1928-1946 : art and
Elias Pozornski was born in Warsaw in 1928, into a family of artists. His father, Jakub Pozornski (1884-1943), a Polish Jew, was primarily an editor and man of
the theatre. In the early 20th century, he participated in the rapid expansion of Poland’s early film industry, mainly as a scriptwriter. When he met Polina Borodine in Warsaw,
the young Russian bourgeois was an actress on tour. She was active within the artistic avant-garde movement still thriving on the eve of the Russian Revolution. After a few years of leading an
increasingly difficult Bohemian life, they eventually settled down. Elias’s childhood was simple and happy. He enjoyed a good education and in the family's modest suburban house, the artistic
conversations were inevitably political. Jakub was a communist and, despite his anarchical tendency that regularly brought him into conflict with the local party, he remained an ardent
When the armies of the Third Reich invaded Poland, Jakub took up arms. The rest of the family went into hiding and Elias’s adolescence would be spent underground, moving from place to place and marked by fear and the father's absence that increasingly took on the aspects of a myth, all the more so following his arrest and execution in 1943. His body was never found.
1947-1960 : training and disillusions
It was during this time that Elias began to have problems with his eyesight. He would suffer from a degenerative eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, all his life. However, this would not prevent
the young man's plans to follow in his father's footsteps and become an artist. In 1947, at the age of 19, he entered the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, studying painting and
scenography. Disappointed by the instruction, he eventually quit school without a diploma and took advantage of some savings by his mother to go travelling.
Two stays in France between 1949 and 1951 hardly allowed him to become very familiar with the School of Paris. He knocked on the wrong doors and his unstable temperament doomed him to perpetual hesitation. It was not until 1955 that a meeting changed everything. Tadeusz Kantor founded the Cricot2 theatre, which initially was housed in the Isaac Jakubowicz synagogue, also occupied by the Association of Visual Artists where Elias had his studio. There, he would find a sort of second family, even though he did not belong to this eclectic troop’s inner circle.
His political activism pushed him to perform early on. In 1956, the country was stirred by large labour strikes. During one protest, Elias created a performance denouncing censorship that combined sculpture, music and action: the public cremation of loudspeakers broadcasting political speeches and messages by Polish and Russian personalities (Speaker 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7).
He was imprisoned following this “happening”. For six months? A year? Elias himself has never broken the silence surrounding his detention, though he has revealed that his career truly began in the solitude of a prison cell. But he was also aware that the avant-garde was not to be found in Poland. In 1960 he left for the United States.
1961-1974 : contemporary art and pop culture
His American adventure proved a partial failure. In 1961, he left the United States for London, where he rented a studio. He got married and struggled to make a name for himself, but he managed
to work and participated his own way in a performance art in the midst of emerging. He was particularly interested in the confrontation between artistic objects and audio material. He tinkered
In 1965, he met John Dunbar when the latter founded his Indica Gallery, instrumental in an attempt at merging pop culture with contemporary art. The gallery notably showcased Fluxus works. Dunbar introduced Elias to the Beatles via the artist Yoko Ono, whom he had already met in New York. This led to Pozornski participating, in early 1967, in the legendary recording at Abbey Road Studios of the final track of the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: A Day in the Life. That same year at Indica, he participated in a collective exhibition in which his Revolution installation, a sculpture of magnetic tapes for loudspeakers in movement, could be seen to herald the sound collage of Revolution 9 on the Beatles’ double LP The White Album (1968). A veiled reference, a tribute, a borrowing or a mix of influences? Pozornsky's role would never be explained, certainly not by him.
It was at this time that he met Harald Szeemann. This brilliant exhibition curator, the inventor of the “independent curator”, admired Pozornski's anarchism and lack of compromise. Together, they dreamed of a permanent redefinition of the exhibition format, to put a definitive end to the “Masterpiece”.
Despite their friendship, Pozornski, who at the time was working on his Bodies vs Objects, refused to participate in the seminal performance art exhibition When Attitudes Become Form, due to its being sponsored by Philip Morris Europe. Nevertheless, Szeemann continued to support Pozornski’s work until their falling out in 1972. That year, Szeemann, with his Documenta 5, attempted to transform the curator into a full-fledged artist. In an open letter, Pozornski violently protested that business is not art, nor intermediaries artists. In his mind, organizers, producers and managers must remain in their place, which is immense but well-defined, or risk art's disintegration within a business-driven mass culture.
2013 : silence and blindness
By taking this stance, Pozornsky brought an immediate end to his international career. The following year, he drove the last nail in the coffin by publishing The Total Artist.
His work became solitary, while his sight problems worsened. Incapable of working without assistance, he returned to Poland with his wife and children in 1974, effectively disappearing from the art scene.
Elias Pozornski died September 22, 2013 in Zakopane, Poland.