Alternating. Direct. Shifting: AC/DC/IT

26 June, 2012 – 1 August, 2012

Alternating. Direct. Shifting: AC/DC/IT

26 June, 2012 – 1 August, 2012


Paweł Janicki / Janet Merewether / Justyna Misiuk / Nam June Paik / Józef Robakowski / Niklas Roy / Zygmunt Rytka / Woody Vasulka / Witkacy


Alternating current provides lighting and industrial power, shaping the structure of the contemporary world.


In contrast to AC, which can power massive machines, direct current is the energy of subtle shifts and modulations that convey meaning. DC is the current that made analog electronics possible, for use in recording and communications technology: Using DC we can record, send and play back any information, image or sound.

IT: Intelligent Technologies

The AC/DC/IT exhibition is devoted to the currents in contemporary art that cause us to ponder the ways media provide provide a basis for creativity. Most interfaces of modern devices are constantly converting analog input into digital data, transforming signals into code.  The subject of the AC/DC/IT exhibition is the way signal and code serve as new media for artistic expression – the material for use with the technological devices that artists have been experimenting with for the last fifty years. The exhibition is a curatorial tribute to Józef Robakowski, Paul Sharits, Woody Vasulka, Nam June Paik and Zygmunt Rytka – artists of immense individuality and originality whose seminal works have influenced, both directly and indirectly, the directions taken by contemporary art.

Curator: Piotr Krajewski, June 2012

Artists: Paweł Janicki / Janet Merewether / Justyna Misiuk / Nam June Paik / Józef Robakowski / Niklas Roy / Zygmunt Rytka / Woody Vasulka / Witkacy

Interaction design: Paweł Janicki

Graphical interfaces: Bartosz Konieczny

Production: Zbigniew Kupisz and the WRO Art Center Team

The exhibitions in the series comprise original works along with contemporary recreations, designed by the WRO team, of the most characteristic forms and features found in the works of artists who laid the fundaments of the language of electronic art.

The 50 Years of Electronic Art 1963-2013 series was conceived by Viola Kutlubasis-Krajewska and Piotr Krajewski.


About exhibition

A Medial Exhibition and a Virtual Museum

Most of the works in the AC/DC/IT exhibition are interactive, reacting to our physical actions and to devices we have with us. Marshall McLuhan famously asserted that media are extensions of our senses, and in this exhibition they play a dual role, on both sides (as it were) of our senses: They appear both as the technology of the works presented, and as personal communications devices in the viewers’ hands. The media infrastructure of the show is thus a completely contemporary scenario in which extensions of our senses can affect works of art and participate in an exhibition just as directly as our senses do. At the same time it turns the old  – but for many still attractive – concept of a virtual museum inside out:  Instead of experiencing an ersatz gallery visit sitting at home with their computers, the viewers bring their communications devices to the exhiibition to and use them to interact with the works in real life.

WRO and the Museum of Current Art

This exhibition refers extensively to Jerzy Ludwiński’s concept of a Museum of Current Art. The idea was formulated in 1966, in Wrocław and for Wrocław, but unfortunately was never carried out. The AC/DC/IT exhibition can be seen both as a tribute to that nonexistent museum and as an expression of the five-department structure that makes Ludwiński’s concept so unusual.

The Action Department is the division of exhibitions and activities that involve contact with the public. The Department of Visual Experimentation is the division of research and exploration based on both artistic intuition and the exact sciences. The Collection Department provides a panoramic overview of the art of the last few decades, offering a new canon of comtemporary art. The Department of Popularization is aimed at stimulating the public’s understanding of art, as well as  offering opportunities to learn (and to demonstrate) new skills. The Publishing Department has a broader purpose than issuing catalogs: Its primary aim is to create communicative situations, serving (in Ludwiński’s words) as “an arena for artistic events”. Last but not least, the Technical Department ensures that the museum not only serves as a place where completed works are shown, but also spurs creativity, offering artists information, resources, materials, production assistance and its own unique know-how.

As Ludwiński wrote, a real museum of current art “doesn’t require an especially large building or an especially large investment. It should be a small museum. The focus isn’t on the museum’s size, but on the unusual profile of the museum’s activity.”

The WRO Art Center fits that profile surprisingly well, as a small but significant institution with its own individual and non-institutional program of activity based on knowledge, intuition and experience in art, combined with its own strong vision and convictions.


Test Five

for Józef Robakowski, 2012

Józef Robakowski, Test 1, 1971, 05:00

This five-channel video installation alludes to Józef Robakowski’s 1971 film Test 1. The original Test 1 was made without the use of a camera – Robakowski punched round holes of various sizes in black film tape, and added sound by sratching the sound track. The pioneering media production that resulted deals with the energy of light – the basic medium of film projection. It also deals with the phenomenon of perception: the juxtaposition of light and black in the film irritates the viewers’ optic nerves, causing subjective afterimages, which means the optical signal from the images on the tape loses its objective character when modulated by the dazzling light of the projector.  At a 1974 experimental film festival in Knokke-Heist, Belgium, Robakowski heightened the effect of stunning the audience with the energy of light with a performance in which he stood on a ladder in front of the screen while Test 1 was being projected and used a mirror to reflect the beams of light into the audience.

The intensity of light in a video image is much lower than in a film, even if they are apparently identical. When viewed on a video monitor, as in Test Five, Robakowski’s work has a very different effect: It becomes primarily an animation composed of white dots on a black background. Thus it becomes a work about the migration of forms between two different media – film and video – an issue which is fundamental to contemporary visual culture.  Test Five is also a musical composition arising from the random combining of sounds from five channels and the harmonies that emerge from that randomness. The title Test Five also alludes to Dave Brubeck’s 1959 jazz piece Take Five.

Niklas Roy, Ping, 2011

Niklas Roy’s installation Ping is a reference to Pong, which was (in the 1970s) one of the first commercial video arcade games; later (in the ’80s) it was also available as a home video console game and finally as a computer game.  Roy’s installation makes use of the now-nostalgic esthetics of that cultural artifact, which launched the era of interactive electronic gaming.

Paweł Janicki, Frame Box, 2012

Frame Box allows the viewers to experiment with delayed images. On one screen we see our own image in real time. On the other we watch the results of our own manipulations of time and space in the same image. The installation is an approach to using time as a visual quality. It alludes to the work of artists like Támas Waliczky and Joahim Sauter, who were interested in showing the shape of time as a third dimension in electronic images.

MEM [Multiple Energy Mirror]

for Józef, Nam June and Witkac, 2012

A mirrored cabinet for viewing video works including:

Józef Robakowski, Light Checks [1, 2, 3, 4…], 03:00, 1993

from the collections of the WRO Art Center and the Exchange Gallery

Nam June Paik, Selfportrait, 1961 and Head, 1982

a film by Wolfgang Ramsbott, from a private collection, Bremen

documentation of the WRO Art Center exhibition Driving Media

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, portraits and self-portraits from the 1930s

from the collection of Ewa Franczak and Stefan Okołowicz

This unusual installation conveying 20th-century cultural content, trends and motifs associated with multiple portraits. The most famous multiple portraits include Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 portrait; Witkacy’s portrait created in St. Petersburg in 1915 or 1916; and the 1912 portrait of Wacław Szpakowski, a Wrocław-based artist who influenced local conceptual artists. Multiple portraits have also been a recurring motif in the work of a number of other artists. Józef Robakowski’s created his own multiple self-portrait in video in 1998; and the camera plays the role of a mirror in many contemporary artists’ performances.

Revolving C-Trend Histogram

for Woody Vasulka, 2012

This work is inspired by Woody Vasulka’s classic 1974 video C-Trend, one of the most representative works of analytical video. The picture on the screen is generated by technical signals that are included in camera projections but which are not normally seen while viewing. Instead of the expected “normal” images from the camera set up next to the screen, we see graph-like forms shaped by technical parameters. Using the internet, viewers can choose the kinds of signals that are displayed on the screen.

Woody Vasulka, C-Trend, 1974, Wypowiedź artysty z 1995 roku

Next to Revolving C-Trend Histogram, a statement from Woody Vasulka is played on a monitor. In it, the artist talks about the switch from using video to record to using video for creative purposes – a change that took place in his work thanks to his interest in the technical side of the medium and his discovery of the creative possibilities of interfering with the signal that forms the basis of electronic images.

Niklas Roy, Lumenoise, 2011

Lumenoise is an interactive installation that alludes to the early stage of computers as graphic tools, and to the widely (and unfortunately!) forgotten light pen, a device that allows the user to write and draw directly on a screen. The light pen was an invention of the 1950s, when most computers didn’t feature keyboards in the modern sense of the term. The light pen made it possible for graphic designers or programmers to use the screen directly as a work surface The first computer films by the brothers John and James Whitney were made using a light pen and analog computer.

Justyna Misiuk, Pierogi [Dumpling Team, 2011/12, 06:32 / No Matter, 2011, 02:05]

This video diptych is presented in an old-fashioned cabinet-style television in which the channels are changed via the internet. A smartphone or other computer device thus acts as a remote control, allowing the user to switch between channels.

Janet Merewether, Cheap Blonde, 1998, 05:00

From the collection of WRO Art Centre and courtesy of Go Girls Productions

Cheap Blonde is a freewheeling, ironic and feminist statement about the history of cinema. Merewether uses the sentence A famous filmmaker said cinema is the history of men filming women. The twelve words constituting this sentence appear in the video in 22 different variations, recited by a synthetic male voice. The video work is accompanied by a contemporary generative installation (2012). The particular words of the utterance are incessantly rearranged in every possible combination, generated by a website that simultaneously allows the viewers to add their own words by means of a smartphone or tablet. The words immediately appear on the screen and are subjected to further variations.

Na srebrnym globie

for Zygmunt Rytka, 2012

This installation uses excerpts from Georges Méliès’s 1902 film Le Voyage dans la Lune and Zygmunt Rytka’s 1969 photographs.

On the Silver Globe is an installation referring to the history of cinema and television, inspired by photographs by Zygmunt Rytka documenting the July 21st 1969 live TV broadcast from the first manned landing on the Moon. Georges Méliès’s visionary work Voyage to the Moon was also used in the installation: one of the earliest films of the sci-fi genre and a classic not only in terms of the cinema, but also – or perhaps above all – in the history of human imagination and aspirations. Méliès’s film lies solicitously guarded in archives, but is at the same time widely available on the internet in countless files. One such file, downloaded from the internet, has been used in this installation as a matrix of pixels capable of generating a live 3D picture. The film is a cultural icon downloaded from the internet, but is also modified via the internet by the viewers.


Paweł Janicki, Vinyl Video Delay, 2012

This installation allows viewers to manipulate images of themselves by scratching a vinyl record and via commands sent via the internet. The DJ-like handling of the record and the internet controls for selecting among three buffer modes for the images allow viewers to process their images from a few seconds earlier.

RGB: Ray Gun Beam Virus

for Paul Sharits, 2012

American artist Paul Sharits used monochromatic film tapes in many of his works. This installation refers to his Ray Gun Virus, a work from 1966, and also to the method of generating video images by means of three-lamp RGB projectors – devices used in the late 1970s and ‘80s, in which each beam represents one of the additive primary colors.

It is a generative, interactive and net installation. The interaction takes place when the viewers move in front of the camera, cast shadows obliterating some of the component colors, and making sounds. By standing within the installation space with mobile communication devices, we can use the internet to activate a range of further possibilities for modifying the components of the picture.

interactive archive

The interactive archive is an installation that offers an innovative and original way to access the audiovisual documentation stored in the WRO collection. It allows viewers to dynamically search WRO’s digital files of historically crucial media installations by artists from all over the world. The materials are accessible in interactive form, and the viewers use gestures and body movements to select what to watch.

The installation includes materials connected with the works of Wojciech Bruszewski, Robert Cahen, Marie-Jo Lafontaine, Lynn Hershman, Milica Tomic, Ingo Günther, Paul Sermon, Ken Feingold, Jeffrey Shaw, Izabella Gustowska, Bill Viola, Gary Hill, Laurent Mignonneau & Christa Sommerer, Eric Siu, Granular-Synthesis, Józef Robakowski, Ira Marom, Studio Azzurro, Peter Svedberg, Ryszard Jędroś, Zilla Leutenegger, Peter Bogers, Jonathan Jones-Morris, Franziska Megert, Fabrizio Plessi, Peter Callas, Frank Den Oudsten, Frank Fietzek, Steina Vasulka, Markus Kison, Tony Oursler, Jeffrey Shaw and Nam June Paik.

The materials are also available at viewing stations in the media reading room.