Jan Smaga<br>ARTONS

Włodzimierz Borowski’s Artons, from which the title of Jan Smaga’s exhibition is taken, is one of the most intriguing and original series of works in the history of Polish modern art. His ambition was to create “works as autonomous as living organisms.” The objects made by Borow­ski in 1958–1963 are hybrid forms com­posed of various plastic parts, items or frag­ments, using pul­sing light and mobile elements. The striking materiality and amor­phous, introver­ted struc­ture of the Artons inspired Smaga, a photographer often wor­king with exhibiting institutions and well-​known for his experimen­tal documen­tation tech­niques, to con­duct his own creative process based on the legen­dary works of Borow­ski. Using photography, Smaga broke the Artons down into elemen­tary par­tic­les, in order to reas­sem­ble them into a new, two-​dimensional whole—a kind of visualization of the cosmos inter­woven in the material of art.


Each of the six Artons was sub­jec­ted to pain­staking photographic documen­tation using equip­ment specially con­struc­ted by the photographer. In an after-​shot analogue scan process, about 6,000 photos were developed of enlar­ged details of each of the objects. Each of the thousands of photos was then prin­ted out and trim­med to the shape of a 6×2-icm rhom­bus. Pasted in random order on an aluminum sheet of 200×162 cm, they create a dense, glim­mering pat­tern sug­gestive of fabric from mul­ticoloured textile scraps. But this is not a typical exam­ple of artistic recyc­ling, but rather an attempt at rein­car­nation, trans­lation from one form of existence to another while respec­ting the law of con­servation of energy. Smaga is con­tinually intrigued by the fan­tastic and sometimes treacherous poten­tial inherent in the tools we use to observe and record reality. With the help of these tools we can see much more than would seem rational, and thus over­come the objec­tivism of per­cep­tion and re-​enter the field of art. Here it is the pic­ture that shapes reality, and not the other way around.

The cul­mination of Smaga’s analytical process is a series of black-and-white reproduc­tions of the resul­ting photo col­lages, in the form of clas­sic Baryta prints from large-​format 8×10-inch negatives.


Smaga describes his use of Borowski’s works as con­cep­tual documen­tation. “It is an examination of the material of art under rules similar to science,” he says, “sub­jec­ting it to observation close to a physics experiment. This is possible because of the con­fidence that works created in the field of art are just as real as presen­tations uncon­nec­ted with cul­ture and should be treated in the same way—seriously.”

The radical research experiment which Borowski’s Artons under­went via Smaga’s photo-​optics and obses­sive imagination led to a visually absor­bing conc­lusion bor­dering on hi-​res and psychedelic aesthetics. Essen­tially, any truly thorough attempt to know and under­stand a work of art must lead, more inten­tionally or less inten­tionally, to creation of another work of art.


Jan Smaga’s project was car­ried out under a stipend from the Minister of Cul­ture and Natural Heritage, with the kind cooperation of the National Museum in Wrocław and the Museum of Art in Łódź.

2016/17 exhibitions

Jan Smaga