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JAB34: THE POLISH JAB
by Brad Freeman
Maryna Tomaszewska guest edited JAB34 under the theme of independent publication arts in Poland. Tomaszewska is an artist who earned a Ph.D. from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts where she is an assistant professor in the New Media Faculty. Among her many art projects she is also the founder, editor-in-chief, and publisher of the Worst Magazine Ever, which is in fact one of the best magazines around now.
The importance of understanding the historical context when examining a particular culture is crucial. World War II had a catastrophic effect on Poland and the Polish people with simultaneous invasions by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Adolf Hitler was determined to annihilate the Polish intelligentsia and culture and enslave the rest of the population. The Soviets had a similar idea. Most of the Nazi death camps operated in Poland where ninety percent of the Jewish population were murdered, and the infrastructure of the country was basically destroyed by the end of the war. After the Soviets pushed the German army out of Poland they immediately set up a communist government even though communists were a very small minority of the general population. The communists stayed in power until 1989 when Poland was finally a republic again. Despite the years of brutal repression, Polish culture was not destroyed and in fact continued during this period.
An ongoing resistance to unwanted outside cultural domination as well as a conversation with avant-garde movements in the West by Polish artists and writers is demonstrated in some of the essays and creative work presented in these pages. For instance, Paweł Jarodzki’s artist’s book ART BOOKOVSKY (inserted on page forty-four) humorously pokes fun at Mickey Mouse, whose omnipotence and infiltraton of everyday life would have been the envy of Stalinist agents. On the other hand, Jarosław Kozłowski’s Language/Język (1972), a procedural/poetic work with a strong visual element, shares similar concerns with work being produced in the West at around the same time. Language/Język is reproduced on one side of an inserted sheet on the inside cover. Luiza Nader wrote the essay “Language, Reality, Irony: the Art Books of Jaroslaw Kozlowski” which appears on the verso of this sheet. This pairing of a creative work with a theoretical/historical essay resembles the strategy of the JAB project from its inception–more on that in a moment.
But first, a little more about the current Poland JAB. Piotr Rypson, Deputy Director of the National Museum in Warsaw and an art critic, in his essay “Publishing Subversion” traces the history of resistance publishing in Poland from the early nineteenth century to the mid-1980s. Pawel Jarodzki (author of ART BOOKOVSKY, see above) during his interview by Maryna Tomaszewska, talks about his ideas and history and his publication Luxus from the 1980s. Rather than repeating the titles and subjects of the essays it may be more important to merely note that there is a wide range of age, experience, opinion, and content by and about Polish artists and authors presented in these pages.
JAB, A HYBRID PUBLICATION
A couple of weeks ago I received an email with questions concerning production from a librarian who was in the process of cataloging the artists’ publications that accompany JAB. Somehow it had been decided to remove the inserted creative work from each JAB and place it all in the library’s artist book collection. Naively, it had never occured to me that this separation would ever happen. Since the first JAB, essays about artists’ books and creative work in the form of artists’ pages, inserted books, and artist-designed covers have shared the same pages. Each issue of JAB has a theoretical/historical aspect in the form of essays, interviews, and book reviews while at the same time containing original publication art. This probably happened because I am first of all a visual artist who became a printer, book artist, publisher, and then editor. It's hard to separate the parts which are actually connected. The inserted artists’ books, or artists’ publications that come as part of the JAB are meant to stay with the JAB. It's kind of like we are putting our money where our mouth is—we SAY this while we DO this. We write ABOUT work and we MAKE work. Please do not tear apart the JAB by removing the art. Is anybody listening? Hello?
The artists’ book ROOM accompanied JAB33 this past spring. There were criticisms of ROOM which centered on the down-and-out nature of the subject matter. Karol Shewmaker’s idea for ROOM was to invite artists and writers to a low-rent motel (rooms by the hour or night) and imagine the lives of the inhabitants. The results ranged from a son trying to help his invalid, dying, and penniless father; to a junkie spending the night with a hooker before a court appearance; to the thoughts of a woman as she is being murdered. Hard stuff. But real. This may be hard to imagine in the art/academic environment of tenure and sweet deals? I’m reminded of George Eliot’s Adam Bede, where the author inserts an explanation about her writing (Chapter XVII In which the Story Pauses a Little)— “. . . my strongest effort is . . . to give a faithful account of men and things as they have mirrored themselves in my mind. . . . So I am content to tell my simple story, without trying to make things seem better than they were; dreading nothing, indeed, but falsity, which in spite of one’s best efforts, there is reason to dread. Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult.”
Another criticism mentioned was that ROOM was too much Shewmaker’s work. Rather than, what? A work of pure JAB? ROOM was Shewmaker's work—of course other people were involved—there were numerous writers, most of the photos were mine, and Karol designed most of ROOM, but not all (Brandon wrote something). It was in some ways a collaborative project, and as often happens in collaborations, distinguishing who did what becomes difficult in some places. But the idea that ROOM was “too much Karol’s work” misses JAB’s philosophy about the nature of creativity and the authority of the author. Once an artist is chosen to contribute to JAB there is very little editing as such—it is the artist’s work. There may be design or grammatical considerations but that’s another matter. At JAB, respect for the artist’s vision is of the utmost importance.
Contributors (some bios appear at end of essays)
Rene Wawrzkiewicz designed the inside front cover. He is a designer, researcher, organizer, and design curator. Wawrzkiewicz is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He co-created Mamastudio (2001–2008), one of the first independent design studios in Poland. He is a co-founder and board member of the only nationwide association of graphic designers, which has over 200 members from diverse disciplines and specializations. He is the creator and curator of Design of the Year (Projekt Roku), the first post-1989 program and competition dedicated to a comprehensive description and assessment of graphic design in Poland. He is the curator of the Design Freedom exhibition, presenting the transformation in Polish visual culture from the era of the “Solidarity” movement until the present day, which has been shown in Japan, Germany, and Sweden (2010–2012). He has organized projects in Belarus, Cuba, and Azerbaijan dedicated to political design. He is the founder, curator and organizer of Poland’s first graphic design festival, the Graphic Knowledge Fair. He founded (together with the critic Agata Szydłowska) the Design Criticism Studio—the first Polish think tank devoted to design culture in Central Europe.
Luiza Nader wrote the essay “Language, Reality, Irony: the Art Books of Jaroslaw Kozlowski,” and is an art historian and an assistant professor at the Institute of Art History, University of Warsaw. Her interests are concentrated on avantgarde and neoavantgarde art (with special focus on Central European art), memory, trauma, and relation between history writing and the experience of psychoanalysis. Her recent studies touch upon the subject of artistic production in Central Europe after 1945 viewed from the perspective of theory of affects. She is a Fulbright grantee (2005) and author of the book Conceptual Art in Poland (Warsaw, 2009).
JAB35 (spring 2014) will consist of two artists’ books: one by Portuguese artist Isabel Baraona, and the other book by Canadian artist Marlene MacCallum, in collaboration with two writers.
Full Bibliography for JAB34 can be found ONLY in the printed edition.
JAB is indexed in The H.W. Wilson Company, Art Abstracts, CSA’s ARTbibliographies Modern, and in Bibliography of the History of Art.