of visual and performative arts. How do you perceive that

after my studies: we formed a nationalist-feminist hip-

intersection of disciplines from the perspective of your own

hip group, Cipedrapskuad, and then the motorbike gang,

artistic development?

Horsefuckers M.C.

Dominika Olszowy It’s curious that the distinction between visual


You work as well in a duo with the artist Tomek Mróz.


We mainly work together in the theatre, but I’d like to make

and performative arts still exists. As in theatre arts, right? I find it difficult to view my artistic language from a distance.

some more collaborations with Tomek. We are dreaming

Its emergence is a process, of an experience springing from

about organising a performative wedding of ours. Things he

contemporary art and working in the theatre. I first came into

does are my essential inspiration in the context of working in

contact with the theatre in secondary school. I was an actress at

sculpture. Thanks to him, I started making objects.

the Teatr Kreatury [Creature’s Theatre], in which we produced mostly text-based performances; our motto was minimum form, maximum content, meaning no sets, black-and-white


tradition in mind? I’m interested in whether your language,

costumes. For the most part, we staged Gombrowicz, Mrożek

decidedly, has its origins in the realm of the theatre or, for

and Witkacy. The fact that I could grow up in the theatre, and

instance, you refer also to the tradition of performance art in

that, later, I transferred to another theatre, Teatr Strefa Ciszy

the context of visual arts?

[Zone of Silence Theatre], that was also independent, made this language my essential inspiration. As a visual artist, I work in such a medium as performance, drawing on the theatre,


a ‘no-no’. Just like ‘critical art’, performance art stopped

Theatricality is built into them. It’s quite natural that I make

working, as new times were coming and some things became

use of the mechanisms I became familiar with while working

embarrassing. I found performance art embarrassing in the

on stage as an actress. Could you specify what those mechanisms are?


The main and most important thing is group working skills. Performances we produced in those amateur theatres consisted in our doing everything together, from start to

form I’d come to know it. The Azorro Group’s and Cezary Bodzianowski’s actions were exceptions. JZ

I had a similar impression...


Sure, we’re of a similar age, so this was probably the case. Recently, performance art has boomed in a completely

finish, from the concept to the production. There was, of

different form. The so-called ‘choreographic turn’ has taken

course, a director, who ultimately tidied it all up, but the work

place, which presented an opportunity of redefining concepts

was collective, and responsibility for a piece was shared.

in the field of visual arts. This opened up to me, as an artist,

While at the Academy of Fine Arts, I was struck by a highly

an opportunity to theatralise performance art; to introduce

individualised working mode. This was very stressful for me,

narrative motifs, peculiar visuality and dramaturgy into

so I tried to create various collectivities at the school so we

performance. Previously, a strict definition of performance

could collaborate in groups. So, for example, Galeria Sandra

art, as a live action in contradistinction to the theatre, would

[the Sandra Gallery] was established. JZ


round. Very theatrically! JZ

In this context, are you more interested in the subject or, after all, the story?

More groups were established later, but I’d started at school, exactly, with the Sandra Gallery, or an art platform made up


have held. But I, precisely, wanted to do it the other way

The Sandra was the very beginning of your collective work, wasn’t it?

Various fashions govern art and they change. When I was graduating, we all had this thing that performance art was

also when I create scenographic installations in galleries.


When you speak about performance, do you have a specific


Subject or story? That’s a difficult one, since both are very



attractive values, but if I were to choose, it’d be the story. The

by rigid frameworks. We have spoken about this on numerous

story offers more opportunities.

occasions, when discussing our theatrical projects.

I’d like to return once more to the question of language


is quite a limitation, the space where performances are

work, space is significant. I wonder when did space gain

played. No matter how hard the theatre would want to move

significance, as your early works were created in the medium

in the direction of performance art, the context of place

of video.

defines it powerfully. In art, there are very many possibilities of combination, going beyond the gallery walls. Gestures

Indeed, I started with works in video because I graduated from

and ideas can appear outside, which gives freedom of

Prof Marek Wasilewski’s video art studio at the University of

experimentation and an extension of the field.

Arts in Poznań. JZ

How, then, has it come to your creating ever more theatrical,


Referring to traditional distinctions in the theatre: we are dealing not only with the stage, but also with the audience,

Someone has recently compared my pieces to the ‘Poznań

who usually watches the whole thing from a passive

school of installation’, which I really liked, as I’m a great

observer’s position. Contemporary art, basically, abolished

fan of the Koło Klipsa group. I’ve always been interested

that distinction, in favour of spectator-performer.

in the context of the surroundings and space in which works are displayed and a possibility of creating a complex environment, based on emotion and mood building. Or


can enter a given space, feel embraced by it, or provoked

media and techniques, creating an environment which can be

to action. I also like it when the space itself becomes highly

interpreted in many ways. I like it when interpretation takes

performative, creating a theatre without actors’ participation.

course in different directions. Hence, perhaps, these worlds. The theatre is, however, a highly defined language, restricted

How spectators are going to feel in my space is crucial, but not the most essential. I like it when a spectator, or an addressee,

creating a surrealist, oneiric, intuitive space. I combine various


When creating a space, do you also consider a choreography of space? Do you take into account the spectator’s presence?

even scenographic, spaces? DO

There’s no escaping the stage in the theatre, the very building

emerging in a special relationship with the theatre. In your


I am reminded of your installation, Cmentarz wiecznego wypoczynku [Cemetery of Eternal Rest], a work designed for


contemplation, that you showed in 2019, at the Ujazdowski

title: Alegorie wolności [Allegories of Freedom]. The images

Castle, for the exhibition Czekając na kolejne nadejście

depict the sun, a bird, some flowers. I like works made by

[Waiting for Another Coming].

artists from parallel worlds. In art, there are numerous parallel worlds. Due to market and institutional divides, the artists are

The installation formed a fragment of a beige room, arranged

very various, these are ‘worse’, those ‘better’. I have a deep

under the influence of inspiration from the aesthetics of

opposition to the valuation. I’m turned on by going against

peripheral trends in residential buildings. Amidst leather-like

the grain, i.e.: working in some established institution and

lounges, positioned like graves at a cemetery, on lino imitating

producing a work which, normally, wouldn’t have any artistic

a beige floor, dried exotic fruit was scattered, reminiscent of

value, because it’s flawed, cheap and ugly.

non-existent animals’ bones, and coffee was spilled around. I tried to create a ghastly vision of our reality, where work,


you combine various aesthetics, from completely disparate

to enter the space, but, ultimately, the attendants didn’t let

visual levels, such as animated dancing skeletons who,

them in, believing the work to be too brittle.

eventually, speak about serious matters and convey an


The gallery context triumphed over the artistic concept?


Well, yes, making the cemetery, I thought about it as a bizarre

existential message. They speak of death and passing, but in a language we have familiarized. DO

home, so it would be nice to be able to reside there a little.

in my life. In the beginning, I was ashamed of it, but during my

in Białystok.

studies I realized I didn’t have to do it to produce art works. So using various visual levels is a kind of artistic freedom to me.

Can you say something more about the project? I’m interested

I can make use of, for example, the aesthetics of the theatre

in the existential theme, which seems to be very important

with which I’m quite conversant.

in the case of this exhibition. DO

The exhibition was called Happy End, which, in this case, did


space: a cemetery, an operating theatre and a waiting room,


is closed.

and, partly, in earnest. Was there a particular narrative or, rather, was the space intended to introduce the spectator into a specific existential state? DO


It seems to me that, in your art, the scale has changed…


Lately, a number of installations have been made, but I’ve no place to keep them anymore. I feel satiated and have a sense

The spectator begins their journey by entering the cemetery:

of over-production. I’d like to return to more ephemeral,

Cemetery of Eternal Rest. The waiting room is on the right and

immaterial pieces, like videos or performances.

the operating theatre is at the back end of the gallery. That’s the only narrative, the rest was intuitive. JZ

The world revolves around death?


Yes, exactly. Lately, there’s been plenty of death in my work. I try to look for alternative ways of dealing with it. Death is the greatest taboo in our culture. The cemetery was produced


performance art, theatre, television, film, and installation, in some sense, represents your working method. DO

Yes, indeed. It was a very large thing, combining numerous dynamics, and many people had their influence on the shape of this project. I like working in a group, although it’s very

waiting room contains four over-plastered chairs. People

difficult and complicated. You know what I’m talking about.

had been sitting on them for so long that they, finally, grew

You do work with people, after all.

into them. I got turned on by the idea of making a crooked, JZ

Working with performative artists has completely reconfigured

grandpa’s trashy chair. Those chairs are ugly, the exhibition is

my practice and perspective on the medium of exhibition.

ugly, there are many flawed, ugly elements in it. I’m slightly

Performance artists see space differently. They’re more eager

turned on by creating embarrassment in art, these days. I like

to improvise, treating the exhibition more scenographically

the fact that being a contemporary artist , I don’t need to have

and theatrically.

the skill, I can even produce something ’any kid could make’. I can put cotton-wool images on the gallery walls, similar to those actually hanging in waiting rooms, made, for example, by hospital patients. Mine are drowned in resin and look a little like they were made of phlegm, with a very haughty 42

It’s occurred to me, now, that the television project we did together in 2018: PTV. Performance TV, as a combination of:

earlier, for the exhibition at the Ujazdowski Castle. The

démodé sculpture from another era. A sculpture that’s

Because, as an artist, I can do more, it’s more conducive to my growth. And in the theatre, I couldn’t; as you said, the theatre

infused with an existential energy. Partly, tongue-in-cheek


Why did you, therefore, decide to become an artist, and not a theatre director?

not mean a happy ending, but only a wish for one to happen. Three rooms contained three different interpretations of

My love of embarrassment stems from the fact that, as an artist, I cannot paint or draw. So I’ve never painted a painting

Later, the piece worked differently at the Arsenal Gallery


Approach is very radical and highly present in your works, as

death and rest merge into one. I wanted spectators to be able


Concentrating solely on the object shuts seeing down. I have periods when, after an intense span of work with people, I shut myself off in the studio to focus on my individual language. Now, I’m working alone and feel like a one-person company,


and being obliged to take everything on oneself tends to be

not. I like to deceive and confabulate but, at the same time,

very stressful. Work is all the more pleasant in the theatre, as

there’s plenty of truth in it. I’ve this video on YouTube, on

responsibility for a piece is shared and, in the end, we’re there

a channel called PanikaPanika [PanicPanic], where, several

together at the premiere, experiencing it jointly. We’re like

years ago, I uploaded, for laughs, a film entitled Ważna

one organism, which is much healthier. After a solo exhibition,

Wiadomość [An Important Message], which has had over

I often suffer from postpartum depression. I am alone in

3 million views and a great story unfolding in the comments.

the process and no-one but me knows what has happened

So far, I haven’t touched it, but I have a feeling that, one

throughout the process. I have no-one to share those stories

day, I have to do something with it. I watch, daily, what’s

of mishaps and issues of production with. It’s different in the

happening there and there’s this big discussion about what

theatre, but sometimes also harder. You’ve got to be flexible

happened to me. The film looks like there’s only my face

and sensitive to other opinions, be able to compromise, even

transformed with a photo booth filter and I say: “listen, I’ve

when someone says that this kind of red is ugly, and you like

a very important message to give to you completely straight

this sort of red. Sometimes, you’ve got to hide your ego.

from me: It’s gonna be alright!” An intercom rings and the film

I would also like to ask you about the space of the Internet, since you’re one of few Polish female artists who has a strong presence in social media. This may sound slightly trite, but it seems to me that you treat the medium as a space of performance.


I agree, and being on stage gives me a lot of pleasure. I’ve always liked being there and I have an impression that I translate this into art and my on-line presence. I believe it also helps me as an artist. It isn’t easy to present oneself in the sense of ‘look, this is me, it’s about me’. I, really, simply play with it, it’s pleasant. I don’t treat my on-line presentation as art, but rather as a liminal activity. It’s partly true, and partly

ends. So, there is plenty of conspiracy theories on the channel, that somebody came, that I was kidnapped and that I might be dead. Some people are joking, others are very seriously writing that, perhaps, something should be done about this, that I haven’t responded at all in six years and that something truly bad could have happened to me. Secondary-school graduates private message me, saying I helped them pass their school-leaving exam. I have over a hundred views daily and I’ve earned 2000 zlotys on this. It’s my most renowned art work, known primarily by junior high school students. Coincident. I was sitting at a friend’s and recorded this video. Various parodies have also been made. It’s great we’re living in times like these.

Nohoch Burlesque by Xavier Rodríguez

Nohoch Burlesque is a show born from a love at first sight. Nohoch — a multimedia project — meets a burlesque project Vedettes en Extinción, to find more than one point in common to form a unity in which the mutual taste for horny humor and the seriousness in the matter is evident. Music, parody, eroticism and ridicule are presented as dynamic and creative elements that distinguish this elegant staging. Regardless of the semantic meaning of the music group name, NOHOCH arises from a joke amongst its members; in the project, there is a constancy between dichotomies, wordplay and a carefree mood. In the rehearsals the workflow can start from the exploration of sounds obtained in an unconventional way, through jamming and the recurrence of karaoke as a way of exploring the abilities and limitations of each of its members; whose individual interests have contributed to the project with elements such as performance, installation, video and drawing. For the burlesque group Vedettes en Extinción, dressing up is such an intimate act, with a public purpose... but in the burlesque, undressing is an act that is publicly intimate, and any way, this mysterious game of covering and uncovering, looking and being looked at is another mystery. This is a polymorphic group with a passion in common: the ‘fashion-clothes’ and the process of undressing. For them there is first the silk, then the lace, then the creation of the outfit and, little by little, undoing the knot, releasing the needle, unbuttoning the clasp. Why do they do it? For sentimental reasons, and just because... and of course for pleasure!

Vedettes en Extinción are: Genoveva Álvarez (Gigi D’Angora), Adriana Olivera (Suzette) and Manuel Rivas (Manu Sol). Nohoch are: Marco Casado, Alejandro Contreras, Mauricio Limón, Euri Lorenzo, Xavier Rodríguez and José Rojas.


by Katarzyna Fazan

In Kazimierz Mikulski’s painting, A nade mną

beings. The artist has plucked them from their

Kazimierz Mikulski, the conjurer, in his imaginary

kto? [And Who’s Above Me?], a gigantic Siamese

conventionally assigned places within a tradi-

circus of flat landscapes juggles our perception,

cat paw is placed on the back of a puny rhinoc-

tional world-view, where human is god. Mikulski

throwing it off habits and limitations, transpos-

eros balancing on the edge of a diving board.

is in dialogue with the object, the animal and

ing it to another side of reality. No wonder: he

Clumps of green grass sprout from the sky,

the insect, but his artist’s dominion does not

was the Manager of The Circus in the Cricot 2

while a colorful moth (a guardian of darkness)

have to be at the service of instituting power re-

staging from 1957, as well as a Beadle in the Past

freezes in the all-encompassing, illuminated

lations. The question in the painting’s title does

Perfect Tense in Tadeusz Kantor’s film The Dead

sky-blue of the air. The tomcat’s blue eyes are

not presuppose an unequivocal answer, while

Class (1975). Earlier, he had strolled around the

looking up. Perhaps, he is asking the question

roles in the reality of art – as in the theatre or

Krzysztofory cellar floor in Lovelies and Dowdies

serving as the painting’s title, establishing an

burlesque – become fluid, ambiguous, true in

after Witkacy, and down the streets of Kraków

inner speech of events in a new hierarchy of

their disguise and fictional sincerity.

as a reanimation of Auguste Rodin’s Monument


to Balzac – hence, his nickname among friends

transfigured into the doll’s rotund ideal) and of

The grotesque is a shelter for an independent

– Balzac.1 It stuck to his condition of the actor,

an emblem of an animal: a bird, a cat, a frog.

world of the imagination: an autonomy of see-

painter, scenographer, graphic artist, and poet,

But, at the same time, the creative process and

ing guarantees freedom, forms a foundation for

or a critter exploding solid forms of univocal

the act of seeing are also fetishised in this world.

a dissimilated world, even as Mikulski does not

incorporations; a creator seeking movement,

The object seen and seeing itself enjoy equal

abandon a veracity of its elements. Passages of

dislocations and dynamics, including in his or-

rights – since the artist has made a pact with his

painterly representations put forward acts of

ganizing of painterly seeing.

own vision: it eradicates the unnecessary, trivial

intensified detail: a leaf, an eye, a beak, a hair,

structure of the world and evokes exaggeration

enlarged and displaced, assail the senses. In the

Mikulski manages not to see the world circularly

as the compositional principle of representa-

circus landscape, my eye feels free and emanci-

and wholly, but in faults, breaches and contrasts.

tion. Ingredients of the imaginary break out not

pates from routines of the body, while the an-

He hallows dissonance as an effect of a gaze ex-

only from routine looking, but also decompose

nexation of the eye can be perceived as a pres-

posing the co-creative chaos, and since, in his

facile thinking: individual words as object-de-

tidigitator’s trick: the eye snatched from the

painting, the chaos has an appearance of order

noting signifiers fall out of sentences and are

spectator has to travel and experience surprise.

and beauty, the more unsettling and attractive

re-combined into enlivening metaphors, which

The type of flight from the world of trivia points

it becomes. The painter transpires to be an MC

is confirmed by Mikulski’s lyrical notes (he was

towards an escapist channel, leading to a play

combining contradictions into order, harmoniz-

also a poet, after all). A foreign body, here, is

and amazement, usually attributed to children

ing dissonances. Mikulski proves the impossible

the body of a spectator, who seems to think they

and artists.

– tending to treat the grotesque as a form of ide-

manifest law and order, while animals, insects,

alization, albeit, from a present-day perspective,

objects, dolls, and masks become the matter

Dealings in masks, dynamic constructions of

the approach is threatened with the contempo-

proper, unbridled and mysterious. They are the

fluctuating worlds of hybrid composition, direct-

rary audience perceiving the pictorial creations

rightful owners of the reality of art, theirs is the

ed Mikulski toward the theatre as well as to the-

as an act of fetishism: a fetish is made of a wom-

force that speaks to the eye and to a reason that

atralisation as a formula for reality. He practised

an’s naked body (the painter’s favorite shape

is perplexed.

these aesthetic procedures of art in his staging


activities: for years, he was scenographer and diJanina Kraupe, Balzac, in: Kazimierz Mikulski. Mistrzowie polskiego malarstwa [Kazimierz Mikulski. Masters of Polish Painting], Poznań 1999. 1

K. Mikulski, W mgle rysunki w wierszami przy drodze błądziły [In the Fog, Drawings Wandered with Poems Off-road], Kraków 1995. 2

rector at the Groteska Theatre in Kraków, where


he equipped actors with gigantic heads-masks.3

the eyes hang by a hair or a thread sprouting

for a predisposition towards nocturnal animals

He concealed their actual eyes in another area of

from a clump of grass or a ball of hair. In the

(cats, bats, owls, toads, spiders, cockroaches),

the face (e.g. on the cheeks, under the nose, over

painting, Patrzą na nas [They Are Looking at

but the Kraków artist does not create a bestiary.

the lips) by means of invisible nets; he append-

Us, 1984], more than one eye travels freely, like

His creatures are stripped of obvious stigmas

ed enormous eyeballs, peeking at viewers from

a ball, through the field; also in other paintings,

of evil and devilry, as he conjures up a utopian

a disproportionate countenance. An exchange

eyes appear in areas of the body unreserved for

circus-landscape, allowing ordinary and bizarre

of glances, therefore, occurred via a fictitious

an organ of sight. Hence, looking parts are: a na-

beings, pieced together from disparate parts, to

transmission channel — the actor’s artificial

vel, a vagina, a tree; also the space, horizon and

co-exist on a single planet of imaginary vision.

eye was not the one with which they surveyed

ground are endowed with vision. The eye be-

He also dedicates his poetry to them, while he

the field of action and the audience. The fraud

comes an organ common to nature and object,

pays tribute to their shadows that stand guard

of art produced an illusion of staring characters

to the body and the incorporeal. The artist offers

on the boundary between worlds – the visible

right in the eyes — since they were the greatest

proof that the world is a panopticon – the whole

and the hidden behind the veil of opacity. An

attraction in the face. In the painting, Chwila

of creation is looking at us. Art watches reality.

essential protagonist of his late prints and paint-


przed burzą [A While Before the Storm, 1979],

ings is the shadow of his deceased cat. Mikulski performs night vision in broad daylight

3 see: Kazimierz Mikulski. Dokumentacja działalności [Kazimierz Mikulski. A Documentation of Activities], ed. Honorata Sych, Łódź 1995; see also: Tadeusz Kornaś, Głowy lalek. Maska w twórczości Kazimierza Mikulskiego [Doll’s Heads. The Mask in Kazimierz Mikulski’s Work], „Teatr Lalek”, 2/136/2019; and: a film by Maria Guza, Kazimierz Mikulski na granicy snu i groteski [Kazimierz Mikulski on the Edge of Dream and the Grotesque], [accessed 03.04.20].


and in bright light. Night vision – typical for ma-

Aesthetic procedures, precisely those which

gicians, sorcerers and artists – was a justification

turn the peculiar seeing into a fully autonomous world, do not alienate Mikulski in the direction of an unfavourable, hostile unsightliness: his

4 In such paintings as e.g.: Profil nocy [The Night in Profile, 1955]; Tajemnica narodzin i już czeka klatka [The Mystery of Birth and the Cage Is Already There, 1991]; Nim nadejdzie poranek [Before the Morning Comes, 1992].

shapes of seeing tame a queerness, turning it into a human-inclined territory. The painter, like a purebred surrealist, “suggested a disci-

plined ‘debauchery’ of associations.”5 The eye marvels at the fact it fears not the woman with a bird’s beak, or the beautifully smoothed-out bodies, erotically curved (here, the breast is as privileged as the organ of sight), with coyotes’, wolves’ and cats’ masks or mouths. He makes use of a familiar object language and, simultaneously, employs various forms of dislocation. He moves freely between a children’s and adults’ world, in which the viewer, divested of fears and inhibitions, takes joy. Mikulski’s obscene fantasies are less predacious than other avant-guard artists’, while the provocation in his vein of the grotesque – erotic dolls, wooden birds, poster animals and painter-appropriated nature, transforming into the structure of smoothened paints – is, all at once, the perennial imperative of art, which encourages watching as a risky venture.

Eyes are the dominant component of Mikulski’s landscapes, his play on the eye and his game of the eye force us to enter into a dialogue of gaze and vision and, at the same time, fulfill the need of seeing the world differently from its unmediated experience. His art is brittle, uncertain, barely hanging by a hair and, on the contrary, it is stable and equipped in solid forms and defined visions. It is replete with theatrical and artificial elements, throwing us off a passive co-existence with it; unmasking ordinary human life as an insufficient field of unveiling ontological paradoxes.

Mikulski usually kept silent, seeking in silence impossible integrations and seams. He was an embodiment of the grotesque as a hybrid allegory of being. I see him as a figure in a number of masks and growths, along with rhizomatic members, as an uncanny condition of the body with numerous eyes, equipped with additional organs, transforming into letters and colors. I see him as a maker of one man theatre, an itinerant juggler equipped with signboards, dolls, masks and words, an equilibrist of images and meanings.

5 Urszula Czartoryska, [untitled], in: Kazimierz Mikulski. Malarstwo [KM. Painting], [exhibition catalogue], Kraków 2003.


That day of the year no-one remembered, Ernesta Thot saw death for the first time. True, death had kept her company from the very beginning, but only now did the nearly 5-year-old girl see him through her gently lowering eyelids. One could say that the first glance of death hidden in an iron chest was one of those events that decided the future Polish-Styrian art curator’s fate. Everything began a few weeks earlier, when father returned – a slightly bony man, eternally engrossed in books, stoically overseeing his offspring’s undertakings with the exception of those moments when Ernesta passed the threshold of his studio. Arrested, then, by the girl’s glance, he acted in accordance with his eccentric nature: he forwent a leniency so esteemed with respect to the little people and showered Ernesta with bizarre stories. For Ernesta Thot was equipped with an extraordinary capacity of associating facts and asking pertinent and pithy questions she ought not to have asked. But, one day, the father did not respond with a grunt to his daughters glance and did not poke his head from beneath the collar of his cashmere jacket. Ernesta, who had spent the whole day fingering tiny white stones scattered around the forecourt, hidden in the shade of thick mallows, did not receive any eye’s of interest on the day with the exception of the enormous-chest-lugging of Maurycy’s and Maciej’s. From a world entirely indifferent to her, full of foul smells and cold marble stairs, there emerged a thing fascinating like reliquaries with the blood of saints, but with a rusted lid, damaged clasps, creaking and rumbling out undeciphered stories. Ernesta, slightly dumbfounded in astonishment and fatigue, seemed to have accepted the occurrence. She hastened to dig into the ground with her emerald evening slipper, to dig all the way down, scatter all of the ground, penetrate deeper and deeper so as to fulfil Old Thaby’s wish of her going to hell. Then, she decided that since no-one had noticed her, she would notice everything her junior soul had not yet suspected of existing. She came to the conclusion that in order to avoid 53

the bleak fate of being unnoticed – transmogrified into a rotten lady, devoured by un-embarked-on adventures and emotions – she had only one path to choose. Ernesta Mircella Thot decided to abandon the garden and enter into the house full of creaks and cracks, which was also a place of disappearance – a fact of which she was not yet aware – of death. Ernesta’s first step on her way to immortality was noticed by Old Thaby solely; nonetheless, her response to the diabolical act was a mere tap on her head, with no premonition of soon-to-come vexations and existential tangles. Thaby got up from the table, came to an open kitchen door and, having looked all around, tiptoed and reverently (or so she imagined), admonished herself that she should finally stop caring for the ccaprices of the wealthy sir and madam, and their quirky children. Unfortunately, her incessant attempts at reconciliation with her function of an in-house virago miraculously escaped the attention of the household engrossed in thoughts she could not comprehend, and only 54

sometimes did the kitchen maid inquire about the reasons for her incessant irritation. Old Thaby had already resolved that she would endure anything so the Thots’ raven-black-haired child, incessantly rambling around the house, finally found some occupation. She had, indeed, threatened the family with packing up one night and leaving the day after, but everybody knew her words were empty: besides this place, nobody waited for her and, anyway, she would not have the courage to return here, because human words were quicker to stoke up hatred than pyres. And these were Old Thaby’s thoughts when Ernesta was resolutely climbing step after step up to the creaking house. When Ernesta’s father was giving orders to other household members, the girl developed a desire to have a closer look at the quaint chest, which, for the past few days, has been the centrepiece of everyone’s whispering. Old Thaby cursed fate, that the Thing had to appear in This House, thankful only for her beloved benefactress, Madam Thot, being so quiet and humble that, for many years, she had been going on 55

speechless voyages around her room and did not have any other interests. Well, God bless, as it might have turned out much worse; as, it would surely happen with this house where the iron eyesore had made its appearance. Such was hers and their wretched fate, although one tried to be a good person all their life and Sir Thot, too, was a good one, no matter that, sometimes, he embarked on long journeys and brought back sundry oddities. Besides, Thaby, just like little Ernesta, was fascinated with them, but this did not matter, as what counted was only her duty to the household, of remaining there until Mademoiselle Ernesta inherited all of this. Such thoughts never occured to Krzysztof Krymitojenko – a middle-aged man, sturdy, with a very pronounced jaw, which he jutted forward during his conversations with Mr. Thot, whom he admired from the very bottom of his Balkan soul and, whenever he could, addressed him with an overwhelming self-confidence – first, bowing before him, which could only produce a feigned indignation resulting in Mr Thot’s extending his hand, so it was difficult to shake off the impression that the two men enjoyed an extraordinary bond of friendship. Krymitojenko felt a sudden sting in his heart upon apprehending the oddity in the room referred to by the family as green. The two shut themselves out in that room, sparing no thought for the future and neither even considered, not even for a moment, to go downstairs to take supper and, incidentally, not to let on they knew well what the upstairs held, stuffing their mouths with chicken legs, potatoes, salad, and wine, to prevent all the evil spirits in the world from leading them astray into betraying the secret. And only during those first, nervous hours did Krymitojenko keep asking if the thing there could really be true. After all, a large number of enlightened folk expressed doubt in the words of Gustav Freyteg recorded in his bulky “Bilder aus den deustchen Vergangenheit”, affirming that the first person to give their soul away to this thing was a counterfeiter, forgotten by time, and that the kiss of death lasted as long as 3 days. But some peasants did know, yet kept quiet, as it was common knowledge that it was wiser not to speak ill of Madams and Sirs – especially those who were devils in the flesh, or even worse, having achieved a greater mastery of their hellish tricks, turned solely against their innocent kin, breaking all God’s commandments while they were at it – but who could tell, there was no opposing the Masters, as they only knew what was best for the world and, perhaps, there was some hidden sense in it. And only sometimes did someone say that the hellish thing was conceived and, thereby, almost given birth to by Siebenbürgerin, the harlot, and if only Mr Thot knew what she had been up to, he would have never dragged the devil’s work all the way from Nuremberg to here, to the tree-lulled Styria. Then, Mr Thot rested his hand on Krymitojenko’s shoulder and spoke with the power of lordly words that, although he indeed knew those and many, many other stories, his parents had chosen Euseubius Hieronymus as his patron-saint in hope of him, precisely, enlarging the family collection with successive riddles and mysteries solved, and that life could not have gone otherwise. This was the exact reason why, from her early years, he had encouraged Ernesta, the strange child with eyelids lowered with curiosity, feeding her pudgy fingers with holy bones and other relics, mandrake roots, never allowing her to become afraid of ghosts, apparitions and phantoms that roam nocturnal roads. Ernesta, however, did nothing but listen to the ghastly rattles that, sometimes, strangely, were found booming unfamiliar 56

melodies. She was afraid of no-one but her mother, that she may, one day, recover her voice and say no to all this, abandoning her with all those uncharted enigmas, or that she would go to a nunnery and rot there amidst roses, pots of frankincense and rotund, cedar-wood beads, turning into another waxen woman-saint. How horrific this would have been, since, from the very beginning, she had felt that mother was the only person she should not dread, still always appearing as the true fortification, a wall built of fear and superstition, neither her, nor anyone else, was capable of conquering and toppling; not even Ernesta’s father could recollect how he had managed to complete their marriage. Strangely – unknowing of who did it – was this life run in a Styrian palace on the mountainside. On long winter evenings, the venerable, violet-eyed Mrs. Thot always awaited the moment when, having finished her tea and having put her books aside on a table, she would, at last, be able to pass through the velour rooms, the corridor, and run with a briskness of a Polish girl to the forest, the meadows, the white fields, when arborescent arms and dried up tufts of grass, swaying in the wind, loomed in steely light. Quietly, she sat down at the edge of a bench and remained there for a while, ingesting the uncanniness of a Styrian night: the night racing through the mountains, with shades of snowflakes, interrupted by light shed from the kitchen by Old Thaby, with the creaking of steps disappearing somewhere in the distance. Mrs. Thot learnt to value peace and stability, which she had often lacked greatly in Poland continually torn asunder: peace was so much better than the rumble of breaking walls, words and screams during dissolution. She remembered all this so strongly that it nearly cost her everything, yet – let’s be honest – precisely due to those events, the nerve had made a nest in her: a tangle, a tiny creature, which ought to never wake, but was becoming the greatest, relentless torment of her body and soul, so for many months she had suffered swollen hands, saggy cheeks and feet fitting into nothing, which Old Thaby cooled down with snow collected from beneath stained-glass windows in the Thots’ chapel. Only she noticed that the pains suffered by her Lady, which she was still calling “Miss Urszulka Wolińska”, were not a product of her nasty nature, or evil deeds, as the local parson’s try to persuade her of, but rather they arose from the Young Lady’s constantly aching heart, and utter loneliness. Until that winter day, next to the ice-covered tuberose which had taken root so wondrously last summer, the powerlessness began to push out her tiny fists, only to check what that other, white world looked like. Urszula sensed an inner danger and hurled herself forward. A stream of blood gushed out very accurately, flowing down her shuddering thighs. People started running in from all over. Ernesta found herself amidst glistening specks and shadows. She called out very loudly, but nobody answered. Her mother was screaming as loudly. The sounds echoed off the mountains, vibrated in crystals of ice, ascending towards all angels and saints with the kitchen smoke. The whole of Styria stopped to listen, absorbed. Until the first stars appeared on the horizon, sparkling with their curious eyes like a new-born, raven-haired child with lowered eyelids. All those stories had thus far been unknown to little Ernesta, as she climbed up the stairs to the green room. Perhaps, she was unaware 57

of them even when, in the evenings, she was lying down in her children’s room, which, despite its neighbouring the bustling coffee room, was rather quiet and smelled of the lavender Old Thaby stuffed in bed cracks. She walked softly through the carpeted corridor, where all the paintings watched her intently from its walls. As if there were a fissure in the strange child, one which had to be filled up with stories. It took her several moments to hear her father’s grunt, which signalled to her that he had heard her knocking and she could enter the studio. And as she was waiting there, Krzysztof Krymitojenko, his eyes slightly hazy, passed her by in the doorway, and she considered how pleasant it would be to wander about the room again and listen to Papa’s stories. This time, however, besides his grunt, father told her nothing. He only transformed into a big, black bird, huddled between the armrests of his armchair, and the only thing attesting to his being fine were his shiny, blue eyes. He was watching her persistently, as, with her bitten fingernails, she scratched the rust on the Thing, which, as she noted, resembled an iron woman. Strange was the figure, but even stranger was the fact that it was cracked to the extent that it was split into two twin sisters. Not understanding why and unable to restrain herself, Ernesta Thot stretched out her arms into their interior, as if wishing to infiltrate the darkness they had created between them. And when she closed her eyes thus, she began laughing, and the child’s laughter collided with vibrating, iron semi-figures, semi-ironmaiden-bodies. And nobody, many years after those events, could believe Ernesta that there she saw the spirits of her late grandmothers. Their specks made their home in this igloo-chest, rusted, scored, finger-scratched from the outside, and then re-assembled by unknown hands and installed, after a long journey from Nuremberg, in her father’s studio. And little Ernesta, standing there in the centre, heard a signing of a lullaby, syllables of which she would come to piece together all her life. Her lifeless grannies, aunts, who got stuck for ages in the igloo-chest, had their stomachs, breasts, arms grazed, the first wrinkles etched deeper, hair tousled and, therefore, the chest had had to make its way into This House. Evil cannot be covered in soil and ash, suffering deserves respect and culprits must be reckoned with. The only remains of the whole thing was blood, which uncovered in soil, yet mixed with tears and human indifference, has constructed successive spectres, always already running around not only Styria, but everywhere Ernesta appeared. And she will hear their cries even in the heat of passion, feeling their hand clasping her own knee during a seance in her mother’s land, or in moments of flipping through books of alchemy all over the world. This was only interrupted by Old Thaby, who unexpectedly grabbed her waist and dragged her out of the abyss of ghouls and voices. Ernesta stood speechless and watched, knowing, nonetheless, that she would never again be lonely and became strangely peaceful: to the extent a little girl can be at the outset of a great adventure. 58




か ぶ く



he old colloquial Japanese verb kabuku is said to be the origin of

She played both male and female roles. The repertoire was limited

the term kabuki used to name the famously colorful and tumultuous

to a strange style of acting, without any precise intrigue but sometimes

theatre form, now considered as a classical performing art of Japan (the

rather licentious allusions. Her most famous attire was as male Christian

other one being the Nō theatre or nō-gaku1).

bushi transvestite (illustration below) wearing a big sword and a necklace

Kabuku is an old vernacular form dating from before any importation of Chinese language and culture . It may be an alteration of katamuku, 2

katamukeru, katabuku, originally meaning “to lean”, “to incline”, “to slant”, but also in a figurative sense, “to behave oddly”, “to attire oneself oddly”, and so on. Kabuku3 can also have a negative aura, implying an idea of ruin, of sinking. A “kabuku virtue” (or should we say “virus”?) seems to be active not only in

with a crucifix (when Christianity was persecuted in Japan). The crossdressing tradition of kabuki takes its origins mainly in this O-Kuni style7 and before that, in the shirabyōshi8 tradition. The success of O-Kuni became considerable, gathering all kinds of marginal people (kawaramono) around the troupe c. 1603, at the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate era. Sometimes referred to as yūjo kabuki (kabuki of prostitutes) for being too provocative, this onna kabuki (female kabuki) was banned in 1629.

the proper Kabuki art but also, in an extensive way, at the core of numerous


cultural items in both popular and avant-garde aesthetics.

Stage oddities: Yotsuya Kaidan & co

KABUKU -1 O-Kuni and the dawn of kabuki he very first kabuki was performed by small troupes of women,

he origins of the classical kabuki are not noble or prestigious. This showy and boisterous theater included a lot of violent and provocative numbers in the repertoire that developed even after the O-Kuni period.

often involving promiscuous activities, sometimes mixing with male actors, traveling through the country around the late 16th century (Shakespeare’s time in England) and early 17th. They presented shows to local audiences and even to lords. One of the attractions of the performance was the attire of the dancers and the gaudy style of their skits. The most famous of those female dancers, and possibly the initiator of the genre, was O-Kuni or Izumo no O-Kuni. Her exact identity and lifetime are not known (ca. 1572 — ca. 1610 / 1613)4. O-Kuni was probably a miko5 (young priestess) attached to the Izumo shrine (shintō rite). The training of traditional miko included skill in the arts and a strong control of moods and feelings. It happened that in sacred performances the attire of a miko included a sword. Some travelling miko (aruki-miko) were often prostitutes and performed spectacles and, according to scholars, O-Kuni was an aruki-miko. Known for her beauty and strong personality, she began with Amidist sacred dance, Nembutsu odori6, and then lead a small mixed troupe of new stylish dance, becoming famous as kabuki odori (eccentric dance).

The transcription of Japanese phonetics is based on the Hepburn Romanization system. 2 Modern Japanese assimilated Chinese written system from the 4th c. Thus, modern Japanese vocabulary is double. Kun-doku are old Japanese readings and on-doku, Chinese readings adapted to Japanese phonetics. Kabuki is originally a kun.doku. The kanji used later to write the word are irregular on.doku (歌舞伎) composed as (art of song and dance). 3 The old word kabu means “head”. Katamuku means “incline the head”. Definitions of katamuku: to dance in a very selfish and agitated way; to attire oneself in a strange eccentric way 4 A period of intrusion of Christianity in Japan made by the Portuguese Jesuits and the like. 5 巫女- meaning “female shaman”, or written 神子 - “deity’s child”. 6 Or odori nembutsu, a ritual proselyte Buddhist dance initiated by monk Kūya (903-972) and popularized later by Ippen Shōnin (1234-1289). Amidism (or Pure Land Buddhism) is a branch of the Mahayana consisting in a belief in the efficiency of the endless repetition of the name of Buddha (Amithaba – Amida) to obtain salvation. 1


7 It became contrary after some banishment of women and young ephebes in the troupes, all the roles in classic Kabuki are since performed by adult males. 8 Shirabyōshi were renowned female court dancers of the 12th century performing in men attire.

The audience was mostly popular and noisy (as were the audiences of preclassical theater in Europe), shouting at the actors during the show, eating and drinking on the spot or, later, inside the venues. Kabuki is after all the theater of excess and violence, even in terms of the most formally refined of intrigues. Some pieces included sophisticated props with bloody scenes near the later French Grand-Guignol. The background of Edo society (1603-1867) – a long period of strongly controlled peace – was full of class-struggle9 and inner troubles. There was a global need for grotesque representations and exaggerations as an outlet for the authoritarian and divided Edo Society at the time. One of the most famous plays of classical Kabuki repertory is the horrific Tōkaidō Yotsuya Kaidan [Ghost Story of Yotsuya in Tōkaidō, 1825] by Tsuruya Namboku IV (1755-1829). The intrigue, a story of love, treason, lust and blood, is a highlight of the grotesque realm, introducing the terrifying ghost (kaidan) of Oiwa, a female victim of treason who was murdered by poison.

KABUKU - 3 A realm of fear: bakemono, yōkai et’s trace some other sources of the grotesque used in the horrific Kabuki genre. The taste for oddities and the bizarre also has a long genealogy in some specific e-hon (illustrated books). The Gazu Hyakki Yagyō series (Pandemonium) is a famous e-hon by Toriyama Sekien (1712-1788), whose work was a milestone in grotesque culture of Japan. An ukiyo-e artist, he drew 4 volumes of yōkai, creatures of the fantastic bestiary in traditional folklore.. The aesthetics of Bakemono (changing creature, a monster) is strongly

grotesque-nonsense). Although mainly literary and artistic, it also reached

represented in the Bakemono Chūshingura – a parody of a former puppet

the pseudo-scientific field, with publications about sexology, perversion,

theater (bunraku) classical play Chūshingura (The Treasury of the Loyal

crime, etc. All themes that were present in the old traditional ukiyo and

Retainers) – that provided an infinite cohort of amazing creatures forming

kabuki related arts (ukiyo-e, seme-e, bakemono-e, shunga). But the ero-

a second land. A ghostly kingdom behind the fragile “peu de réalité”

guro realm developed during the modernist Taishō era (1912-1926,

of everyday life. This grotesque version was a humorous way to criticize

a.k.a. Taishō Democracy), introducing ‘weird’ themes, a taste for bizarre

and mock the society of the time.

(ryōki) encompassing western culture machines, science, psychiatry,

This thirst for fantastic and frightening creatures in Japan’s history evokes Europe’s bygone past, such as the gothic mania for gargoyles. Yet it is not entirely extinguished, as the prolific modern-day manga world has widely subsumed it ever since.

KABUKU – 4 Ero-guro, the 20th century grotesque: from Edogawa Ranpo to Ishii Teruo

etc. Sometimes underground, and even censored, these publications had popular success, and are nowadays collector’s items, but they also represent an interesting mirror of yesteryear, Japanese phantasmology. Edogawa Ranpo he internationally acclaimed, fantastic thriller writer Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965) is often classified as ero-guro. Several of his prewar writings play out strange behaviors, unusual characters, weird

nother aspect of this “kabuku.ism” heritage could be the early

perversions, and are masterpieces of the literary trend. Among his most

20th century popular trend called ero-guro-nansensu (eroticism-

famous short stories is the Ningen isu [The Human Chair, 1925] wherein a man hides himself in an armchair to feel the bodies that sit on it. Another is Imomushi [Caterpillar, 1929], about a mutilated war veteran, who lost

Japanese society has been structured by a four classes system, shinōkōshō : warriors – peasants – workers – merchants – in fact a six classes system when kuge (religious class) and outcasts (Hinin, Eta, Burakumin) are added – almost as strong as the Indian casts system. 9

his arms and legs, is horribly disfigured and, unable to talk or move, he looks like a big worm. Some Edogawa novels were banned by 67

the military government during the war effort policy. Kuro-tokage

un-correct vocabulary. The story is partly based on Edogawa’s fantastic

[The Black Lizard, 1934] narrates the stylish crimes of an aesthete vamp

short-novel Panorama-tō kidan [Strange tale of Panorama Island, 1926],

who mummifies her victims and creates a kind of Museum of dead bodies.

yet it also bears a resemblance to the H.G. Well’s novel The Island of Dr.

Mōjū [The Blind Beast, 1931] is the story of a blind masseur (anma)

Moreau. A mad scientist, Dr. Komota Jōgorō (played by Hijikata Tatsumi

obsessed by female body parts, wishing to sculpt beautiful models that

in Ishii’s movie), experiments on living creatures (human and animals)

he kidnaps and enslaves. The passion between the criminal artist and the

trying to create new races of monsters according to his perverted

model ends in a blood bath of mutilations.


Edogawa blended crime, perversions, and science into a unique grotesque


vision of humanity. He is not only an author of fiction, he also represents the strangeness of the modern cosmopolite Japan of Taishō and early

Ankoku butō & angura: the avant-garde gurotesuku

Shōwa eras. All Edogawa’s strangest novels have been adapted into films

ore recently, during the “roaring sixties” of the 20th century,

and/or manga.

new trends of underground young artists in Japan appeared,

Gurotesuku on screen

strongly connected to a period of violent students and workers demonstrations, reflecting the agitated postwar crisis in a Japan of High

he genre movies of the sixties generously inherited the aesthetics of

Economic Growth. This Angura (underground) trend gave birth to new and

sex, blood and perversions generated by ero-guro world. A master

violent expressions, especially in the performing arts where grotesque

of this genre was filmmaker Ishii Teruo (1924-2005). He, rather

figures began to proliferate.

freely, adapted several Edogawa Ranpo novels in a showy and aggressive horror style. Among the best ones is the now famous Kyōfu kikei ningen [Horror of Malformed men, 1969] that was banned for a quite long period in Japan because of its “offensive” dialogue using a so-called politically

The prominent genius of Angura was dancer and choreographer Hijikata Tatsumi (1928-1986) who delivered the murky and heretic ankoku butō (Dance of Darkness), probably the most revolutionary form of anti-dance of his times, and perhaps even up to today. 69

Hijikata aesthetics and mythology are complex, melting his early childhood

mummies, relics, etc. The odd, the frightening, and the disgusting was all

memories in the harsh rural, North Eastern Tōhoku with the fantasy realms

part and parcel of the misemono show.

of various deviant literature, art and thinking of all origins; especially French dada and surrealist taste introduced to him by his close friend, the erudite and aesthete Shibusawa Tatsuhiko (1928-1987). Hijikata’s NorthEastern, Japanese soul was in itself deviant (hankotsu), marginal and transformed any piece of “influence” (if any) into something unthinkable before him. “Grotesque” has been since frequently invoked by dance critics as being part of what is now commonly called “butoh aesthetics”. But the Hijikata case is certainly the most accurate and amazing one, being the originator of all subsequent currents in this field. According to his reversed cosmology, all that was considered ugly, dirty, monstrous, frightening, sad, twisted, degenerated, and decadent etc., was beauty. A lot of his weird choreographies showed an exhausted human body (suijakutai), in stark contrast to the athletic, gracious, fit, apollonian beauty of the Western ballet, as well as the refined traditional buyō (dance) of Japan.

At the end of his life, Hijikata planned a Tōhoku Kabuki keikaku (North-East Kabuki Project), as his own version of a heretic and crude Kabuki (rather different from the classical form) based on his own phantasmology and heathen mythology. I have given but a few examples here of aberrant forms of representation that could be considered as part of a symbolic exorcism of the darker sides of life and society. My list is not in any way exhaustive, and it would be possible to add more given the long list of other examples in Japanese culture and aesthetics that stick to this phantasmal “kabuku-ism” trend. To name but a few: The basara phenomenon of 13th century eccentrics; the shunga (erotic prints) and some obscene netsuke (carved ivory statuettes) aesthetics. What unites these cultural phenomena is a taste for excessive, weird, unusual and frightening things that reflect both the spirit and humor of peoples that have long been confronted with many harsh periods of history. From the far ancient times of ethnic struggles, to the

Hijikata showed also great interest in the popular misemono tradition, and

middle-ages of feudal civil war, to recent napalm and atomic bombings,

those yesteryears of fairy and “vulgar” shows performed by small circus-

and to the nuclear catastrophe adding to an already threatening, naturally

like troupes (near the western side-shows and freak-shows tradition),

occurring seismic environment; Kabuku trends are, it seems, likely to have

sometimes even performed inside temples that exhibited strange objects,

a long and prosperous future. 71


One me

time, about


I discovered




























































differences. beings,
















I ask






and from

















the truth. I, then, sat down in an armchair and didn’t know what else

I could

I asked


off-hand and






tackled in









a cheap








So up,


hiding. people











































I quiz









people, on

















a horrendous




They’re in great horror of us, not everyone, perhaps, but they’re very scared of some people, so this little show goes on like that. There


a place









machines were plugged in to suck energy out of people. The energy was









all this was immaterial. The energy was shipped via portals into other






















cylinder usually contains is a gelatinous fluid of bluish hue, but there are various ones. The fluid reacts to thought. Another thing, under the Earth’s crust, underneath what covers stuff from about over a dozen thousand years, there are certain things, there, from previous civilizations which were wiped out. There wasn’t enough time to ask the Father what had occurred there before the shapeshifters’









poles and could get at the heart, or was it, rather, yet another attempt











Hence, almost no trace of it has been left. But the artifacts are there, of



which, their




left-overs some







places, those, this











And have


















of lay



ahead. Things will be fine, but, sadly, there’ll be a shock, too. It’ll


Tomasz Mróz

I’m sick of the Earth and the Universe by Agnieszka Taborska

‘I am 58, but people still see me as a kid, just messing

that was Topor. In doing so, they would fall into the

around. It’s harder and harder to take’, confessed

trap: convinced they were talking about the essence,



they probed no more than a mask. For under the guise

following the publication of his autobiographical

of a buffoon there lurked a disenchanted philosopher.






Jachère-party [Ball in a Barren Land], commissioned by







Garden series. Topor’s default response to reality was a belly laugh. It was this

laughter that was

mentioned most by people trying to solve the enigma 74

His disenchantment usually presented as revulsion. Topor – a thoughtful reader of Ubu Roi – drew, painted and chronicled in writing the distastefulness of the human condition: feces, vomit, truncated limbs,

skinned body parts, guts and gore. For him, just as

ideals of the Panic Movement – chaos, the absurd and

for Jarry or Rabelais, there was no reason why the

chance – inspired by the inebriated Greek god Pan (after whom the group was named), Topor had

face should merit more attention than the

little regard for the strict rules of the art He first became disgusted with the world when, as a sixyear-old, he was made to live in the countryside. In 1929, his father, Abram Topor, a graduate of

market. He worked in different genres, apart from sculpture – as if he did not want to compete with his father. He wrote short stories, stage plays, and song

Warsaw’s School of Fine Arts, found himself in Paris, having been awarded a year’s scholarship there in a sculpture competition. He soon arranged for his fiancée, Zlata Binsztok, to join him. Roland was born a year before the outbreak of the war. The Topor clan became a familiar feature of the Paris social scene (Roland’s son, Nicolas – painter, writer, and singer, would later also become part of it). Although







rounded up and put in a PoW camp. After he managed to escape, the family moved to Savoie. Roland and sister,





a farmer’s

household. ‘The Germans are breathing down my neck. They want me dead. Many French people are Frenchspeaking






party. The city boy received a fast-track lesson in life. He witnessed a pig slaughter, the artificial insemination of a cow, an old woman taking a pee while standing up, and country youngsters smashing kittens’ heads. He watched the blade of the plough cutting




earth, The







lesson was digging up a cat buried a week earlier. Had he not stayed in Savoie, Roland Topor would in all likelihood have created quite different art. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so resolute in renouncing nature? Refrained from waxing lyrical about the polluted city? And the felled trees that one could admire without perking one’s head? Would he have been less afraid of ? Perhaps he would have loved Paris a little less? This






like the surrealists with whom he had an affinity, and fellow members of the Panic Movement, with whom he founded the group in 1962: Fernando Arrabal, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Jacques Stenberg. In the anarchic Paris, newcomers from all over the world unrestrained





a novel,




painted, drew and made graphics; wrote screenplays and designed stage sets, posters and costumes for the






collaborated in the production of animated films; was a theater director, and acted in feature movies. He shot hilarious short films that ridiculed artistic

had no equal. Despite his dislike for conceptual art, he had nevertheless also tried his hand at it. Topor’s stories and drawings were inspired by chance bar







rain, observing scenes on the street and chatting to taxi drivers. His fantastical and grotesque visions are set against concrete places such as the Rue Saint-Jacques, the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Cirque d’Hiver, Bar Mauzac, where for a moderate price you could get a good wine, and many other locations where almost anything could happen. In the basement of the Pompidou Centre a secret life goes on. In a cul de sac, a guy is spewing up, beneath the curious stare of a gawk. In the Mean Street, passers-by fall victim to the third, murderous hand they have suddenly grown. A map of the city, complete with a human mug, pokes out from inside a toilet. Once you have set your eyes on these phantasmagorias, a walk through the streets of Paris will never be quite the same. Soon


I met







archipelago philosophy, which deems artists to have two options: create for the public at large, thus pandering to popular taste – or go with what floats their own boat. The latter path is of course more

Roland was a Parisian through and through, just



fashions, in which he himself appeared. His vis comica

had avoided incarceration in a ghetto, Abram was





difficult; it is less lucrative and full of pitfalls. After a while, however, it turns out that there are small groups of people with a similar sensitivity dotted around the world, who make up a sufficiently sizeable, devoted public. “For the artist, the most creative act is to choose their own audience,” wrote Topor in his Pense-bêtes [Reminders] – an extreme creative act, to which he devoted his entire life. 75

The public reception of Topor’s oeuvre has turned out to be the perfect proof of the soundness of the

no major retrospective at the Pompidou Centre or any other prestigious museum. I recall talking to

archipelago theory. Our conversation had taken place Christian Boltanski who – despite his own work being quite different – was appalled by the conspicuous silence that prevailed.

It was not until seven years later that a large exhibition







Strasbourg. Then nothing, until a retrospective (at long last!) in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris in 2017. At that time, the younger generation of the archipelago’s dwellers came together to save

long before social media had been invented and the Internet was in its diapers, but the inhabitants of the








three the






dispersed to


did, without fail,

find the pathway to his art.

When soon after his death, in April 1997, I found myself in Paris, it seemed to me that the city – or at least an important part of it – had immersed itself in mourning. The disappearance of a companionable reveler – who for more than half a century had cut a vivid figure on the Paris nightlife scene, someone who you could count on to buy a round, who in bars indulged others by listening to various unlikely stories, which he went on to transform in his imagination; who generously gave away his drawings as presents, only to buy them back from their new owners, when they went broke – casting a deep shadow over the ‘chosen city’.

Another blow for the Topor archipelago was the lack of reaction from the artistic establishment to the disappearance of the great artist. There was




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! but with what style! Meshugga by



At the start of her career, Valeska Gert was described

Valeska Gert herself announced her repertoire in

by an anonymous critic in the Augsburger Abend-

1926 as “spoken and danced grotesques.”

Zeitung in 1919. It was a most ambivalent assessment, reflecting





and crazy fascination inspired by this dancer. The anonymous critic was not the only one struggling to









and style of Valeska’s dancing. Hans Sahl dubbed her “Dracula’s daughter” and the writer Elisabeth Castonnier suspected she was “Little Red Riding Hood, grandmother, and the big bad wolf rolled into one.”1

1 Cf. Frank-Manuel Peter, Valeska Gert: Tänzerin, Schauspielerin, Kabarettistin, Berlin 1987.


In art history the term “grotesque” is an attempt to describe the fanciful ornaments in Renaissance murals that were inspired by classical antiquity. André Chastel believed the magic of the grotesque came from a sarcastic humor, poking fun at human comedy.2 and





tragic comedy can

cheery be


found in


characterization of Gert by Castonnier and Sahl.


André Chastel, La grottesque, Le Promeneur, 1988.

But who was Valeska Gert?

Even as a teenager her aim was to stand out at all costs. “Much to the horror of my teachers and fellow

Valeska was born Gertrud Valesca Samosch in Berlin. Her father was Theodor Samosch, a Jewish manufacturer of artificial flowers and decorative feathers. Her mother Augusta, née Rosenthal, awakened Valeska’s passion for dance at an early age. When she was seven she had her first ballet lesson. Her idol was the popular Russian dancer Anna Pavlova. In 1915 to 1916, Valeska Gert was taught acting at a private school and had her first engagement at the Munich Kammerspiele that same year. Around this time she staged her first solo dance evenings, such as Tanz in Orange [Dance in Orange] and Humoreske.

students, I started powdering myself chalky white and painting my lips red, although this was only usual for whores back then. I always had a great feel for fashion and wore clothes some time before they were in vogue, which made me stand out.”4 She especially wanted to be remembered by men. “As I did not dance much, I focused everything on my gait. All this resulted in my being constantly addressed on the street. I cast most men aside as useless and was content if I had unsettled them for a few moments; some of them I dated. But at least every day I had five or six dates, transformed myself five or six

One of the earliest photographs of Valeska was taken

times, and made an impression on strangers five or

from Tanz in Orange by Lise Lobe. It resembles a program

six times.”5 The street, society, and its back rooms

picture, showing the young dancer in an exaggerated

were her real school. She practically made a study

pose en pointe, her eyes seemingly closed but with

of spectators’ reactions on Berlin’s major shopping

one kept firmly fixed on the camera and therefore on

street Tauentzienstrasse, and also in her family

her audience. Her dance is not an inward-looking

home where they were horrified by her appearance and

expression of a feeling, nor a studied routine from

the fact that she allowed people to speak to her on

a choreography, but rather a visual, bodily attack

the street.

on her audience who have no idea about what could happen next. “The figures only gain their true face on stage through contact with the audience, it is only then that flesh is added to the skeleton’s bones,” Valeska wrote in her autobiography Ich bin eine Hexe

One of her first engagements was at a cinema on Nollendorfplatz, where she performed two dances twice a day between films. “There were the wildest scandals every day. The audience screamed, clapped, and whistled so we could barely hear the music. It

[I Am a Witch] in 1978.3

3 Valeska Gert, Ich bin eine Hexe: Kaleidoskop meines Lebens, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1978, p. 50.

4 5

Valeska Gert, Mein Weg, Leipzig 1931, p. 11f. Ibid. p. 12. 85

was the first breakthrough, moving from the aesthetic

caricatures arise from the character of a phenomenal

dance of bourgeois culture to the dynamic style

performing art based on solid dancing skills. She

of a new, tougher time. My partner could barely

does not overexaggerate. She lives the moment of

stand the audience’s insults. The first times she

dance with her every limb, uniform and flawless from

swooned, semi-unconscious, into the scenery, whereas

head to toe. A brilliant intuition pulses through

for me this noise was the stuff of life. I flung

her body.”

myself around the stage with boundless enthusiasm. My fighting spirit grew. I wanted to cross all the boundaries, my movements evolved into new guises, my rhythm became loud until I stomped like an engine. I appeared ‘grotesque.’ The people screamed!”6

Gert highlighted the social and cultural problems of her day using exaggeration to invent their equivalent in dance form. Exposing the ridiculous nature of convention and current vogue, she presented movements and human experiences on stage as they had never

Valeska’s dancing was entirely different from other

been shown before: orgasm, pain, death. She was also

modern styles of the 1920s and 1930s. She filled the

an actor, appearing, for example, in Georg Wilhelm

large concert halls in Berlin, which were often used

Pabst’s Die Dreigroschenoper [The Threepenny Opera,

as dance venues, such as the Blüthnersaal that had

1931], or later in Federico Fellini’s Giulietta

1,000 seats. “Valeska Gert, the dancer, overfilled

degli spiriti [Juliet of the Spirits, 1965], and

the Blüthnersaal. She is and will always be one of

Volker Schlöndorff’s Der Fangschuss (1976).

a kind. “Grotesque” does not do her justice. Her Although Valeska Gert had left Judaism in 1918, she was banned from performing in Germany from 1933. 6

Ibid. p. 22.




Die Bettlerbar von New York [The Beggar Bar of New


York, 1950], Gert remembers writing in her license

citizenship, and in 1939 she emigrated to the United

application to the authorities that she wanted to

States, arriving in New York in July that year.

open an artistic nightclub, and it was the only

During her years of exile she lived in Provincetown

bar in New York that did not serve alcohol and

and in Hollywood. As was the experience of many

was run by a woman. The furniture did not match,

émigrés, creating a new life was not easy. Now forty-

the walls were either coated black or painted in

seven, she had made a living out of her audiences,

bright colors, a design reused by Gert for her



nightclub Ziegenstall. Beggar Bar was both praised

of dancing, one that was strongly rooted in the

and criticized. The magazine Aufbau, for instance,

modern life and political situation of her native

considered its program tasteless and a threat to the

Berlin. In exile she had to reinvent herself.

reputation of the immigrant community.
















Valeska Gert’s bars When she returned to Europe in 1947, she had envisaged As a way of making a living through her art and her

that an artistic avant-garde would emerge as it had

grotesque dance, Valeska Gert opened a number of bars

in the years after World War I. But her hopes came to

where she was in charge of the cabaret program, as

nothing, and in 1950 she wrote the parody Mannequin

well as being managing director, performer, chef and

von Grieneisen in which she described her bitter

cleaning lady, all rolled into one. Before running

experience of remigration.

Beggar Bar in New York (Morton Street, corner of Bleecker Street) in 1941 through 1945, in 1932 she had

What made her art unique?

managed a cabaret in Berlin called Kohlkopp [Cabbage

Fred Hildenbrandt, dance critic and head of the

Head] for three months. In summer 1946 she opened

Berliner Tageblatt arts section, was the author of

Valeska’s Different Food in Provincetown at Cape

Gert’s first biography. In 1928 Hildenbrandt wrote

Cod. After returning to Europe she opened a string

that “Among German dancers there was no-one remotely

of bars: Café Valeska und ihr Küchenpersonal [Café

like her; she roved around in the no-man’s-land of

Valeska and Her Kitchen Staff] in Zurich (1948),

dance, without a program, without a school, without

Bei Valeska [Valeska’s Place] in the cellar of the

a written tribute.”7

Städtische Oper Berlin (1949), Hexenküche [Witches’ Kitchen] in a vacant vegetable store on Paulsborner Strasse, Berlin (1950–56), and finally the nightclub Ziegenstall [Goat Shed, 1951–78] at her summer home in Kampen on Sylt, where she died in 1978.

Gert herself outlined her own view of her solo performances and how she set herself apart from popular contemporaries





[expressionistic dance]. First and foremost from All of these bars were places of art. These multimedia spaces provided a setting for both Valeska Gert’s own performances as well as those of her “employees”, who took on the twin roles of waiting staff and stage artists. As Gert did not have the funds to employ

Mary Wigman whom she saw as her lifelong rival. In Gert’s words, “Dancing means: acting out drives, and artistic dancing means: sublimating drives. [...] In Germany the vast majority not only frown upon the expression of drives but also, strangely, the

artists like Tennessee Williams or Klaus Kinski, they were offered a share of the profits. In her book

7 Fred Hildenbrandt, Die Tänzerin Valeska Gert, Stuttgart 1928, p. 83.


supremacy of the mind. Woe betide the dancer in

that I now and then inspire laughter or horror, that

Germany who makes an erotic impression, and woe betide

I often choose ‘vice’ as a theme. In short, I am too

the dancer whose spirit dares to cut capers. [...]

brutal and inspire too little confidence in people

A dance performance must smell of stale sweat, be

who would rather be lulled to sleep to the dulcet

ethical, confused, and boring. It is not brilliance

tones of the harmonium and the flute.”8

that is sought so much as solidity. Gert’s dance characters shine on account of their Because the average German has no self-confidence,

radical nature, and their reduction to essential

they only deem art great that they do not understand

characteristics, in fragments that would nonetheless

and that bores them. Mary Wigman is the only dancer

have come across loud and clear to her audience. The

who fulfils all the needs of the educated German

fascinating side of this is that she did not perform

middle class and has therefore become the national

interpretations of literary sources but explored the

dancer. [...] On the other hand I, Valeska Gert, for

people of the day and phenomena defining the times.

all my renown, am much undervalued. [...] My big

“And because I despised the burgher, I danced all of

mistakes are that my dances do not seem artistically

the people whom the upright citizen despised: whores,

difficult, that they are performed so naturally that

procuresses, depraved souls — the ones who slipped

clueless spectators believe they can do them as well,

through the cracks. I did not need to transform parts

that I had no teacher whose theories smoothed the way

of myself into characters, I detached them from

for me, that I have no desire to bandy around the buzzwords of the currently dominant art movement, 88

8 Valeska Gert, “Mary Wigman und Valeska Gert,” Der Querschnitt, yr. 6 (1926), p. 361ff.

myself, capturing them in the smallest of nutshells.

instinctively matched the costumes to her maltreated

Only one or two movements were needed in order to

body; they are inextricably part of it.”12

express everything. That was death, humility, love, birth.”9






a procuress.

A pig


a woman appears [...], with a long, wide, grass Critics were by no means unanimous in their appraisal

green garment, two blood-red circles on her breasts,

of Valeska Gert’s dancing. For some critics it was

a drunken and slovenly face; it is none other than

a great experience of art,10 while for others what

the old Canaille, now a procuress. This sow waddles

they were seeing and describing was nothing short

along and is looking for something; we do not know

of shocking.11 “The Procuress, a loud face distorted

exactly for what. She is looking for something to

by a terrifying meanness, pushes a lethargic body

spit on and to grab, she is looking for something to

forward with unnerving lust. [...] and, because she

spoil, to lie to and to cheat on.”13

not only dares to expose this ultimate manifestation of








shamelessly shocking.

takes [...]

it She

All the critics allude to Valeska Gert’s specific way of holding up a mirror to her spectators, reflecting their bourgeois world. “Valeska Gert comes from beyond— the barrier, the limitations, the provincialism of

Gert 1931, p. 48. Johannes Karl König, Tanzgastspiel Valeska Gert, Stadttheater Würzburg, n.p. n.d. Quoted from: Valeska Gert estate, Stiftung Archiv Akademie der Künste, folder 395. 11 “Valeska Gert Gastspiel im Schauspielhaus,” Düsseldorfer Nachrichten, n.p. n.d. Valeska Gert estate, Stiftung Archiv Akademie der Künste, folder 395. 9

morality. [...] She tears up the trappings and peace of


12 13

Ibid. Hildenbrandt 1928, p. 128. 89

mind of the bourgeois citizen, his perforated pathos

Berlin established the Valeska Gert Guest Professor

and his rotten feelings. [...] Tears to shreds? No,

for Dance and Performance. In 2010 the exhibition

smiling, with a movement en miniature, she pushes

PAUSE. Valeska Gert: Moving Fragments was staged by

them into a corner that is utterly ridiculous. [...]

the Nationalgalerie’s Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin,

She does not let her movements expand into space

comparing Valeska Gert’s work to Marcel Broodthaers,

in unrestrained, expressionistic fashion, but fills

VALIE EXPORT, and Hanne Darboven, as well as the

them with an incredible wealth of the most muted and

Berlin punk scene in the 1980s (such as the band

therefore heart-wrenching expression.”14

Die tödliche Doris). The Museum der Moderne Salzburg included Valeska Gert in the 2018 exhibition Resonance

Already in 1920, Gert wrote the following on the subject of dance: “Now of all times, when all the established values are disintegrating and almost everything that seemed to provide a secure feeling and insight has again become problematic, yet equally our work is no longer held together by a shared culture with its established and safe forms, it seems to me that grotesque dance, which encapsulates these disintegrating extremes in a gesture, is a true symbol of our times.”15 In his biography Hildenbrandt sums it up: “Valeska Gert









a completely new path in dancing without planning it or knowing much about it at first. [...] A strong expression of these strange times and a metaphor of the hubbub. [...] No matter whether she is seen with opposition and repulsion, or approval and sympathy, she



a large



chapter in the history of dance.”16 Volker Schlöndorff made a documentary portrait about Valeska Gert in 1977 titled Nur zum Spaß, nur zum Spiel—Kaleidoskop Valeska Gert; it is thanks to







was researched after her death and is now held by the archives of the Academy of Arts and the German Dance Archive, Berlin. The fact that the grotesque in Valeska Gert’s performances was for a long time ignored and has only recently been reevaluated as extremely important. In 2006 the Freie Universität

14 15 16


König, Tanzgastspiel Valeska Gert Valeska Gert, “Tanzen,” Vossische Zeitung, 22.04.1920. Hildenbrandt 1928, p. 138.

of Exile. So even decades after her death, Gert’s image in the legacy of the grotesque continues to repeat and live on.

To this day, it has not been established whether it was Madame du Barry,

Marie Antoinette or Maria Theresa who said it. The scandal was huge, and the French villagers were not only starving, but also enraged. “Let them eat cakes,” she said, sitting down at the lavishly set Versailles table, at a safe distance from the Paris scum demanding bread. Nobody loves a messenger who brings bad news, fortunately the guillotine works











another: donuts, cakes, macaroons, eclairs, madeleines and profiteroles. The court relishes the power of reason, but it is also fond of pampering the —




Maybe must,




















leaving for Cythera. “Definitely do not read the Stories on a chaise longue with an overfilled stomach,






I do




a modernist writer Roman Jaworski. And even though he had in mind his

The Stories of Maniacs,





around 1909, this remark can be successfully applied to stories in general.

- Zofia Małysa-Janczy




The Postsurrealist Negation of Negation Pavlína Morganová

I should start by admitting that when Paulina Olowska asked me to write a short text about Eva Švankmajerová, I was taken a bit by surprise. Švankmajerová (1940−2005) spent her entire life in the shadow of her famous husband (the phenomenal filmmaker Jan Švankmajer), and as a painter she existed more along the margins of the Czech art scene. But the decision to write about Švankmajerová proved to be an astute one, for she is a fascinating individual whose life story reflects the complicated history of postwar Europe, revealing the echoes of its avant-garde prologue. Švankmajerová grew up under socialism in a family with a bourgeois background. From a young age, she suffered from various mental illnesses that would remain with her during adulthood. Her biography speaks of “hypnagogic states” and she experienced psychosomatic deafness as well as cyclical bouts of depression. In the late 1950s, Švankmajerová studied wood carving and puppetry at Prague’s Theatre Academy, which is where she met her life partner, the filmmaker and animator Jan Švankmajer. They were married in 1960, and Švankmajerová became his lifelong companion and colleague, contributing her artistic skills to most of his films and other projects. At the same time, however, she began to systematically paint and to write poems, essays, and plays. She also created costume designs, ceramics, and illustrations. Eva Švankmajerová was a multifaceted artist who explored, always in her own distinctive manner, women’s lot in life, which she had suffered since her childhood, a time when she was constantly comparing herself to her brothers. But her life with Jan Švankmajer was not easy, either: “He always seemed to me bigger and smarter – of an advantaged (weasel-like) biological species. And he always had such intelligent, deep blue eyes. Big mistake”,1 she wrote in 1999. Her writings are full of visual metaphors and imaginative humor – as are her paintings. Hidden behind them, we find a strong and vulnerable woman who, despite her outer submissiveness, nevertheless had her own opinions. Czechoslovak women were significantly emancipated under communism and shared with their male counterparts not only the universal duty to work, but also an aversion to the ruling regime. And yet they often spent their entire lives in the shadow of their husbands. Another example on the Czech art scene is Běla Kolářová – the wife of the renowned poet and famous artist Jiří Kolář. But there are several other female artists whose work was closer to that of Švankmajerová, for instance Naděžda Plíšková (who was married to the sculptor Karel Nepraš) and the photographer Emila Medková (wife of the much admired Mikuláš Medek). Like Švankmajerová, the outstanding sculptor and graphic artist Plíšková also wrote poetry, and she too was influenced in the 1960s by the New Figuration and Pop Art Medková’s work was even closer to Švankmajerová’s. Both artists drew from surrealism, and when they met in person, they became close friends. In 1970, Eva Švankmajerová and Jan Švankmajer joined the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group, whose central figure, since the death of Karel Teige, had been Vratislav Effenberger. In fact, Surrealism coursed through the veins of many Czech artists. The Surrealist Group had been founded in 1934, represented primarily by Teige and the painters Jindřich Štyrský and Marie Čermínová, who consciously used the androgynous pseudonym Toyen. It fell apart during the Second World War, but its activities were later continued by a younger generation of artists and authors for whom surrealism was a natural starting point, the last international, universal avant-garde movement. Eva Švankmajerová found herself naturally attracted to its emphasis on psychic automatism, intuitive creation, the role of the unconscious, and taboo eroticism. If we look at her drawings and paintings from the 1960s, we can clearly see the influence of interwar and postwar Surrealism. Her playful use of letters and texts also echoes the famous “picture poems” of the 1930s. It is no coincidence that they contain female figures, suffering the burden of existence, in dreamlike moments of identity crisis, but also in everyday situations. Vratislav Effenberger wrote of her work that “she paints today’s calamity from within.”2 Her work breathes with the augur of catastrophe, be it the one that we are experiencing now, in the midst of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, or others that still await us. Whatever the case, her works also give us the strength, despite our vulnerability or lack of information, to face them.


Eva Švankmajerová, Intoxikace, in: Analogon, 1999, no. 26−27, quoted at František Dryje (ed.), Eva Švankmajerová, Praha: Arbor vitae, 2006, p. 18.


Vratislav Effenberger, inscription on the cover of the book František Dryje (ed.), Eva Švankmajerová, Praha: Arbor vitae, 2006.


Vaudeville is an intriguing chapter in the history of theater, performance, and entertainment. It moved from the margins to the mainstream, from a shabby subculture to a middle-class amusement, from the vernacular and infamous to the commercial and successful. Vaudeville was as fast developing, as it was deviant, spectacular, racist, and inclusive. What interests me in vaudeville is all the contradictions it embodied, the nonperfect and unsafe space it built. It made me wonder: what would have happened if vaudeville and the Museum of Modern Art in New York had met? Or what if MoMA had built itself on the model of vaudeville — as MoMA was founded in 1929 at the exact moment when vaudeville was at its heights and a few years away from losing its audience and fame to the movies. The “what if” history is an awkward way to assess the past, it is absurd, possibly mind-boggling, and sometimes even enlightening. By establishing misguided parallels, by asking (possibly) wrong questions and by risking inadequate comparisons, we could quite unexpectedly reveal hidden structures dominated by powerful traditions and damaging conventions. Or better: is it because of this inadequateness, that these hidden structures can be revealed? In their own ways, MoMA and vaudeville were thriving to re-asses the relationship between entertainment, culture, education, and social capital. Vaudeville injected culture into entertainment to move its participants up the social ladder. MoMA’s history is the history of how to handle the complicated love-hate relationship between education and aesthetics, autonomy and function, popular culture, elitism, and snobbery. In the end only the museum survived and vaudeville disappeared – unless you see reality TV, Coachella and the Burning Man as its heir. Vaudeville embodies a complex and contradictory moment of American culture, theater and entertainment. It was racist (minstrel), yet transformative for immigrants; it redefined popular culture, embraced ordinary life, and challenged class-driven codes; it took the audience into account, seeing itself as an active participant. Vaudeville was performance, theater, slapstick, music, cabaret, dance, magic tricks, circus, and even film. Exuberant, irreverent, and sensual, it offered something for (almost) everyone, whether you were a working man, a middle-class woman, an immigrant or a family. If it was racist by featuring black-face minstrel shows, it was also more subversive, generous and egalitarian than most other US-American cultural institutions. Vaudeville is to be understood as the expression of a dynamic, heteronomous, and fast evolving American society, which adopted 98

consumption, popular culture, and entertainment as a central part of its identity. Towards the end of the 19th century and within a few years, Vaudeville developed from shabby entertainment on the Bowery into a mainstream culture with national presence and big money. By the late 1890s, vaudeville had large circuits, standardized booking, powerful patrons, thousands of skilled acts, and a loyal national following. Or, as Robert W. Snyder describes it in his study The Voice of the City: Vaudeville and Popular Culture in New York, Vaudeville was “popular in its origin and oligarchic in its distribution”. Vaudeville cultivated an egalitarian spirit; it was anarchic, extravagant, incorrect, racist and erotic. “While the neighborhood character of vaudeville attendance had always promoted a tendency to tailor fare to specific audiences, mature vaudeville grew to feature houses and circuits specifically aimed at certain demographic groups. Black patrons, often segregated into the rear of the second gallery in white-oriented theatres, had their own smaller circuits, as did speakers of Italian and Yiddish.”1 Vaudeville became mass entertainment embodied by a perfectly choreographed show. Such a show consisted of a series of unrelated acts to attract a diverse and wide audience. Since the spectators openly and loudly responded to what they saw in front of them on the stage, the vaudevillians on their turn tried to play the crowd. In The Voice of the City, Snyder quotes the choreography of a classic vaudeville as described in George Gottlieb’s Writing for Vaudeville published in 1916: “First: a ‘dumb act’, possibly a dancer or trick animals, to make a good impression that, ‘will not be spoiled by the late arrivals seeking their seats.’ Second: anything more interesting than the first act; perhaps a man and woman singing, to ‘settle’ the audience and prepare for the show. Third: something to wake up the audience, perhaps a comic dramatic sketch that builds to a ‘laughter-climax,’ or any act distinct from the preceding turn, to keep the audience ‘wondering what is to come next.’ Fourth: an act to ‘strike home,’ ideally a name performer who will rouse the audience to expect better things from the show. Fifth: another big name, something the audience will talk about during intermission. Sixth: the first act after intermission and a difficult slot to fill, because it had to sustain audience interest without overshadowing the remaining acts. A famous mime comedian to get the audience seated with a few interruptions of stage action might work well. But most of all, Gottlieb noted, the sixth act had to begin a buildup that was ‘infinitely’ faster than that of the first half, one that would quickly put the audience in a ‘delighted-expectant attitude.’ Seventh: an act stronger than the sixth to set up the eight act. Usually a full stage number like a short comic play, or, if the performers were good enough to warrant it, a serious dramatic piece.

If we associate vaudeville with the freak show, dime museums, bohemian life, and burlesque, we romanticize it. It was a highly professionalized industry, and a lucrative business controlled by patrons, rules, and money — and it was segregated. At the same time it broke through social barriers and was a place for outsiders; it offered women careers in show business and became the launch pad for many stars such as Fred Astaire, Rube Goldberg, Houdini, Windsor McCay, Baby Rose Marie, Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers, Kate Smith, and Buster Keaton, “The Little Boy Who Can’t Be Damaged”. So what if indeed vaudeville and MoMA had met? In its early years, MoMA had developed with an acute sense for popular culture and through an unorthodox approach to art and its making. This was mostly due to the visionary thinking of its young founding director Alfred H. Barr Jr. (1902-1981) who was dismissed in 1943, but was allowed to stay on as an advisory director (and later as Director of Collections). Looking at MoMA’s archive and history online, it seems to have started with a sense for experiments driven by an almost vaudevillian attitude. A selection of exhibitions at MoMA between 1929 and 1946 invites us indeed to fantasize about a missed out on love affair. Looking at the early MoMA program through the lens of a classic vaudeville evening, one can perceive how varied, adventurous, and experimental it was. There were shows about everyday objects (Objects: 1900 and Today, 1933; Useful Household Objects under $5.00, 1938), bookbinding (Ignatz Wiemeler, Modern Bookbinder, 1935), camouflage design (Camouflage for Civilian Defense, 1942), American native art (Indian Art of the United States, 1941), black artists (African Negro Art, 1935; Young Negro Art, 1943), film (The Making of a Contemporary Film, 1937-1938; American Designs for Abstract Film,1940; A History of American Movies, 1941; Georges Méliès: Magician and Film Pioneer, 1944-1945) and even Bambi (Bambi: The Making of an Animated Sound Picture, 1942). There were shows such as The Arts in Therapy, 1943; On Being a Cartoonist, 1946; American Sources of Modern Art (Aztec, Mayan, Incan), 1933; Subway Art, 1938; Machine Art, 1938; Are Clothes Modern, 1944-1945; Children’s Work, 1938 and Creative Growth, Childhood to Maturity, 1939-1940. At the same time there were art exhibitions and contemporary artists shows: Cezanne, Gauguin, Seurat, van Gogh, 1929; Fernand Léger: Paintings and Drawings, 1935; Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, 19361937; Bauhaus 1919-1928, 1938-1939; Picasso: Forty Years of His Art, 19391940; Henri Rousseau, 1942; Guernica, 1943-1981 and Alexander Calder, 1943-1944, to name a few. These could be supplemented with folk art shows, for example American Folk Art: The Art of the Common Man in America 1750-1900, 1932, was presented together with Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture, 1862-1932, forming “a comprehensive presentation of America’s contribution to art, in both its conventional and its unconventional aspects.”3 It is, of course, a partial selection to highlight what could be called the vaudevillian aspect of the early MoMA program. The list goes on with shows on architecture, painting, theater, photography, the making of a publication, fashion, dance, etc. What if vaudeville had met MoMA...!

Eighth: the star that the crowd was waiting for, typically a solitary man or woman. Ninth: the closing act, preferably a visual number—trick animals or trapeze artists — that sent the audience home pleased.”2

1 (accessed: 1.03.2019). 2 George A. Gottlieb, Writing for Vaudeville, 1916, pp. 7-10, as quoted by Robert W. Snyder, The Voice of the City. Vaudeville and Popular Culture in New York, Chicago 2000, pp. 66-67.

100, (accessed: 06.04.2020).


Cover: Valeska Gert

p.23. Marnie Weber

p.43. Dominika Olszowy

Photograph: Jaro von Tucholka

The Sea of Silence, 2009

Peep Show, 2018

Courtesy of the

Courtesy of the artist

Courtesy of the artist


and Simon Lee Gallery

and Raster Gallery, Warsaw

Sammlung, University of Cologne p.24-25. Isabelle Cornaro

p.44. Dominika Olszowy

p.1. Alex Urban

Back to horror (working title)

Ego trip, 2017

Jam, 2011

Model: Julie Beaufils

Courtesy of the artist

Courtesy of the artist and LETO,

Courtesy of the artist

and Raster Gallery, Warsaw

p.26-27, 29. Isabelle Cornaro

p.46. Nohoch Burlesque, 2013

p.2-5, 7. Selina Ogilvy

Photographs of Edward Kienholz’s

Photograph: Nadja Massün

Girl Clown, 1998

11+11 Tableaux, Moderna Museet

Courtesy of Nadja Massün

Courtesy of the artist

Courtesy of the artist

and Xavier Rodríguez

p.8-9. Stefan Moses

p.30-31. Jamian Juliano-Villani

p.47. Nohoch Burlesque, 2013

Der Topornebenbuhler by André

Boars Head, a Gateway,

Photographs: Jesús León (DFA)

Heller, 1981

my Pinecone, 2016

Courtesy of Jesús León (DFA)

Courtesy of Else Bechteler-Moses

Courtesy of the artist, JTT,

and Xavier Rodríguez


New York, and Massimo de Carlo, p.11. Shirley Beljon

London / Milan / Hong Kong

Title unknown, 1978

p.48. Kazimierz Mikulski Kompozycja Surrealistyczna

p.32-33. Marnie Weber p.12-13. Jamian Juliano-Villani

The Cavern, Getty Series, 2001

p.49. (left) Kazimierz Mikulski

Constructive Living, 2019

Courtesy of the artist


Courtesy of the artist, JTT,

and Simon Lee Gallery

New York, and Massimo de Carlo, London / Milan / Hong Kong

p.50. (right) Kazimierz Mikulski p.36-37. Irina Ionesco

Kompozycja z jednorożcem

Litanie pour une amante funebre, p.14. Dominika Olszowy


p.51. (left) Kazimierz Mikulski

Good morning, 2017

Courtesy of Irina Ionesco,

Kompozycja Surrealistyczna

Courtesy of the artist and Raster

Reflex Amsterdam and Zoo

Gallery, Warsaw

p.51. (right) Kazimierz Mikulski p.38. Irina Ionesco

Kompozycja - z cyklu Cień kota,

p.16-17. Tori Wrånes

Vampire, 1970


TRACK of HORNS, 2015

Courtesy of Irina Ionesco,

Photograph: Eirik Slyngstad

Reflex Amsterdam and Zoo

Courtesy of the artist

p. 52. Alex Urban Gossip, 2018

p.39. Irina Ionesco

Courtesy of the artist

p. 17. Alphabet created

Untitled, 1976

and LETO, Warsaw

by Dominic Hafner

Courtesy of Irina Ionesco, Reflex Amsterdam and Zoo

p.19. Marnie Weber

p. 53. Alex Urban Scooter, 2017

A Really Good Read, 2009

p.41. Dominika Olszowy

Courtesy of the artist

Courtesy of the artist

Cemetery of Eternal Rest, 2018

and LETO, Warsaw

and Simon Lee Gallery

Photograph: B. Górka Courtesy of the artist and

p. 54. Alex Urban

p.20-21. Marnie Weber

the Ujazdowski Castle Centre

Untitled (Hares), 2017

The Whispering Cave, 2012

for Contemporary Art, Warsaw

Courtesy of the artist

Courtesy of the artist

and LETO, Warsaw

and Simon Lee Gallery 103

p. 55. Alex Urban

p.66. (bottom) Natsu Matsuri

p.74. Roland Topor

Hexa, 2018

Naniwa Kagami (Summer Festival,

Chanel No. 5, 1976

Courtesy of the artist

Mirror of Ōsaka)

Courtesy of Nicolas Topor

and LETO, Warsaw

Shibai Kinmō Zui

and ADAGP, Paris

(Kabuki encyclopedia), 1803 p. 58. Alex Urban

p.74-77. Alphabet created

Devils, 2015

p.67. Utagawa Kuniyoshi

by Roland Topor

Courtesy of the artist

Oiwa Ghost, ca. 1848

Courtesy of Nicolas Topor

and LETO, Warsaw

Scene from the play

and ADAGP, Paris

Yotsuya Kaidan p. 59. Alex Urban

p.76. (top) Roland Topor

Octopus, 2018

p.68. Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Untitled, 1985

Courtesy of the artist

Bakemono Chūshingura, ca. 1836

Courtesy of Nicolas Topor

and LETO, Warsaw

Scenes 5-8 from the woodblock

and ADAGP, Paris

prints p.60. Karin Székessy

p.76. (bottom) Roland Topor

Striptease, 1971

p.69. (left) Gurotesuku

Illustration from the book

Courtesy of the artist

Magazine cover, No. 1, 1929

Les Combles Parisiens, 1989 Courtesy of Nicolas Topor

p.61. (top) Karin Székessy

p.69. (right) Issun bōshi


(The Dwarf)

Courtesy of the artist

Cover of a 1972’s version

p.79. Jamian Juliano-Villani

of the book by Ranpo Edogawa

Stone Love, 2015

p.61. (bottom) Karin Székessy Schwarzes auge Courtesy of the artist

and ADAGP, Paris

Courtesy of the artist, JTT, p.70. Kyōfu kikei ningen (Horror of malformed men) by Ishii Teruo

New York, and Massimo de Carlo, London / Milan / Hong Kong

Movie poster, 1969 p.62. Karin Székessy

p.80-83. Bogdan Zimowski

Jeu á deu

p.71. (left) Hitogata, 1976

Photographs from the series

Courtesy of the artist

Performer: Ashikawa Yōko

Pararzeczywistość, 1978

Designers and photographers:

Courtesy of Museum

p.63. Karin Székessy

Kiyoshi Awazu, Makoto Onoduka,

of Photography, Kraków

La belle et la bête, 1978

Tadao Nakatani

Courtesy of the artist

Courtesy of Keio University

p.84. (left) Valeska Gert

Art Center

Photograph: Erna Lendvai-Dircksen

p.64-65. Ishii Teruo

Courtesy of the

Kaidan nobori ryū

p.71. (top right) Kyōfu kikei


(Ghostly Rising Dragon),1970

ningen (Horror of malformed men)

Sammlung, University of Cologne

by Ishii Teruo p. 65-69. Alphabet created

Movie poster, 1969

by Elena Ciolino

p.84. (right) Valeska Gert Photograph: Käte Ruppel

p.71. (bottom right) Ishii Teruo

Courtesy of the

p.66. (top left) Kabukizu-maki

Kyōfu kikei ningen


Kabuki Scroll scene detail, 17th

(Horror of malformed men), 1969

Sammlung, University of Cologne

century p.72. Tomasz Mróz

p.85-86. Valeska Gert

p.66. (top right) Toriyama

I.D.K, 2018

Photographs: William Davis

Gazu Hyakki Yagyō (Pandemonium)

Photograph: Tomasz Koszewnik

Courtesy of the

series, 1781

Courtesy of the artist


E-hon picture book detail 104

Sammlung, University of Cologne

p.88. (left) Valeska Gert

p.99. Jill Mulleady

Cover back: Jamian Juliano-

Photograph: Lili Baruch

Prince S, 2017


Courtesy of the

Courtesy of the artist

Who’s Counting?, 2019

Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung, University of Cologne

p.88. (right) Valeska Gert

Courtesy of the artist, JTT, p.101. Jill Mulleady

New York, and Massimo de Carlo,

Prince S II, 2017

London / Milan / Hong Kong

Courtesy of the artist

Photograph: Manuel Frères Courtesy of the

p.102. Jill Mulleady


Ass-to-Ass, 2018

Sammlung, University of Cologne

Courtesy of the artist

The authors and publishers have attempted to trace the copyright holders of all material reproduced in this publication and apologize to copyright holders if permission to publish in this form has not been obtained. If

p.89. Valeska Gert

p.106. Miloš Mušicki’s

any copyright material has not been

Alraune, 1928

Astrological workshop poster,

acknowledged please write and let us

Courtesy of the



Academy of Fine Arts in Prague,

Sammlung, University of Cologne

Šalounova vila

p.90. Valeska Gert

p.107. Isabelle Cornaro’s Back to

Photograph: Erna Lendvai-Dircksen

Horror film evening poster, 2020

Courtesy of the

Academy of Fine Arts in Prague,


Šalounova vila

know so we may rectify in any future reprint -

Sammlung, University of Cologne p.108. Eva Švankmajerová’s p.91. Valeska Gert

Otesanek film poster, 2000

Unknown photographer

Courtesy of Jan Švankmajer

Courtesy of the Theaterwissenschaftliche

p.109. Pepa Marakova

Sammlung, University of Cologne

Self portrait with her father, 1896

p.93. Witold Wojtkiewicz

National Gallery Prague

Cukiernia ciast trujących (Grota płochej czarownicy), 1908

p.110. Elżbieta Jeznach’s Alice au pays des lettres

p.94. Eva Švankmajerová

workshop poster, 2020

Single and Married Girls, 1986

Academy of Fine Arts in Prague,

Courtesy of Jan Švankmajer

Šalounova vila

p.95. Eva Švankmajerová

p.111. Eva Švankmajerová

Existential Moment, 1978

From Outside, 1980

Courtesy of Jan Švankmajer

Courtesy of Jan Švankmajer

p.96. Eva Švankmajerová

p.140. Sacha Van Dorssen

Despite Everything, 1988

Title unknown, 1970

Courtesy of Jan Švankmajer Back of the back cover: Isadora p.97. Eva Švankmajerová


Baradla, 1981

Untitled 1, 2018

Courtesy of Jan Švankmajer

Courtesy of the artist


Miloš Mušicki Astrological workshop 5-8 may 2020 Praha Akademie výtvarných umění v Praze Šalounova vila, Slovenská 4, 120 00 Praha 2












An ti S ub l i m e A s a chi l d I g rew u p s u r ro u n de d by pu ppets . T he re we re masks on the walls that would fr i g hte n my friends so m uch they had to b e ta ken down w he n t hey ca m e to vi si t. Pe r haps, g row i ng up se e i ng the b eauty i n w hat other peopl e fo un d to b e m on strou s ex pla in s why I wa s s o draw n to the stop -frame ani mati ons of Jan Švankmaje r. My mum, w h o wa s a s in gle pa re n t, ha d m e in t he mi d d le of he r stud i e s at H or nsey Sc hool of A r t. I was part of her deg ree s h ow, s at a m o n gst he r wo r k s in a ca rdboard b ox. Whe n I was a tod d le r she taug ht wor ksho ps in m asks and mask hi stor y at th e B a r bica n . I st ill re m e m be r watc hi ng re hearsals of The B acc hae p e r for me d by he r stu dents, before I was o l d en ou g h to go to s c ho o l. I wa s ta u ght to fi nd value i n the thi ng s othe rs leave b e hi nd . We scoured the s kips to gethe r for th i n g s to m a ke a r t f ro m . T he go ds of ‘ tat’ can b e ve r y ge ne rous i f you have the ki nd of eye that is sympath eti c to th e p ote n t ia l e n e rg y of t hos e aband one d mate r i als. I was ve r y li ttle w he n she fi rst showed m e the film A l i ce by Šva n kma je r. W e s po ke re ce n t ly a bout he r d e c i si on to ex p ose me to ar t that some would cons ider to be to o frigh ten i n g for a s m a ll c hild. S he s a id s he thoug ht i t was i mp or tant I saw an alte r nati ve to the visual l ands cape on offer at th e ti m e; a wa ste la n d of pla st ic ju n k and car toons. For he r, b r i ng i ng a c hi ld i nto a wor ld d evoid of thought provo ki n g a r t wa s a fa r m o re da m a gin g pros pe ct. The fact i s, far from b e i ng fr i g hte ne d , I was to fall in l ove with the wo rk of Ja n Šva n km a je r. This up b r i n g i n g , i m m e rs e d in a wo r ld of o bjets trouvé s asse mb le d by my p up p ete e r and mask-maker m other, has info rmed s o m u ch of m y o u t lo o k ; n ot ju st o n t h e li fe of ob je cts, b ut also the ve r y core of my p oli ti cal and aesthetic philoso p h y. For i t i s o u r re lat io n s hip to t hos e t hi ng s we consi d e re d i nani mate and non-human that for ms the ver y basis of o ur i n tera cti on s wit h o u r s u r ro u n din gs . S o muc h of w hat we b e li eve to b e a natural-ord e r i s just wil d proj ections of the h u m a n ego; r u ts in t he gro u n d we t rea d, e ncod e d i nto our colle cti ve psyc he , that are leane d upon in tim es of need, ju st w h en th e r it u a ls of a n t hro po ce n t r ic thoug ht are show i ng si g ns of fati g ue . Artwo rk s th at d efy the stat u s qu o of a e st het ic beauty, d o more than just make new ar t, they c halle nge the ver y core of a system b u i l t u p o n t he co m m o dif icat io n of matte r. To c reate a v i sual lang uage w hi c h he rald s the waste of s ociety as key p l a yers on the sta ge of bea u t y fo rce s us to q ue sti on how muc h of the stand ard ord e r of things can al s o be s ubverted . Th os e en l ighte n m e n t idea ls t hat ta ug ht us that man can transce nd nature , w hi lst wome n — with al l their fun k of fem i n i n e fu n ct io n , a n d hide o u s , blo o dy natali ty — are fate d to an ex i ste nce i n the w i ld , me ssy natural worl d, a wo rld of b ea sts a n d m u d a n d m o n ste rs t hat ca nnot b e he lp e d . We can commod i fy and moneti se all forms of existence because we b el i eve in a n o rde r t hat pu ts m a nki nd , and sp e c i fi cally man at the top of a vast e mp ire of resources , but this wor l d of m o n ste rs a n d bea sts is w he re the real par ty i s at. The re i s so muc h fun to b e had in the grotesque wo rld of w i tch es a n d m o n ste rs , in t he ju n k a n d cast-offs. Unre strai ne d from the hege moni c value system s and rigid hierarch i ca l str u ctu re s , t he re is a pla ce fo r t r uly rad i cal thoug ht. Pe r haps now, more than eve r i s the time for an overhau l i n ou r col l ect ive t hin k in g, a t im e to ce le b rate our base and g r ub by, i nte r wove n p lace i n all this. A mutual aid thin king th at goes fu r t he r t ha n co n ce pts of hu man v s. non-human, i nani mate v s. ani mate . Use v s. val u e. Fro m thi s g rou n d i n g , m y wo r k ha s be co m e a n o bse ssi on w i th the i d ea of an anti -sub li me , an i mag i ni ng of pre -theistic, animist tra d i ti on s , p ro je cte d in to a n a po ca ly pti c future . The anti -sub li me i s not just a re je cti on of these val u e s ystems, b u t a cel eb rat io n of a ll t he a lte r n at ive s on offe r. A r i otous joy and soli d ar i ty w i th all the wil dness we’ve been ta u g h t to feel se pa rate f ro m . T his great car ni val of monste rs! What new god s d o we c reate from the wastel ands of co mm od i fi cati on an d co n s u m e r is m? W hat beauty can we salvage from the junk? The re’s so muc h th eatre out there to be fou n d a m on g st t he r u bbis h. T he ghosts of human consumpti on p lay on long afte r the aud i e nce s have gone. They tell tales on u s , th ey o m it n ot hin g. W ho a re we i f not the thi ng s we leave b e hi nd ? Really, we are i nsignif icant in our being s, b u t ou r effects a re hu ge a n d u n im a gin ab le , li ke vast shad ow s cast long by a setti ng sun. And so I a m g ratefu l I grew u p wit h t hos e m a s k s on the wall. For those p up p ets that mad e my fr i e nd s cr y. We are of ten taug ht to b e fea r fu l of t he grote s qu e , bu t fo r me i t i s an op e n d oor to a w hole new wor ld of p ossi b i lity. I am gratef ul to my m u m , for cont in u in g to m a ke a r t a s a wor ki ng -c lass si ng le pare nt, w i th all the od d s stac ked against her. by Po l l i ta Mi j a o








M A face of the chasm emanates from the mask of smiles.















A. Dominic Hafner B. Elena Ciolino C.

Eva Švankmajerová

D. Eve Miller E.

Eve Murray-Fairhall

F. Pollita Mijao G. Marina Medef H. Eve Murray-Fairhall

Hanna Kucera

Hana Chmelikova

Huang Sungwan

Monika Kucervoa

Elena Ciolino

Marcela Putnová

I. Maja Krysiak J.

Huang Sungwan

K. Pollita Mijao L. Fiona Martínez M. Piotr Błachut - cartoonist

Piotr Mierzwa - text

N. Dominika Olszowy O. Natalia Borkowska P. Natalia Borkowska Q. Mia Milgrom R. Martyna Kiełka S. Veronika Čertíková T. Veronika Čertíková U. Jana Svobodova V. Aleksandra Liput - artist

Szymon Rogiński - photographer

W. Leonor Barbosa X. Martyna Kiełka Y. Marcela Putnová Z. Marcela Putnová ˇ Elżbieta Jeznach Z.

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