Krzysztof Pijarski on the JL – KP project.
It has become customary to view Jerzy Lewczyński as a monumental figure. He has, after all, made invaluable contributions to Polish photography, not only as an artist but also as historian, author of archival discoveries or the Anthology of Polish Photography.
The exhibition JL – KP is both a tribute to this pivotal figure in Polish photography as well as, in a way, its deconstruction. Can the two perspectives be reconciled at all? Very much so. The problem is that the reception so far, stressing the artist’s solemn, metaphysical attitude towards photography – particularly found or rediscovered, ‘historical’ photography – has completely marginalised Lewczyński the prankster.
As often the case with revaluations of renowned artists’ work, the subject of the exhibition is a collection of documents and photographs, amassed over years by Lewczyński in his Gliwice studio. I have decided to present this archive not in the role of a ‘research source’ in a serious, historical sense, but as a support of memory, a specific representation of Lewczyński’s imaginary order, a fundamentally performative archive. This is precisely the role it plays for him: every conversation with the artist is accompanied by a stack of photographs taken out for the occasion, always in a different order. Like a bricoleur, Lewczyński uses them to construct his narratives, always anew. The archive contains hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures that confirm Lewczyński’s tendency to joke, to look at the world sideways, with tongue in cheek; self-portraits in which he uses his face as material, proving the falsity of the notion of its obviousness or legibility; or self-portraits in which he photographs himself against the background of his own works, demonstrating that solemnity can very much go hand in hand with prank.
I have decided to play with this appearance of legibility and the delusion of an archival order by presenting a series of the artist’s skittish-mocking (self)portraits, clearly referring to Witkacy’s images of the kind, together with the panels of an ‘atlas’ I have created with fragments of his archive – prints, reproductions, found pictures, artistic and occasional works, but above all, self-portraits. The main protagonist of these constellations of images remains one and the same: ‘Jerzy Lewczyński”. They show how the different spheres of the artist’s practice overlap and co-determine each other.
It is important for me to keep thwarting all attempts to arrive at a ‘source’, ‘truth’ or ‘essence’. It is not the original that matters for me here but the originality of attitude. At the same time, I remain true to Lewczyński’s proclaimed need for establishing ties with the past. ‘My’ Lewczyński does not believe in photography as a valuable artefact, because it is body that is its actual medium. Photography so construed lives in the substance of memory and interpretation, not on paper but in encounter.