WHAT ARE CONCEPT-SHAPES?
The textual and visual works of Stanisław Dróżdż stemmed from his original focus on linguistic poetry and progressively developed towards a more intensive use of the sheet of paper itself as a meaningful spatial element. The works gradually became what the author himself described as “concept-shapes”. He reduced the verbal aspect of his art down to single letters, sometimes even only punctuation marks, while at the same time not shying away from the use of numerals and mathematical symbols. In time, his pieces took the form of long series based on mathematical algorithms. His works were published in periodicals and books as well as exhibited in art galleries. Ever since his ground-breaking między [between] of 1977, his art evolved towards increasingly more spatial renditions growing in scale up to the size of entire gallery rooms.
In his minimalistic yet painstakingly precise forms, Stanisław Dróżdż commented on ontological and eschatological problems, and offered his insights on the philosophy of language. Among his most commonly recurring themes one could mention time-space, infinity, life and death, chance and fate, conjugation of opposites, language systems and all sorts of typological signs.
The works of Stanisław Dróżdż were, by principle, a hybrid of two inherently correlated aspects: linguistic and visual. His concept of art revolved around the simultaneous rendition of those two facets – as dictated by the principle of concrete poetry embraced by the author. The linguistic content (always the primary element) was extracted from its natural environment of language structures and confronted with a new, visual context. Each linguistic and visual concept was therefore complete already in its first rendition, regardless of whether it was sketched on a sheet of paper, developed in typescript, or projected directly onto an exhibition panel. Although the form could still be subject to minor visual finetuning, e.g. a reversal of the use of black and white (white letters against a black background), the same would not significantly impact the original sense of the piece, only affecting the suggestiveness of its reception by the viewer. Such modifications were therefore primarily expository in character and not fundamentally definitive.
To understand the meaning of “concept-shapes” one needs to realise that throughout his life, Stanisław Dróżdż described himself as a poet, rather than a visual artist. He confirmed as much in numerous interviews: I feel literally disgusted when someone describes what I do as visual art, even though I am a member of the Association of Polish Artist and Designers (laughter). Concrete poetry is an integral domain in its own right, even though it may draw on the tools of other art forms (not poetry!), it nonetheless never ceases to be concrete poetry. Water going over a mill wheel is the same as the water immediately before the mill. It simply performs a certain work, then it returns to its original self. Only, you know, an art historian is prone to make that mistake. You must clearly emphasise in your text that Dróżdż said he had nothing to do with the fine arts, only with poetry (Małgorzata Dawidek Gryglicka, Odprysk poezji. Stanisław Dróżdż mówi [A splinter of poetry. Stanisław Dróżdż talks] Ha!art, Kraków–Warszawa 2012, p. 98).
While his notion of “concept-shapes” was being formulated in the 1960s, as a Polish language expert by education, he was drawn primarily to literary traditions, but also took a keen interest in sciences which provided a source of inspiration he referred to his artistic program published in April 1969 in “Odra” (and later also posted on his website). The visual aspect of “concept-shapes” was, from the very beginning, akin to the conceptual visualisation commonly employed in scientific contexts (when developing his ideas Dróżdż would often refer to e.g. the Cartesian coordinate system). Despite the common erroneous interpretation of his works as visual art (e.g. by associating it with conceptual art) or claims that it walked the line between literature and the fine arts, his own intention was always to create a visual rendition of concrete poetry. Hence, the visual aspect was always extremely minimalistic and somewhat neutral in terms of the works’ overall reception – this was a deliberate effort to ensure that attractive form would not overshadow the linguistic aspect. In cooperation with graphic artists who physically prepared exhibition-ready renditions of his works, Dróżdż painstakingly controlled every aspect of the visual form, as readily confirmed by both Stanisław R. Kortyka, who prepared his first panels exhibited in the 1960s, and Iwar Romanek who digitally processed many of the artist’s last works. The author often fine-tuned his concepts, altering the works to a lesser or greater degree between their respective expositions. Consequently, many of his pieces came in a number of different renditions. Once he eventually deemed a given version as optimum, however, Dróżdż would elect to leave it unaltered for the subsequent exhibitions.
The idea of rooting concrete poetry, and specifically the works of Stanisław Dróżdż, in the context of literary tradition enriched with a particular visual aspect was very astutely discussed by Jacek Wesołowski in his article Od Morsztyna do Dróżdża. Teoria aktywności wizualnej tekstu artystycznego w procesie historycznoliterackim. [From Morsztyn to Dróżdż. The theory of the visual aspect of artistic text in the literary history process.] as well as in his commentary to that text – both published in Pismo Naukowo-Artystyczne “Dyskurs”, no. 10 (2010).
Curator of the monographic exhibition and book
Stanisław Dróżdż. Pojęciokształty. Poezja konkretna. Prace z lat 1967–2007
[Stanisław Dróżdż. Concept-Shapes. Concrete Poetry. Works from 1967 – 2007]