ATEMPAUSEN A portrait of Jan Niksinski by Hatto Fischer (1985)

Mitteilungen of the Institute of Modern Art Nuremberg No. 3637/38 Sept/Oct 1985

Polish prints, mostly dark and bright counterpoints to broadly pessimistic themes, reflect “traces of destruction”. A high level of craftsmanship contributes to the fact that these works are characterised by the “light”. Jan Niksinski belongs to the younger generation of Polish graphic artists who are trying to continue this style in a slightly different way. He shares the opinion with many of his artist friends that, in contrast to classical graphic art, much less literature should be quoted, if at all, as this would only harm the artistic image. As a result, he developed his own symbolic language with many quotations from history, archaeology, political caricature and poster art. This not only reveals an individual approach to culture and politics, but also something “fragmentary”, as the artist can no longer achieve an independent continuity by constantly reacting to the changes taking place.

In Jan Niksinski’s work, this can be seen in the contrast between graphic art and drawing. While the former belongs more to an experimental phase with various “mixed techniques” (as a reaction to the most diverse themes and therefore not easily memorable), the drawing is characterised by a strong self-confidence in dealing with “linear contrasts”. In other words, he shows his own style more directly in the drawings than in the graphics. Nevertheless, Jan Niksinski differs from the others in that he presents stories in a more abstract and at the same time more vivid and resolvable way, and does so with a “warm” sense of humour.

Jan Niksinski lives and works in a neighbourhood in Warsaw that is comparable to Kreuzberg {Berlin). There is poverty, dark backyards and dreary house fronts, but also a flourishing black market; the social conditions of the people there are correspondingly poor. Since then, he has worked as an artist, endeavouring to refine his “abstract symbolic language” in order to create graphic “lines” from a wide range, from concrete objects to elements of writing and text. He endeavours to create graphic “lines” from a wide range, from concrete objects to written elements or geometric constellations

His graphic and drawing strength lies in capturing “fragments of light” both poetically and “intellectually”. He strives for “pauses for breath” in order to make “what has become” (e.g. from a dream or the architectural history of a city) reflectable once again from an abstract perspective. By dissolving the concrete, he demands a dialogue with the possibilities of what has already “become”. As an artist, Niksinski thus shows that these “remains” are still valuable; the prerequisite, however, is that a lively dialogue about the “existence of things” takes place, which were once objects of intellectual interest and are now almost buried in an anti-intellectual world. The “problem of perception” alone no longer seems to interest anyone, not even on the part of art.

Jan Niksinski assumes that human perceptual possibilities belong to an abstract universe. In order to get there, he believes that there must first be a dissolution of the concrete. However, the disadvantage of such a fragmentary contrast only becomes apparent in the way these images are received. There is a tendency to pack everything into mere forms of recognition (by means of familiar objects) in order to concretise the abstract once again. This leads to restrictions in the possibilities of association, to recourse to auxiliary constructions, to remaining on the surface, and does not free us from “viewing habits”. Viewed in this way, images no longer breathe – like a “fish” without water and oxygen. Like the philosopher, Jan Niksinski thematises the difficulties of perception in this world. He uses simple symbolic figures {taken from maths or writing) to illustrate his aliteraic approach in order to encompass the image. He wants to relate the fragments to each other in order to facilitate a dialogue between concrete and abstract perceptual processes. This in turn has to do with his endeavour to create new ways of remembering different ways of seeing. The prerequisite for this are pauses to breathe – as if the sunrise were being consciously experienced for the first time before the work begins. His painting “Fish dreamed” can be taken as an example of this intellectual endeavour. Here he not only shows a difference between reality and abstraction in terms of lines, but also possible associations that arise in the abstract for the concrete. Accumulated lines can therefore be both the reed, through which the implied fish swims, and a bundle of brushwood. The association on the level of imagination reflects a condition of the dream of future life: It must be “articulable” vis-à-vis reality, or be able to hold its own in the highly charged relationship between the unconscious and the conscious. The drawings are free of apocalyptic tones insofar as, in comparison to Sigmund Freud’s “Wunderblock”, they are reminiscent of wax plates in which “memory lines” remain visible.

Niksinski’s attempt to avoid pessimistic statements is not always successful. Instead, his graphics in particular provide a way of approaching the cultural history of the West. In one graphic, books are covered with spider webs at the top of the picture, while parts of the Rosetta Stone can be seen at the bottom. The centre of the picture is divided into two different spaces. One space appears expansive and expansive, while the other is characterised by its depth. The whole picture suggests that much of cultural history is lying fallow. In addition, a modern art problem is palpable: the externalisation of form leads to alienation, to a failure to achieve practical standards. An accumulation of symbolic political messages, closely linked to cultural history, contributes to the flattening of the image. However, this is offset by a dramatic intensification in the “ambivalence”.

In the picture, it can be birds, pigeons, aeroplanes, but also a burning book page, circling like “vultures” over a place in the picture, namely an unrecognisable one. Jan Niksinski seems to want to symbolise this place of “nothingness”, which consists of mere uncommitments. He again does so abstractly, i.e. with a minus and plus sign next to an infinitive sign. These signs are either an expression of the optician’s language in relation to visual difficulties, or something appears in the rifle sight. The whole picture thus metaphysically describes certain tensions that can only be resolved in a “history” of readings and ways of seeing. Niksinski considers the question of progress in cultural history to be unresolved: people circle themselves in their awareness of the “futile”. This happens in the picture through the contrast: further up, so to speak between the two spaces in the centre, the symbol of perfection (as Kant uses it) can be seen, namely the circle.

Jan Niksinski wants to describe emotional and intellectual possibilities for perception on the level of abstract signs ‘ graphically or graphically. In doing so, he moves close to fragile experiences because they presuppose questions and “amazement”. The artist captures the fragmented light in drawings. Here, the language of art symbolically becomes spiritual matter. He does not show many figurative elements.

The endeavour and a “renaissance of the gaze” is visible in the prints that show “house fronts”. Similar to the thesis of the philosopher of religion Klaus Heinrich on the “fascination for ruins”, Niksinski extends the reliefs of a house front into the abstract, i.e. into another space of tangible lines, and makes the geometric reality of the concrete, in this case the houses, visible.

The contrast between the concrete and the abstract is consistent in all the works. Once the theme has been established in terms of dissolving the concrete object, the “spiritual matter” of the picture is formed, so to speak, from the depiction of mere “lines. As in an “Experiment mundi”, he wants to abstractly reveal further possibilities for the poetic capture of “light”. This is certainly an optimistic attitude. It corresponds to a philosophical disposition to allow practical judgements to apply, as free as possible from the otherwise negative symbolic language of Polish graphic art. Ultimately, he wants to contrast reality with the “principle of hope”, because hope can only arise conditionally where there is a possible shift in experience and therefore a liberation from “prejudices”. If he succeeds in this concretisation in the abstract, then at least small pauses for breath arise in the interplay between lines and form: the “fragment of light” that the eyes need to see.