Batuz – Miłosz Portfolio

For more than 22 years the Batuz Foundation has published the portfolios of the Société Imaginaire containing handwritings from numerous distinguished contemporary writers, politicians, and artists. As a documentation of our time all these portfolios entered the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, where they are preserved and shown periodically to the public as well as in many other prominent museums around the world.

This portfolio “no más fronteras” differs from the earlier ones in certain aspects. It gives us a concrete example of the problems of the language and the cultural frontiers in the town of Vilnius where, in the early thirties, Czesław Miłosz grew up and studied in its university.

Quite early as a young man, I discovered that to be ethnocentric was a grave mistake. It occurred in Vilnius, then belonging to Poland, where at our university Poles, Jews, Lithuanians, and Belorussians belonged to their own organizations and did not communicate with each other.”

He then goes on to tell us about an evening when members of these isolated groups read their poems to each other in their own languages. This portfolio recreates that evening after seventy years. The contributors express through their writing, each in their own language, the will to overcome the barriers of incommunication and thus creating a work of art in common.

I think it is more than a coincidence that I took the book ‘The Year of a Hunter’ by Czesław Miłosz with me and read it while working on my first frontier project on the Uruguay river. In the small towns of Fray Bentos and Gualeguaychu, another small corner of the periphery. The words of Miłosz came to me as a revelation.

I decided to write about my small corner of Europe, exotic even for my Polish readers. That corner was the borderland of Lithuania, Belarus and Poland – the former territory of The Grand Duchy of Lithuania.”

Long before I came to know Czesław Miłosz personally I have been an avid reader of his writings. He has always been for me the hero of the peripheries, who – as he himself has said – speaks up for the “minor cultures that are being paid little attention.” He has avoided in an almost arrogant and disdainful manner the trends imposed by the great centers of the Western culture and written stubbornly and consistently on unknown poets and on people with almost unpronounceable names who were unknown even in their own country.

Alike Bach with his fugues, his insistent work on the peripheries is far transcending the subject itself; I mean the small corners of Europe and thus giving the word “periphery” a completely new meaning.

This novel approach from Miłosz changes the entire idea of the traditional outlook on the interrelation of cultures.

With the help of the new communication technologies a new, unprecedented approach has come into existence, creating an instant connection among the most distant locations to all points of the world community and establishing direct links without any need for a mediator or a center. The result is a new kind of frontier-transcending-democracy of world culture which bestows a new meaning, an upgrading, a new dimension to the word “periphery”.

Thus a structure is put into place by which each and every one of us can contribute, everywhere and simultaneously, to the creation of an all-inclusive World Culture. On my return to Europe I visited Czesław Miłosz at his home in Krakow and another surprise was awaiting me. Carol, Miłosz’ wife, had fully decorated the living room with beautifully framed pieces from our earlier collaborations (Czesław’s handwritten texts and the “corresponding” illustrations of artists from other corners of the world) on previous portfolios of the Société Imaginaire. I stayed for lunch. By talking about this new portfolio project Carol insisted that the illustrations of Czesław’s text should be done with my own work. And so I did, as I also invited Michael Morgner of Saxony, Zygmunt Magner of Poland to visualize the frontier with their work.

To recreate truly in a work of art the ghetto-like world of Miłosz’ city of Vilnius in the thirties which was quartered by the four ethnic groups I had to bring them together once again. This is why this work had to have the collaboration of contemporary representatives of these cultures. The contributions of Yiddish, Belorussian, Polish and Lithuanian writers as well as others with their texts gave this work another dimension, the new meaning of the “periphery”.

Catalog “no más fronteras”, Batuz Foundation, 2003


Two pages from the Batuz-Miłosz Portfolio

Two pages from the Batuz-Miłosz Portfolio