Jurkiewicz – Astronomer/architect

This essay was published in the 2021 book accompanying the ZDZISŁAW JURKIEWICZ. OCCURRENCES exhibition at the Muzeum Narodowe in Wrocław curated by Marika Kuźmicz in 2021.

Zdzisław Jurkiewicz trained as an architect in the 1950s and then taught students of architecture at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology for much of the rest of his life. But he never practiced architectural design. Playing a key part in the development of neo-avant-garde art in Poland in the 1970s, his interest in abstract ideas like infinity and his appetite for cosmology kept him at a distance from the practical end of architecture as building boomed under First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party Edward Gierek in the 1970s. The rapid spread of high-rise panel housing, neighbors to numerous new brutalist cultural houses and boxy sports centers, marked the ambitions of the authorities in steel, glass and concrete. Success was measured in quantity not quality. At the same time, parts of the urban environment were reshaped by flag-ship engineering and transit projects like Trasa Łazienkowska, a multilane highway punched through the center of the capital, opening on the thirtieth anniversary of communist rule in 1974. Other symbolic avenues to a motorized future followed in other Polish cities, including Wrocław, Jurkiewicz’s home for his entire adult life.[1] Architecture and urbanism played a key role in the state’s claim to be an instrument of progress, and architects, operating as technocrats in large state offices, were, in large numbers, willing servants. Scale and ambition fostered a strong sense of moving with the currents of world development too, ensuring that Polish architects felt in sync with their peers in the West, at least until the foreign loans by which Gierek’s boom was financed needed repaying. This was a program of modernization built on a platform of industrialization and technological invention rather than on modernity, characterized by Svetlana Boym as critical reflection on the new forms of perception and experience that modernization affords, one that “makes us critical subjects rather than mere objects of modernization and includes the dimension of freedom as well as the recognition of its boundaries.”[2]

Despite operating as a powerful advertisement for Gierek’s rule, architecture in the Polish People’s Republic accommodated a relatively small but influential fringe of figures engaged in the kind of critical reflection that Boym prized. Sometimes operating at the intersection of art and architecture, teaching in art schools and technical universities or even working in specialist civil engineering offices, a number of critics and architectural designers developed critiques of technocratic modernization and, towards the end of the 1970s, even bold criticism of its effects on the natural environment or on society.[3] Indeed, architectural discourse was relatively uninhibited in Poland in the 1960s and 1970s, at least in comparison to other parts of the Eastern Bloc. And Polish architects were fairly well connected to international currents too. Ideas drawn from structuralism and communication theory, gestalt psychology, phenomenology and cybernetics invigorated discussion of “late” modernism in the People’s Republic but also encouraged an awareness of its limits.

Jurkiewicz’s The Sun 1.VII.1972

Architecture, as practiced, theorized and debated in the Polish People’s Republic, provides an alternative prism through which to interpret Jurkiewicz’s work as an artist—one with re-fractions different from those of art history. Consider his The Sun 1.VII.1972, a work created late one afternoon on a summer day in 1972 using a telescope and a mirror to project an image of the sun’s movement in the sky across his kitchen wall. A bright disk passing below a measure fixed to the wall was recorded in a series of photographs, each accompanied by a note of the time taken. The path of the star—a low ellipsis—was followed by carefully moving the telescope’s axis by hand. This work has been interpreted as reflecting the prevailing interest in light which characterized much Polish conceptual art: “Its neutrality, lack of physical characteristics, which could be grasped by the senses,” writes Paweł Polit, “corresponded to the postulate of dematerialization.”[4] And reflecting specifically on The Sun 1.VII.1972, Polit highlights the reversal of the allegory of Plato’s cave which occurs in this work: it is the sun that is observed as a bright circle on the wall, rather than the shadows it produces.[5] Capturing the sun seems like an act of audacity (or, as Polit puts it, a “blasphemous act”). Viewed differently, The Sun 1.VII.1972 seems to have kinship with a pre-occupation in modern architecture in gauging the effects of the path of the sun on buildings and their inhabitants. Modernists in the interwar years treated sunlight as a design factor, with figures like Le Corbusier lacing bold claims for the health-giving properties of natural light with quasi-mystical thinking about man’s harmonic relations with the sun. In Poland, Mieczysław Twarowski’s research into the effects of what architects call the “solar orientation” of buildings was published as a much-trans-lated book in 1962 entitled Słońce w architekturze [The Sun in Architecture].[6] In it, he offered a sun ruler to his profession, a graphic tool that makes it possible to determine the degree of illumination of individual rooms of a building at different times of day and of the year, as well as a discussion of the hygiene and health benefits of solar radiation. Rather more poetically, Twarowski also laid out the grounds for “helioplastics,” a branch of environmental aesthetics in which natural light itself might form the basis of a partially immaterial, temporal and kinetic art. Herein lay the possibility of a new enchantment with our environment, whether in the form of grilles and silhouettes to scatter light at home differently over the course of the day, or planting tall trees to form light corridors through the landscape. Might Jurkiewicz’s experiment in his kitchen be understood, in Twarowski’s terms, as “phases of artistic expression”?[7]

Illustration from Twarowski’s Słońce w architekturze [The Sun in Architecture], 1962

Indeed, art and architecture seemed to have been “in phase” in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with a significant crossover between the two. Concepts like “environment” were shared by both professions, marking new ideas about the modern world and its living subjects. Approached as an environment, in the words of Jerzy Ludwiński, “The art object loses its significance and becomes a prop in the surrounding space. Emotional space, created through the mutual influences of sets of objects, gathers in importance. … The viewer does not look at the work of art from the outside but is inside it. The limits between different genres of the visual arts are obliterated.”[8] At a larger scale, the term signalled a concern for the interdependencies of all forms of life on the planet. To conceive of art or architecture as “environments” was often to assert what critic Aleksander Wojciechowski called the “principles of modernist humanism”: “One of the tasks of an ethical nature,” he wrote in 1976, “is to protect the spiritual life of the contemporary man who is maladjusted to rapid economic and social changes. … Today [art] has assumed an additional duty of protecting individual human beings and whole social groups against the corrupting influences of modern industrial civilization, including pollution.”[9]

In the late 1960s and the 1970s, Wrocław, Jurkiewicz’s home city, was the setting of some of the most ambitious exchanges between art and architecture in Poland. He formed his ideas and made his art in the company of thinkers with extraordinary ambitions for the revival of the avant-garde, who imagined art, ideas and even the entire planet in terms of long trajectories. In the face of the pragmatic “presentism” of the Polish state, they imagined the futures shaped by as yet unknown technologies and forms of communication. They included Ludwiński, a theorist, curator and writer who elaborated a theory of the “post-artistic era,” imagining the future transformation of art into a form as yet unknown which would ultimately absorb aspects of reality itself:

There are processes taking place in the consciousness of numerous people which are not revealed by any means of communication known to us. Perhaps a new civilization will be capable of receiving them through some means related to telepathy. This would be a kind of art, ideally universal and at the same time ideally neutral.[10]

With like ambition, another Wrocław futurist, Stefan Müller, was the author of Terra X – idea totalnej urbanizacji świata [Terra X: An Idea of Total Urbanization of the World] (1973), a much-reproduced proposal for a massive self-supporting structure floating above the surface of the entire planet at a height of some 2,000–2,500 meters which would provide a new home for humanity and give nature a respite from industry and despoilation.[11] Jurkiewicz participated in a number of events in Wrocław where architecture and art met too. The Wrocław ’70 Art Symposium (Sympozjum Plastyczne Wrocław ’70), in which Ludwiński played an influential role, and Terra 2 in 1981, the second of two international exhibitions of “intentional architecture” organized by Müller, were, in part, attempts to lift architecture out of the technocratic zone and to revive modernist cosmology.

The Field of Perception

The Wrocław ’70 Symposium marked a new scale of ambition for environmental art in Poland.[12] Organized ostensibly as part of the official celebrations to mark the “return of the western and northern lands to the motherland” and to generate schemes to beautify a city that still bore terrible war-time scars, backed by organizations like SARP, the official union of architects, the event took the form of an exhibition in the city’s Museum of Architecture, presentations in the Mona Lisa Gallery, sixteen commissions for public spaces in the city (largely un-realized) and, of course, the several major meetings of artists and critics which give the event its name. Artists were invited to participate on the basis of nominations by well-placed critics. In the event, few of their schemes were realized. Among those was veteran modernist Henryk Stażewski’s Kompozycja pionowa nieograniczona [Unlimited Vertical Composition], in which nine beams of colored light were projected deep into the night sky on the evening of 9 May 1970 from a site still empty twenty-five years after the end of the Second World War. Photographs documenting the event show citizens sitting with their faces turned to the sky, bathed in the warm glow of the beams of light. Pointing to infinity, Stażewski’s work achieved the rare feat of being in accord with official propaganda by marking the anniversary of the end of the Second World War (as observed in the Eastern Bloc) and being a seemingly immaterial work of art.

Jurkiewicz, Pole percepcji [The Field of Perception],

Jurkiewicz’s contribution, Pole percepcji [The Field of Perception], remained only a proposal. Abstract, geometric forms, large enough to suggest architecture, but not at the scale of buildings, were to be installed on a flat plain, screened from the rest of the city by a wall of trees. A maquette exhibited at the Museum of Architecture during the symposium features a sphere and three cylindrical forms—two lying horizontally on their sides and the other standing, each inscribed with a spiral groove. Specifying that they were to be made from concrete with a “fine white aggregate,” these forms were to be perfectly regular “so that the eye ‘glides’ over them without hindrance, perceiving … the essential sense and logic of the arranged objects and their changing mutual relations.”[13] Some elements were also to be moveable, thereby “giving the viewer a degree of freedom in the location of the component objects.”[14] Other variations of the scheme were proposed by Jurkiewicz. One featured a larger dodecahedron of 8–10 meters in height which would be painted in different red and blue contrasts to achieve the optical effects of “dematerialization.”[15] Here, the boundaries of the object would be difficult to perceive. This was an effect he understood from temporary experiments with colored light. In his Environment w pulsującym czerwonym i niebieskim świetle [An Environment in Pulsing Red and Blue Light] (1969–70) he had been able to shift any certain sense of surface and edge, distance and volume by changing the intensity of red and blue light on a congregation of curving cuboids in the gallery.

Jurkiewicz, Environment w pulsującym czerwonym i niebieskim świetle [An Environment in Pulsing Red and Blue Light] (1969–70)

Jurkiewicz took a keen interest in the range of perceptual effects which might be offered by the field, writing: “Our eyes fail us: under certain conditions of observation, the sphere appears larger or smaller; some objects blend into the back-ground, forming unforeseen shapes, others are drawn distinctly.”[16] As such, it shared much in common with the ideas of Juliusz Żórawski, an architect whose book O budowie formy architektonicznej [On the Construction of Architectural Form] (1962) was perhaps the most influential study of gestalt psychology in post-war Poland.[17] Ostensibly a textbook on architectural design by one of the leading pre-war modernists, it was, in effect, a study of perception and the effects of form on the psychology of viewers. Żórawski claimed that we manage the complexity of our experiences of the environment by processes of reduction (in which we seek out and perceive elementary shapes) and similarity (comparing new perceptions with memories — or internalized images — that we have lodged). Our cognitive apparatus is constantly being used and so develops through our changing and ever-growing experience of space. Żórawski also stressed the individual dimensions of spatial perception. Sensations and emotional associations produce internalized images of space which are, as such, not communicable, not reducible to signs and symbols. Sensation, subjectivity and emotion were low priorities in a political setting that measured progress by the meter, but were privileged in his analysis, adding much to the appeal of his ideas to his readers, and the book was published in numerous editions.

Żórawski also introduced to architecture a new vocabulary derived from his readings of gestalt psychology. In his analysis, “cohesive forms,” for instance, are characterized by unambiguity, whereas “free forms” are marked with weak connections between parts. Architecture required cohesion:

There are no informal perceptions. There is no matter without form for man. The formal organization of this matter can be formed more freely, more coherently, more or less strongly, more or less distinctly. There is a drive for form in man, evident in the fact that we grasp for and feel the sensation of form in objects from nature. Therefore, it is understandable that this aspiration must influence our works. A house is very rarely as free a form as the disorder of stars or a flock of crows. Architecture is usually unambiguously and explicitly formed. The elements from which a house is composed are not grouped freely and poorly, unless it is our special intention. Almost always architecture is formed in such a way that there is no need to look for its form, much like when observing the stars in the sky.[18]

Drawing a sharp line between conventional works of art and also architecture, Jurkiewicz explained his intentions for The Field of Perception:

In this lesson in artistic thinking I want to effectively strike at all false beliefs, based on old, ancient premises, about the power of illusion and the representation of disembodied abstract ideas, all imaginary stories and visions, and the artificial separation of so-called content and form. Contrary to superficial opinion, these are not “forms for architecture.” They are possible simple objects (with minor complexities) that may lead, in effect, to wider and more significant conclusions. What we need is a field of fundamental activities—a region of visual and mental experience.[19]

This was much like Rosalind E. Krauss’s description of the works of Jurkiewicz’s contemporary Robert Morris in the US, i.e. that they were “not-landscape” and “not-architecture.”[20]

“Not art,” The Field of Perception was, Jurkiewicz claimed, a strike against the order of monuments produced to assert values or to mark exemplary lives or historic events in the People’s Republic. And “not architecture,” The Field of Perception was, as Jurkiewicz made clear, not some preliminary model for future construction. It was not to be “scaled up.” If its elements could be considered in terms of function at all, then their role was to change the viewer, not the city. His purpose was a kind of heightened experience of looking, one that might provide a “defense in a time when … visual and informational chaos reigns supreme”:

We look for the umpteenth time at a building. A street, a tree, a poster, a shop window, each object is an “X” of shapes and colors. But it does not stop there; a more careful look reveals yet more with each passing moment—a further complex layering of shapes and colors. Fortunately, we do not notice everything, nor do we retain everything in the imagination.[21]

Jurkiewicz continues with words that could have come from Żórawski’s On the Construction of Architectural Form:

And yet objects, or rather this meaningless ensemble (meaningless at least to the eyes), “look back at us” insolently; each wants to “inform” us. We defend ourselves. It would be best to isolate ourselves from all this noise and find ourselves in a zone of calm looking and contemplation … a place where our eyes encounter certain spatial objects, but how different from those we know from everyday experience.[22]

Paweł Polit has read politics in these words, suggesting that they might be an encouragement to screen out the visual propaganda that decorated the cityscapes of the Polish People’s Republic.[23] One suspects that Polish citizens were already good at that. Moreover, this order of asceticism was a regular refrain in the design and architectural press in the late 1960s and the 1970s, with commentators — artists, critics and architects — lining up to call for the end of urban “cacophony” and unsynchronized development.[24] Such arguments served these professions well, securing prestigious opportunities as well as the larger project of modernist urban planning and environmental design. Indeed, one might wonder whether Jurkiewicz was being tactical when claiming that The Field of Perception might provide such cleansing effects. Rather than consolidate homogenous, “coherent” forms befitting architecture or urban “harmony,” Jurkiewicz’s Field of Perception imagined their loosening.

Parallels can be drawn here between The Field of Perception and other quasi-architectural works presented during the symposium. Artist Jerzy Rosołowicz, for instance, presented his Neutrdrom (1967) scheme there: a 100-meter-high inverted cone to be set on an open plain, near a large town. Travelling in an elevator in which the light slowly dimmed, the visitor would step out into the dazzling luminosity of the circular platform on top of the structure. Standing on a mirror, they would be bathed in a cosmic symphony of light. Others could enter into a sphere, 35 meters in diameter, rolling around the foot of the tower Filled with light and sound, this was to be a closed universe of sensation. This was a high-tech structure without purpose or utility. The Neutrdrom was an exploration into Rosołowicz’s philosophy of “neutral action,” in which purposelessness was a value in its own right. He described this ethos a few years before the symposium in proto-environmentalist terms as “all those activities of man which bring him neither benefit nor harm. It is the opposite of conscious intentional action and, at the same time, its complement.” A “do-no-evil” approach would redirect modern science to better ends, releasing its cosmic potential.[25] In the Neutrdrom, the visitor would become a “creative man,” rather than a consumer or user, his or her destructive counterparts.

What is striking about The Field of Perception, the Neutrdom, and other proposals from the period, including Terra X, Müller’s proposal to gird the earth with a new engineered habitat, is that they combined enthusiasm for and anxiety about modernity in equal measure. Always claiming that their designs could be realized, their schemes implied the application of new discoveries in science and technology, and yet they eschewed usefulness, at least in any conventional sense.

Drawing Lines

Jurkiewicz, Kształt ciągłości. 6 x 44 m [The Shape of Continuity: 6 × 44 m] (1974)

The Field of Perception and Jurkiewicz’s other experimental environments of the era sought to affect perceptions of form and volume. In drawings and photographic works produced in the years after the Wrocław symposium, Jurkiewicz seems to have become curious about how lines demark space. These trials included efforts to track the movement of the sun inside his Wrocław apartment (The Sun 1.VII.1972) as well as Rysunek na ścianie, płótnie i sztalugach; Omega [Drawing on a Wall, Canvas and Easel; Omega] (1971), a photo series that unsettles foreground and background by means of a thick black line. His ideas were assembled into a large series of works—drawings, installations, paintings, sculptural works — all sharing the words Kształt ciągłości [The Shape of Continuity] in their titles. In his crisp linear drawings in the series, Jurkiewicz employed elements that were the stock-in-trade of the architectural drawing, at least at the time. Many feature scale bars, for instance, while others look like perspective projections signifying volume. Kształt ciągłości. 6 x 44 m [The Shape of Continuity: 6 × 44 m] (1974) features shapes that look much like the thick frames of a lancet window plotted in different positions in a schematic room. The “window” shifts from the wall onto the floor, accompanied by projection lines (of the kind Twarowski used to map shadows over the course of the day in his book on the effects of sunlight). Sections feature, too: in Kształt ciągłości: Baza [The Shape of Continuity: Base] (1972), the base of a Corinthian column is presented in thin profiles as if finely sliced. In their cool precision, Jurkiewicz’s drawings from the first half of the 1970s look much like technical drawings.

In his attempts to delineate space, he shared, of course, a concern with architects, a profession charged with creating spaces and structures. This is a task they have usually approached indirectly, through the medium of drawing. As Robin Evans notes:

Drawing in architecture is not done after nature, but prior to construction; it is not produced by reflection of the reality outside the drawing, as productive of a reality that will end up outside the drawing. The logic of classical realism is stood on its head, and it is through this inversion that the architectural drawing has obtained an enormous and largely unacknowledged generative power: by stealth.[26]

In other words, new buildings are typically lines before they are volumes and structures. The indirect nature of the architectural drawing is not its only paradox. On a plan or section, precise lines of geometry mark the edges and position of “fixed” elements like windows, walls and ceilings, but architects since the early twentieth century, if not earlier, have declared an avowed interest in the continuous flow of space and movement. Famously, Adolf Loos was the champion of the Raumplan,[27] an idea he realized in the spiraling arrangement of split-level floors through the Villa Müller in Prague (1930), and at around the same time, Le Corbusier developed the notion of the promenade architecturale, a ritualistic conception of architecture as a path through spaces organized to enhance perception.[28] Movement presented a limit to the conventional architectural plan, one which architects sought nevertheless to overcome by developing new graphic devices and techniques over the course of the twentieth century. Architect Daniel Libeskind, who led the reinvigoration of the architectural drawing in the 1970s, wrote in 1981:

There is a historical tradition in architecture, whereby drawings … signify more than can be embodied in stabilized frameworks of objective data. If we can go beyond the material carrier (sign) into the internal reality of a drawing, the reduction of representation to a formal system, which may at first seem void and useless, begins to appear as an extension of reality which is quite natural.[29]

Consider Kształt ciągłości: 4 x 10 metrów [The Shape of Continuity: 4 × 10 meters], a drawing Jurkiewicz produced in 1971. Like other works in the series, it shows off his brilliant command of technique. One imagines Jurkiewicz in his trade-mark spectacles working at a drawing board equipped with a planimeter. It presents a single line in four different “phases” on two joined sheets of card. Two of these phases are strictly recti-linear and obey the principles of geometry, first forming nested rectangles and then squares. With parallel lines and crisp 90° turns, these geometries maintain the kind of order and control that Le Corbusier eulogized in his Poem of the Right Angle (Le Poème de l’Angle Droit, 1953).[30] If imagined as contour lines, these quadrilaterals suggest a regular structure rising above the ground, perhaps like a Sumerian ziggurat. The other two phases of the line on the right-hand sheet belong to a different order. The line now appears to follow a kind of looping path (one that Le Corbusier dismissed as the “confusion” of “the law of the meander”: in one phase it looks like the flight-lines of a bee pollinating a meadow, or perhaps subterranean burrows, before gathering its energy to orbit around an undefined pole in the second phase. Here, the contour lines — if the drawing continues to be interpreted in this way — now suggest a natural geological form, perhaps a craggy mountain.

Organized on two sheets, these four phases invite not only imaginative projections of this kind, but also comparison: a stepped pyramid stands opposite its twin in nature, a mountain; a parade ground stands firm against a meandering path. (Or if we were to adopt Żórawski’s framework, “cohesive forms” confront “free forms.”) But, paradoxically, Jurkiewicz undermines his invitation to the viewer to “translate” a drawing into landmarks in this way by his use of the tools of the architect: the drawing features a scale bar, a device that enables accurate measurement. However, in Jurkiewicz’s hands it no longer acts as an aid in “scaling up” by 1:2, 1:3 or any other ratio. Instead, the increments on the scale are at 1:1. Thus, The Shape of Continuity: 4 × 10 Meters is not a drawing “to scale” but is “at scale”: a 10-meter line on the paper seems to be precisely that length. The title makes it clear that the drawing is about the line rather than the space it appears—somewhat suggestively or even metaphorically—to delineate. Or, as he put it, “I’ve drawn some meters of line. They are not burdened by any load, and nothing drags along behind them.”[31]

On first inspection, the “tautological” drawings in the Shape of Continuity series seem to line Jurkiewicz up with other conceptual artists of the day. Eschewing illusionist techniques of narrative film, for instance, artists working within the tradition of Structural Cinema proposed a critical examination of the materiality of film and video. Ewa Partum, for instance, made a series of short films that she called “Tautological Cinema” in 1973 and 1974. Her grainy black-and-white 8 mm film 10 metrów taśmy [10 Meters of Film] records a hand-held board on which measurements, expressed in plastic letters, appear in sequence: 1 meter, 2 meters, 3 meters, etc. Running through the projector, the film does not depict time and space in the conventional manner; instead, it literally measures them. The high-ly self-referential works of American conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth also come to mind. Jurkiewicz’s Kształt ciągłości: “krz-esło” – “krzesło” krzesło – krzesło [The Shape of Continuity: ‘Chair”-”Chair” Chair-Chair] (1971) might reasonably be taken as a response to Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs of 1965. In 1969, Kosuth famously declared all art to be tautological be-cause it is invariably “a presentation of the artist’s intention, that is, [the artist] is saying that that particular work of art is art, which means, is a definition of art.”[32] He made his point by reference to mathematics and geometry, citing analytical philosopher A.J. Ayer: “the axioms of a geometry are simply definitions, and … the theorems of a geometry are simply the logical consequences of these definitions. A geometry is not in itself about physical space; in itself it cannot be said to be ‘about’ anything.”[33]

Jurkiewicz’s geometries may be about lines, but they are about other things too. His Shape of Continuity drawings reject the kind of confident purposefulness of the architectural drawing and resist the austere logic of Conceptual Art, but remain, nevertheless, tied to both. They also have a kind of lyrical, even absurd quality. Here, a short, one-paragraph-long story by Jurkiewicz’s favorite writer, Jorge Luis Borges, seems like a close ally. In “On Exactitude in Science” (1946), Borges, ventriloquizing a fictitious historical writer, imagines an empire where the pursuit of perfection in cartography results in a map the same size as the territory it depicts.[34] Exactitude can, evidently, be used to doubt exactitude.

Libeskind, Micromegas Project. Time Sections (1979),

Jurkiewicz’s drawings anticipate new forms of paper architecture that were to emerge in the late 1970s. A number of architects secured stellar reputations for philosophical texts and oblique drawings that explored paradoxes and “problems” raised by their readings of structuralism and deconstruction for architecture. In the hands of Peter Eisenman, Bernard Tschumi and Daniel Libeskind, the medium of the drawing seemed to de-tach itself from the productive “task” of building, becoming increasingly concerned with its own means and effects. Combining geometry and much fantasy, Libeskind’s “Deconstructionist” drawings, produced when teaching at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, such as his Micromegas Project series (1979), come closest to those by Jurkiewicz in Poland. Fragments, evidently drawn from the lexicon of architectural drawing, are combined in Libeskind’s “plans” in ways that seem to offer no cues for translation into building. Some parts look like axonometric sections, others like plans, and structural forms pile up as if an explosion has occurred or as if gravity is not the governing force in this universe. Space seems to torque and twist, but all these elements are held within retaining walls, more or less rectilinear in form like the paper on which the drawings (and later the print edition) appear. Libeskind’s drawing cycle takes its name from Voltaire’s eighteenth-century novella, a work of proto-science fiction describing the expulsion of a being called Micromegas (literally “small-large”), who travels from a distant planet orbiting Sirius to our solar system and eventually to Earth. Ancient and enormous, at least when compared with human beings, this visitor measures the universe as he passes through it. Voltaire writes that the traveller’s “microscope, which could barely distinguish a whale from a boat, could not capture anything as elusive as a man.”[35] As in Voltaire’s story, perspective and scale constantly shift in Libeskind’s drawings. Little support is offered to the viewer to order the “small-large” world, with only a passage from the novella reproduced on the cover of the print edition as a confusing “scale bar.”

Terra 2

Jurkiewicz, A Challenge for Science, Architektura, 6, 1984

In 1981, Jurkiewicz’s Wrocław ally Stefan Müller mounted the Terra 2 exhibition as part of the 15th World Congress of Architects, which gathered in Poland in June. This was the second version of an event first held in 1975, then in conjunction with the AICA International Congress in Warsaw. Just as in 1975, Müller invited celebrated international and Polish figures to submit examples of what he called “intentional architecture,” i.e., proposals for visionary architecture unhindered by com-promise or narrow technical or material considerations. In his invitation to Terra 2, he stressed the connectivity and interdependence of life on the planet. In the call for exhibits, he asked: “Which areas of products (or ideas) are covered by the concept of present-day architecture? What are the associations between natural or biological environment and urbanisation processes? What transformations in the living and material world are necessary to people?”[36] In the event, dozens of “programs” were shown at the Museum of Architecture in Wrocław, mainly in the form of bold collages and fantastic sketches, rather than detailed drawings: Japanese architect Shoei Yoh offered a megastructural habitat in an inhospitable landscape; Yona Friedman from France sketched out his longstanding concept of the Ville Spatiale. Other contributors included economists, writers, anthropologists, sociologists and historians.

In an article published after the exhibition closed, Müller remarked that another “genre” had also appeared at the exhibition, which he called “spontaneous architecture”—a new regionalism that resulted from the local economic, social and political conditions of the day.[37] Terra 2 had been held as the tensions between the independent Solidarity trade union and the authorities were coming to a head, with a wave of workplace strikes and demands for economic and political reform. The contribution of Polish architect Konrad Kucza-Kuczyński might be taken as an example of a change of mood: it was a collage poster in which the image of a tall block of flats (increasingly an impoverished symbol of the Gierek era in its final days) was accompanied by a long queue of people with the word “NO” above them. In contrast with the regular tower blocks, “new spontaneity” was to be found in the form of low and informally arranged houses, workshops and sheds with gable roofs, brick and wooden walls: a “natural” architecture was counterposed with the industrial, economic and rectilinear form of technocratic design. As such, it was in tune with the ringing demands for political, social and economic reform being expressed by Solidarity in that summer of protests. Another panel represented Bogdan Pietruszka and Wiesław Szyślak’s Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers in Gdańsk, which had been raised in the northern city to commemorate the lives of protesters killed there in clashes with the police in 1970.

 Jurkiewicz’s reflection on the Terra 2 exhibition included a statement in tune with the new self-critical mood in Polish architecture:

Architect. Omniscient—Multiplied Hundredfold—Architect has already built everything; from damned Plattenbau boxes to cunningly twisted supra-avantgarde visions. Anyway, how long is it possible to play a game of so-called form-shaping?

Art seemed to Jurkiewicz to have been all but abandoned by architects: “What is left?” he asked. “Sociology with its pretense and delusions. Technology. And, above all, economics with its savage and merciless ‘laws’.”[38] After a decade of the hasty modernization and technocratic program of Gierek’s Poland, Jurkiewicz was decidedly tetchy: “I direct my words of accusation towards science and technology, towards Authorities and Societies of Eminent Experts…. Ironically, we were granted another type of bullshit, which is constantly erring futurology.”[39]

His contribution to the Terra 2 exhibition was somewhat oblique and even perverse when compared to the “new spontaneity.” He exhibited a panel featuring images of UFOs and extraterrestrial beings under the slogan “A Challenge to Science.” They included grainy photographic shots of flying saucers and sketches of smooth-headed, large-eyed aliens from the popular media, as well as a copy of a sixteenth-century woodcut depicting a cloud of dark globes battling in the sky over Basel. UFOs were “in the air” in Poland in the late 1970s (as they were else-where): a “close encounter of the fourth kind” experienced by a farmer in Emilcin had become national news in 1978. Jurkiewicz was ready for one too, with the words “Witamy UFO” (Welcome UFO) over the door of his apartment on ul. Łaciarska in Wrocław. Another image in the Terra 2 display featured his designs for homes for mice (treasured co-occupants of the apartment), which, in the company of the other images, looked much like spacecraft.

A portrait of Jurkiewicz presented to the artist by the Mexican-Polish artist Marcos Kurtycz featured in his Terra 2 display too. In an accompanying and playful text, his face is described as the design for a 20 × 30-meter landing site for alien visits to Earth. Art might be given this practical purpose, but that might not be evident to the visitors. Jurkiewicz writes: 

After several thousand years

when Alpha Polaris

did not point to the Pole of the World any longer

it happened

that a UFO vessel accidentally landed IN THIS PLACE

The crew did not observe anything peculiar maybe ga-

lactic coordinates were noted down

What was the most important remained unnoticed

none of the crew 

knew 

that they were 

in a zone of art itself

perfect art

Perfect

because so unrecognized

and even more perfect 

that remembering magnificent Borges

but also against his faith 

none of the cycles was ever repeated 

Ever

Tinged with humor and melancholy, the idea of a human face that could be viewed from space but was not recognized was clearly a critique of anthropocentrism. As science fiction writers from Voltaire (in Le Micromegas) to Jurkiewicz’s contemporary Stanisław Lem have warned, the central place given to human-kind in our dreams of the cosmos is a form of hubris. In Terra 2, it might well be a critique of the kind of planetary architecture Müller had invited architects to submit for display in 1981 too.

Terra 2 marked Jurkiewicz’s last engagement with architecture, or at least the boosterish program of modernization which it served. But there was also an autobiographical element in Jurkiewicz’s panels which extended beyond the presentation of his own portrait at the Museum of Architecture in Wrocław. His graduation project in 1956 had been the design of an observatory, and throughout his life he had kept his eyes on the universe, making a series of photographic documents between 1973 and 1977 recording the night sky with a camera made with an adapted telescope. Dark expanses of space punctuated with sharp pricks of starlight and the movement of planets were accompanied by maps of the stars or occasionally shots of the skyline of Wrocław from his window. Distant stars, which perhaps had long since imploded, left their traces on his photo-graphs. With wry humor, Jurkiewicz often called his “star and galaxy art” a modest response to “land art.”

In On the Construction of Architectural Form, Żórawski, the champion of gestalt thinking in architecture, had taken the “disorder” of stars as the epitome of the “free forms” that eluded human perception. Comparing them with the “cohesive forms” on which architecture depended, Żórawski wrote: “If one were to shake the heavens so that all the stars changed their position in various directions, the general character of the form they create would remain unchanged, and only an astronomer would notice the changes in arrangement.”[40] One suspects that Jurkiewicz was precisely that kind of astronomer-architect. In his apartment, with his hacked telescope-camera, he was the mirror image, in reverse, of Voltaire’s traveller from Sirius training his microscope on Earth.


[1] For the development of modern architecture and urbanism in Wrocław, see Agata Gabiś, Całe morze budowania. Wrocławska architektura 1956-1970 [A Whole Sea of Construction: Wroclaw Architecture 1956–1970] (Wrocław: Muzeum Architektury we Wrocławiu, 2018).

[2] Svetlana Boym, Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 7.

[3] See my essay “Modernizm realny około 1981” [Real Modernism c. 1981], in Teksty modernizmu. Antologia polskiej teorii i krytyki architektury 1918-1981 [Texts of Modernism: Anthology of Polish Theory and Criticism of Architecture], ed. Dorota Jędruch, Marta Karpińska and Dorota Leśniak-Rychlak, vol. 2 (Kraków: Instytut Architektury, 2019).

[4] Paweł Polit, “Experiences of Discourse: Polish Conceptual Art 1965–1975,” accessed March 2021, https://artmargins.com/.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See Denis Siret, “Une utopie artistique solaire urbaine des années 1960: l’hélio-plastique de Mieczyslaw Twarowski – Analyse critique et propositions pour une es-thétique solaire urbaine contemporaine,” Environnement Urbain 8 (2014): 48–64.

[7] Mieczysław Twarowski, Słońce w architekturze [The Sun in Architecture] (Warsaw: Arkady, 1962), 93.

[8] Jerzy Ludwiński, “The Method of Artistic Organization of the Presentation,” in Notes from the Future of Art: Selected Writings by Jerzy Ludwiński, ed. Magdalena Ziółkowska (Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum; Rotterdam: Veenman Publishers, 2007), 47.

[9] Aleksander Wojciechowski, “Environment w sztuce polskiej” [Environment in Polish Art], Projekt, March 1976, 25.

[10] Ludwiński, “Method,” 48.

[11] For an excellent discussion of the project, see Piotr Lisowski, “Terra X,”https://idealcity.pl/ accessed March 2021.

[12] See Danuta Dziedzic and Zbigniew Makarewicz, eds., Sympozjum Plastyczne Wrocław ‘70 [Wrocław ’70 Art Symposium] (Wrocław: Zjednoczone Przedsiębiorstwa Rozrywkowe, Ośrodek Teatru Otwartego Kalambur, 1983).

[13] Zdzisław Jurkiewicz, “Pole percepcji” [The Field of Perception], in Dziedzic and Makarewicz, Sympozjum, 93.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Described by Paweł Polit, “Schody percepcji. Zdzisława Jurkiewicza inspekcje granic Sztuki” [The Stairs of Perception: ZJ’s Inspections of the Boundaries of Art], Occurrences, 299.

[16] Jurkiewicz, “Pole percepcji,” 93.

[17] See Paweł Trębacz, “Visual Perception of Architecture According to the Theory

of Juliusz Żórawski,” IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering 603, no. 4 (2019), https://iopscience.iop.org/. See also Dorota Jędruch’s discussion of the book in Jędruch et al., Teksty modernizmu, 239–41.

[18] Juliusz Żórawski O budowie formy architektonicznej (Warsaw: Arkady, 1962), 25-6.

[19] Jurkiewicz, “Pole percepcji,” 93.

[20] Rosalind E. Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October, no. 8 (Spring 1979): 30–44.

[21] Jurkiewicz, “Pole percepcji,” 93.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Polit, “Schody percepcji,” 99, 300.

[24] See for instance the report of a debate on the topic featuring architect Jerzy Hryniewiecki, art historian and critic Mieczysław Porębski, sociologist Aleksander Wallis and others entitled “Formy przestrzenne w krajobrazie miasta” [Spatial Forms in the Urban Landscape], Projekt, 1968, no. 4: 33–44.

[25] Jerzy Rosołowicz, “O działaniu neutralnym”/“On Neutral Action,” in Refleksja konceptualna w sztuce polskiej. Doświadczenia dyskursu: 1965-1975/Conceptual Reflection in Polish Art: Experiences of Discourse 1965–1975, ed. Paweł Polit and Piotr Woźniakiewicz (Warsaw: Centre for Contemporary Art Zamek Ujazdowski, 1998), 102–4/230–31.

[26] Robin Evans, “Translations from Drawing to Building,” in Translations from Drawing to Building and Other Essays (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997), 165.

[27] See Max Risselada, ed., Raumplan Versus Plan Libre (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2008). 28 

[28] Flora Samuel, Le Corbusier and the Architectural Promenade (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2010).

[29] Daniel Libeskind, “End Space,” in Between Zero and Infinity: Selected Projects in Architecture (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1981), 80.

[30] Le Corbusier, Le Poème de l’Angle Droit (Madrid: Círculo Bellas Artes, 2006), n.p.

[31] Zdzisław Jurkiewicz, “Drawing to the World” (1979), transcript reproduced in Kuźmicz, Occurrences, 125/325.

[32] Joseph Kosuth, “Art after Philosophy, Part I,” Studio International, October 1969, 134–7.

[33] A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (1936), quoted in Kosuth, “Art after Philoso-phy,” 134–7.

[34] Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, trans. Andrew Huxley (London: Penguin Books, 1999), 325.

[35] Voltaire, Micromegas, Philosophical History, trans. Peter Phalen, https://www.gutenberg.org/ accessed March 2021.

[36] Reproduced in Stefan Müller, Wynurzenia, czyli nic [Outpourings, or Nothing] (Wrocław: Muzeum Architektury we Wrocławiu, 2009), 184.

[37] Stefan Müller, “Przestrzenie i przedmioty pamięci czyli pochwała sztuki konceptualnej” [Space and Objects of Memory, or Praise for Conceptual Art], Architektura, 1984, no. 6: 18–21.

[38] Zdzisław Jurkiewicz, transcript reproduced in Kuźmicz, Occurrences, 327.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Juliusz Żórawski, O budowie formy architektonicznej [On the Construction of Architectural Form] (Warsaw: Arkady, 1962), 25.

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