Essay by: Stach Szablowski
Translation: M. Wawrzynczak
Asked about real life exactly ten years ago, Ryszard Górecki replied, "Talking about real life seems too easy to me."
He said so in an interview granted to Łukasz Gorczyca and Sebastian Cichocki. What he was creatively preoccupied with at the time was artificial life. It was, he said, equally real. And unlike "real life," the domains of artificial life keep expanding. This is about life construed as a project. A script to perform. Life as a product that is intensely marketed. A product that someone wants to sell us - and for a hefty price.
Ryszard Górecki has always been its reluctant buyer. At the same time, he maintains a constant presence on the artificial life market as an observer. He doesn't choose from the offer, but he watches it closely, assuming in the spectacle of consumption the role of a critical yet fascinated viewer and an engaged commentator.
Transaction is the underlying principle of the consumer society. Artificial life is a sequence of choices from various offers - the acquisition of goods, social models, biographical scripts, existential conditions, batches of knowledge and ideological products.
Górecki has consistently sought to evade the power of this principle. Instead of acquiring, he has preferred to take possession of; his is the pirate strategy of appropriation.
Speaking in the abovementioned interview, the artist admitted that his art was "cool." Unlike the art of the "hot" gesture, driven by intuition and unprocessed emotions, Górecki's creative process resembles a curatorial practice rather than a spontaneous act of creation. Curating appropriated meanings, motifs, images, even whole iconographic systems and cognitive models. Shifting them from one context - that defined by the providers of "artificial life" products - into a new one, this time defined by the artist, the individual.
To put it differently, the underlying principle of Górecki's work is montage, a technique embraced by artists during the modernist revolution in order to deconstruct the traditional work of art and reassemble its fragments into a new and modern one. Montage and its effects - such as collage, assemblage or found-object installation - have since remained a favorite technique of subversive artists, who include Ryszard Górecki.
Montage is also a key category for the three main areas where Ryszard Górecki's art takes its shape: canvas painting, collage, and objects.
Montage plays in Górecki's practice a role similar to that played by drawing in the work of classic artists. This is the area of disegno, a space to record observations, test new combinations, sketch idea representations. The collages are created alongside all other works or projects. They are an open project, sometimes organized into themed series. Let us examine one of those.
Pizza Soldiers is a particularly integral collage series, organized with a virtually military sense of formal and thematic discipline. And rightly so. Each work from the series represents a soldier; in all, there are 120 works - and soldiers - which is the size of an average modern-day army company. These soldiers have been cut out from frozen pizza boxes, the artist playing here with the tradition of pre-Romantic and Romantic silhouette portraits so prevalent in 18th- and 19th-century visual culture. The Pizza Soldiers are silhouettes too but - unlike their sentimental historical predecessors - are highly corporeal in their expression. They have bodies of melted cheese, tomato sauce, meat, sausage, vegetables. And while they assume militant poses - marching, preparing to shoot, aiming - we can hardly shake off the impression that they are already dead, their anatomies massacred, mixed into an organic pulp by, for example, the explosion of a booby-trapped car or an intelligent bomb. On the other hand, these are soldiers created using boxes of fast food, pre-cooked frozen meals meant to be quickly reheated and casually consumed. The lowest category of food; truly cannon fodder, or rather "cannon pizza."
Górecki pastes the pizza soldier silhouettes onto hand-painted backgrounds, stock images of outer space, science diagrams or fragments of representations; the battlefield of this company is not yet another front in the "war on terror," "peaceful intervention" or "stabilization mission"; it is the space of representation.
Among the orders of representation that Ryszard Górecki has been particularly keen to appropriate for the purposes of his own practice, two stand out in particular. One is poster; the other is the chart or diagram - a graphic representation of data, a visualization of knowledge. Both are highly persuasive. The former is meant to convey a message (product, idea, cultural text) in a visually attractive, persuasive, condensed, "quick" and succinct (and thus simplified) way. The latter evidences knowledge, making it visible; this visualization is supposed to attest to its objectivity and irrefutability. No wonder, therefore, that both orders have been widely exploited by the dominant discourses, by members of the cultural, political, business or academic elites. Ryszard Górecki has also readily used them, appropriating the "strong forms" of the non-art world in order to rework them for his own purposes as part of critical operations performed from the perspective of a system-wary individual. In fact, many of his works combine the poster or advertising visual order with the iconography of science.
Górecki's painting is always rooted in this or another kind of mediated reality. He never paints "from life," for the representation of "real life" is not only "too easy"; above all, it is ineffective. If we want to join Górecki in undoing the very structures of postmodern reality, we need to focus not on what it is but rather on how it is represented.
In his most recent works, the artist has sought a key to these structures mainly in science, identifying knowledge with power. Leaving contents aside, he borrows form alone from the scientific discourse. Deliberately drawing wrong conclusions from the scholarly diagrams and visualizations, he searches for a new quality in them - a painterly field to visualize not so much the phenomena occurring around us as the ways in which they are depicted.
Emblematic for Górecki's current painting strategy is the piece Fever and the Division of Galaxies. Suspended in abstract space, a three-dimensional coordinate system shows sharply rising and slumping diagram bars - the visualization of a violent process. These may be the fluctuations of economic growth, stock market trends or paroxysms of crisis, or perhaps the emotional ups and downs of the postmodern individual, wavering between an urge to rebel against the system and the temptation to accept its terms fully. This, however, is unimportant at this point; what matters is the structure itself. Its order is confronted with an unexpected element: the surface of the levitating diagram is covered with a constellation of color splash marks. Górecki applied them to the canvas using the technique of drip painting, the same one that Jackson Pollock used in his "action paintings." This painterly galaxy unfolds in a space where the notion of Cosmos is identical with that of System, and the order of knowledge clashes with the element of randomness and chaos.
If such modes of representation as diagram or visualization are among Górecki's favorite forms in painting, their equivalent in his spatial work would be the model. The artist builds objects with found, worn materials that accrue as by-products of everyday life. Assembling and montaging them, he endows them with sculptural qualities, yet it is not the autonomous (in the modernist sense) existence of these compositions that interests him the most. Rather, Górecki's objects, much like architectural models, reference other things, visualizing certain projects. This may be social projects, as in The Friendship Estate, where see-through models of post-communist apartment blocks are filled with dust from the artist's home and connected by wires into an oppressive hyper-structure of a total urban layout. Or these may be symbolic projects. What the diagram was for Górecki's depiction strategies, the maquette is for his objects. The poster, in turn, gets replaced by the monument - a three-dimensional equivalent of the persuasive poster in public space. Building models of monuments, the artist leaves aside the concreteness of their ideological message; he focuses on their anatomy. Let us take for example the anatomy of Hope. A pyramidal construction of matchsticks and straightened-out paperclips, its irregular form means that it resembles a spatialized conference drawing, something that could be half-unwittingly thrown together by a corporate executive during a long and boring global strategy meeting. Pushing upwards like a parody of Tatlin's Monument to the Third International, this tower of paperclips and matchsticks rises from a base of broken chipboard. Arrogantly dynamic yet disturbingly fragile, the construction culminates with a diagonal wire arrow indicating an indeterminate point in space.
Does the arrow point to success? A purpose? The principle of constant growth? Does it direct us to the titular "hope"? As usual, Górecki leaves these questions unanswered. The artist's critical stance is expressed not in taking sides in ideological or political disputes but in appropriating and deconstructing their languages. This, I think, is the single most subversive aspect of Górecki's practice; he demonstrates that the only way to elude the system of power is to dispossess it of its language.
1) ”Ekonomia sztuki i estetyka oporu. Rozmowa Ryszarda Góreckiego, Łukasza Gorczycy i Sebastiana Cichockiego,” Ryszard Górecki. Pomaluj to, exh. cat., Bytom: Galeria Kronika, 2004
2) Until 2002, Ryszard Górecki ran and curated the Galeria Prowincjonalna in Słubice. The venue enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most interesting Polish art institutions of the 1990s.