Panels and Abstracts


Panel 1:  Witkacy, Modernism, and Modernity

Moderator: Mark Rudnicki

  • Framing the Self: Mission Impossible? Photographic Self-Portraits by Witkacy, Claude Cahun and Marcel DuchampWeronika Kobylińska-Bunsch – University of Warsaw (
  • Witkacy and Modernity (in Insatiability)Michal Pawel Markowski – Univiersity of Illinois at Chicago (
  • Witkacy and Warhol – from The S.I. Witkiewicz Portrait Painting Firm to The Factory –      Marek Średniawa – University of Warsaw (
  • Witkacy and organic direction of the early XX century Russian avant-garde artNelly Palchevskaja-Kostikova – Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg (

Panel 2: Witkacy and His Double

Moderator: Michal Pawel Markowski

  • Reading Stevenson. Duality of Personality in Witkacy’s Early PortraitsAnna Żakiewicz – National Museum in Warsaw (
  • In this Mirror: Poetic Space and the Poet’s Body in Witkacy, Jean Cocteau and Guillaume Apollinaire – Gertrude Gibbons – Royal College of Art London (

Panel 3: Witkacy and the Body

Moderator: Weronika Kobylinska Bunsch

  • Never let me go by Kazuro Ishiguro – a sequel to Gyubal Wahazar by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz?Elżbieta Grzyb – University of Warsaw (
  • Witkacy and Theatrical Alchemy: An English Actor and Director’s PerspectiveKevin Hayes – Director of Witkacy2009, Witkacy2010 (
  • Witkacy, Sports, and PerformativityMark Rudnicki – George Mason University (

Paper Abstracts

Panel 1:  Witkacy, Modernism, and Modernity

Moderator: Mark Rudnicki

  1. Framing the Self: Mission Impossible? Photographic Self-Portraits by Witkacy, Claude Cahun and Marcel Duchamp

            Weronika Kobylińska-Bunsch (University of Warsaw)

“The fundamental basis of this indescribable, mysterious state of affairs is the sense of loneliness of the individual”

Witkacy, The Only Way Out [Jedyne wyjście]

This study aims to illustrate how photographic oeuvres by Claude Cahun (1894–1954), Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) and Witkacy (1885–1939) are interlinked. All the artists mentioned became both the observer and the observed since they have pointed the photographic lenses towards themselves and, as a result, created intriguing visual narration, which cannot be interpreted purely as a simple playfulness. In their self-portraits their physiques constantly experience interventions; because of the make-up, props or grimaces their bodies are becoming the bodies of the Other. The “authentic” representations of Witkiewicz, Duchamp, or Cahun are balancing on the borders of visibility and eventually turn out to be inaccessible, impossible to reconstruct. Analysed works are not only mocking of conventions of portraying masculinity and femininity. This trio plays (the truly Derridean) hide-and-seek: Witkiewicz, Duchamp and Cahun are all present within the analyzed images, but their inner existential being is invisible. As a result, the canonical narratives about portraying and masks by Roland Barthes or Susan Sontag are no longer applicable in those cases. This study situates the strategy of the mentioned artists in the area of the reflection on the existential status of the entity. The artistic interventions carried out on the corporal territory are, according to the concept of such thinkers as Hans Belting, synonymous with posing philosophical questions about the status of the threatened subjectivity of the individual.

That is why Witkacy’s or Duchamp’s attitude towards photography reminds us of the proposals created later by the next generations, for example by Gillian Wearing (born 1963). It is important to underline that Witkacy’s self-representations surpass the typical Polish inter-war aesthetics and should be seen as crucial elements of the wide panorama of performative art. Therefore, this analysis shows that Witkacy plays an important part in a wider history of photographers seeking to implicate themselves within the frame.

  1. Witkacy and Modernity (in Insatiability)

            Michal Pawel Markowski (University of Illinois at Chicago)

One should consider Insatiability, the characters of which become satiable of life at the price of freedom, as one of the most canonical modern novels, in which modern life turned against modern metaphysics. In this sense, Insatiability demonstrates a fierce clash of two most salient and, at the same time, most contradictory myths of Modernity: the post-Romantic myth of liberation through art from the human existential contingency and the vitalist myth of the ecstatic immersion in the currents of life. There are only a few examples in the history of Modern novel that would exemplify this contradiction as clearly as Witkacy’s novel.  

  1. Witkacy and Warhol – from The S.I. Witkiewicz Portrait Painting Firm to The Factory

           Marek Sredniawa (University of Warsaw)

Looking from today’s perspective at the 20th century history of art, one can notice surprising analogies in the works and artistic attitude of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and Andy Warhol. In a sense, products of The Factory and Warhol’s artistic practices could be considered as a fulfilment of Witkacy’s vision which anticipated: breaking the myth of an artist who became a mass-producer of images, domination of boredom and triviality, blurring the border between art and everyday life. A comparison of creative strategies and works of two “businessmen-artists” reveals astonishing convergence of statements on art, similarity of areas of artistic activities a and also visual resemblance of The Factory and The Portrait Painting Firm “products”. The Rules of the S.I. Witkiewicz Portrait Firm including its price list, formats, technique are in line with unwritten terms of ordering assumed by Warhol for his clients. In both cases, apart from the commercial aspect, one could recognize a flavour of artistic provocation and irony, and also involvement of Witkacy and Warhol in playing sophisticated games with clients and art critics. Irony in attitude of both artists reveals different backgrounds and goals calling for individual interpretations. At the same time constitutes a sound basis for comparative studies.

  1. Witkacy and organic direction of the early XX century Russian avant-garde art Nelly Palchevskaja-Kostikova (Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg)

The article explores the influence of the Russian avant-garde organic direction upon the artistic style of Witkacy’s painting. Today, perceptions of the organics’ role and place of in Russian art of the early XX century are expanding. Recent studies show that it cannot be reduced to the creativity of individual personalities, but requires a broader understanding. As it seems to the author it is correct to speak not just about organic direction or organic school, but to see and understand the phenomenon more widely – as an organic worldview. To varying degrees, it reflected the avant-garde art of the first three decades of the XX century. Witkacy’s creativity has not previously been considered in connection with „organics”, this article offers the study of it for the first time. The figurative and stylistic analysis of Witkacy’s artistic works, created during the Russian period, revealed the changes that took place in the calisthenics of his paintings and their relationship to the organic direction of the Russian avant-garde. His philosophical views and his theoretical work „New Forms in Painting” confirmed Witkacy’s interest in this movement.

Panel 2: Witkacy and His Double

Moderator: Michal Pawel Markowski

  1. Reading Stevenson. Duality of Personality in Witkacy’s Early Portraits

            Anna Żakiewicz (National Museum in Warsaw)

One night, between 26th and 27th of April of 1938 Witkacy executed two self-portraits entitled Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. They are connected to the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde first published in Great Britain in 1886 (Polish translation in 1909). Stevenson stressed the special nature of Mr Hyde: ‘He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable…’

In 1902 Witkacy wrote an essay on the dualism and about 1910 and some years later he created several portraits of his friends focused on the exploration of the split personalities of his sitters.  Numerous examples prove that the problem of duality was very important for the artist. Besides all of this helped him to discover another important thing: the difference between a simple describing of the visible world and discover the inner one or even the creation of one’s own world of the imagination.

Presentation: several couples of portraits presenting “good” and “bad” versions of sitters.

  • Witkacy in the Mirrors

             Pawel Dybel (Jagiellonian University)

The motif of the double in the work of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz

I would like to demonstrate that in comparison with the way in which the motif of the double functioned in European and American literature, it received a specific significance in the work of this Polish writer. Having its origins in the instrumental approach to him of his father it found its telling expression in the famous Witkacy’s photography Multiple Self-portrait. In my paper I will analyze the structure of relations of four mirror-reflections of Witkacy on this photography. It finds its equivalent in his literary work, in which different types of doubles appear.

The motif of the double has its counterpart in Witkacy’s schizoid, dissociative identity structure. It finds its expression in the way he constructs the psychological profiles of his characters, in the numerous series of his photographs and in ever new, fanciful names with which he signs his letters and pictures.

  • In this Mirror: Poetic Space and the Poet’s Body in Witkacy, Jean Cocteau and Guillaume Apollinaire

Gertrude Gibbons (Royal College of Art London) graduate student

Similarities between “the poetic atmosphere of Cocteau’s Orpheus” and Witkacy’s drama referred to by Daniel Gerould and C.S. Durer are the starting point for this paper. Witkacy and Jean Cocteau’s personalities and biographies seem almost inextricable from their work. This fusion is also illustrated in the French poet of Polish descent, Guillaume Apollinaire, of whom criticism often takes a biographical approach and his figure consequently becomes mythical. Apollinaire himself seems to be contained within a mirror, he writes, “In this mirror I am enclosed living and true”.

Within this unfolding image of the mirror, the haunting charisma of Witkacy and Cocteau might be drawn together, to consider the masks they construct, and what ‘body’ or identity they leave in the space of their work. They seem to situate the figure of ‘the poet’ in a dreamlike space behind a wall/mirror which is self-aware of medium and audience. I would consider the poet figure’s death, using The Madman and the Nun’s staging of death, and Testament of Orpheus’s “pretend” death.

Panel 3: Witkacy and the Body

Moderator: Weronika Kobylinska Bunsch

  1. Witkacy, Wyndham Lewis and the Body

Izabella Curyllo-Klag (Jagiellonnian University)

The paper will concentrate on representations of embodiment in literary and visual works by S.I. Witkiewicz and Wyndham Lewis. Both modernists avoid sentimentality over the human form, viewing it very critically, often as a kind of primitive entrapment. Having noted the body’s inadequacy, they nevertheless obsessively return to it, indulging in vivid, kinesthetic descriptions of monstrous torsos, limbs, jaws, claws and entrails. In their paintings, human figures are frequently submerged in the landscape, which stresses their inescapable entanglement in matter. Sometimes there is a Darwinian suggestion of the body’s potential to morph; an intimation that humanity as we know it is not the pinnacle of creation, but rather a transitory stage. On the other hand, both Witkiewicz and Lewis are worried about the possibility of the body’s complete erasure. Such anxieties stem from the experience of war and revolution, as well as the unprecedented pace of technological progress as a result of which “the actual human body becomes of less importance every day” and “literally exists much less” (as Lewis observes in BLAST).

  • Never let me go by Kazuro Ishiguro – a sequel to Gyubal Wahazar by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz?

Elzbieta Grzyb (University of Warsaw)

The aim of this paper is to consider the metaphysical questions which underpin Gyubal Wahazar (1921) and Never let me go (2005) and to take a closer look on how Witkacy’s concerns expressed in a dramatic form are mediated in a contemporary dystopian novel in the first-person narration. In Gyubal Wahazar Witkacy creates a totalitarian country where experiments with organ transplantations are being introduced, while Ishiguro in Never let me go invites the reader to enter the world in which it becomes a standard method of treatment. Would Kathy, an organ donor, while tracing her origins, discover her kinship with mechanical mothers from Wahazar’s state? Is Madam’s legendary gallery from a British novel a horrifying reflection of Witkacy’s search for Pure Form? Daniel Gerould wrote in his essay “Discovery of Witkiewicz” that Witkacy’s surrealistic nightmares of the future have a prismatic allusiveness to many different times and places. In the paper, the author wants to follow Gerould’s suggestion in order to see Witkacy’s prophecy come true in 21st century British literature.

  • Witkacy and Theatrical Alchemy: An English Actor and Director’s Perspective

Kevin Hayes (Independent Scholar and Director of Witkacy2009, Witkacy2010)

The placing of Witkacy in a global context is certainly overdue. If nothing else Witkacy was something of an eclectic for sure. He was something of an Artistic and Intellectual Jackdaw! He was taking elements of this and that and returning them to his artistic nest. Perhaps an even stronger metaphor might be to view him as rather an Alchemist! It is as if he was endeavoring to create theatrical gold from perhaps metals of a baser kind. Of all his 25 or so known plays we can find international connections. Just taking; The ABC. Firstly; we have the Scientific Management of America talked of in Cockroaches (1903). Secondly, we also have a profound sense of the presence of Count Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949) of Belgium, in many of his works. Thirdly, we also have the frequent featuring of Ceylon, in his Tropical Plays. From the point of view of an English actor his plays are certainly strange and exotic. They are as different as they are exotic. It will be possible to talk of both my role as Dr. Grun in The Madman and the Nun (1923) and Von Telek in the dreamlike Pragmatists (1919). This is in no way a Naturalistic Drama. How to play Witkacy is an interesting question to pose. In fact it would seem that each of the various periods of his work have separate ingredients from different sources. His favorite Shakespearean play was Richard III. We see the presence of the ‚Tyrant Murderer’ in his work repeatedly. In contrast, it is well known that perhaps his most favored author from the British Isles was Robert Louis Stevenson. Whatever else happens. There is always a flicker of theatrical gold derived from the alchemy of the concoctions. The directors perspective is equally interesting. It is a salient that there has been so little of his work performed in the U.K. Whereas much has been performed in the U.S.A. These issues will be examined.

  • Witkacy, Sports, and Performativity

Mark Rudnicki (George Mason University)

This presentation plans to explore connections/contrasts between Witkacy’s theory of theater and performance and his occasional mention of sports.  I would like to pay particular attention to the boxing match in Mr. Price.  While it seems a rather inconsequential scene, it does embody many of the dynamics of performativity as it relates to the theater and as it relates to his subtle mentions on gender formation. I will also examine some of his photographs and his commentary on the state of sports in his time.