I is another / Je est un autre
Ja - to ktoś inny / Je est un autre

Every story can be told in many ways. In fact, every story told is a different story. In Akiro Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashōmon every witness to a crime testifies differently as to the truth. And today if we asked four different film directors to tell the story once again, we would probably receive four completely different pictures. We can only imagine what the most important aspect in Kurosawa's original story would be for Quentin Tarantino, and what would be emphasised by Roman Polański. A film made by Woody Allen would be completely different from one made by Terry Gilliam, even though the two of them seem to trace the absurdity which is continuously assaulting the beachheads of our peaceful reality. The problem with creating history is more than a problem of truth, whose objectivity is always unbalanced (and this is not even because ill will is at work!) by our personal preferences, taste and inclinations, experiences and fears, which have nothing to do with the subject that we are considering.

When a few years ago I talked to Paul Morrissey, the legendary film director from NYC, Andy Warhol’s collaborator and participant in events at the Factory of art run by the Pope of Pop, Paul let slip many controversial statements about more than just the films of the 60s and 70s. This interview has never been published. The famous Polish film magazine which commissioned it simply informed me that the version of these events presented by Morrissey was too far from the truth as portrayed by some of Andy’s other collaborators in a book being published at that time… Indeed, Paul was quite a radical and provocative interlocutor, and many of his theses during the conversation could be regarded as controversial.

In this interview a few questions were posed and not all of them were actually asked by me. When we talked about Andy Warhol and his experimental films from the mid-60s, Morrissey asked me if I had really ever seen them. ‘Of course, I have!’ I said but after a while I confessed that actually this was not the entire truth... Which of us, nowadays, is able to sacrifice almost 6 hours of precious time to watch a sleeping man (Sleep, 1963) or spend 8 hours contemplating the silhouette of the Empire State Building (Empire, 1964) shown in one static shot?

In fact, it is very likely that nobody has ever seen these films completely. (I'm thinking of course mostly about European and American audiences. Perhaps in other cultures there are different standards of watching). Morrissey claimed that Warhol's oeuvre was just a cynical joke about what could be sold as a work of art and how much money could be made from it. A difficult judgment to accept because opinions like this, in various forms, are often voiced by people who wouldn't even spend a minute of their precious time trying to understand contemporary art...

Jeff Koons, Cat on a Clothesline (1994-2001), Gagosian Gallery, Frieze Art Fair London 2013,
photo: Kamila Wielebska
One of the most apposite diagnoses of contemporary culture I have seen in the last few years.

Although some years have passed since this conversation with Paul, I still have a few questions in my mind: What was the impact of these films on culture, on the art and film of the 20th and 21st centuries? Just what is it that makes the Slovak-New Yorker artist's art so different, so appealing? Art which is, in truth, somewhat banal when we consider it for a moment. In Paul's opinion we treat Warhol's experimental films of the 60s (in his view, the same can be said about Jackson Pollock's paintings) as artworks because that is what we were taught at universities. We just repeat what we have been told instead of raising our voice and shouting, "The Emperor has no clothes!'. Overwhelmed by the authority of names, institutions and weight of publications we are unable to extract even a hint of sincerity and ask ourselves (and this is sometimes the most precious thing) just a few questions. If one of the aims of contemporary art is (as I believe it should be) to inspire us to pose questions, we should just feel free and easy doing this. But still the question is, are we also so keen to look for answers so as to avoid the situation where our questions turn out to be just the shallow attacks of ignoramuses?

If we are talking about art, I am sure of only one thing – in its presence we should feel perfectly unfettered. The ideal is to stand before art like a naked child, in a state of endless astonishment, to forget just for a while about this knowledge squeezed into our heads, about those authorities who have been preaching for years what is good and what is bad. The matter of respect for artists seems to me so obvious, I won't comment on. Although perhaps it is worth mentioning because the contemporary approach to art so often seems dangerously balanced between thick-skinned ignorance about somebody's sensitivity and a devotional approach to the maxims taught in schools. The ideal is then to stand before art perfectly free, to forget about ourselves but to always remember that this is always a fragment of a 'history' told by someone else whose point of view may be completely different from ours. Just as our own history would be told differently by others, which in itself is both fearsome and fascinating.

One of the answers among those which come to my mind now is that the issue of creating stories, history of art included, is to a large extent an ethical issue (does this sound a bit old-fashioned?). In the latest issue of 'Intertekst' we are trying especially for you to find an answer to the question of how it really is... Please, read, think, and never hesitate to pose questions and search (on your own) for answers. Whatever happens...

Kamila Wielebska

Proofreading: Robin Gill