Art projects – activities

Graphic Arts – activities

Since 2014, graphic artists affiliated with Group 404 (Grupa 404) have been undertaking a number of artistic activities (including exhibitions, actions, conferences, meetings, workshops and publications) that enable analysing changes in the methods of graphic articulation. They briefly refer to social issues in the context of contemporary cultural phenomena and explore the role of contemporary graphics in a public context.

Basically, these activities focus on three areas of exploration.

The first area is related to the functioning of graphics at art academies in the context of new phenomena in art (1: 1 art, material realism, utility activities).

The second area focuses on exploring new ways of using the potential of art to shape culture (reference to the avant-garde).

The third area deals with the topics of graphic creation within the aesthetics of creative processes (B. Jasiński), post-artistic activities (J. Ludwiński) and Marxist aesthetics (G. Lukács).

Regarding the first area, graphics at art academies are usually divided into two main fields of study. One of them is related to the activity focused on design issues in the field of visual communication, while the other is personalised artistic activity using the potential of printing and new media. Until recently, this division at the UAP corresponded to two fields of study: Visual Communication and Graphic Techniques. Graphic techniques have so far been associated with the area of ​​artistic activity involved solely in learning about printing techniques and technologies (including classical and digital ones).

It mainly took up issues related to the role of the graphic matrix, explored the media functions of materials and introduced new technologies. The change of the name from Graphic Techniques’ to Graphic Arts, introduced in 2017 by the dean of the Faculty of Graphic Arts and Visual Communication, Professor Andrzej Bobrowski, allows for expanding the area of ​​graphic arts to include phenomena adhering to contemporary creative activist attitudes and to public activities in urban space and on the internet, which are focused on the usefulness and experience of art, and not on a reified object.[1] In this way, a division was created between activity related to visual communication, which searches for a clear message that takes account of contemporary cultural trends, and graphic arts, which use information dissemination carriers (such as books, press and the internet) to shape new social attitudes. In the course of these considerations, a new definition of graphic arts has been created and additionally reworked in the book entitled Bunt. Nowe ekspresje [Bunt: New Expressions], published by the Faculty of Graphic Arts and Visual Communication of the UAP.[2]

The second area of ​​research concerns issues related to the potential ‘based on trust in a possible, non-existent, yet achievable reality’.[3] In this context, artists focus on finding hidden mechanisms that determine the organisation of value systems and social behaviour. Creative activities consist of exposing the concept ‘which relies on the lack of awareness of the participants in the process’[4].

In this case, they serve to produce aesthetic social practices that are ignored and marginalised in contemporary culture. Such actions were taken by avant-garde artists, whose goals were to conduct social dialogue and combine art with everyday life. This was a kind of interference in the common culture, which involved, inter alia, publishing original works in magazines and participating in political events.[5] As regards the second wave of Poznań expressionism, it is worth emphasising that its representatives were involved in social activism, and not in the search for aesthetic canons. Their activities consisted of making cultural changes beyond local constraints in favour of global values ​​aimed at social equality.[6] Artists broke with the strategy of action based on linear thinking and creative practices within the existing culture. In this way, they avoided the schematic thinking that places revolutionary ideas on an equal footing with others, thereby neutralising them.

When repeating unconventional gestures in the institutional circulation of art, contemporary artists do not continue the ideological intentions of the avant-garde, but lead to the aestheticisation of their artworks.[7] On the other hand, the avant-garde thought is extended in creative activities focused on the function of an artwork, and not on its morphology. The interest in expressionism among graphic artists currently affiliated with the UAP results primarily from the analysis of the creative attitude of the Poznań avant-garde artists who were active between 1918 and 1920. They focused on introducing social reforms, building new organisations and searching for universal values ​​of the multicultural structure of a democratic community, based on local contexts. Coincidences, such as the convergence between the anniversary of establishing the Bunt group (1918) and the Graphic Department (1919) and the person of Jan Jerzy Wroniecki – a member of the Bunt group, the head of the Graphic Department at that time and co-founder of the State School of Decorative Arts in Poznań, have currently increased the need for dialogue with the avant-garde.

The third area of ​​research determines the role of graphic activities in the context of contemporary issues related to the creation of aesthetic space, which makes it possible to bring out new content connected with the assumptions of the artistic avant-garde, striving to negate the existing culture.[8] Creative activities that break out of the consumer world are opposed to cultural hegemony, that is, the control of individual and community behaviour processes[9] and the imposition of patterns by privileged social classes. Counteracting the processes of reification and alienation – the consequences of the capitalist way of organising work – places contemporary creativity in the area of ​​social activism. It becomes essential for viewers to experience art – to participate in an artistic activity – which, at the same time, allows avoiding the objectification of artistic projects.[10] Having a real impact on society and ‘not reflecting the world, art blends, in a way, with the very matter of life, participating in it on the same basis of the reality of existence as facts and social events’[11].

Contemporary projects that melt into everyday life are multi-element activities, in which the passive context (such as existing space elements, historical and cultural background) and the active context (added elements, such as description, arrangement and sound) play an equivalent role. This concerns critical works presented by Poznań graphic artists. Their message is built by social themes, cultural contexts, arrangement, description and other artistic projects and gallery spaces. Artistic strategy based on the construction of reality does not only manifest the defetishisation of things, but it also allows for creating a dialectical unity of contemporary social phenomena and aesthetic visions. Graphic artists have de-objectified graphics and turned their presentations into events activating the viewers.

Maciej Kurak

[1] György Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 1972.

[2] Bunt Nowe Ekspresje, Maciej Kurak (ed.), Poznań: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Artystycznego w Poznaniu, 2021, p. 305

[3] Alina Brodzka, O kryteriach realizmu w badaniach literackich, Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1966, p. 123.

[4] Ibidem, p. 130.

[5] ‘The new state, the new provincial and municipal authorities (at that time mostly under the control of the socialists – the SPD) regarded the expressionist leaders as representatives of changes in German society, changes brought about by the revolution, the goals of which were shared by the movement.’ John Willett, Ekspresjonizm, New York: World University Library, 1970, p. 150.

[6] Expressionists were inspired by medieval trends (Gothic). They alluded to ugliness, carnality and the fragility of existence. They used creature traits to show social equality. For more about creature traits used in medieval culture, see: Erich Auerbach, Mimesis. Rzeczywistość przedstawiona w literaturze Zachodu, Vols. I and II, Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1968.

[7] The consequences of repeating avant-garde gestures have also been discussed by Peter Bürger: ‘If an artist today signs a stove pipe and exhibits it, that artist certainly does not denounce the art market but adapts to it. Such adaptation does not eradicate the idea of individual creativity, it affirms it.’ For more see: Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-garde, Manchester:Manchester University Press, 1984, p. 52.

[8] ‘At the basis of all the significant relations raised further, there are social experiences and the artist’s individual awareness of their own condition in the world, related to their disagreement with this world. Understood in this way, the subject’s rebellion against the mystified world and, at the same time, the desire to demystify it, the desire to reach reality and authentic meanings direct the entire artistic activity of the avant-garde artist towards the renewal of meanings in the vision of a different, alternative reality.’ Andrzej Turowski, Wielka utopia awangardy. Artystyczne i społeczne utopie w sztuce rosyjskiej 1910 – 1939, Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1990, p. 181.

[9] ‘It is a lived system of meanings and values – constitutive and constituting – which as they are experienced as practices appear as reciprocally confirming. It thus constitutes a sense of reality for most people in the society, a sense of absolute because experienced reality beyond which it is very difficult for most members of the society to move, in most areas of their lives. It is, that is to say, in the strongest sense a “culture”, but a culture which has also to be seen as the lived dominance and subordination of particular classes.’ Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature, Oxford: Oxford University press, 1977, p. 110.

[10] The process of objectification is important in the institutional and market functioning of an artwork because only then is it possible to include the artwork in the trade and ranking circulation…

[11] Bogusław Jasiński, Twórczość a sztuka. Wprowadzenie do estetyki procesów twórczych, Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1989, p. 438.