Desymbolizations, 1978

‘Desymbolization’ is a process of cleansing objects of their symbolic meaning and neutralizing the cultural code used to interpret them. In the photographic series, the meaning of certain gestures (greeting, blessing), objects (a relief-carved matzevot), or painting compositions (e.g. Jan Matejko’s or Jacek Malczewski’s) remains in a sphere of potentiality. Rather than destroying the symbols themselves, Desymbolizations show their power of action. The series was informed by Dłubak’s ‘empty sign’ theory, developed by the artist from the mid-1970s onwards and so described by Adam Sobota: "(...) the theory highlights the destructive aspect of an art whose aim would be to overthrow the established rules of cognition. What would be described as art is this faculty of the mind that enables a constant cognitive effort towards reality. The construction of an ‘empty sign’ – the proper object of art – can take place only through the desymbolization of existing signs." (A. Sobota, Dłubak. "Prace z lat 1945-80", exh. cat., Wrocław: Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu, February-March 1981)


Dłubak photographed matzevot (Jewish tombstones) featuring the motif of hands in the spread-fingered gesture of priestly blessing at the Jewish Cemetery at Okopowa Street in Warsaw. Like other motifs relief-carved on a tombstone, the blessing gesture (Hebrew: Birkat ha-kohanim) attests to the deceased person’s social status or profession – in this case it is a priest or a person serving at a synagogue. Dłubak juxtaposed the matzevot photographs with a series of images of hands, shown, like in "Gesticulations", against a black background. In one of the photographs the fingers are spread in the same manner as in the Jewish blessing gesture. But within the sequence the gesture is not performative – the hands do not bless.
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