FROM BOOKS AND ARTICLES
ABOUT ZBIGNIEW LIBERA'S WORK:
Body Master: A Play Kit for Children Under 9, 1995; 2 machines, 2 posters; Courtesy Paulina Kolczynska Fine Art, New York City
"Once every few years, Zbigniew Libera's work leads Polish art into new areas, defining innovative possibilities of its development. Already in the 1980's [...], he was among the most interesting creators of Polish video-art. [...] [with Correcting Devices in 1990's,] Libera had not only prefigured the appearance of the Polish "critical art", but unlike others, created very important, even outstanding works, which are not based on Western or American models. [...] The artist showed that it was possible to refer to important Surrealist projects and talk about them from the feminist perspective, because, as he has rightly pointed out, after the death of the neo-avant-garde, the only option was continuing the ethos of the left and warning against consumerism." - Krzysztof Jurecki, Masters and Positives According to Libera in: Oronsko (Sculpture Quarterly), 1-2 (54-55) 2004
"[...] already half-legendary today [...], he knows how to speak about what he does in his art. Libera's art is strategic, which, among other things, means that it comes into being as a result of his deep reflection on modernity. [...] The time has come to organize a thorough retrospective exhibition of Libera's art, to show in a single space and time what kind of leaps into our consciousness the artist has made. If Kulik's photomontages were the most expected kind of art, Libera's art is the most instructive: the measure of the Polish art of the 1990's." - Lukasz Gorczyca, The Stakes in Art in: Znak (The Sign), 12/1998, Krakow
"After 1989, during the rapid economic and social transformation process, values brought in by capitalism, including consumerism, became positive values, so they were usually uncritically accepted and sometimes even idolized. [...] Zbigniew Libera is an artist, in a sense a pioneer, who raised this issue. The issue Libera has brought up is the problem of education manipulated by consumerist culture, whose only goal is profit. [...] However, the artist is not a moralizer. [...] he isn't building a counterculture alternative, but rather he exposes the mechanistic environment in which we all live." - Piotr Piotrowski, The Meanings of Modernism in: Rebis, Poznan 1999, pp. 245-248
"While discussing Libera's works, it is incredibly important to talk about the problem of subordinating the body to our consumerist culture. [...] Piotr Rypson compares Libera's works to a computer virus, which causes the exposure - 'revelation' - of some traits of the infected system, exposure of its functional patterns. The artist's works may be defined, then, as a deconstruction strategy toward texts and products of popular culture. [...] Not only does he describe and envision the mechanisms of disciplining the body, but also by simulating them, he reduces them to absurdity." - Izabella Kowalczyk, Body and Power: Polish Critical Art of the 1990's, Sic!, Warsaw 2002
"Libera's Lego bricks are part of the genre, sometimes defined as a 'clash of references' [...] His Lego bricks are a commentary on the kind of pedagogy, which since the beginning of the 19th century has aimed at shaping normalized male citizens by promoting construction toys, which would help develop 'abstract' and 'logical' thinking. In his semiological study 'Mythologies', Roland Barthes has brought our attention to the fact that a lot of objects, considered 'children's toys', in fact constitute a catalog of adult myths, imitated by children as they are being prepared for tasks of the adult world, by reconstructing the make-believe world of goods, ownership, and brand names. [...] Like Hans Haacke, Libera uses the method of emballages, into which he writes or superimposes new content: Lego bricks visually implant an "inappropriate event" (concentration camp) into a commercialized object, which our daily perception connects to a completely different set of emotions and associations." - Sven Spieker, The Living Archives: Public Memory, Implanting Content, Context (Libera, Haacke, Wodiczko) in: Second Texts, No. 4 (64), Warsaw 2000
"These works are not involuntary reenactments of the Holocaust, but rather are purposeful attempts to lose the mastery that Holocaust narratives provide and to enter into an emotional rather than cognitive relationship with it." (p. 175)
"[...] this trend of 'playing' the Holocaust by means of toys, appears to characterize the art of this current second, third, and fourth generation of post-Holocaust survivors and bystanders. In the face of overdose of information and educational documentary material, clearly there is a need to complete a process of working through not yet "done" effectively. In the face of that overdose, "ignorance" - is needed - an ignorance not in terms of information about the events of the Holocaust, but of everything that stands in the way of a "felt knowledge" of the emotions these events entailed. In this perspective, the toys with their childish connotations that "fake" such ignorance clear away the "adult" overdose of information standing in the way of felt knowledge. [...] Only by working through on the level where knowledge is not "out there" to be fed to passive consumers but "felt" anew every time, can the participants of a culture keep in touch with the Holocaust." (p. 176) - Ernst van Alpen, Holocaust Toys: Pedagogy of Remembrance through Play, in: Impossible Images. Contemporary Art After the Holocaust, New York University Press, New York & London 2003
"The transgressive side of Libera's unauthorized body of works was, then, precisely in the offshoot of his censoring milieu. Although in 1952 the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz noted in his well-known essay "The Captive Mind" that under Communism the artist/writer has only three choices - to collaborate, emigrate, or remain silent, - history proved him wrong."
"Libera considered the make-up of such disciplinary institutions as the cloister, the hospital, the military barrack, the school, the factory, and the prison, which, in the name of general social order and political stability, aim to train, correct, and form individuals into a profitable productive force that reinforces, if not even increases, the strength of the state. 'The development of such institutions and ideologies', says Libera, creates on one hand a history of the political technology of the body and, on the other hand, a history of the human soul constantly 'produced around the body' [...]. In short, discipline constitutes a general formula of domination. Such inquiry led Libera to conclude that the classic, most paradigmatic instance of a disciplinary architecture is the concentration camp. The camp is a perfect geometrical site of observation and control. Libera acknowledges that it was the rational structure of the Lego game which led him to create the camp. 'The rationality of the Lego system is shocking', he explains, 'you cannot build an irregular construction from these blocks, or something shapeless, there will always have to be a right angle somewhere. You can only do what the rational system allows you to do. What is more, theoretically everyone can build whatever he or she wants, but in practice you build what is shown on the box'."
"Libera [...] says, is should be read as a productive provocation about children rearing and cultural norms that regulate the marketplace and shape public consent. 'This is significant', Libera opinions, since currently wars are fought not only with weapons but also with products and culture'."
"In a way akin to Mike Kelly, Libera uses toys as art to raise questions about gender, psychology, and the mechanisms that shape and control society from an early age."
"The artist, who wanted to be "morally provocative", justifies his decision by expounding that Lego is a system which brings into play Western technology, know-how, Western patterns of thought."
"In a way, then, Libera's works - be it gymnastic sets, educational toys, or correctional device - cogitate on the mechanisms that model social behavior and normalize identity. His works aim to provoke [...], reminding us that norms privilege only certain understanding, and thus, inevitably obscure others. Norms, however, can always be contested or reconceptualized through political and cultural processes. By resisting "hard" forms of censure (imprisonment) and "soft" alternatives (cultural regulation), Libera has not only eschewed the processes of normalization, but has also opened up a space of reflection about how postwar artists address Holocaust memory." - Roxana Marcoci, The Antinomies of Censorship: The Case of Zbigniew Libera, in: Index, 1998
"In his study of the development of correctional devices and educational toys, Libera argues that such devices reveal more about a society and its mechanisms for creating and enforcing its norms than any direct study of society could."
"[...] Libera adds, "As for dolls, they are used by adults to initiate children into a life in which we already participate. I present the dolls as a work of art; it means that I address them to adults." Ken's Aunt is sold to the consumer in a package, initially appearing similar to a typical Barbie doll. However, through its form, setting, and exhibition, the doll parodies imposed ideals of beauty."
"In his fascination with the mechanisms that shape society; it is interesting that, instead of focusing solely on the more straightforward mechanisms of social control, such as those he faced under martial law, Libera traces commercial forms of control in a world driven by economic priorities and the forces of production and consumption. Though rooted within the contemporary Polish context, Libera [...] tackles universal problems and questions. Foremost among these is: Who is normal? and Who takes control of normality? This becomes existential question." - Paulina Kolczynska, A World of Play, Power, and Plastic: The Contemporary Polish Art of Zbigniew Libera, in: Suitcase. A Journal of Transcultural Traffic, vol. 2, no. 1 & 2 / 1997
ON LEGO CONCENTRATION CAMP:
"Holocaust teaching and remembrance in Poland had a similar effect on Zbigniew Libera. At the conference of contemporary art and the holocaust organized by the Fondation Auschwitz in Brussels, he defended his art as follows: "Of course, I was born fifteen years after the war and sometimes people call my art 'toxic' and actually it is 'toxic'. But why? Because I am poisoned, I am poisoned of it. And that's all." Poisoning, like boredom, is the opposite of mastery, for it weakens a person. [...] But as Plato and, later, Jacques Derrida (1981) show, as they borrow a metaphor from medicine, poison can also heal by homeopathy." (p.187)
"...because of its mock dramatic style, but even more because of its second-person address that comes close to dramatic form, I consider Rosen [...], Levinthal, Katzir, and Libera within the framework of Holocaust remembrance through play. In this context, we are better off not jumping to conclusions. It is not necessary to conclude that in their provocative refusal of the "commandments" of Holocaust education and representation, these artworks imply a wholesale refusal of the relation between art and education or art and remembrance." (pp. 195-196)
"In contrast, in the wake of Kant, art is usually seen as disinterested, that is, free from educational ideals. The toy art discussed here breaks through this opposition. Distinct from such a subjugation of Holocaust art to education, Libera's works seem to imply that Holocaust art and other kinds of art are not at all opposed. In this respect Holocaust art is not different but, perhaps, only a stronger, more evident case of the pedagogical ambition of art in general. Hence, the shift this art brings to the pedagogy of remembrance also entails a change of aesthetics."
"Libera's artistic interest is focused on those cultural products that serve to educate or to form the human being, and to "form" should be understood in the figurative as well as in the literal sense. The objects that he creates are made up of devices that already exist in the contemporary cultural world, such as toys or machines used in fitness clubs or beauty salons. [...] what matters in this non-Holocaust aspect of Libera's work is the emphasis on correction or "forming". "Forming" takes on a multilayered meaning. [...]"
Although Libera's LEGO Concentration Camp Set is unique in his artistic oeuvre in having the Holocaust as its subject matter, all of his works address, literally or figuratively, the education of body and mind. In an illuminating essay, Andrew Boardman has argued that Libera challenges the contemporary belief that aesthetic values are disinterested, fluid, or free-form. On the contrary, contemporary Western art is essentially a remnant from an indelible nineteenth-century construct according to which art and education go hand in hand with moral strength and prudence. [...] the target of Libera's LEGO Concentration Camp Set is twofold. In addition to exposing the repressions and inhibitions of Holocaust education and its conceptions of remembrance, he also exposes the moral rectitude of (contemporary) art." (p. 197-198) - Ernst van Alpen, Art in Mind. New Contemporary Images Shape Thought, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London 2005
"...in the same vain as Barbie or G.I. Joe, You Can Shave the Baby brings us straight into the adult world of inhibitions, conformity, hypocrisy, and bourgeois standards, lodging itself there."
"...Lego concentration camp [...] raises the question: how long will it take our culture to create a child's desire for a concentration camp in miniature plastic form? Which cultural forces will erode the legitimacy and impact of such historical events on our contemporary mentality? And when will the historical significance of something like Holocaust finally become most closely associated with a child's game?" - Nigel Warwick, Consumption is Useless. New Art in Poland, in: Flash Art, Oct. 1996