A few years ago while walking across the inner yard of an apartment building in Łódź I did not suspect that something extraordinary might come my way in such a place. However, this ordinary yard made an unexpectedly strong visual impression on me. Apart from general untidiness I noticed a large, colourful pile under the wall, surrounded by a steel-grey heap of garbage and debris. Closer inspection revealed that the pile consisted of empty containers of photographic film. Granted, everything that was lying there was garbage, but this colourful pile was something different and strange; two different worlds lay before me. This curious visual effect was created by the surprising contrast of surrounding greyness and the colourful pile of containers. Its presence had something mysterious and provoking about it; it was like a colorful butterfly flying over a potato field in autumn.
This scene in the yard was also accompanied by – in my opinion – a kind of intriguing silence – the silence of those rejected objects which nevertheless, because of my profession, seemed intimate. This elusive impression instantly brought back to my memory the words of a song by Ewa Demarczyk, very suitable in this situation: “…you were colourfully silent”. Yes, those containers were colourfully silent with their undiscovered creative potential.
My exhibition is an artistic reflection of this visual and emotional sensation branded in the author’s memory by the meeting with those discarded containers.
The exposition consists of two series of works, contrasted formally and juxtaposed thanks to the way they have been placed in the gallery. The first, situated on the floor under the wall, is a chaos of randomly scattered containers; the second – namely, the works hanging on the wall – is the result of control over the element of matter in the form of subjectively ordered structures. The lower row is made of heaps of discarded hundreds of photo-graphic film containers – this is raw reality (though, for obvious reasons, limited), self-expression of sheer objects. The upper set of works is formed by textural assemblages which consist of almost three hundred elements, i.e. containers. The assemblages must be interpreted by means of the lower row of objects, as both rows (formally in opposition) complement each other in a specific way. They create relations between two forms of presence, two “densities” of containers. They are a game of creative invention with chance.
One should remember here that the photographic container for 35 milimetre photographic film has been in use in an almost unchanged form for 90 years now. It is a specific kind of sealed container whose fundamental feature is that it is lightproof. It is also one of those few containers which are used for a short period of time and then thrown away untouched. Once upon a time those containers were made of black bakelite, sealed with narrow brand tape, but since the 70s of the previous century they have gradually become more individualized. Little metal cans of cylindrical shape took on the colours of concrete photographic companies, individual graphic designs and texts informing the client about the type of film they contain. Containers gained aesthetic features and became visually attractive objects in themselves.
And it is precisely those visual features, especially colour and identical shape, that make this container an unusual though interesting means of artistic expression. In artistic practice this container, freed of its pragmatic function, becomes a module (like a cube in a mosaic) that might be used to create plastic objects, for example assemblages.
The assemblages made of such containers, presented at the exhi-bition, when deprived of the context of the lower row, ought to be considered autonomous plastic works.
Photographic film containers as material of an artistic work were a completely new experience for me although I had once used non-photographic material in my artistic career. Namely, I made use of spools and protective tapes of coiled film when preparing my individual exhibition called “Hommage á G. Eastman” which I presented in 1989 at Mała Galeria ZPAF [Association of Polish Photographic Artists] in Toruń.
The simple, spindly shape of the container which is always the same, and four dominating colours (yellow, red, blue and green) in a way force one to create sets which are geometrical in character. My thinking went along exactly those lines. The role of the container in the structure of the work has been reduced to colourful dots which make up more or less regular shapes, linear rhythms, abstract spots or stylized drawings. In this way decorative assembla-ges have come into being (though, of course, it is not the only way to use those containers in a work of art). The physical form of the container became a secon-dary or even an invisible feature. What dominates is bright colour and texture which is determined by the material employed.
The assemblages are limited formally: all works have the same format, the containers are set verti-cally and the plain, limited by a wooden frame, is covered by them completely. Those rules allowed me to concentrate on the composition built, as I have said, on colour, and to preserve the formal coherence of all works. In spite of the discipline I adopted, two exceptions took place; in one case, due to the multi-plication of an image its height was doubled, and in the second, the containers have been placed horizontally.
The effect of such games played with those containers was 25 assemblages. At the exhibition they have been divided into groups of 3 or 4 works and set in an order which allows to see the conse-cutive phases of the exploration of artistic potential
of the material. The starting point ara the works which shows the colour foundation of the containers. The assemblages that follow are its derivation and they form sequences: complicated patterns within the same colours, colour mutations of identical forms, different figures set against the same background, carpetlike structures, representational forms.
Each group of works forms a certain separate, expressive entity and stands for the specific emotional tone of the author.
Was it worthwhile to devote so much time to what is, after all, garbage? Yes, because they turned out to be more attractive than I thought at first. Gradually, as I spent more and more time with those containers, they revealed their mysteries and became a medium which liberated my imagination. Close contact with this mass of containers gave me the feeling of sensual happiness, the happiness of a child who builds structures of building blocks unrecognizable to anyone else, without measure or any boundaries.
I snatched this waste material of our civilization from the garbage can and preserved it half-way (though only for a short time of the exhibition) between the role of a container they had already fulfilled and the visit in a blast furnace. Let me also add here that the invasion of digital technology on photography might soon make the traditional container obsolete and deprive us of the pleasure of contact with this pretty box.
The world of my assemblages was created from this chaotic multitude of little containers just as the World we live in was created from chaotic primordial matter. I would like my exhibition to allude to this key moment in history, most of all by means of its opening date – October 22nd , 2004, at 18.00. As Bishop of Armagh, James Usscher, claimed in his “Annales Veteris Testamentis...”, published in 1650, the World was created on the 23rd of October, 4004 B.C. at 6 pm. Thus the opening of my exhibition takes place precisely the day before the anniversary of this event. Although it is impossible today to reconcile the biblical dogma of world creation with scientific theories, the above date is more “human” and therefore easier to grasp by human imagination. It is a specific licentia poetica, so akin to artistic creation.
Grzegorz Bojanowski 1997/2004
Translation by Maciej Świerkocki