Stanisław Dróżdż

Stanisław Dróżdż’s semantic and visual poems resemble the experimentation of the avant-garde, embodying a laboratory of language, signs and images. His early concrete texts from the 1960s, such as Forgetting [Zapominanie], might be associated with transrational-constructivist designs by Rodchenko and Stepanova, such as Abstract Verses or Toft from 1919, and especially with El Lissitzky’s famous 1929 cover for the magazine Journalist. Samples of similar constellations of words, “notion-shapes,” “ideo-shapes,” or “ideo-forms” (pojęciokształty, to use Dróżdż’s term), could also be found in Apollinaire’s “ideograms,” in the work of Robert Walser and of Stefan Themerson, and in semantic poetry as Themerson defined it in 1944. Dróżdż elaborated his own approach to the “reality of the language” by expanding it into its material artistic form, from the two-dimensional piece of paper to the three-dimensional space, resulting in concrete poems such as his most famous Between [Między], realized at Foksal Gallery in Warsaw in 1977. This installation of painted words evenly appropriated the entire gallery space by repeating the word “between” on every wall, confronting the viewer with the material substance of the concrete poem, the meaning of the word as such, and the literal experience of standing between the words. This work was realized in collaboration with Zbigniew Gostomski (who designed the font and letters) and is one of the most systematic of Dróżdż’s realizations, being based on the clear mathematical rule of diagonally repeated words—“the rule according to which I was writing the text,” the artist explained. Dróżdż was himself an expert in linguistics, both as a theorist and as a practitioner. He studied Polish philology in Wrocław and also authored the book Poezja konkretna [Concrete Poetry], which was published in 1979 and consisted of documentation and texts from the period between 1967 and 1977. His practice was compared to that of Vaclav Havel and Hamilton Finlay (with whom he was familiar), as well as to that of the Art & Language circle and the conceptualism of Joseph Kosuth, which nowadays seems to be very different from Dróżdż’s approach. Nevertheless, later years also saw both of them work with words in space, displaying them in seemingly similar ways. Kosuth usually displays longer sequences and informing/disinforming sentences, while Dróżdż usually worked with one word or very few words only. Like many conceptual authors, Dróżdż confronted the semantic and optical layers of written signs but did not try to redefine the artwork as such. Similarly to the Polish conceptual artist Jarosław Kozłowski, Dróżdż was deeply inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of language identity, as well as by linguistics and game theory. These ideas led him to produce his sequences of numbers and numerical combinations in the Numerical Texts series of the 1970s, and are likewise behind his dice and game in the 2003 Venice Biennale project Alea iacta est. Since Wittgenstein defined language as the bounds of cognition, Dróżdż wanted to test it in its possible shapes and functions in space, and in a similar vein: he wanted to analyze its structure, “language’s reality.” His visual book / project Klepsydra [Hourglass] from 1969 to 1990 is a very good example of an attempt to capture the structure of time-space as such, of the time-space of language, and of signs—using existential and differently shaped words such as “is,” “was,” and “will be” to take on the tautological form of the hour-glass. As Dróżdż stated, the way in which he construed the concrete works “was based on permutation: in some texts/poems, the semantic aspect was dominant; in others, the visual. “I take the pen and scratch on the piece of paper—this is how my works emerge. Consciously and in the subconscious. This process is parallel, and the two layers overlap each other.” This, then, is how Dróżdż’s pojęciokształty (ideo-shapes) found their visual embodiment.




1939, Sławków / PL – 2009, Wrocław / PL


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