Jaromir Jedliński is talking to Stanisław Dróżdż

Jaromir Jedliński: Years have passed since we had our last conversation about this publication. That conversation has come out as Conversation VIII in my cycle Conversations about Art in the summer issue of Odra dated July-August 1999. Since that time you have implemented many projects and had a number of expositions of your works in Poland and abroad such as that display in the Gallery ‘Foksal’ or in the Polish Pavilion as part of 50th Biennale in Venice in 2003 where you presented environment entitled Alea iacta est. However, I believe that although you are continuously creating your new works, they all are somehow in a mysterious way recognizable as yours. They all must be characterized by a common feature which I am willing to name Dróżdż’s Constant

Stanisław Dróżdż: It’s a really accurate term. Years of practice have contributed to the formation of poetics which can be now referred to as Dróżdż’s Constant.

J.J.: I’m saying that because as the people who deal with art and humanities we are sometimes attracted by a chance and a hope to capture something constant so I propose the term of Dróżdż’s Constant as the notion applicable in sciences which are intended to discover universal principles. What do you think of the aspect of constancy and variability in your work?

S.D.: When it comes to constancy I think that the fact that I have been creating concrete poetry since 1967/ 1968 year of the previous century makes me recognizable by the very quantity of what I have produced. Not to mention the fact that while starting my studies of Polish Philology I knew that they were absolutely essential for me to do something completely different from what they taught me. And I think that I have managed to do achieve this goal because my studies didn’t teach me what I do nowadays. As for variability, what has changed is the fact that in the beginning, I created single or sometimes double and treble (diptychs and triptychs) plates and nowadays I make enormous installations. In the year 1977, I presented in-between in the Gallery ‘Foksal’ which was a large project but the installation Alea iacta est was even larger, it was simply enormous and it exceeded my dreams and my imaginations. I adjust every time my work to the place where I have a possibility to implement my project. This variability, as far as I know, is not really meaningful. I would focus on the constancy rather than variability because variability is slightly likely to occur, slightly noticeable so only the constant core of my works makes them recognizable as mine.

J.J.: You have been invariably sticking to concrete poetry which you have been creating since the second half of 1960s and you are constantly using the term concept-shapes to refer to your particular artistic projects integral in their conceptual – textual – numerical – visual and spatial aspect. Therefore, what you are creating is art, isn’t it? However, the areas you focus on in your work change – sometimes it is semantics, sometimes – the language game in the meaning proposed by Wittgenstein or sometimes both of them or, I suppose, another time these are reflections on the links in-between the realms of words and numbers whose area seems to be defined by the thought. In his new essay entitled Dróżdż’s Chapel, Tadeusz Sławek wrote about your work, mainly in the reference to your last exhibition presented in the Gallery ‘Foksal’ in 2005 entitled: words, sentences/digits, numbers – reciprocal pervasion. He indicated the motives in your work referring to philosophy (Descartes), aesthetics (Schiller) or ration and emotion (love speech), religion (Gospel of Saint Lukas), literature (Finnegans Wakeby by Joyce, Inverted Light by Karpowicz) and visual arts (Rothko). I believe that your work, which you do not make any author’s comment on (unless you are asked to do it as now), releases sometimes really fruitful explanations of itself or even revels its own origins, as it has been being described and defined for many years by Tadeusz Sławek. New reflections by this author entitled Unexpected Imperfection. Theology of Prepositions Used by Stanisław Dróżdż was also written in relation to the recent exhibition of your works held in Muzalewska Gallery in Poznan. How do you refer to the question of the relation in-between the message which is present or even concealed in your works and the attempts to interpret it and discuss about it? Anyway, let’s talk about concept-shapes first.

S.D.: Concept-shapes epitomize materialization of language and thinking as they emphasize the material aspect of these areas of concepts. It is all about the integrity of language. The shapes of concepts as their name indicates are integral in their conceptual – textual – numerical – visual and spatial aspect as you described it yourself in your question. Yes, you have defined it really accurately.

J.J.: But what you do is called art, isn’t it?

S.D.: This is poetry. Actually, it is art which is still poetry. If poetry is art, you are right – what I do is called art.

J.J.: All right, but let us go further – sometimes what appears here is semantics, another time it is semiotics and another time the language game – the exhibition which will be held in Poznan will be entitled Language Is a Game. Do you want to refer here to language game or language games?

S.D.: These two areas, in fact, really border to each other.

J.J.: Apart from this border, you deal with the border in-between the realms of words and numbers.

S.D.: Yes, a good example to prove that is the exhibition in Venice. We usually play to get something. However, in my opinion, we cannot either win or lose.

J.J.: You called your last exhibition in the Gallery ‘Foksal’, let me remind once again its title: words, sentences/digits, numbers – reciprocal pervasion, whereas in the text Dróżdż’s Chapel produced by Tadeusz Sławek in reference to this exhibition, there is an interesting commentary on the allusions to the Gospel as well as to Rothko which are present in your works…

S.D.: I have participated once in such an exhibition in Great Britain whose starting point was defined by the quotations from the Bible. I quoted the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John: In the beginning was the Word. This quotation was taken from English Bible so the translation was correct.

J.J.: In our previous conversation, which I referred to at the beginning of our meeting, we were discussing on your relations with Tymoteusz Karpowicz; I would like to ask about this question again because last year this poet whose works were not known very well died and suddenly, as it often happens, only now his works are anew recalled, published and discussed. Anyway, he was still important for you, I believe. What, do you think, is the meaning of Karpowicz’s achievements in the area of poetry, reflections on language and his general attitude to art for your work?

S.D.: Karpowicz and Białoszewski are my favorite poets who do not live with us anymore. When it comes to Rothko and these possibly religious meanings such as the chapel and so on, I think that the following example can explain this problem. In Venice I met a Jewish woman born and brought up in Lvov but living in Argentina who walked up to me and asked if I do anything related to God. I told her: ‘Everything is related to God’. And that is true. Everything what I do is aimed for God’s praise and for the benefit of the fellowmen.

J.J.: What will you say about various explanations made by many commentators on your works?

S.D.: In fact, as a rule I do not give any explanations. What I give is simply the essence squeezed by me which is, exactly, my work. I give it to its recipients for consideration. If they want, they can look at it and read it. If they don’t want, they can well walk past it. If somebody comments on it and explains it, it is good, but it is not my business.

J.J.: But what I wanted to ask you about is if you are interested in these commentaries or not really?

S.D.: Of course I am. I read them and I’m interested in them and usually everything is true in them. If I trust someone in this respect, I know that this person will write accurately and insightfully about my work. Certainly, I don’t mean that these persons should praise me but I just expect that they will approach insightfully what I created and then I am usually glad and satisfied with that.

J.J.: What traditions in the literature, art and philosophy – you are not talking much about it – are revived in your work, especially at the current moment of your work?

S.D.: To be honest, it’s difficult to say that they are important exactly at the moment. Since I was young I’ve been reading writings of such authors as Kafka, Canetti, Karpowicz, Białoszewski, Krynicki, Wojaczek because I was really interested in them. They are deeply in my mind. As for art, I’m inspired by Stażewski, Strzemiński, Finlay but more in the theoretical aspect of their work than the practical one. I am also interested in Opałka, Kozłowski … as well as – from the youngest artists – in Małgosia Dawidek Gryglicka.

J.J.: I have always wanted to ask you about the question of memory/forgetting. What I mean now is, for example, your project entitled Forgetting as well as a general phenomenon which mostly seems to characterize the culture dominating nowadays with its nearly deliberate oblivion, amnesia (although many participants of this dominating culture may not be aware of that.) How would you describe the relations in-between remembering and forgetting in creating something new, something own in artistic expression and in life in overall?

S.D.: Forgetting is simply a process, the same as it is in my work under the same title. This process occurs in our lives and it just happens itself. For example, a person close to us died, two weeks ago we were in despair and then we are growing more and more indifferent, in one year time – what will remain of us?

J.J.: This is a natural process, but there is also something like conscious not-remembering or even removing from memory and purposeful forgetting.

S.D.: This is simply lack of knowledge.

J.J.: I’m not talking about the lack of knowledge but about using this lack of knowledge…

S.D.: I think that it is mainly ignorance. If you don’t know something, you say ‘I can’t remember’ or ‘I don’t know’. In fact, sclerosis doesn’t hurt.

J.J.: What I mean are the situations where the effects of sclerosis are painful, indeed! When I look at your project Forgetting I don’t know if the letters in consecutive rows are disappearing because when sclerosis occurs our tongue grows awkward or maybe there comes someone who removes these letters and covers them with paint etc. All these aspects contribute to oblivion; however, the most minacious form of oblivion is deliberate forgetting which overtakes larger and larger areas of our lives. Oblivion! Oblivion is also a form of forgetting, don’t you think so?

S.D.: I see and I agree. What I am talking about is that honest form of forgetting in such situations as those when I’ve forgotten a word or when I want to call a friend and I dial a number and then… I forget why I wanted to call. Then I switch off and five minutes later I know and I call again and say what I meant.

J.J.: Could you say something about your subsequent reactivations and, if I can put it in this way, implementations of your projects which initially were created for particular venues. I refer here, for instance and, in particular, to such projects as in-between presented in Gallery ‘Foksal’ in 1977 which has been later on presented and quoted in many exhibition spaces as well as in numberless reproductions and publications (sometimes even overused). Another example of such kind of projects is the already mentioned project Alea iacta est presented in Venice in 2003. I’d like to ask about the relation in-between an initial conception and the venue and circumstances of its first and then its subsequent implementation, about the appearance of this first concept and the nature of its existence.

S.D.: This is a really simple issue, I only must know the parameters, which are the dimensions: the height, width and the length of the room and, obviously, the locations of doors and windows.

J.J.: And how about this implementation in Venice? What can you do with this project in further venues?

S.D.: The Polish Pavilion in Venice made an ideal venue for it.

J.J.: However, if we wanted to see it again now, a few years after its presentation in Venice, will we have to find an identical pavilion with the same dimensions, locations of windows and doors or will it be possible to adjust to a completely different space?

S.D.: They were to do it in the Art Museum in Lodz, I was talking to the director Borusiewicz, who is now the ex-director. They were supposed to do it within two years since my handing over my project but they haven’t done it yet. In-between has been reconstructed a number of times but I haven’t participated in the installation works every time. I have usually been satisfied with these implementations because it is enough for me to know the parameters of the room.

J.J.: Does it mean that it has been written as sheet music, as a piece of music. It was composed once and has existed somewhere since then. Then the performer comes and plays it. Does the same rule apply to your concept-shapes? Does it mean, in your opinion, that the project in-between presented in Gallery ‘Foksal’ can be presented a number of times?

S.D.: Yes, but we have to obey the rules of the game. The interior may be even ten times larger or it also could be smaller but the rules must be respected. What rules should be respected is another issue.

J.J.: In fact, your thoughts and your work refer also to the labyrinth of language, to the language Babel Tower where you are trying to indicate a common leading thread for all the users of ethnic languages which would be a thread of communication in-between them. At the Art Biennale in Venice, in the Polish Pavilion where the project Alea iacta est was presented, you set the Rules of the Game. That was a conceptual game proposed by you to the recipients of your work and the code of these rules was registered in several dozen languages and various alphabets such as Latin alphabet as well as Farsi and Hebrew one, although the game itself was non-lingual in its character, widely-known likewise the old game of dice and universal likewise a number and the will to win. In your projects implemented throughout recent years this universality, which was observable in your early works based on punctuation marks forming geometrical and symbolic shapes as well as on numbers and digits, seems to be dominating. Does it result from any of your inclinations or aspirations or is it a derivative pragmatically related to the fact that your works are nowadays often presented in the exhibition spaces and publications in foreign country or – in other words – beyond the area where Polish language is used?

S.D.: I deal with a universal concept of language, I recommend reading Universal Language by Umberto Eco, which is a really great publication. Another book which has come out recently is in-between Visual Arts, Poetry and Music, but I don’t remember its author. Could you imagine, that at the beginning of the year I had some phone calls from Educational Publishing Houses with a request to publish my texts in the course books for first classes of primary school pupils. Of course, I let them publish them but I don’t know if they have appeared there or not, I’d have to check it. It was one plate of The Hourglass (‘it will be, it is, it was’) and there were also plans to publish Forgetting.

J.J.: Yes, and it also does not require translation, even you needn’t go to Eskimo people, it would be enough to show this work to a German person and no translation is necessary.

S.D.: I presented such project entitled From Here to There at Lipski Fair. There was a German man who said: it is possible to understand it by itself. In fact, he understood the sense of this project but he was a poet.

J.J.: Yes, that’s right. However, when we have 54 plates in The Hourglass and each of them has a description ‘Ït was. It is. It will be’ and then vice versa ‘It will be. It is. It was’ and all other combinations, that all is not really understandable by itself.

S.D.: Of course, but it is enough to look at three words: ‘It will be. It is. It was.’ I still believe that regardless a foreign language used by some of potential viewers, only the words which are basic for a given text should be translated. When it comes to The Hourglass there is also a question of a mathematical permutation.

J.J.: That’s right but they have to be translated, anyway. What is more, in different languages based on different alphabets the text is read in different directions likewise in Hebrew or in Japanese. In this case, it is impossible to understand the message without translation. Anyway, I also would like to ask you to reveal something from your method of work. Could you tell us about the way of your thinking and the manner in which you discuss and agree with yourself the arrangement of your new projects in the rooms of Muzalewska Gallery in Poznan this time. You don’t know this place from your experience, do you? In other words, I’d like to ask about the relation in-between specific concept-shapes and a given exhibition interior.

S.D.: When it comes to my method of work, we have partly discussed that. I ask first: how many plates will be necessary there? When I know that number I arrange the whole composition in my mind. You are going to have this next to this and that next to that and everything will be taken into consideration.

J.J.: And how about such exhibitions as that one presented in the Upper Silesian Museum at Marek Meschnik’s, where was, for instance, the Coffin-Cradle and textual concept-shapes from various periods of your creation works e.g. old works and new works.

S.D.: The Coffin-Cradle was new at that time but there were also older works. That’s right, I decide on the conception of presenting every item: this should go here, that should go there. Everything is specific and concrete to me including the places. Likewise concrete poetry approaches the language as something concrete and specific and concretizes it. I remember that being a student whenever I went to sleep I used to keep a diary and when I woke up at night I used to write down what came to my mind, I used to catch the concepts. When it comes to my work, a lot happens in sub-consciousness and then it jumps to consciousness.

J.J.: When you were presenting your last exhibition dedicated to Gallery ‘Foksal’ you said during its display that it was the first part and the second one or even the second and the third one is going to be in Poznan. However, it seems that something has changed and you are preparing something completely new for Poznan, aren’t you? Is it new from the beginning to the end, from A to Z?

S.D.: Yes, that is what I was planning those days but now I know that it is completely new from A to Z including new works, different works and it could develop further if we had even more space. Sometimes, it will be a triptych, sometimes a diptych or single plates. Anyway, it is still an open idea and for instance in case of The Hourglass these 54 plates exhaust all the possibilities or Alea iacta est presents all the configurations of throwing six dices. An IT specialist just sat at the computer and developed a program in accordance to my guidelines which would adjust this composition to the dimensions and shape of the exhibition space. It presents all configurations possible to achieve while throwing six dices, which makes altogether almost three hundred thousand combinations of digits from 1 to 6 corresponding to the number of spots on the sides of each die. The situation at the exhibition in Poznan is more open in character. I’m trying to provide the viewers with possibly the widest choice. When the viewer comes to me and says: ‘Dróżdż, say what it is!’ I may say something but if someone’s thoughts are well-organized, the person will see themselves what is intended to be shown and said in each work.

Poznań – Sławków – Wrocław, summer/ autumn 2006/ winter 2007
The text has been published in: Stanisław Dróżdż, Language Is a Game [exhibition catalogue], Muzalewska Gallery, Poznań, 2007.
©2007 Stanisław Dróżdż & Jaromir Jedliński