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LIBERA RELATED RESEARCH PROJECT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, ANN ARBOR:
POLISH AVANT-GARDE & COUNTER CULTURE MOVEMENTS AFTER 1980

Libera is U-M SOAD's (School of Art and Design) artist-in-residence for a month during the exhibition. He will deliver the Annual Penny Stamps Lecture at SOAD, and the U-M CREES (Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies) Annual Copernicus Lecture/Symposium will focus on Libera's art, featuring many recognized art from Poland and the U.S.

Additionally, the University of Michigan is preparing a research project on Zbigniew Libera's role in Poland's art and public life: Revolution in the Attic: The Tradition of the Polish Avant-Garde, which will follow the exhibition. Curator Marysia Ostafin cooperates with a range of scholars on this project: Brian Porter (history), Genevieve Zubrzycki (sociology), Piotr Westwalewicz (Slavic), and Bogdana Carpenter (Slavic). The exhibition will be woven into the U-M CREES, Slavic, and art curriculum.

Background

Zbigniew Libera, one of the most recognized contemporary visual artists in Poland, together with a group of young sculptors, photographers, film makers, and architects, was active in the 1980's in the avant-garde group Strych (The Attic). Under the martial law regime in the early 1980's, Libera was imprisoned for printing political materials. Later in the decade he continued his involvement with Strych, whose improvised film festivals, performances, street actions, and happenings remained consistently rebellious towards all three of the great Polish centers of authority at that time: communism, the political opposition, and the Church. Libera's artistic, intellectual, and political opposition, his programmatic questioning of all sources of Polish and European authority and mythology has remained the distinctive feature of his art from the 1980's until the present, just as it has for many artists who worked and performed on the fringes of the "official culture". In this sense, Libera is emblematic of artistic rebellion in Poland, and his creative work demonstrates the most important qualities of the Polish avant-garde and counter-culture movements after 1980.

The complete restructuring of all aspects of individual and collective existence in Poland between 1980 and 2005 has been so vast that it escapes definition. A time of monumental transitions, the last decade of communist rule and the difficult and frequently disorienting creation of the post-communist Third Polish Republic were rich in artistic expressions of rebellion and a quest for self-knowledge and self-definition.

Renato Poggioli defines avant-garde art in terms of agonism (a sense of being the last generation of a disappearing civilization), antagonism (a tendency to provoke, offend, and scandalize the reading and viewing public), and activism (a belief in art as a means of politicizing the reading and viewing public and the society as a whole)[1]. These terms are applicable in the case of Polish avant-garde art since the 1980's. Creative counter-culture icons such as Zbigniew Libera and Zofia Kulik were producing works in the spirit of scandalous agitators who celebrated the departure of the old world and sought to accelerate the arrival of new structures and values.

Libera's works have been shown all over the world, but the exhibit at the University of Michigan will be the first major comprehensive exhibition of Libera's work over the last 25 years. This will also serve as a unique opportunity for U-M resources to create an extensive archive which will include not only the documentation of the exhibit but also recordings of an interview with the artist and a symposium on Libera's work.

Research Project

The research project is composed of three distinct and complementary parts:

1. A collection of photographic, video, and aural documentation of the University of Michigan exhibition of works by Zbigniew Libera in 2006, as well as documentation of the accompanying lecture, international symposium, and interview.

2. A research trip to Poland to collect additional materials; in particular, interviews with individuals from Libera's artistic circles in the 1980's and 1990's, and interviews with artists, critics, and curators documenting the reception of and responses to avant-garde art in Poland; photographic documentation of works not shown in Ann Arbor as well as the sites of the activities of Strych. These materials will add to the archives of the Annual Copernicus Endowment programs, which currently include documentation of conferences on the Polish Round Table talks (1999), Solidarity (2000), and lectures by two prominent artists associated with non-conformist contemporary Polish art, Krzysztof Wodiczko (2002) and rock singer Kora Jackowska (2004). Collected documentation will become a part of the larger archive on the Polish counter-culture. At the moment, CREES has created an extensive collection of materials on Polish rock music in the 1980's, and hopes to build upon this foundation to generate a wide-ranging archive that will be accessible to scholars. Potential interviewees in Poland include: Krzysztof Albin (Orange Alternative co-founder and semi-official spokesperson), Waldemar Baraniewski (art critic and historian), Cezary Bodzianowski (artist), Major Frydrych (Orange Alternative founder), Lukasz Gorczyca (art curator), Kora Jackowska (rock musician), Marek Jackowski (rock musician), Michal Kaczynski (art curator), Pawel Kukiz (rock musician), Zofia Kulik (artist), Mikolaj Lizut (rock critic), Lodz Kaliska (artistic group), Wojciech Mann (rock critic), Jozef Robakowski (artist), Slawomir Shuty (writer, anti-globalist, anti-consumerist), Kamil Sipowicz (artist, poet, philosopher), Kazimierz Staszewski (rock musician), Wojciech Trzcinski (art promoter);

3. Creation of a multimedia presentation about Libera and his place in the tradition of Polish avant-garde art to be presented at professional conferences in 2006 and 2007. The presentation will cover the tradition of Polish avant-garde art between 1980 and 2005 and its relation to the overall tradition of avant-garde art and the most important concepts of non-conformist thought in Europe and in Poland since the Romantic rebellion of the early 1820's. The materials will also be discussed from the perspective of the transformations of the totality of Polish life since 1980.

[1] Renato Poggioli, The Theory of the Avant-Garde, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1968, pp. 16-41, 60-77
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