Circle (Krąg), 1976
The work was created during a period when Maria Pinińska-Bereś started to work with performance art. Her performances took place outdoors or in the vicinity of her home, in the then half-urbanised Cracow’s district of Biały Prądnik, a former village incorporated into the city in the first half of the 20th century. Other occasions for the artist’s performances included meetings of artists and critics that were often held in small towns located in various regions of Poland. Those performances often consisted in marking a certain fragment of landscape as her own, a fragment that was often clearly separated, as it was the case in e.g. Prayer for Rain (Modlitwa o deszcz) from 1977 and The Annexation of a Landscape (Aneksja krajobrazu) from 1980. During the same period, the problem of annexing or managing space also made itself manifest in the artist’s gallery projects: The Well of Pink (Studnia różu) from 1977 and Stream (Struga) from 1979.
Created in 1976, the installation Circle is situated at the crossroads of those two avenues of the artist’s activity. An archival photograph documents an exhibition that Pinińska- Bereś installed on a dirt road, clearly indicating her intention to establish a connection between Circle and the landscape. Yet, the photograph is not related to any artistic event, the artist reconstructed her installation for the needs of documentation. So far, Circle has been exhibited at galleries (in 1977, 1980, 1982 and 2011).
Pinińska-Bereś used stones to designate a regular ring, separating the space within from the rest of the surrounding environment. The shape of the stones and the way they are arranged, their sharp edges facing upwards, strengthen the sense of a conscious isolation of the inner area. That area became a place the artist managed. The central composition, which comprises several elements – a quilt, papier-mâché apples and bread, lying on cotton wool mixed with straw – is akin to a lair. There are four poles thrust into it with fixed unicoloured fabric-flags. Planting a flag, which signifies an annexation of territory – symbolical in this case – was a gesture often performed by the artist. The flag was usually plain pink (in Circle, two of the flags are of this colour), a fact that indicates a gender- related dimension of the artist’s activity. Pink became dominant in the artist’s practice at the beginning of the 1970s. In many of her sculptures, the colour was directly related to the represented female body, but it gradually started to acquire a more symbolical meaning and broader references to womanhood. A pink flag on a designated territory marks it as an area that belongs to women.
Despite the militaristic connotations that the flag or the very gesture of planting it carry, the remaining elements of the installation are evocative not so much of a struggle, but habitation. The artist arranged a bedding, which also serves as a storage space for modest food reserves. The arrangement strikes us as primitive. It is a new quality, which is manifest in comparison with the artist’s sculptures from the first half of the 1970s – characterised by lightness, a certain refinement, sometimes frivolity. Insofar as a range of works from the beginning of the decade may be perceived as a discussion with popular culture1, during the later period the artist concentrated rather on developing an alternative to that culture. Her turn towards nature or a way of life that is closer to nature (a lair instead of the previously featured boudoir) can be understood as a response to popular culture one the one hand (in a modest socialist version), while on the other hand – to industrialisation and modernisation. Those aspects were central to the policy of the state authorities of Poland under communism since the beginning of the 1970s. At the time when Circle came into being, the negative effects of the implementation of that policy became ever more apparent, and the year 1976 – when the work was created – saw a brutal suppression of workers’ protests (an event that the white and black flags likely refer to). The anachronism of Circle appears in this context as a subversion of the operations of the state authorities, or – in a broader view – of modernisation and industrialisation. In turn, the creation of an alternative space could indicate an escapist approach to the tense socio-political situation.
The clearly marked gender-related character of this installation invites interpretations in the context of ecofeminism – a movement that already in the 1970s concentrated on highlighting the sameness of the situation of women and nature, whose fertility is dominated by men. Yet, Pinińska-Bereś focussed rather on the positive aspects of the connections between nature and womanhood, released from the constraints of Catholicism, popular culture and industrialisation. The fact that the artist confronted such questions did not stem from her affiliation with the feminist movement – an affiliation that was almost non-existent – but from her relation with the small (post-)hippie circles that existed in Poland.
Agata Jakubowska (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, PL)
The Art Newspaper