Marek Piasecki. Untitled. Undated (c. 1957-59). Heliograph. 23.7 x 26.7 cm
This is the latest show at Mummery+Schnelle, the first exhibition in the UK of the work of Polish artist Marek Piasecki [1935-2011]. A photographer, graphic artist, painter, sculptor, and creator of objects and installations – the most important of which were his successive studios – Piasecki was a truly independent phenomenon who did not fit the mainstream narrative of Polish postwar art. Although his work received some critical attention from the late 1950s into the ‘60s, and he had connections to the 2nd Cracow Group (whose most famous member was Tadeusz Kantor) Piasecki was never a central figure and his decision to emigrate to Sweden in 1967 further distanced him from artistic life in Poland. It was not until a retrospective exhibition was presented at the Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw in 2008, that the significance and importance of his work to Polish art in the second half of the 20th century began to be recognized.
The exhibition at Mummery + Schnelle has been curated in collaboration with Rafal Lewandowski of Galeria Asymetria in Warsaw, and with the artist’s widow, Mrs Joanna Piasecka. It includes works dating from the late 1950s until Piasecki’s move to Sweden in 1967, focusing on two main areas of his practice, firstly the experimental abstract heliographs and miniatures that excited most critical interest during the artist’s lifetime, and secondly his photographs of dolls and of his extraordinary studio in Cracow. An essay by art historian Maggie Iversen accompanies the exhibition.
Piasecki made his first abstract photographs – his heliographs – in 1955. They were created by recording traces of spilled liquids placed on a photosensitive base (a glass plate) and subsequently transferred onto photographic paper. Further experiments produced various shapes through the use of transparent materials, such as pieces of celluloid, or mechanical actions, like drawing, directly onto a photosensitive base. The heliographs were set in deep-boxed frames to emphasise the impression of three-dimensional ‘objects’. At the same time Piasecki was also creating his miniatures. These are of small format and were treated as ‘paintings’ that combined the elements of the heliographic technique, collage and relief printing. Piasecki created his miniatures by directly treating photographic paper with chemical agents, or other stimuli, as well as sticking on them various ‘alien bodies’ such as dried petals and leaves, or small pieces of sheet metal.
Piasecki started to photograph his collection of dolls in 1959. The resulting works have close links to surrealism and nouveau-realisme. The dolls that Piasecki photographed were ordinary children’s toys that he transformed, in the words of the critic J. Bogucki, by “dressing them up, posing them, arranging them, illuminating them, thus depriving them of their infantile carelessness. He encumbers them with the weight of the moral and mental experiences of the last quarter of the century”. He sometimes performed surgical operations on his doll models, taking them to pieces, creating anatomical curios, removing some body parts and multiplying others. According to curator Joanna Kordiak-Piotrowska, the origins of a fragmented female body should not be sort solely in the perception of the woman as an object. “What is also important is the personal, tragic experience of war seen through the eyes of a small boy, an experience that, like with many artists of the same generation, forever changed the subject’s perception of the human body. It is probably also the source of the artist’s characteristically surrealistic vision of the world.”
During the artist’s lifetime, art critics variously described Piasecki’s studio at Siemiradzkiego Street in Cracow as a cabinet of curiosities, a micro-galaxy, a surrealistic pharmacy, a museum of enchanted objects, a gesamtkunstwerk, an art-habitat or a cultivation of objects, where in a dark room, filled with shelves and drawers, the artist was deconstructing the fragments of collected objects/pictures, as if on a dissecting table, and was organizing ‘performances’ for his friends. More than a living and working space, Piasecki’s studio was simultaneously an object, an environment and an action: a world of art detached from the everyday world.