*Text for the exhibition folder; Grzegorz Kozera, DADAscali, 2014
Once, I spoke with a renowned painter about contemporary culture. „Theater? No way, I never go!” – he said with dismay and astonishment, when asked about a particular theatre performance.
Let’s begin with margins, side notes, scribbles, author’s comments, stage directions (didascalia). That is with text, which is not uttered and is seemingly absent from the theater performance, but which guides the interpretation of the play, details the elements of the set and characterizes the interplay of actors’ glances. One can follow or disregard it. But either way, it will always exist somewhere „in between”, even if only through its absentness or our deliberate resignation. But what if it was the spectator who would take notes about theatre or a specific performance? Remarks, minimalistic comments made on pieces of paper – are these the DADAscalia?
Let’s for a moment go back to the times, when cabaret was popular and when the word dada was picked out of the dictionary to become – as a quintessence of fun and naïveté – a name of a creative collective. Experimental pieces, which combined literature, music and poetry, were performed live on stage. Poetry took on a whole new shape. Its simultaneous reading brought about surprising meanings and expressiveness. „Verses without words” conveyed the desire to get rid of the exploited language, the need to reach out to the most secret alchemy of words. Alchemy which, by the way, Dadaism successfully translated into the materials it used. When Hugo Ball appeared on stage to recite Gadji Beri Bimba, he was dressed in the famous costume made of cardboard. Dadaistic acts involved fun and naïveté, as well as the desire to explore, to comment on the surrounding reality and to resist the commonly accepted means of expression. According to the Dada Manifesto, reality, or to be more precise – life, is an entanglement of simultaneous sounds, colors and spiritual rhythms, appropriated by art in both its everyday brutal realism and sensational explosiveness. If you create art at a time when the previous order falls apart, you can’t use durable materials. You’re left with fragments, scraps, temporary solutions. This mediocrity of matter resembles arte povera to some degree, although dada was focused more on cultivating laughter than on formal aspects or institutional critique. Apart from fragments, we should also mention the appreciation of chance. When Hans Arp, unhappy with one of the drawings he had been working on for a long time, finally tore it up, he was suddenly struck by the composition that the scraps of paper formed on the floor. Dadaists accepted chance as the new stimulus for artistic creation, a new paradigm. But let’s return to modern times.
Grzegorz Kozera’s DADAscalia are visual notes made by a theater spectator on a slip of paper – a ticket. It’s piece of matter, which usually becomes trash right after the event. Here it’s used as a basis for a creative experiment, which reaches far beyond the two dimensions of a paper collage. It’s not only the ticket that is creatively recycled. The theatre performance itself, usually limited to a specific time and space, gains a new dimension in the memory of the spectator. Things that impressed, moved, bored or astonished him live on in post-collage form. These works are often directly and explicitly linked to the theme of the theatre performance. There are also ones, which seem more isolated from the theatrical experience, with only minor details connecting them to the world created on stage. It’s worth noting, that the artist emphasized the DADA prefix by deliberately using a different font and thus referencing the artistic movement briefly described above. DADAscalia are a kind of a game, an exploration of the boundaries of form, a mixture of styles, a commentary on reality, an ironic combination of fine art and flimsy material, but also – each time – a challenge. How does one fit the whole theatrical universe onto such a small space? What should one emphasize? To answer this question is to make – often very literally – a ruthless cut. It’s kind of an irreversible choice. There’s not enough space to comment on the set design, the director’s interpretations, nor actor performances – regardless of whether they were brilliant or mediocre. The play is summarized with one dominant idea or impression, expressed in a variety of means, which are often quite surprising. Nowa Warszawa (New Warsaw) is transformed into a colorful, three-dimensional, cubist form. Kupieckie kontrakty (Merchant Contracts) take on the form of a windowed envelope, typically used for official correspondence. The work based on Dziewczyny do wzięcia (Marriageable Girls) exceeds kitsch and becomes its parody: the ticket, which is blended into a cardboard tray, has pink hearts – wrapped in refined womanly shapes – sticking out of it, as if they were cocktail stirrers. In Oleanna the artist explicitly references teaching by incorporating geometry materials into an accordion-folded ticket. Portret Doriana Gray’a (The Picture of Dorian Gray) is slightly unsettling with its rainbow color gradation in the corner. Skaza (Damage) grows into countless layers, just like the traumas and difficulties, which accumulate in the play. But this interplay goes deeper. In Między nami dobrze jest (All Is Well Between Us) the artist – funnily, but also bitterly – combines a body of a woman with a cartoonish dog head to reference the director’s fondness for pop culture and his critique thereof. Finally there’s the Kabaret warszawski (Warsaw Cabaret) ticket, which has been glued to a knitted handkerchief – maybe as a reference to the notion of time or maybe to the convention, which the directors toys with. Such uncertainty and ambiguousness is common among these works. Their unassuming and casual character encourages the viewer to freely interpret visual tropes. Theatrical audience will surely be able to recognize numerous hints and references, while the theatre directors will probably be surprised, but also glad, to see their own work interpreted for the first time in the form of a painting. Even if a given work seems to express criticism, it is always delivered in the form of a sublime abstraction or an ambiguous game of references.
Besides, we should consider DADAscalia from one more point of view. Visual artists, several exceptions aside, tend to steer clear of theater, as if it were an isolated territory within the artistic realm. The same can be said – again, exceptions aside – for the theater world, which avoids places important for contemporary visual culture (and let’s not forget music, dance and literature). Theater tickets and scraps of everyday life have been used in works throughout art history, but more often as elements of larger compositions than as the main subject. It’s rare to see a visual artist whose work is so strongly and directly focused on theatre. And that’s the conclusion: tickets modified by the artist tell us about the theatre experience, those several dozen hours of experiencing, participating, being.
Back to stage directions. In the theater, they are absently present and we see the performance as a coherent idea, a whole. A similar exchange of presences takes places in DADAscalia. Under the visually interesting, the varied and the surprising, behind all the nuance and detail, there is an experience of „being there”, in a specific time and place, during a specific performance, in a specific row and seat. A kind of a connection with the past. A personal diary.
 Hans Richter, Dadaizm [Dada: Art and Anti-Art], Wydawnictwo Artystyczne i Filmowe, Warsaw, 1983, p. 82.
*“Pictures on the margins – DADAscalia” Text for the exhibition folder:
Grzegorz Kozera, DADAscalia, Galeria Wizytująca, 2014.
Translation from Polish by Jakub Zgierski