The first exhibition of yellowism (“Flattened to Yellow”) was opened on 15th November 2010 in Cairo, Egypt. It was also the first public presentation of the Manifesto of Yellowism. The show consisted of four visual works made by young authors of this new, challenging concept.
Around two years later, at the Tate Modern gallery in London, Vladimir Umanetz signed a mural by Mark Rothko with the title “A Potential Piece of Yellowism”, the date and his name. It was an illegal appropriation of the painting that brought yellowism to light. The shocking nature of the incident, the obscurity of the subject and ‘criminal’ character of the whole action caused a mass misconception. Media neglected the actual definition of yellowism and presented it in the completely wrong way.
In this text I’ll briefly discuss the background of yellowism phenomenon and its definition (as it was meant by its creators) hoping to clarify certain yellowism related ambiguities. I will also include my conclusion on the subject at the end of this short investigation.
What It Is
Our ordinary reality is one context, the art environment is another. Yellowism is a third territory, a space, both intellectual and physical, that deprives all known and not-yet-known manifestations of our existence (such as art objects, daily ritual objects, unidentified objects, different expressions and activities, sound and music, various substances, beings, buildings, assumptions, statements, feelings and emotions etc.) of their endless interpretations and reduces them to just one "last" meaning ─ yellow colour. In other words, yellowism is an exchange device that converts all possible meanings to a single one. Therefore, if everything means one thing, creativity (in yellowism) is absolutely dead, or at least reversed, redefined. We are confronted with a non-creative, no-art-at-all utopia.
Yellowism is a ‘totalitarian’ approach pushed to the extreme, allowing the flipping of meanings to happen on a larger scale. It's a realm where yellow colour is represented by anything one can possibly think of. A spectator located inside yellowism is forced to forget the common definition of yellow and, simultaneously, to abandon every other definition, every ‘already-accepted, established understanding of things’.
How, When and Where
Yellowism was defined by two Polish thinkers ─ a contemporary artist Vladimir Umanetz and a philosopher/poet Marcin Łodyga. They first met at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan, Poland, in 2005 and have since organised a couple of art projects and exhibitions together. In 2010 they took part in their last art show “Paradise Paradise” held at the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo. Łodyga, back then, was focused on his films ─ a self-contained, twelve hour-long video cycle full of non-ambiguous and symbolic scenes recorded in his native Poland, Sweden and on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The richness of verbal and visual narration of all five parts of his work was summarised in the last film which incorporates static shots of yellow colour divided by more ‘storytelling’ images. This yellow conclusion, partially influenced by Derek Jarman’s “Blue”, might be seen as an intuitive prelude to yellowism.
At the same time Vladimir Umanetz was making sculptures. He was stubbornly trying to narrow down a wide range of materials that he could possibly use in his practice. Remembering his visit to an anechoic chamber and moved by the unique experience of being there, he chose mineral glass wool to be a main body of his work. Due to the special properties of the wool (sound absorption, fire resistance and thermal insulation) he decided to limit himself to the use of this yellow, hazardous material.
After the show in Egypt, Umanetz and Łodyga started to analyse and to compare their artistic practices. They ‘discovered’ yellow colour ─ a common denominator of their artworks. They dared to believe that this “meeting of restless minds”, this “encounter of yellows” was not just a coincidence. It revealed they had both had been looking for a new territory for their activities. The feeling of sameness was accompanied by a shared desire to explore possibilities of different contexts and the question of how it might reshape perception of their own work. Every day they were getting closer to the (undefined at that time) yellowism zone. The writings of Polish visionary and art theorist Jerzy Ludwinski inspired them to make a series of diagrams, sketches and notes to visualize (and to tame) the evolving, wild idea of yellowism. After numerous daily discussions (over a period of six months) they came up with a few sentences-long, concise document ─ ‘The Manifesto of Yellowism’. The manifesto begins with the words: “Yellowism is not art or anti-art.” On the official yellowism website one can read the definition which says: “Yellowism is an autonomous phenomenon in contemporary visual culture. It derived from the visual arts and despite this fact, is not classified as art, what is in accordance with its essence.”
In 2016 Łodyga published a book “LLOW” in which he tries to philosophically portray yellowism.
According to the Manifesto of Yellowism, yellowism is an autonomous phenomenon located outside the circle of art and it requires yellowist chambers to manifest itself in the world. Umanetz and Łodyga say that “A yellowist chamber is a closed room with violet walls that is not an art gallery and, because of its nature, cannot exist or be presented in an art gallery.”
Inside a ‘tangible yellowism room’ any content is temporarily absent; erased for the duration of a yellowism exhibition. A yellowist chamber cancels the richness of meanings and intellectual references. The colour of ripe lemons is the only noetic destination.
During their stay in Egypt, the two Polish experimentalists were gradually leaving the territory of art and stepping into the unexplored yellowism system. They were trying to, paradoxically, free themselves from the freedom of multiple interpretation. It was a risky move ─ they submitted to something which, for many, seems to be a completely nonsensical and trivial thing. Why did they do it? To answer the question I will bring an example of Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Between 1926 and 1928 he was working on the architecture of a mansion in Vienna. The philosopher meticulously designed every single detail of his sister’s house, starting from the layout and finishing with the window and door handles. When the building was completed, Wittgenstein asked constructors to redo the ceiling in one of the major rooms, requesting it to be lifted by three centimetres in order to balance out the proportions of the salon. When asked why, he assertively replied “it simply matters”.
The precise dimensions of the yellowism construct ─ it simply matters too.
Written by Włodzimierz Umaniec.
Edited by Chinonye Iroegbulem and Marcin Łodyga.