‘Today the KwieKulik duet is considered one of the most important exponent of the Polish avant-garde during Polish People’s Republic. We wanted, however, to show their works in a way that would allow to notice not only the artistic discourse but also the images of their private, sexual relationship and the complicated relationship with the reality of Polish People’s Republic’, says Anna Zakrzewska, one of the authors of 'KwieKulik'.

Anna Zakrzewska and Joanna Turowicz, the authors of KwieKulik, follow the two artists as they prepare a retrospective exhibition of their works. Nonetheless, it is not yet another film about art in which, one after another, “talking heads” (critics, historians, theoreticians) analyse and interpret the works of the duet. Zakrzewska and Turowicz decided to adopt a personal perspective. They talk about clashes between the protagonists which arise when they select works for the exhibition, and about their attitude towards the present reality and towards what the artist left behind. 

Anna Zakrzewska and Joanna Turowicz were interviewed by Bolesław Racięski.

KwieKulik is not only the footage recorded by Patryk Jordanowicz and Kacper Lisowski but also a selection of archive material of the duet, which as can be seen in some of the scenes are very extensive. How long did it take to make the film, which initially was supposed to concern only Zofia Kulik? Why did the subject of the duet become more important? 

Anna Zakrzewska: The shooting to the film took three years. At the beginning, according to the first version of the script, we focused on Zofia. Only after a year when, still without the editor, we did an early selection of scenes and the first rough cuts, did we notice that the most strongest scenes where those in which Zofia Kulik meets her ex-partner, both in professional and private life, Przemysław Kwiek. We decided that instead a film about Zofia we would make a film about their relationship. 

Joanna Turowicz: Luckily, the shooting started in a period when Zofia, although she was at the peak of her international carrier,  stopped making her own art and started working at the immense archives of the Kwiekulik duet. In the years 1971-1987, Zofia and Przemysław were inseparable. They took a photo and video camera everywhere, so their collection includes innumerable films, slides and negatives, the records of their artistic activities. In an extensive interview I carried out in 2004 titled “The rebellion of a neo-avant-garde artist”, Zofia talks about her ambivalent attitude towards this archive and her role in the duet. For the first time she settles accounts with her ex-partner on a greater scale. She analyses her emotions, how she felt muffled in this symbiotic relationship, and wider in a masculinised environment of the avant-garde, where there wasn’t much space left for women artists. What she said surprised me with its great emotional force. When few years later, the artists began to meet and collaborate, I wasn’t surprised anymore that these strong emotions and frictions revived. Zofia, however, was much stronger. The meetings became more frequent. We started building our film on the observation, which was facilitated by the fact that, despite the split, the artists still lived at the same property, although in separate buildings. Before, there lives were somewhat separated. Each of them was busy creating their own art, the works from the time of the duet were presented rarely and individually. 

Anna Zakrzewska:  Today the KwieKulik duet is considered one of the most important phenomena of the Polish avant-garde during the Polish People’s Republic. We wanted, however, to show their works in a way that would allow to notice not only the artistic discourse but also the images of their private, sexual relationship and the complicated relationship with the reality of the Polish People’s Republic. The observation of the artists carried out presently strengthens this element. The force of our film is born where art and life meet. In the case of KwieKulik it is impossible to separate the two spheres. Art issues were the driving force of their relationship, the reason of their conflicts and successes. We present them as a couple of artists who is constantly between symbiosis and competition, at the same time we create a portrait of a family. Thanks to the use of their archives, we can watch their life within the space of forty years. 

Rather than on the works of Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek, KwieKulik  focuses on them – we can see them argue, brooding over the past… 

J. T.: In our film the borders between an observational documentary and an artistic creation blur slightly. The conversations between the artists, or rather their constant fights, don’t refer to banal, everyday problems but to, for example, the terminology used in the art of the 70’s or the ways of presenting works. As a matter of fact, the couple created their own idiosyncratic terminology describing their avant-garde art. Our film, however, won’t answer the question whether in the works of KwieKulik ‘there was or there wasn’t any object’ (one of the first conversations between Zofia and Przemysław). A viewer more inquisitive towards art will have to interpret it on their own. A viewer looking for a ‘human story’ in our documentary will be riveted by the emotional exchange between the protagonists and the particular, sometimes bitter, humour of the observed scenes. 

How did the artists react to the film?

A. Z.: Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek are very conscious artists. They have been working with a camera since the 70’s and are familiar with the video medium, the possibilities and traps of visuality. Zofia watched both the early materials and the subsequent cutting versions. When we had doubts whether to put, for example, some of the scenes of fights between her and Przemysław, she said, ‘But it’s true’. She wasn’t afraid to expose herself. They have always been radical artists and this courage of theirs shifted onto the screen.

Before Zofia watched the first selection of scenes around which the film was constructed, she had many doubts what would be the outcome. She agreed that it wasn’t the time for a film about her, but she couldn’t believe that only from observations, often interrupted, one can form a good film.

Later we talked a lot about the rhythm, length, and clashes of particular scenes with each other, less about the borders of privacy. Zofia and Przemysław settle accounts with their own life, ideals of the youth, with what is left of them. These conversation are carried out also during a visit of their son, who in his childhood was used by them in their artistic activities, e.g. photographed dressed is ZMS uniform (Socialist Youth Union) or in a toilet bowl. One may doubt, of course, whether the artists are not manipulating us, directors. The final scene places under a question mark the borders between documentary, truth and an artistic creation. The viewer has to decide if he has become an object of yet another KwieKulik’s “to-camera activity”.

Przemysław and Zofia didn’t censor anything in the film and, more importantly, they accepted the final version of the film, although both thought that their argument-attitude doesn’t win in the eyes of the audience. 

Are you planning at the moment a film about life or work of a Polish artist? 

A. Z.: I perceive my mission of an ‘interpreter’ between the world of art, often seen as hermetic and incomprehensible, and a ‘common viewer’. In Poland artists still too rarely become the subject of a documentary. We wanted the film to cross the narrow category of a ‘film about art’. In artists’ biographies there are fascinating reflections of Polish history, for example the too often omitted in textbooks visual side of the Polish People’s Republic, which wasn’t always as dull as it seems. A documentary can’t focus exclusively on the mythical, so-called ordinary man – here an artist, someone special, becomes ordinary. Thanks to observations, being so close to the protagonists instead of having critics, the so-called ‘talking heads’, speak about them, we are entering their everyday life. On the one hand, the art doesn’t separate us from men, on the other, there is so much of it in here, because it is somewhat second in line, we meet her through the protagonists, not otherwise. The next film I’m going to make is a portrait of a photographer Eustachy Kossakowski, on which I collaborate with Max Cegielski. Soon we begin the shooting.

J.T.: I, on the other hand, am attracted to the world of feature films and experiments in the spirit of New Wave. Presently, I am working at an experimental series called art crime. The series in an innovative way talks about the most outstanding Polish artists by joining a documentary with crime story.  I invited a scriptwriter and dramatist, Jarosław Kamiński into the project. We’re finishing the work on the concept of the cycle and the script to the pilot episode, we start looking for a producer.

(Translation by Olga Brawańska)