The Present Tense is saddened for the recent passing of artist and curator, Peter Grzybowski. A long time friend of The Present Tense, we are grateful we had the opportunity to show his work at the Contaminate 3 Festival in 2008. The following is a collection of memories from those who were touched by his presence and his work.
In the 21st century, many have surrendered to the inevitability of the hyper-documented life, a result of current technologies, but nothing can replace the experience of witnessing a live-art piece unfolding in the present moment. To performance artists, art lives in real time and often times is believed to live in the body. Consequently, when a body deteriorates the art dies with it. The death of an artist working in experiential media can be devastating because it eliminates the possibility of ever experiencing their work in its totality again.
On August 29, 2013, artist and curator, Peter Gryzbowski passed away. Like many, I learned of Peter’s passing through social media. Discovering the death of a friend in this way seems impersonal, but it offers a collective experience of mourning that is strangely comforting. We can see the magnitude of the expansive territory that a life can touch. In the days after news of Peter’s passing spread throughout The Present Tense’s networks, it was amazing to see how many people in so many places throughout the world had been impacted by his work. This tribute is an attempt to capture a morsel of Peter Gryzbowski’s impact on The Present Tense and the communities of artists with whom we are connected. No video, no photo, no written account can capture his work, however, it feels crucial to try to compile something to honor Gryzbowski’s creative contribution. This is also an admittedly selfish attempt. Peter was a friend and teacher of sorts. He showed my work when few believed it was mature enough. As my own curatorial practice evolved, I had the opportunity to show Peter’s work as well. He was a constant fixture in my career for a decade and I am grateful that I had the chance to experience his work and his friendship.
The following footage is from “Press,” a piece that Peter created at The Present Tense and TEST’s Contaminate 3 Festival in Boston in 2008. The piece was minimal, cyclical and repetitive. The principal action of the piece was captured both in real time and in video that illuminated the space through projection. Peter engaged in the action of crumpling pieces of newspaper and throwing them on the ground. The video played in reverse, making it appear as if the crumpled paper was magically floating back into Peter’s hand. There were three bodies in the piece, the present self, the past self (video) and Peter’s shadow, an acknowledgement of the future self. If my memory serves me, I remember being most excited by the moment when the accumulated paper on the ground matched the volume of paper in the video. This visual collision offered a brief time where all three Peter’s could exist within the same moment.
Rest well, Peter. Thank you for gifting me experiences for contemplation through your work and teaching me how to be a better artist. I am forever grateful.
– Sandrine Schaefer
This past summer, I was invited to participate in the SUPERNOVA festival in Rosslyn, Virginia. The festival circuit is an exciting one, a wonderful networking experience with both new faces and old ones. When I first caught a glimpse of the roster, a particular old face jumped off the screen: Peter Gryzbowski. I first met Peter at the 14th International Performance Art Congress in Sacramento, California in 2006. His piece at that festival haunts me to this day. Peters presence during his performances was very powerful, and having seen and met him at a very early stage of my own performance practice, I learned quite a bit about the medium from him. Over the years I’ve felt more and more grateful for the impact he had on the genesis of my work.
Once I arrived in Rosslyn, I learned that Peter was unable to make it to the festival. Sad that I would not see him, I made a mental note to contact him and let him know I’ve been thinking of him. Later that day, I saw obsolete computer monitors, a favorite performance object for Peter, being loaded off a van and into the space I’d be performing in later in the festival. Once I learned that they were originally indented for Peter’s performance, I immediately felt connected to them. Eames Armstrong, the festivals curator, was kind enough to let me take one of them for my own performance. I wondered, what was Peter going to use these for? They were going to end up smashed up, weren’t they?
I was excited to have an addition to my performance, but I was more excited to pay homage to an artist that I’ve always respected and looked up to. In the end, I chose both actions that are pertinent to my work as well as actions that were inspired by Peters work. I feel very grateful that I had this unique opportunity to connect with Peter and his practice, even if he wasn’t present for it. Peter will be greatly missed.
– Philip Fryer
I met Peter in 2011 at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn. His interest in my work as so genuine that we spent several hours talking about performance and art in general. His passion for live action art was clear and enthusiastic especially when he described the projects he had been involved. We kept connected even though many times we were in different continents doing separate things. It was until last year that I had the opportunity to witness the strength of his performances and the details of their sociopolitical content. The last time I saw him, and I believe it was the last time he performed, was in June this year at the same place where we met, Grace Exhibition Space. He was in full command of his performance, and enjoying every minute of his delivery. While buildings of the former Soviet era collapsed on the screen, he walked lively through light bulbs that rested on the floor, and much later while we crushed old television sets that had been covered with different flags. That is the last image I have of a friend who knew how to listen and how to appreciate the liveness of art.
R.I.P. Peter, you are remembered.
– Hector Canonge
Hi Alien! where did you disappear … sounds like your last words to me? an’ of our anachronistic turn – the promise of a next round – a one again happy fight coming s… ?I miss THE LAST MAN headlined on the seafront / a no sense postcard without you in “your meta final. touch” I picture out of the frame where to keep on hanging(…) la vie est un rêve et… then I say fucking hell* (en français dans le texte*) I could not imagine how much you are here, where only your laugh, your tenderness, and your strength, remain. My. Indian September summer passenger / hush . ???Hey! Peter “excuse my french” Hey, Peter, I am telling you good bye… and hey. Peter, I am telling you hey for very long
– Stefanie Seguin
Peter Grzybowski, 06.16.1954-08.29.2013
Peter Grzybowski was born in Krakow, Poland. Peter was a performance artist, multimedia artist and a painter. Since the eighties he completed a number of performances, individual and group shows, installations and multimedia works ?presented worldwide. In his latest work, he created performances and installations using video, audio, light and live action, synchronized by computer. His paintings are in USA, Canada, France, Germany and Poland.