Open Form

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Concept developed by the architect Oskar Hansen and developed further in the direction of film and performance by his students at Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. The 'open form' originated in the 1950s as a response to the ossified design principles of modernism and was intensively discussed within the frame of international debates on the architecture of late modernism (for example, in Team 10). In the 1960s and 70s, against the background of socialist Poland, young artists created innovative filmic works and performative interventions that give rise to interplays rich in associations between image space and real space.

The film Open Form was carried out jointly by the students of Lodz Film School and the Department of Sculpture of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts in 1971.

Zofia Kulik - Open Form , 1971[edit]

scene: Game on the face of the actress (realization: Zofia Kulik, Przemyslaw Kwiek, Jan. S. Wojciechowski)[edit]

In 1971 Zofia Kulik took part in the realisation of the film titled Open Form , which was carried out jointly by the students of Lodz Film School and the Department of Sculpture of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts (where the artist studied).

This intermedial work attempted to activate in different ways the relationships between film and other visual arts such as sculpture, painting, happening, public interventions, performance1 .

In their practice the co-authors of the film advocated a change from existing “fetish-like,” hierarchical relations between the recipient and the creator towards more “democratic” models of artistic communication.

Being more interested in initialising and analysing the process of artistic realisations than in producing traditional, “objective” works of art, they promoted participatory aesthetics, and an inter-medial attitude of transgressing inter-artistic borders (also those separating art from life).

The team put emphasis on the co-operation of artists from different specialisations learning how to integrate their skills to work together. There was also more stress on communication and cognition than on presentation.

All of the above-mentioned properties created a context for developing the formula of group visual games, which allowed the games to take on a process structure of subsequent moves - made by “players” in a specific sequence2 .

The scene entitled “The game on the Face of the Actress” is a good example of a visual game, where each subsequent shot represented another move by particular artists.

The players (who are not visible in the frame) are gathered around the face of an actress. Their moves (called steps by the artists) require each player to integrate three important aspects.

First, to react to already existing facts (former moves of the players); second, to unfold one’s own expression; and third, to remember that by moving, one creates the context for the move of the subsequent player.

The artists communicated (played) using both visual forms, and various sorts of activities.

The name of the actress is Ewa Lemalska. She was quite famous through Janosik, a very popular TV series in 70s Poland.

She played Maryna - Janosik’s girlfriend and was a kind of celebrity of that time. This TV series was broadcasted parallel to the projections of the Open Form film with the scene “The Game on the Face of the Actress.”

And it turned out that this realisation acquired a strong critical dimension towards the pop culture context of 70s Poland.

scene: The revealing of complex form (realization: Zofia Kulik, Przemyslaw Kwiek, Jan. S.Wojciechowski)[edit]

Another technique invented during the making of Open Form was “The revealing of complex form”.

The artists wrote: “The results of the artists’ work should be fit for use by the recipients as information illuminating (explaining) current problems and relations of reality”.

The artists’ desire was to knock the recipients out of the “rhythms” or “strings” of social life, of dominant models of perception, as well as an attempt to put the recipients in a situation where they were forced to ask themselves questions about the social, functional, cultural (and – connected with all previous ones – formal (of material and space) mechanisms in which they were stuck.

Through “revealing the complex form” the artists strove to create certain cognitive situations, trying to define the character of the reality in which they lived and worked.

They did so by putting an unexpected (“abnormal”) element into the context of public life, as in the scene “The revealing of complex form.” In the scene the actress - Ewa Lemanska - is behaving very provocatively in the context of a public space in Warsaw at the beginning of the 1970s. It is worth mentioning here that the turn of 1970/1971 - when Open Form was filmed – was a very disquieting time in Poland. It was a period of numerous changes within the socio-political sphere, and of a change of government.

Zofia Kulik – “Synchronisation of An Open Form film projection onto three screens”, 1971 - reconstr. 2001[edit]

(realization: Zofia Kulik, Przemyslaw Kwiek)

Zofia Kulik went about her diploma work in 1970 and 1971. The work adhered to the process method and consisted of two parts: one was to make a copy of the Michelangelo Buonarotti’s sculpture Moses by using hardened coloured rags, the other to prepare a simultaneous projection of about 500 slides onto three screens surrounding the viewer.

The slides shown during the three simultaneous projections constituted a kind of Kulik’s visual notepad. Since the beginning of her studies, the artist registered important events in her life, both artistic, and more personal.

This slide show was aimed at sorting out the visual material and connecting formal elements from different situations into micro-stories.

When recording a given part of the visual material (things, people, matter, etc.), the artist would often modify and animate it. Slides that documented these modifications were later put together to form a complex narration on the screen.

In 1971, concurrently working on her diploma, the artist was involved in a group realisation of the film Open Form .

After the film had been completed, the artists (Zofia Kulik i Przemyslaw Kwiek) tried several times to combine the screening of Open Form film with the two (or three) slide projections. It is worth noting that this work follows the idea of Kulik’s diploma.

Artists knew that when the show is projected on three screens, the viewer’s sight would be released; the viewer is given the possibility of changing his or her point of view (unlike in the case of a traditional cinematic projection) and as a consequence – the viewer could take some control over the creation of the work.

In this instance we can say that “the reception structure is freed from the permanent supervision of the work”.

The viewer’s gaze is being freed and the viewer is required to become an active participant between the three simultaneous projections.

A similar situation occurs during the show when the artist introduces the so-called Interrupted Projection—a sudden interruption of the show, lights turned on, and artists trying to provoke interaction with the audience.

The process of film reception had to be different from peaceful contemplation, so characteristic of classic film shows. Its ideal (in the artists’ assumptions) was active participation of the audience in the activities initiated within the framework of the show.

In 2001 Zofia Kulik managed to reconstruct one of the said combined shows of the film Open Form and slides for three screens (“Synchronisation of An Open Form film projection onto three screens”), using scores from the seventies. These scores meticulously determined the projection narration scheme.

This realisation is an interesting document of expanded cinema, and also shows very well how the recent work of Zofia Kulik, as an “organiser of very complex epic visual structures,” is a specific continuation of what she had been doing (at the beginning of the 1970s.

In “Synchronisation,” one of the artist’s first realisations made by both Kulik and Kwiek we may note a number of characteristic elements, determining the shape of her future work (such as photo-carpets). For example, “Synchronisation” expresses an original construction and similar organisational regime of complex visual structures (the manner of relating both individual narration and singular elements in relation to themselves and to the whole of the composition etc.).

Let us emphasise here that Kulik makes her current works in part out of materials registered during the seventies.

In the light of the above information, we see that this show from the early seventies is linked with the artist’s contemporary work by, for example, the occurrence of “visual idioms of the soc-age” (images of totalitarian architecture, draperies, monuments and statutes, the Palace of Science and Culture, May Day marches etc.)

Kowalski's studio[edit]

Artists of the group that calls itself "Kowalski's studio" completed their diplomas under the supervision of professor Grzegorz Kowalski at the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw. A studio space, in Kowalski's interpretation, is transformed in a laboratory of artistic actions and interpersonal relations. Instead of being a place of encounter between "master" and "disciple", the studio was, for Kowalski, a mental space, a field of constant exchange between one's "own space" (the domain of the student's inner world and artististic visions) and "common space" (the social situation, or the external reality of the studio and the street). "Didactics of process instead of didactics of the object" was the ruling principle of the group, rooted in the premises of an open form program formulated in the late 1950s by architect and urban designer, Oskar Hansen, the author of a famous (unrealized) plan for a monument dedicated to the memory of Auschwitz conceived as a road cutting the space of the camp diagonally. Professor Kowalski, Hansen's former student, developed his teaching ideas in a creative way, confronting students with tasks that went beyond the traditional requirements of "sculptural skills". A kind of psychoanalysis practiced by Kowalski made it possible for his students to work out their own artistic language, a language based on their teacher's way of thinking. Around the studio, and within it, a certain tension could be felt; the micro-community of Kowalski's students functioned in interchangeable phases of almost mystical isolation and sponteaneous interaction with the changing society around it. The most important discussions concerning the limits of art, its place in society, and the responsibility of the artist in Poland in the 1990s all originated in the projects conceived by Kowalski's studio. [1]


See also: Poland#Experimental_film.2C_avant-garde_film