Active as both a conceptual artist and curator in Poland during the 1970s, Ryszard Wasko had an early career characterized by analytical investigations into time, space and movement and their relation to subjective perception. Wasko was influential in the development of the country’s process-based art scene, and was responsible for enabling presentations of international conceptual art during the late period of Soviet rule, which had isolated Poland from American and Western European art movements. ‘Time Frames – Conceptual Work from the ’70s’ focused on the artist’s early works, bringing together a group of black and white photographs, videos and drawings made between 1971 and 1977. Rather than conceiving of these media as distinct entities, Wasko was concerned with those common elements that link them, particularly photography and film’s shared relation to reality and its temporal fourth dimension.
Hung achronologically, the exhibition opened with a sequence of six photographs entitled Four Dimensional Photography (1972). Taken from inside a moving tram, each photograph reflects the vehicle’s increasing velocity, mapping speed and its effect on our interpretation of time and space. Concrete buildings, trees and pylons become increasingly indistinct, until the final frame captures an abstracted landscape of blurred grey bands.
The Accident (a police record) (1971) presented another series of individual photographs – this time displayed in a grid – showing various fragmented details of a car crash. Our eyes move over the images, which depict the scene over a period of minutes, inevitably merging them into a single narrative. A steering wheel and speedometer are depicted at close range from numerous angles; the blur of the wreckage is encountered from afar; a woman appears to have fallen out of the vehicle: we see inverted close-ups of her eerily open eyes. Wasko examines how we come to understand events, objects and places through an amalgamation of perspectives from different points in time. As viewers, we must collate these single frames in our imagination to form a whole view and a coherent narrative.
In the 1970s, Wasko was a member of the Film Form Workshop (WFF), an influential group of avant-garde artists in post-war Poland that were graduates of the film school in Łódž. Wasko’s films appear more like series of static images. Wall (1972) sees the artist manipulating space, as what initially appears to be a frozen image of a metal stairwell upon a brick wall reveals itself to be a non-linear sequence of frames spliced together; people begin to enter and disappear haphazardly from the scene, building to a crescendo of collaged bodies until the image finally returns to an unoccupied, brick-laden stillness.
Wasko further explored the boundaries of artistic media by venturing into the realm of performance art in 30 sound situations (1975), which examines the changing nature of sound in space. Appearing before the camera in various locations – a library, a stairwell, a park and a noisy workshop – Wasko recorded the sound and image of himself slapping two pieces of wood together. In each frame, the sound differs – short, sharp, gun-like, bellowing, obscured, echoing – a banal, repeated action revealing the contingency of sound as determined by the relativity of shifting space. The sculptural video piece Corner (1976) further questions the idea of spatial perception: a monitor rests in the corner of a room, displaying the image of an identical corner. Constructed space and real space are starkly juxtaposed, and yet are unnervingly identical.
Exhibiting internationally and connecting with artists across the world during a period of restricted travel for Polish citizens, Wasko was instrumental in bringing contemporary art to Poland. As a curator, he organized the exhibition ‘Construction in Process’ in Łódž in 1981, which included works by Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra, among many others. His cross-borders approach extended beyond the media in which he worked to geographical and political divisions. As Wasko explained in an interview with critic Lilly Wei in 2001, which looked back at the period: ‘People needed another view, they needed art to approach life, to make it bearable.’