John Blake

Six Hundred Eyes for Krzysztofory


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Not on display

John Blake 1945 – 2017
Screenprint on paper and photograph on paper
Support: 1423 × 2203 mm
frame: 1598 × 2330 × 50 mm
support: 995 × 1258 mm
frame: 1533 × 1745 × 50 mm
Purchased 1985

Catalogue entry

John Blake born 1945

P77117 Six Hundred Eyes for Krzysztofory 1981

Screenprint and photograph; screenprint 993 x 1257 (39 1/8 x 49 1/2) on brown wrapping paper, same size; photograph 1254 x 1840 (49 3/8 x 72 3/8) on paper 1423 x 2203 (56 x 86 3/4); printed and published by the artist in an edition of 10
Inscribed `J.C. Blake 81' b.r., `600 eyes for Krzysztofory' across centre of screenprint and `3/10' b.l. of screenprint; photograph inscribed below the image `JCB81' b.r. and '600 eyes for Krzystofory' up left margin
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Lit: Jean Fisher, introduction to ‘de Vleeshal' een installatie van John Blake, exh. cat., Bureau Culturele Zaken, Middleburg 1983, repr. p.4; Sandy Nairne ‘An interview with John Blake', Artefactum, vol.9, June-Aug. 1985, p.25; John Blake, 600 Eyes for Krzysztofory, Amsterdam 1987, photograph repr. p.21; Ine Gevers, introduction to John Blake: River, exh. cat., Kunstzaken, Alemere, Dec.-Jan. 1988, p.5

The work consists of a black and white photograph showing part of John Blake's installation in the basement of the Krzysztofory Gallery in Krakow, Poland during May 1981, and a screenprint on brown wrapping paper of 24 repeated images of an eye. The screenprint was an off-print of those used for the original installation shown in the photograph.

The Krzysztofory, located in Szcezepanska Street, Krakow, was formerly a palace and now functions as municipal museum. The 600 year old stone vaulted cellars are used intermittently as an exhibition and performance space.

In 1980 an exhibition of John Blake's work entitled ‘Remember' which was first shown at the I.C.A., London, was organised by Jaroslaw Kozlowski at the Galeria Akumulatory, Poznan. During the visit he was taken to Krakow by Maria Anna Potoka who, on a walking tour of the city, introduced him to the cellars at Krzysztofory. In his published account of the work Blake recalled his first sight of the space which later featured in P77117:

You descend by a staircase found just off the main street, set in the side of an archway leading onto the palace's central courtyard. At the foot of these stairs lies the first small stone chamber, already a place apart form the crowded street above. On your left a larger chamber contains an odd assortment of tables, benches and chairs, obviously a meeting place.

Down one or two steps through an arch to the right, passing through heavy wrought-iron gates, you enter the largest, the most imposing space, a high stone vault more than twenty metres deep. Its floor is also stone, its walls are patched here and there with brick, the whole is dimly lit by a few makeshift lamps, and an antique candelabra hangs overhead. At this chamber's end two more steps lead up into one further, dark round vault ... The cellars at that time were empty, no exhibition on view. I could only peer in through locked gates, into the dark recess of the unadorned hall, into a hollow tunnel in which a long but invisible history was captured. I imagined this tunnel a megaphone - inverting its form - filled with stifled messages from which I was excluded. Detached, a foreigner not understanding the language, I was none the less compelled to know, to eavesdrop, to steal, to make mine (pp.6-8).

The following year John Blake was invited back to have exhibitions at four different venues in Poland: Galeria Akumulatory and Galeria Wielka in Poznan, Galeria Foto/Video and Galeria Krzysztofory in Krakow. He planned to install work from his recent series ‘Untitled (their eyes) I-V'. The series, which is fully documented and illustrated in John Blake: Their Eyes, Bureau culturele, Middelburg 1983, comprises one photographic construction, one audiotape for a specially designed network of speakers, one installation piece using a written text displayed within an environment activated by flashing ‘warning' beacons (exhibited at Matt's Gallery, Nov.1980) and three sets of ‘eye' drawings. These drawings, ‘Their Eyes III-V' individually depict a single, schematic, out-line eye. Each set is characterised by the number of sheets employed, the size and quality of the sheets and the quality of the drawing. The three sets are built up from basic common units and are intended to be used in variable combinations to produce new and ‘unique' installations in different gallery spaces. Their specific combination in any architectural structure is primarily intuitive and the artist's aim is to achieve an ‘integration or symbiosis ... whereby image becomes architecture and architecture image' (ibid., p.13).

For three of the Polish venues Blake was able to draw on this corpus of work so that ‘selections from the eye drawings were utilised to reconstruct the architecture of each venue' (letter to the compiler 22 December 1987). However in formulating an installation for Krzysztofory the artist was initially hampered by the architectural limitations imposed by the curving vaulted ceilings making the straightforward hanging of drawings impossible, a problem Blake felt keenly ‘especially as the images must melt into the architecture bonding with the site's own (I imagined) latent messages. My "eyes" must appear equal to the stones and vice versa, no less' (John Blake 1987). In an earlier, unpublished, version of this account Blake acknowledged the influence of Jaroslaw Kozlowski in formulating a solution for the site. For his own exhibition in the cellars Kozlowski had chalked a white cross on each brick and stone, which made, according to Blake, ‘a dry but cumulatively baroque cancellation, moving this mass of stones with one thought and one mark'. Blake's decision was to reduce vastly the scale of his ‘eye' drawings to correspond to the size of the ancient bricks of the Krzysztofory cellar walls. With technical assistance from a local printer in Poznan, hundreds of sheets of small eyes were screenprinted onto large sheets of brown wrapping paper which was inexpensive and easily obtained. These large sheets, transported by overnight train to Krakow, were then roughly cut and pasted onto around 600 selected stones, the number being chosen to correspond to the estimated age of the cellars themselves.

Unlike his varied installations using drawings from ‘Their Eyes III-V' the Krzysztofory ‘eyes' could never be integrated into an alternative environment. The project was unusual for Blake in another way, as he explained in a letter to the compiler dated 28 June 1987, for

the situation offered up an image I considered more than a documentary account - thus the large photo ... can be presented as a work in its own right, like any other. In contrast, the silk screenprint is merely a "memory" of the original situation and can be shown with the photo, but that is not necessary.'

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.314-15

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