KwieKulik, The Monument Without a Passport (Police), 1978/2016, ink-jet print, 35 3/8 × 25 5/8".

KwieKulik, The Monument Without a Passport (Police), 1978/2016, ink-jet print, 35 3/8 × 25 5/8".


KwieKulik, The Monument Without a Passport (Police), 1978/2016, ink-jet print, 35 3/8 × 25 5/8".

Mobility—of both people and art—was the primary focus of a recent show of the Polish team KwieKulik, composed of Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek, who collaborated between 1971 and 1987. Several works in this show, “The Monument Without a Passport,” referred to travel restrictions imposed on the couple by the Polish government. The ban was occasioned by documentation, in a Swedish exhibition catalogue, of works (A Bird of Plaster for Bronze – Malmö, 1974, and Man-dick, 1968–74) by both artists that, like other works for which KwieKulik are well known, found the pair using their official jobs as producers of regime-glorifying hackwork (monumental sculpture, commemorative plaques, banners, etc.) as background for their own performative actions.

The show took its title from a 1978 performance, The Monument Without a Passport (Police), in which Kweik rendered Kulik immobile by pouring plaster onto her feet, effectively turning her into a statue holding high in one hand their plans for an exhibition in Arnhem, the Netherlands—one they could not carry out because their passports had been confiscated. State-sponsored monumentality is satirized, but the physicality of the artwork is maintained, though intrinsically bound to the bodily existence of the artists (who also shared a romantic relationship and a child), for whom work, home life, artmaking, and living gave rise to an all-encompassing practice that included archive production, object installations, and actions.

Yet though passage across borders is a subject of the show, the notion of place, particularly of nation, is blurred. Ameryka, 1972, an assemblage of photos with accompanying texts, is modeled on a Polish-language publication of the same name produced by the US government to trumpet the glories of American life to a communist readership. Each image features the duo, sometimes with their son, at home in Poland, in their kitchen, which doubled as a studio, as well as at art exhibitions in places such as Banff, Canada; Kassel; and Joseph Beuys’s studio in Düsseldorf. The pictures, captioned with information about, for instance, what the artists were wearing and the censorship their exhibitions encountered, are juxtaposed with a cover of an issue of Ameryka magazine, whose title is not synonymous with topographical terrain but instead functions as an ideological sign for certain ideals and practices of work, family responsibility, and leisure.

Shown at a time of insurgent right-wing politics in Poland and the rest of the European Union, which Poland joined in 2004 but which the nationalist government is vocally inimical to, these works resonate very differently than they would have at the time of their production in a context of state socialism. The present contradictions of Europe as an ideal were provocatively conjured in the relationship between two videos positioned at the entrance to the show. Trip Around Europe, 1981, is a kind of road movie that fleetingly captures street signs, storefronts, and camping grounds through the windshield of the couple’s moving Fiat 126p. It presents the promise, although before the fact, of a unified Europe: a seamless autobahn connecting east to west via smooth asphalt and uniform signage. Meanwhile, Supermarket, 1981, presents the economic misalignments that have plagued the union since its formation. A sort of consumer performance, it shows the couple in a supermarket in Stuttgart, Germany, carefully scrutinizing products, their characteristics and their price, before placing them in the shopping cart, only to remove them following agonizing deliberations that testify to the disproportion between physical necessity, product availability, and financial capacity. Travel, as this historical array of work revealed, is not only about transborder access, but about what one is able to do having reached one’s destination.

Sarah Lookofsky