50 years of Roman Dziadkiewicz's dialogue with The National Museum in Kraków

Text by: Dominik Kuryłek

 Superficiology springs directly from several months of studies, curatorial practices, artistic experiments, explorations, research, reconstruction processes, encounters and documenting as well as the continuation, analyses, relocations and reinterpretations of them in the field of studies on what there is, on what can be seen on the surface of complex reality, in the broad sense.

 Superficiology perceives the picture (with the whole elusive potential of this category) as a morpheme, and contemporary culture as an expanse of images, multi-sided mutual looks and paths/routes directing movements upon their surface – the slipping of eyes, the casting of glances, the crashing into the wall of indifference, invisible barricades, peeking through cracks, looking out of windows or windows jumping out of themselves out of a sudden…

For most of us, mechanisms are increasingly harder to recognize (we have grown to be an ever more helpless and dispersed majority); they are virtual or concealed within perfectly designed ergonomic casings, the disturbance of which entails the risk of losing any guarantee whatsoever that we will be able to understand anything (experts are corrupt). Besides, it is fucking summer and I don’t feel like gaining a deeper insight, this is the absolute end of the extremely long twentieth century and I don’t have the energy to stir up a revolt right now. Design, fashion, love, loneliness, detachment, death and the surface of water… Some things are just what they are, even if we’re not interested or absorbed in them… With a flicker of hope, we are watching Greece wondering whether it would be nice to go there on holiday and extol potential changes or universal stoical traditions built upon hot yellow sand…

Things are exactly what they are, “art is over, and everything is visible”. We roam rather aimlessly in full (solar, artificial or infrared) light, not bothered by anything serious, we collect, make, give and exchange images (fantasies), like we’re in paradise, money becomes pointless (but it still rules). We’ve experienced everything that could be experienced, we have all the information we need and much more and we sort of get lost in it…

Dziadkiewicz’s series of activities called Superficiology was launched with a performance act presented in the hall of the Main Museum Building, in which the artist stared for eight hours at Jadwiga Maziarska’s collage made of pieces of photographs depicting eyes. Dziadkiewicz devoted as much time to the work as a public art institution allows.

The next Superficiology piece was a walk with Jerzy Rosołowicz’s Neutronikon. Designed according to the rules of Conscious Neutral Action, the object made of glass with prisms glued to it was borrowed and revived by the artist. Just as Rosołowicz intended, it was used as a peculiar screen through which the world could be looked at. Dziadkiewicz walked with Rosołowicz in Błonia Park and Park Krakowski. They paid a visit to Jasny Dom. They went to Plac Szczepański and Market Square. They took a walk around Planty Park. They had a brief stop by the Vistula and then returned to the Museum. Importantly, this Surfaceology trip also included a meeting with Andrzej Pawłowski, an artist who’d implemented his original idea of Naturally Formed Shapes in artistic practice. During the meeting, which took the form of a multimedia performance, Neutronikon was placed inside a reconstructed machine for light projections, originally built by Pawłowski. Dziadkiewicz used Rosołowicz’s ‘prisms’ to split the rays that produced abstract light forms– Kineforms on the screen.

A few days after the walk with Rosołowicz, Dziadkiewicz took Julian Jończyk’s conceptual plate titled Erotyk III – Przygoda ze światłem [Erotica III – Light Adventure] for a ride around the city. A group of people joined the ride with Jończyk, drawn by Dziadkiewicz into a subtle performance carried out in a black limousine that drove from the Museum to the artist’s former studio in the district of Nowa Huta. As they were travelling, Dziadkiewicz interacted with Jończyk and his travel companions. He read aloud Bataille’s Story of the Eye, thus providing a crucial context for a micro performance involving milk, a piece of string, a mirror, a shoe and eggs – which, according to Bataille, symbolize sexuality and perception (penis and eye). Dziadkiewicz peeled the eggs and put them in various places in the car. He ate them and encouraged the others to do the same. He used eggshells to make ephemeral collages against the background of the mirror, Jończyk’s work and Olga Kowalska’s face. In a significant gesture, the erotic/mystical act of exposing his feet to sunlight, recorded on the conceptual plate and performed by the artist from Nowa Huta, was repeated. Unlike Jończyk, Dziadkiewicz exposed his feet to eggs.

The last action in the Superficiology series was an eight-hour-long ‘ensamble’ at the Gallery of 20th-c Polish Art, entitled  Superficiology (Landscape with Idyllic Scenes). The announcement preceding the event stated the following:

During a day-long action consistent with the eight-hour workday of the mythological system of full-time employment, the author together with other participants faces the idea of the museum as an idyllic, almost ideal place. During months of artistic, research and literary practice, related to previous interventions in the National Museum in Kraków as well as other institutions in Poland and abroad, he has been constructing a complex vision of a “better world” in slow motion and finer horizontal social relations. Shaped according to the (modern) museum model, reality is full of restraint, sensitivity, empathy, inclusiveness, cooperation, distance, emptiness, anaesthetic indifference and dullness. Revolution and all dreams have come true. Critical regime has been superseded by affirmative regime. The series of actions is summed up by a book with the same title – a sci-fi narrative combined with visual records.

In the room that normally houses reconstructed stage design for Tadeusz Kantor’s production of the Return of Odysseus, Dziadkiewicz organized an intermedia, intersubjective, multi-thread, collage-like collective action. The participants in the performance included actors, artists, a dancer, children, a designer, students, a curator from the Museum and the author himself. The event also included the following components: Józef Pankiewicz’s painting titled Landscape with Idyllic Scenes, collages created by the artist, a printer, fruit, eggs and ping pong balls.

The book referred to in the description was taking shape as the project was running; it became a peculiar trace of Superficiology. Still, it is worthwhile to regard it as another element of the dialogue that has been going between Dziadkiewicz and the Museum for almost 10 years. For the artist, the publication is a multi-element literary performance, a philosophical sci-fi essay and a multi-sensual, many-sided romance with the institution, people, objects, places and artworks.

Admittedly, the romance is rather perverse and the artist tries to escape alluring but risky discourses, and mostly the Museum’s narration. He does it by toying with time that the institution is trying to manage. Interestingly, he takes the hint from avant-garde artists and attempts to operate in future’s space; the Museum, which is obviously focused on the past, has no access to it. Dziadkiewicz develops a parallel narrative, situating himself in a surreal but possible continuum of spacetime.

As a narrative – Dziadkiewicz writes – Superficiology is set in indefinite future when the regime of oversensitivity, egalitarianism, transparency and slow motion, developed and internalized by the population as a whole – derived from the space and logic of modern, perfectly air-conditioned art institutions, archives, recreational areas and social media – operates ideally in a post-revolution, global reality.

The new civilization the artist belongs to is:

based on complete redistribution of goods, equality of currencies, people and non-people, as well as unconditioned empathy with living, dead and revitalized creatures – the close and strange ones. All internal and external conflicts have been suspended. Everything remains underneath a mist of sweet boredom and perfect peace resulting from the fact that almost all dialectic tensions in human beings and their environment have been relieved. For the first time in its history, humanity can be and is proud of itself. Strangers – tourists, researchers and immigrants – are arriving on our worn-out planet more and more eagerly, welcomed with open extremities. The natural environment is slowly regaining its original condition from before the long and painful Anthropocene epoch. Locals and strangers live in absolute harmony with each other and the universe in open relationships of various types. At the same time, they have respect for each other’s otherness, thus being able to keep distance, hygiene and autonomy which they have come to love just like they love themselves. All people educated in the new system feel, know and understand what they want. They are capable of verbalizing and sharing it with others. They want exactly the same for themselves, their loved ones and their descendants.

Painting a picture of the present day in an idealistic utopian future Dziadkiewicz allows an unanticipated narration into the Museum.

For years, the artist has focused in his work on the essence of the oppressive discourse of power over knowledge, which finds its expression in the institution. As I have hinted a few times before, it mostly applies to time management. Dziadkiewicz’s institutional critique is more than just stressing the oppressive nature of the institution. The stance he adopts is post-critical but not cynical. For him, the museum is a very attractive place with critical potential. He does not care for the nostalgic – in spite of its being critical – view on the past even if its purpose is to discuss former times, while his futurist narration is not an avant-garde utopia. Dziadkiewicz’s post-critique is heading in a different direction.

The artist comes up with something that could be described as new realism which, as Mieke Bal claimed a long time ago already, strips the Museum of its innocence and reminds it of its responsibility for the story it tells. Dziadkiewicz’s actions are meant to encourage the institution to perform a discursive self-analysis. However, unlike Mieke Bal – the self-analysis is to relate not only to narration but, more precisely, to the category of contemporariness (a specific stretch of time) as it is perceived by the Museum.

Dziadkiewicz updates the Museum. Still, he is far from claiming that contemporariness is an underestimated period, a narration to be revealed and brought into the institution. Contemporariness is there already. It has always been there. Contemporariness is for Dziadkiewicz a dialectic method – as Claire Bishop pointed out within the context of the museum. As a result of propagating genuine reflection on contemporariness in the institution we stop perceiving the artworks it houses exclusively as traces of past contemporarinesses; instead, we begin to see them as objects that continue to urge us into getting a different grasp of the present day. Moreover, Dziadkiewicz’s activities make us wonder why some qualities of the works of art, old or new – the latter being immediately converted into old in the Museum – may be considered topical in various historical moments.

Contemporariness expressed in Dziadkiewicz’s actions is recursive. It relates to the same idea of contemporariness. His work investigates (instant) historization as the main strategy employed by the Museum as regards art created nowadays and futurization as formulation of a new point of arrival for artistic practices. Constructing a futurist – modernist – narration Dziadkiewicz likes to resort to anachronistic means which, as Giorgio Agamben and Terry Smith claimed, transgress (future-orientated) modernism and (historizing) postmodernism. Dziadkiewicz’s works also escape market mechanisms that have found their way into the Museum, seizing the strategy for managing the future and the past, promoting exciting novelty or nostalgic past but never unattractive anachronism. In this way, Dziadkiewicz introduces (temporally) multi-faceted contemporariness that does not neutralize the topicality of artworks. He has thus developed a way for contemporariness in the Museum to be a category that is always present, always up-to-date and endlessly active.


R. Dziadkiewicz, Wprowadzenie do powierzchniologii ćwiczenia / oprowadzania / zapisy [Introduction to Surfaceology Exercises / Guided Tours / Records], Kraków 06.07.2015, typescript from the artist’s archive.

Roman Dziadkiewicz, Joanna Bednarczyk, Olga Kowalska, Wojciech Ratajczak, Bogusław Sławiński, Dominik Kuryłek, Martyna Nowicka and a driver.

HYPERLINK ”,%22action_history%22:%22null%22%7D&aref=22″,%22action_history%22:%22null%22%7D&aref=22 (retrieved 10.10.2015)

R. Dziadkiewicz, Powierzchniologia. Krajobrazy ze scenami idyllicznymi [Surfaceology. Landscapes with Idyllic Scenes], Kraków 2015, p. 2.

Apart from conservation which, focused on the past, is done in relation to the future.

R. Dziadkiewicz, op. cit., p. 2.


M. Bal, The Discourse of the Museum, [in:] Thinking About Exhibitions, ed. R. Greenberg, B. W. Ferguson and S. Nairne, London 1996, pp. 145-158.

C. Bishop, Radical Museology or What is Contemporary in the Museum of Contemporary Art, London 2013.

Cf. ibid, p. 20.