The Great Vaudeville
It is impossible to understand Winiecki without an undersanding of his poetics based on irony and metaphor. Winiecki constantly plays with conventions in the spheres of images and lexicon. This world is the reign of Momos who enjoys Chimerics, Vagaries and the wonderful joy of being non-literal.
This stance results in the adoption of an aesthetic system best symbolized by Gorgon. It seems that the beauty of Gorgon’s snake hair drew Winiecki more intensely than the obvious beauty of any real woman.
When words cease to be vehicles of meaning that can be trusted, the man-creator creates the world anew through a re-reading. “The life of a word consists in its straining, tensing up and reaching to the thousands of links, like in the legend where the pieces of the cut up body of the snake search for one another in the dark.”7
Thus, we are left with some tropes that are to encourage us to float over the waves of imagination. Quite often, we do so in defiance of words, following Winiecki’s jokes or provocations, as in the following works: “My stomachache,” “Skinning,” “Fantasy After a Long-Lasting Absence.” A good example of Winiecki’s perverse strategies is “One Aim,” where the eponymous unity is juxtaposed with the doubleness of form, showing in the symmetry of black circles and in the doubled pupils of the eyes.
Winiecki seems to be saying that if forms are not fully recognizable and the object evades our perception, the titles must then reflect the feeling of alienation and being lost. Here, Winiecki seems to put Breton’s philosophy into action: “For me, their [the images’ – A.Z.] greatest virtue, I must confess, is the one that is arbitrary to the highest degree, the one that takes the longest time to translate into practical language.”8 The Pope of surrealism believed that poetry should “bear within itself the perfect compensation for our miseries” and that it should be “practiced.” Surrealists loved to provoke and check the suppleness of language in all possible ways. Their semantic boldness lead them through numerous experiments and games to extraordinary results. “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.” “Words, furthermore, have finished playing games. Words are making love.”9
One must remember, however, that the efforts are by no means aimed at poking fun at, or misleading, the viewer. They only transcend certain mechanisms, are a means of escaping convention. In “The Lightning Rod” Breton writes that intelligent humour can summarize everything with an outburst of laughter, everything, including nothingness. It is thanks to humour that we can distance ourselves from everyday absurds; humour and irony protect us from the nonsense that governs the world.
This is why in Winiecki’s works there appear the figures of the jester, the joker, the mime and the homo ludens, or ”the playing man.” Strange titles are an invitation to dialogue, they give us the freedom of association, the freedom of choice and interpretation. The clashes of images and words throw us off the beaten track. This is a world where anything is possible: there is a place for the Fern Eater, there is time for Autumn Frolics and in the Sun Valley one can accidentally meet a harp tuner on a golf course. However, in order to fully understand Winiecki one must consider his attitude towards Evil and the world. The themes of dance and struggle are very common in his work. The world of changing forms and constant movement appears as a “chain of birth and death, a chain with bursting links.” A person constantly faces the rift between his or her autonomy and the fermenting matter. Winiecki’s thought tries to account for both dimensions of human life – on the one hand, he wants to foreground the single existence; on the other, he aims at showing the melting away of the individual in the multiplicity of beings.
Winiecki adopts a stance of constant vigilance, the writing down of events and images. Evil cannot be isolated, it is born within the matter itself and every new form is tainted. The movement of matter is not always purposeful and harmonious. Hence, the appearance of forms that are dysharmonic and hybridic, situated at the extremity of being. The melting away of shapes and the lack of correspondence between the inner and the outer world are the sources of existential madness. The ceaseless mutability shakes the feeling of one’s integrity. The recognition of one’s identity is only possible through a strife for authenticity but the constant changes of roles and interpersonal relationships pose a danger of losing oneself in the theatre of lies.
The feeling of strangeness and nonbelonging creates a discord. The anxiety the artist feels (the same anxiety that was felt by the Romantics) results from the strife for authenticity and transparency combined with an impossibility of setting the individual free and of discarding the mask once and for all. The feeling of estrangement is strengthened by the lack of authorities and a feeling that one is being mislead or manipulated. Winiecki points to this conflict by providing key words and giving rather enigmatic titles to his works: “A Forced Prophecy,” “Prophet,” “Crusade.”
At the same time, the need for a Hero is born. Winiecki aims at restoring and discussing heroism. He often refers to histories whose protagonists are rebelled individuals transcending the roles assigned to them by their culture and the society. He symbolically brings into being his “Ambassadors” – a cycle of characters that become vehicles for his ideas, messengers of imagination.
Creating his own space in the realm of art Winiecki seems obsessed with the dreams that propelled the actions of the Romantics, i.e. he wants to create a mythology to fit his times. Winiecki strongly criticizes the rational world-view. The essence of his work is the absolute elevation of imagination (there is no opposition between that which is real and the figments of imagination) inherited from the Romantics by the Surrealists.
Through his creative daring, and his casual references to heterogenous sources (Greek and Roman mythology, the Bible and the Sumerian culture) Winiecki establishes a link between the past and the present; he is trying to make understanding possible and he is looking for ways out of the crisis. Winiecki heroizes his protagonists and gives them a specific heroic majesty: “The Grain King,” “The Gate Man,” “Anna Mother Inn.” Moreover, characters traditionally devoid of nobility, become monumental in Winiecki’s works: “Jester,” “Joker,” “Gnome,” “Cannibal.”
Whereas the majesty of rulers is taken for granted, the monumentalization of individuals usually marginalized by the society is surprising. It seems that Winiecki acts like a medieval ruler, one that would easily and extravagantly make his jester or musician his adviser. That is why, in the same portrait gallery (the Ambassodors cycle), we can see, next to each other, a king and a jester.
One can come to the conclusion that the extravagant choice of characters and subjects and the tendency to heroize events are in Winiecki’s work an echo of his longing for the times when all deeds and events were felt vigorously and intensely, and life oscilated between cruelty and wonder but never was dull.
Interestingly enough, it seems to me that in this world there is no place for tears. In the ancient times people did not hide their tears; crying was not a privilege of women or mourners. Demeter, Andromeda, Ariadne, Pyrrha, Niobe, Calypso, Eos, Io all cried as well as Marsyas, Achilles, Odysseus, Heracles and the old Priam. In Winiecki’s world tears are invisible and eyes are dry. All the tension is shown in the expression of the out-of-scale pupil, in a convulsive grimace or the posture of the character.
Je né puis m’empecher de rire, me repondrez-vous; j’accepte cette explication absurde, mais, alors, que ce soit un rire melancolique. Riez, mais pleurez en meme temps. Si vous né pouvez pas pleurer par les yeux, pleurez par la bouche. Est-ce encore impossible, urinez;
“‘I cannot help laughing’, you will answer me; I accept this absurd explanation, but let it be a melancholy laugh, then. Laugh, but weep at the same time. If you cannot weep with your eyes, weep with your mouth. If this is still impossible, urinate.”10
If Winiecki’s protagonists do not have time for tears, they certainly have time for play – the dancing motif is very common. Let us look at the evolution of the form and the approach to this subject. “Dance” from 1966 is built on the contrast between black figures and shimmering background; the whole is based on the differences in the density of the matter. On the left one can discern three dancing figures, devoid of individual features; we can also see a group on the right. In “Dance” from 1967 the figures are joined together. Their only individual features are the simplified, mask-like, face contours and the drawing of eyes and lips. “The Great Vaudeville” from 1969, “Dance 9” and “Dance in a Tent” from 1977 are much more dramatic – the scenography is denser, the form more complicated, there are more planes and details, the presentation of space is changed and the narration becomes more complex. In an enygmatic way, the dance motif evolves into a sort of danse macabre. Even though there are no unambiguous requisites, one feels the presence of death. The mysterious movements of the figures change into a Bacchic procession, it is difficult to make out the shapes of individual dancers in the tangled shapes, individuals blur with the crowd. Moreover, the approach to the body changes – it is modelled by the chiaroscuro, and nakedness appears.
The same year, 1977, Winiecki prints the lithograph entitled “Mask,” a work that is closely linked to the earlier “Dances” through its tuning of the undulating form and rhythm of the lines building the space. This is also the last work in the series that poses questions about identity.