Photography and tapestry

Stefan Popławski, Urszula Plewka-Schmidt, Anna Bednarczuk, Katarzyna Paszkowska, Ewa Korczak-Tomaszewska, Andrzej Banachowicz, Alicja Biegaj, Małgorzata Hubert, Anna Nowak-Jóźwiak, Dorota Wróbel, Małgorzata Buczek, Wojciech Jaskółka, Marta Gąsienica-Szostak, Aleksandra Mańczak, Ryszard Kaczmarek, Wojciech Holcgreber, Wanda Ćwiek-Ugarenko, Józef Michulec, Magdalena Głowacka-Mróz, Włodzimierz Cygan, Ewa Latkowska-Żychska, Andrzej Rajch

Curated by:
Małgorzata Wróblewska Markiewicz, Norbert Zawisza

Photography has been employed in all kinds of artistic practice for a long time. Nineteenth-century realist painters made use of it; Nadar’s friends and their contemporaries incorporated a photo frame and a photo frame with a single phase of a movement sequence in their compositions. Marcel Duchamp and futurist artists, fascinated with the speed and dynamics of the modern world, did the same, whereas surrealist painters often “quoted” photography in their “visually expressed internal perception.” Modernist painting used photography as a kind of a mechanical note, a transparent carrier on which a real or imagined world is recorded. Applied graphics transformed it – reproduced images (retouched or used in photomontages and collages) conveyed a concise, yet very expressive, message.

Post avant-garde culture at the beginning of the 1960s valued photography a bit more. Treated as a substitute for real objects and phenomena, photography changed the knowledge about reality, and became a reference point itself. Pop-art projects incorporated technical and artistic achievements of photography into composition arrangement and based their way of presenting their motifs on it, whether these motifs were taken from the mass media (advertisements, records, comic books, subculture gadgets), or images of objects from immediate surroundings. A decade later, hyper realistic imagery would document everyday life of artists and their friends and families, employing “optic reality,” together with all the consequences of recording, according to a template provided by the photo lens. Photorealism belonged to the neo figurative trend, blooming at the beginning of the 1970s. Photorealistic tendencies dominated at the “Documenta” exhibition in Kassel, in 1972.

The year 1972 was also the time when Stefan Popławski’s (a graduate of Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań) piece was created. His simple Self-portrait is a very important interpretation, made in tapestry (162 x 90 cm), of a photograph from a family album. The artist frequently used famous documentary and historical pictures, as well as stills from the movies made by distinguished directors, and press photos. He transformed these selected “films of reality” into cycles: a series of photography reconstructions, movie “pictures,” old performances (Polish banners) and contemporary events. Two-coloured, woven with sisal or wool, or sometimes made with the use of needle work, these overscaled tapestries displayed silhouette outlines of people, emerging from a plain, contrasting background. With a photo-recorded image, constructed in accordance with the way the lens “sees the world,” and the phenomena typically accompanying photography, these works got the impact force of a monumentalized poster. In 1973, Magdalena Abakanowicz (at that time, a tutor in the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań) copied in tapestry a first-page newspaper photograph, presenting the president of Poland, Edward Gierek, as he visited the “vegetable valley” in central Poland. Urszula Plewka-Schmidt gave up soft sculpture, with which she successfully dealt until the mid-1970s, to get involved in an artistic game with photo images of the icons of sacred and lay art, and their artistic transpositions, reflecting in large-format tapestries the tiniest details of photographed shapes and local colours. In 1975, Anna Bednarczuk “translated into tapestry” the pioneer photographs by Eadweard Muybridge (from 1872) – it was the first record of the sequence of movements of a galloping horse. Her further projects reflected artist’s fascination with translating portrait photos. Grażyna Brylewska was interested in the same subject, and she even “quoted” these pictures very literally, using paper. Katarzyna Paszkowska, in turn, was drawn to rastering photo grain, whereas Ewa Korczak-Tomaszewska was interested in the pixel structure of an image. This new photographic approach resigned from the earlier habit of tapestry composition, and quickly became a distinctive feature of the artists from Poznań. After the “Tapestry of Poznań” exhibition in 1979, a new term, introduced by Irena Huml, was coined: ‘foto-medium art.’

Artists making their debut at the beginning of the 1980s present a different approach to photo templates. They are much closer to transforming a photo image in the preparatory stage. This is when the multitude of effects was born, depending on the type of a camera and film: multiple expositions and overlapping images, masking single motifs, setting them together or transforming shapes. Referring to strategies stemming from side effects and special effects, related to photography methods and technologies – image inversion, noises or applying the disturbing fisheye optics – was also very common.

Photography practices in tapestry work quickly ceased to be a domain of just one group, although it was still Poznań that had the most prominent artists, and new faces kept flooding in, to mention such names as Andrzej Banachowicz, Alicja Biegaj, Małgorzata Hubert, Anna Nowak-Jóźwiak, Dorota Wróbel. In Cracow, Małgorzata Buczek and Wojciech Jaskółka successfully employed photo strategies, whereas in Zakopane, Marta Gąsienica-Szostak produced a series of relief self-portraits fractured into modules. In Łódź, Aleksandra Mańczak worked with landscape photography and its reflection on tapestry, whereas Ryszard Kaczmarek dealt with the effect of pseudosolarization, Wojciech Holcgreber experimented with image inversion, and Małgorzata Ćwiek-Ugarenko implemented a model based on taking photographs in the counterlight. Other artists from Łódź are: Józef Michulec, Magdalena Głowacka-Mróz, Włodzimierz Cygan and Ewa Latkowska-Żychska. Since the 1990s, the photography trend has been one of the many in the tapestry work, and it is still the source of intriguing performances. It is worth mentioning here a bitter project of the late professor of the Academy of Fine Arts, Andrzej Rajch – A group portrait at the end of the 20th century from 1997, with a bird’s eye view of an anonymous crowd, described with three colours: blue, white and red.

Over 40 works of the above-mentioned artists, created between the 1970s and 1990s, will be presented in the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź. The exhibition will be available between 30th April and 31st August, 2009, as a part of the 8th International Festival of Photograhy. The authors of the presented works (classic tapestries, spatial compositions, and needle work) have drawn their own, often very fresh and inspiring, conclusions from the opportunities that photography offers, both in terms of form and content. The exhibition, based on the collection of the Department of Tapestry of the Museum and on deposits, shows an interesting relation between the Polish art of fabric and photography, another example of intermediality, so common in the visual practices of today.

Photographed by: Lech Andrzejewski