Satisfaction Guaranteed, Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski
When I look at my life from the air I feel pity, but I always feel it while reading almost every biography.
For example my favorite character, aunt Miecia. She was born in Stranisławów in 1905 and after repatriation she had been working at a School For the Deaf in Ostromecko for 30 years, than she had retired and died at age of 93. Her husband, the lawyer, died early of the stomach tuberculosis, a good marriage, three miscarriages. She became deaf suddenly, after she had been sick, as it often happened in this side of the family. I am myself deaf in left ear and the right one has not been able to hear any sound from inside of my body since April. Aunt Miecia liked her life, was a terribly vicious person. She was very fond of my mother’s brother, uncle Bodzio, who died 3 years ago in the madhouse fearing, that his son and my favorite cousin Jędrek will give a birth to a little goat. Family relationships, failed love affairs. God, I think, aunt Miecia could have been or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same with me. If I hadn’t been born, nothing really happened. The fact that I am doesn’t have a meaning either. I’ve got to do something with my life, and first of all I have to come over this paralyzing giggle that overwhelms me when I think about my life.
I was born as a result of a great although not first love. My parents were married to someone else when they got to know each other ( a salmon-colored, semi-translucent dress of my mother) . I think everything had to reel before their eyes if they decided to divorce and get married once again. They divorced very soon as well. I remember myself sitting on my father’s boot who was rushing for hunting and really wanted him to stay and embraced his leg with all my strength. I also remember when during some party I managed to tumble out of my bed and saw my picture in the mirror hanged in the hallway. it was probably very first time when I looked at myself and was so impressed that I started to pee on the floor. Everybody thought I was a boy, because this flow (as they said) instead of being downward was forward and quite strong. Two cult stories of my childhood: a bird stuffed with arsenic or other shit, a daddy’s trophy of the chase, hanged over my bed. I got swollen and the situation was probably bad since I became blue. Not that long ago I was reading about this bird which pecked a little Leonardo da Vinci in his cradle and I thought, my case is quite ironic. The other story, my favorite, from Świdwin where we used to spend our vacation several years in a row at a house of my aunt Gucia and uncle Janek. They put out my bed into the garden and gave me a bowl of blueberries. I ate all of them, than I defecated and I also ated it. Since that time I’ve liked to construct my stories on the base of a circle.
I was biting thermometers and glasses when I was big enough to know what I don’t want utterly. I wasn’t able to express it with words, so when they were forcing thermometer under my arm, I would pull out the end of it and bit it. I think there is not a bigger anger and hatred than this one of a child, neglected and not taken seriously by anyone in addition. I still feel it, even too often, but my hatred has no subject anymore, because whom should I hate for the situation being? Only the tension growing to the extreme stayed the same. I will always associate it with a gesture of reaching the glass and a crash of glass in my teeth.
My father was gone later on, he would appear just for a brief visit, bring me a nylon panties bought nearby and raisins for 17 groszy. He would take me for a walk and teach how to recognize the brands of passing cars. When I grew a little we used to meet me at hotels. There were four women left: my mother, nanny Irka, my older step-sister Gosia, a mommy’s daughter from the first marriage and I. Father was important because he was gone. He was present in the conversations instead, always accompanied with the sentence: “not that I speak evil of him”. I think mother loved him and this love was deepened and fixed for ever with those two unfailing preservatives: a wound and an absence. There was also something left in me: a bizarre weakness for a scent of old staircases and spacious, wealthy bourgeois apartments. Necessarily a scent of a dentist, cold bathrooms, old furniture and boredom. Such apartment was owned by my father’s parents and such an apartment owns my father and his family now.
When many years later I was walking the streets of wealthy Upper West Side in New York, where I used to paint lampshades for some Japanese guy, I felt I could easily belong to those houses and wake up every morning with the feeling I don’t have to do anything against myself. A peaceful life, a pleasure of looking at beautiful things, a hobby of copying the lacking parts of antique picture frames (mother of my father), this is in my blood. But: when I live a substitute of such life, I feel a panic objection all of the sudden. But it is just the opposite: this is not I who refuses, it is rather this peaceful life that never accepted me.
My body turned out to be an unfailing partner instead and it was always with me. I learned how to masturbate very early, before I even knew what I experienced and how to verbalize it. it was exactly the same like with the glass biting: deep and freeing. I learned how to get an orgasm not touching myself, it was enough to tense the muscles and concentrate, cross the legs. Now I do it sometimes as a revenge at boring parties when there is no way to escape. I talk to someone and think: “If you only knew, you idiot…”.
Everything was O. K., until I was 10 and got sick of mumps. Not recognized by the doctors, ended up with complications, first diagnosis was meningitis, than lack of hearing and balance. Endless series of sicknesses, hospital and finally blood-poisoning, sepsis or something like that. I remember a doctor who put a glass of water in front of me with the words: “You drink or it’s gonna be bad.”. “I won’t” I said, because she was min. Than I fainted away and felt myself passing, disappearing, fading away and it was one of the sweetest feelings I ever experienced in all my life. The only thing I wanted was to feel this pure, non-physical bliss.
I came back to myself., but my mother did not. While my 10 years old body was fighting with the sickness, my mother had a nervous breakdown and she never recovered. She wasn’t herself any more, her reactions became neurotic, exaggerated, almost hysteric. I was afraid of those reactions, and wanted badly an ordinary life to come back, but it never did. Actually my mother has never got rid of a fear, that started step by step to rule her entire life from then on.
From the gymnasium there is one picture fixed in memory: blossoming chestnut trees behind the window and a cramp of sorrow for a lost, unfriendly time. A joke: “Guess what does the Dry (the Geography professor) have in breast”, the answer: “Powder milk”. I wasn’t a good pupil, only fairs, but I was excellent in languages. Wasn’t going for the parties, not allowed to. For four years was in love with one of the classmates, Jarek W., at first it was a reciprocated feeling, than unreciprocated one. This love turned out so vehement and dramatic that when they saw me lying in fever not able to do anything, my mother wanted to change the school for me. I have kept answering all the questions referring to my feelings: “all right” since then and I learned how to live a double life e.g. to isolate what I feel from what I say. From time to time I build special canals between one life and the other and I celebrate my own permission to use it. As I do now.
I said “by” to my home city with a relief at age of 18 and I went to Cracow. I started to study history of art. at the Jagiellonian University knowing, that in one year (if I pass the exams) I would study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. I was living in enormous, dark and terrible apartment at Metalowców 3. The landlady descended from a good family and did everything she could to let me feel it. When she decided to refurbish the apartment I refused to help. I was coming back at midnight, slipping into my bed and locking door very carefully. A frightening, animal-like scream woke me up one morning. it was a landlady trying to get a help, poisoned by the paint fumes. I saw a big body in a decline, dressed in pink, lace night-gown, salivation and uncontrolled gestures. I called the emergency and her family. I lived alone since then.
The returns to this apartment made me aware of something very important. While walking Aleja Focha, passing by the old shoemaker’s shops, looking at the windows with the curtains and potted flowers I felt always attacked by the same thought: I am out, have nothing to do with the soles of those shoemakers, even if I badly want it, I am separated from the curtains, isolated from the passing people, I am in a bulb. This was, this is very painful. I celebrate every change of this state. I managed to break it only while painting what I saw behind the window. So I was painting a railway all year round.
I passed all the exams to Academy of Fine Arts and I chose the Studio under Prof. Nowosielski, it was the only artist in the school anyway. I remember great mornings: him visiting the studio, looking at some still life, than at me and saying: “Would you please try to be this vase”. This was quite precise subject. At that time I was interested in two things: an object and its expression (to be the same) and relationship between human body and the object (to be analogous). Professor suggested some answer. Besides that they taught stupid and unimportant things at school. Nobody provoked fresh thinking. Nobody ever said thinking is possible. There were demonstrations behind the windows, the political and economic system was being changed and those self-satisfied art bureaucrats were talking about the composition of still life, about texture and whether the color is saturated or not. Art. school can do worst harm possible, can make you calm from the very beginning, make your vigilance sleep, simply kill this native ignorance and helplessness thanks to which you can become an artist.
A place I truly loved was “my” part of warehouse at Warszawska, old post-austrian lofts where few of us were working. Chris for example, an important guy for me. He worked under the sign: “Are you happy?”, kept painting even when it was freezing. I am thrilling when I think what I experienced there. When it was really cold I was shouting to make warm myself, but could not work. There was a sad end to Warszawska, Chris fricked out, I remember us kneeling on the bed in psychiatric hospital at Kopernika.
I understood at Warszawska, that architecture (a building facade, an inner composition of rooms and hallways) is acting to me so strongly as only sex does: involving all my physicality. I was able to respond with my body to mass structure, columns, pilars, gates; this was one of the best ways out.
I made my thesis earlier, since I started to get tired. This was a sudden impulse, a power of abjection, the most efficient in my case. My thesis was a picture of a painting impotence, with the text about absolutely different subject. A text important for me up to now. I described a situation of being in two rooms: one is open and lighted up with a dazzling light, the other is dark. in the first one I am standing tense, giving in the light up to the state of a slight faint and sweating palms (a pure physicality); I am lying down in the other one not feeling a body at all and thinking what happened to me in the first one, I am a pure thinking.
This was a farewell to my too-long-anyway-childhood.
I withdrew my money from the bank account few days later, bought a flight ticket to New York, took $500 as a pocket money and in a week was there. One of the favorite activities: to leave. it was also my mother’s question yet: “You’ve got enough, right?”, I: “Yeah.”. My adult life started there, a life that I still live with a feeling it must be a great joke. This is why you will listen to rest of my story in 30 years when I am sure about it . to be continued ( if, of course a deadly joke doesn’t happen).