Józef Szajna “Traces”, own technique, 1972–1982

Our collection includes the installation Traces by Józef Szajna (1922–2008). Traces is a set of props, mannequins and objects that were included in the environment Reminiscences and in Replica—an activity on the border between theatre and performance. Replica was created in 1972 and played as an autonomous performance at Studio Theatre in Warsaw until 1986. It was also the source of the artist’s subsequent spatial arrangements. It is one of these that was included in Studio Gallery’s art collection under the title Traces in 1982.

Scaled-up shoes, monstrous puppets, flat silhouettes resembling shooting targets, abandoned children’s toys, doughnuts and bicycle wheels. Positioned high on the shelves of our collection’s storage they are just a memory of Szajna’s legendary performance. These artefacts came to life unexpectedly at our exhibition in 2019, under the touch of Irena Jun, an actress from Studio Theatre who had performed in Replica from the very start, beginning with its first presentation at the Edinburgh Festival. Her partner onstage was “Blue”, a puppet of a woman in a blue shirt with a vacuum cleaner pipe sticking out of it. We watched as Jun touched the puppet’s hand and after a while took a mirror out of her pocket that we hadn’t known existed before—making us understand that the life of a work of art begins in a moment that depends solely on the viewer’s attention and understanding.

Traces is permeated by echoes of World War II and the traumatic experiences of Józef Szajna: a prisoner of the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Natalia Andrzejewska

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