- Warszawa, Warsaw, Poland
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The 1988 Freiheit? Nein, danke! is one of the most prominent creations of Łódź Kaliska, and a breakthrough work in the career of the artists. After the ties brining together the wider community of the Pitch-In Culture had dissolved, Łódź Kaliska members focused on collaboration among each other, and moved from their previous anarchistic, art-world-contesting stance towards a postmodernist play of quotations, pastiche, and borrowed meanings. In 1987 the group entered into possession of a video camera, which allowed it to record performances for camera, document events and recreate previously unrecorded actions. It was at that time that the now iconic stagings of classic works of art were created, along with the famous Freiheit? Nein, danke!, a jocular reconstitution of Eugene Delacroix's Liberty leading the people.
Nonetheless, this work represents more than just a simple joke on the art history canon. Its perverse title — to add fuel to the fire in German, which at that time in Poland could be interpreted as a purposeful provocation — reflected the years of struggle of Łódź Kaliska against the aporia of liberty in the field of art. Subsequent experience in creating “embarrassing art”, “idiotic art”, “unfocused art” etc., conceptualised in numerous theoretical texts, have led the artists to believe that any violation of artistic conventions, insult to audience, as well as disdain for art institutions, and creation of intentionally trivial, mediocre, and pointless works, will sooner or later be absorbed by the art system. Acts of resistance belong to the domain of art, and it is in accordance with its rules that they are interpreted. Artist’s liberty may seem very ample but it stems from the very status of the artists and their works (similarly, in Łódź Kaliska’s view, there is no freedom from society). Thus, the idea of freedom in art seems to be naïve or false — that is why Łódź Kaliska artists decided to make do without such freedom.
Freiheit? Nein, danke!is a rejection of liberty offered to artists by the society, in a deliberate, bantering, frivolous, and immature act. As a paradox, if anywhere, it was in those brief moments of antics, shenanigans, immature jokes, frolics, and mischief where Łódź Kaliska saw freedom, and again, paradoxically, it was burdened with great solemnity and tension, in spite of the festive and ludic atmosphere. The film serves as a testimony: the artists are fooling around in front of the camera, pushing each other out of the frame, frolicking, making faces, waving around their genitalia.
The film shot by Andrzej Kwietniewski (according to his and Marek Janiak’s concept) accompanied the creation of a photograph by the same title. The photograph was displayed in 1988 during the Polska fotografia intermedialna exhibition, a major event at the Art Exhibitions Bureau (BWA) in Poznań. In front of the large-format photograph, a nude female model was placed, around whom Łódź Kaliska artists continued with their actions, such as colouring elements of the photograph, or adding humorous slogans. The event attracted the attention of the visitors and gained recognition among at least some of the critics, e.g. in Poznań Krzysztof Jurecki expressed a positive opinion on Łódź Kaliska. However, there was a scandal too: during the dinner, the members of the group threw a pork knuckle in the direction of the table where Andrzej Lachowicz and Urszula Czartoryska were seated.
The altered, repainted version of the 1989 photograph, known by the title The Bull Man is currently in the depository of the Museum of Modern Art.
Jarosław Lubiak (ed.), "Szczerość i blaga. Etyka prac Łodzi Kaliskiej w latach 1979-89", Łódź 2009.
Łódź Kaliska (ed. & comp.), "Bóg zazdrości nam pomyłek", Łódź 1999.
Marta Pierzchała (ed.), "Biała aura", Łódź 2010.
The film was shot by Józef Robakowski in collaboration with Witold Krymarys, two neo-avant-garde multimedia artists from Łódź, specialised in photography, film, and video art. The film shows the happening organised by Łódź Kaliska, i.e. Marek Janiak, Adam Rzepecki, Andrzej “Makary” Wielogórski, and Andrzej Kwietniewski, with whom Robakowski did not share the views on the meaning of the Pitch-In Culture (the founder of the Exchange Gallery used this term to cover the entire independent art movement of the 1980s) or on the aesthetics, in which he often referred to the legacy of the great avant-garde, rejected in turn by the members of Łódź Kaliska. This provoked a conflict regarding the authorship of the film: was it the camera operators (Robakowski and Krymarys) or the Łódź Kaliska members, who performed in front of the cameras. In 1988 Robakowski re-edited the original recording, slowed it down, changed the colours, added Witold Lutosławski’s music, and titled the picture Party mit Lutosławski. It is also worth noting that the film featured many other persons, apart from those already mentioned, i.a. Jacek Jóźwiak, Paweł Kwiek, Zofia Łuczko, Dariusz Kędziora, Jarosław Bogusiak, Andrzej Janaszewski, Zygmunt Rytka, Zbigniew Bińczyk, and Andrzej Wielogórski, the cousin of “Makary”.
Paradoxically, the conflict illustrates the creative contribution of the filmmakers who participated in the events not only by recording them but also actively created them. “The expressive, if not dramatic, scenes clearly surpassed the original intentions of the filmmakers, whose initial idea was to edit a video clip in natural surroundings (i.e. on a city boulevard and inside The Attic, an extremely important spot for the artistic milieu) for a song, which was popular in Łódź at that time” wrote a critic, Jolanta Ciesielska. The artists initiated actions in the City of Łódź, in the streets and in the “Balaton” bar, and proceeded with a party at The Attic. By means of pitch-in they gathered funds for vodka and potatoes, as a snack, which well reflected a slightly poor and slightly decadent atmosphere of The Attic. In the finale of the film, the relative of “Makary” is heard saying his famous remark that “art requires sacrifice”. In that he refers to having his late father’s accordion, damaged by the artists. In the context of a farewell party for The Attic, the phrase seems to capture well the spirit of artistic underground with its “economic world turned upside down” (as Pierre Bourdieu put it in the Rules of Art)
The film is 17 minutes long, and it was first presented in 1987 during a video film festival in students’ gallery Dziekanka in Warsaw.
Marek Janiak (ed.), "Kultura Zrzuty", Warszawa 1989.
Łódź Kaliska (ed. & elab.), "Bóg zazdrości nam pomyłek", Łódź 1999.
Jolanta Ciesielska, "Videoperformance", in: Piotr Krajewski i Violetta Kutlubasis-Krajewska, "Ukryta dekada. Polska sztuka wideo 1985-1995", Wrocław 2010.