Scientific Conference: Dada Impulse in Polish Twentieth Century Arts and Literature

ms², Ogrodowa 19
12 - 13 December 2015 

Submission deadline: 20th September 2015 (extended)

Was there any Dada movement in Poland? Opinion is divided. Most of the academic narrative links up radical artistic and literary movements that emerged in Poland at the turn of the 1910s and 1920s with Futurism while at that time in Europe Futurist agenda was in many ways already slightly “passe” or at least deeply rooted in the context of artistic phenomena. 

At that time the artistic circles in Zurich, Berlin, Paris and New York vibrated in the rhythm of „Dada”, which was a natural environment inspiring the sparks of artistic experiments. Remembering this period, Aleksander Wat was using the terms of „Futurism” and „Dadaism” interchangeably; many examples of avant-garde works of art created in Poland at that time exhibit characteristics common with the Dadaist attitude.

The situation was similar after the WWII, especially in the 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s when, on the one hand, Polish art was, even if marginally, incorporated into Neo-Dadaist manifestations, e.g., in the Fluxus movement, and gave them, on the other hand, a specific flavour. Apparently, Polish Dadaism and Neo-Dadaism have until now remained an unexamined territory suffering from some kind of oppression. By revealing and examining the specificity of the phenomena and through reflection upon the reasons why the subject is missing from the history of Polish art, we could importantly supplement the picture of the Polish culture of the 20th century.

The conference will be an opportunity to discover and discuss Dadaist themes in Polish culture of the 20th century, starting from the period of historic avant-garde until the 1980s. Papers presented at the conference will tackle one of the four below presented subjects.

First two panels are planned for 12th December, further two for 13th December 2015. Each panel will include an introduction presented by the moderator and four contributions, ca. 30 min. each followed by discussion.

It is an OPEN CALL event and the participation in conference sessions is free of charge.  Organisers do not cover the costs of transport and/or accommodation. We plan to publish conference proceedings in Polish.

Individuals interested in taking part in the Conference are requested to submit their applications until 20 September 2015 with abstracts of their contributions in Polish (ca. 3,000 characters), short CV with research achievements and the indication, in which subject panel they would like to participate to the following e-mail addresses: and 

Selection of papers submitted by researchers will be made on a competitive basis. Papers will be selected by panel moderators, specialists in Polish avant-garde art and literature. Authors of selected conference papers will be informed about the final decision by the end of September 2015.

Organising committee: Paulina Kurc-Maj, Paweł Polit

Moderators of themati c panels: Prof. Piotr Juszkiewicz, PhD Hab. (UAM), Marcin Lachowski, PhD (UW), Daniel Muzyczuk, M.A. (MSŁ), Beata Śniecikowska, PhD (IBL PAN)

PANEL I (moderator: Prof. Piotr Juszkiewicz)

Philosophy of Buffoonery. Dadaist impulses in Polish Art of the First Half of the 20th Century

Polish Dadaism as a specific movement never existed, stated Andrzej Turowski in the 1990s. There were, however, he continued to say, fragmented discourses, which could be related to Dadaist matrices. It is thus worth trying to answer the question about the sense, presence and nature of Dadaist impulses in the Polish art of the first half of the 20th century, encouraged Turowski, making an attempt to adopt a different perspective than the traditional comparative approach using the imported ready-made model of Western „ism”, which, especially in the case of Dadaism would be impossible to articulate. My proposal is to consider Andrzej Turowski’s warning and his encouragement in looking for Dadaist impulses but I would sketch the profile of the above mentioned Dadaist matrix in a different way.

I propose to juxtapose the idea of modernism founded on the concept of freedom with a perspective where freedom, interpreted as a substance and the source of transformation in art, is replaced with the historical concept of regeneration. The latter laid the foundations for the principal modernist myth of regeneration, which in many artistic concepts perceived art as an instrument leading to the revival of spiritually, physically and socially degraded world of contemporary civilisation. 

The relevance of the above presented approach consists in the fact that the concept of regeneration allows to more effectively intertwine a series of potentially incompatible aspects of modernism than the quintessentially understood freedom rebellion. These aspects include: aversion to technical civilisation and its simultaneous unconditional approval; fascination with modern technology and multiple aspects of primitiveness, combining the social reform with the depreciation of humans, and finally the instinct of destruction with the enthusiasm to build. Thus, the Dadaist matrix of the proposed version reflects artistic response to the alleged degeneration of the world, the fall, oppression and sickness of its rationalist Enlightenment structure and limits of the Enlightenment idea of a subject.

The nature of the response is delineated by specific buffoonery in the face of disaster. However, my suggestion is to understand the buffoonery as a signal of valid anthropological issues, from among which I wish to remind of the trickster, who combines foolishness with higher wisdom, being a comedian with deep sense of reality, deceiving tricks with the miracle of transformation. Within this approach to modernism and in relation with the identification of Dadaist matrix, a trickster gains in importance because his presence as one of the oldest archetypes intensifies in the moments of breakthrough providing a sort of protection to the traditional reality „against becoming aware of the need for radical change”. In other words, the figure of a clown, an actor, a magician, and a comedian, who by breaking all sorts of taboo helps control the necessary destruction of the stabilised status quo, giving false hope that the disaster may be delayed.

In this part of the session we expect to hear contributions on how artists responded to the alleged degeneration of the world of the first half of the 20th century formulated in a specific, trickster-like (clowny) way, unmasking, anti-mythological, laced with tricks, irony, targeting  the Enlightenment rationality as well as cognitive and language conventions. We also expect contributions on purely historical questions, i.e., relationships between Polish artistic circles and Dadaist impulses originating from the Dadaist centres in the United States (New York circles), Switzerland, France or Germany.

PANEL II (moderator: Beata Śniecikowska, PhD, The Institute of Literary Research, POlish Academy of Sciences)

Did Dada Spirit Wander around the Banks of the Vistula River? – Dadaism Echoes in Polish Interwar Literature

The main subject of the panel is the problematic presence of Dadaism in Poland. It is against this backdrop that it is worth identifying the traces of Dadaist genes in the works of Polish Futurists and in the activities of Tytus Czyżewski, a Futurist and Formist, in various media. Dada-centric magnifying glass could also be used to explore rarely discussed comparative aspects such as potential Dadaism of negativists, Skamandrites, and the founding fathers of Czartak. We should also try and analyse mocking „puresham” and a variety of interwar incorporations of pure nonsense suspected of Dadaist sympathies. Finally, it is worth analysing Polish versions of Dada inventions: a phonetic poem, a simultaneous poem, ready made, and Plakatgedicht. In studies over Polish repercussions of Dadaism we cannot escape considering the labels attached to the phenomena in the avant-garde art of the word and in visual arts (constantly recurring „ism” problem in studies over the avant-garde movements in Central and Eastern Europe, Central and East  European Dadaism and Eclecticism). From this point of view we shall focus on the Polish awareness of the specificity and versatility of the Dada movement, which we can restore to some extent from literary, meta-artistic texts and memoires. The overarching objective of the panel is to answer the question to what extent Dadaism was “the great absentee” on the Vistula river.

PANEL III (moderator: Marcin Lachowski, PhD Hab., University of Warsaw)

A Challenged Image? Models of Dadaism Interpretation in the Polish Art of th 1960s and 1970s.

Dadaist themes in the Polish art of the 1960s and 1970s provided a relevant overtone for artistic transformations that challenged the aesthetics and autonomy of the image. However, the ways of perception seem complex and ambiguous. Dadaist legacy was interpreted mostly with regard to Marcel Duchamp’s attitude. His artistic work delineated the horizon for Dadaist references and shaped the catalogue of new artistic phenomena: from manipulating the „ready made object”, through the use of artistic manifestations laced with irony, paradoxical gestures up to the  accentuating the idea, which replaces the object within the framework of “conceptual art” and ethical divagations in dialogue with Marcel Duchamp. The legend of the artist required highlighting some meanings, interpreted differently in subsequent varieties of the avant-garde. Each time, the comeback to Duchamp called for making a decision, taking the side with regard to a particular aspect of his work (materialism, idealism, esoterics or anarchism). Other sources of the Dadaist strategies were contemporary activities of artists of the Neo-Dadaist movement: „New Realists”, Fluxus, intriguing creations of  Ben Vautier and Joseph Beuys, which gave Dadaism a contemporary dimension of an artistic idea and political engagement. Direct relationships of Polish artists with Neo-Dada circles co-created the activities and artistic phenomena in Polish galleries in the 1960s and 1970s stressing the „place” and „process” as options of artistic presentation. This specifically interpreted value of Dadaism conditioned total and volatile nature of artistic activity inspiring „informal” nature of artistic spaces asking questions concerning an extended model of a work of art together with its social and political effects. Fundamental questions concerning the attractiveness of individual models and their specific meanings in the artistic space of the People’s Republic of Poland need to be in-depth researched to find out whether various forms of Dadaism could have been assimilated, present or absent and how they were interpreted in artistic terms. A glimpse on artistic attitudes through Dadaist contexts should become an analytic tool to review the perpetuated approach to the movement in the history of the Polish art after the wars. Dadaism constituted another area, penetrating the legacy of Constructivism, Matter Painting, conceptual art, uncovered the presence of an abundance of varieties and evolving artistic attitudes. Dadaism enabled thinking about the „impossible art”, provoking a different reading of avant-garde history. 

PANEL IV (moderator: Daniel Muzyczuk, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź) 

„I know DADA”. Neo-Dadaism of the 1980s in Poland

When it comes to art, the 1980s and early 1990s in Poland witnessed not only Neo-Expressionism but also a remarkable comeback to the Dada rhetoric. Its traces can be detected in clear references to Marcel Duchamp or to the works of other artists representing the movements but also in the revival of Dadaist strategies. These themes featured prominently in the activities of Kultura Zrzuty, TotArt, Neue Bieriemiennost, Luxus, Pomarańczowa Alternatywa, aesthetics of punk-rock and industrial musical bands representing anarchist views. The acquisition, assembly and shock aesthetics were fixed components of the landscape in those times. However, we need to consider, which concrete aspects of Dadaist practice became the founding block of new approaches, where the information about avant-garde came from and how the knowledge was exploited by Polish artists. There is also a problem of motivation behind the turn. Many artists realised the conceptual discourses were almost exhausted, which could provide an impulse from within the arts to add on irony and mockery into the art of the 1980s. Perhaps, on the other hand, social and political situation in the country gave the most powerful impulse to the reconsideration of Dadaist attitudes. 


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