No 1 (65) 2006
January - March


With One ‘Let There Be!’ from the Medium’s Power . . .

Jadwiga Sawicka is endowed with exceptional existential insight. She is one of those artists who, instead of listening to herself, is an instrument for eavesdropping on the world. This is not the world of politics, the maelstrom of identity, or the dread of globalization - although such concerns sometimes appear as a backdrop. Her world is eternal; it does not depend on transient problems. Human emotions make up her world.
Maria Anna Potocka

Art critic and theoretician, curator, director of the "Bunker of Art" Gallery in Cracow.

Maria Anna Potocka
Jadwiga Sawicka was born in Przemysl in 1959. She studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Graduated from Jerzy Nowosielski atelier in 1984. Her works include painting, photography, objects, and installations. She works and lives in Przemysl.. Selected individual exhibitions 1994 Edible Woman, Galeria Sztuki Współczesnej, Przemysl 1996 Fine Form, Otwarta Pracownia, Krakow 1997 The Old Feeling Is Back, Otwarta Pracownia, Krakow Nonsense Bothers, Centre for Contemporary Art Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw 1998 Form Calls for Use, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw Persuasion Domestication Instruction, billboard, Galeria Zewnętrzna AMS 1999 Causes Cancer, Galeria Otwarta, Krakow Pliability of Materials, Zacheta Gallery, Warsaw Empty into Emptiness (with Michael Wittassek), Otwarta Pracownia, Krakow 2000 Dis/joint (with Roger Perkins), Otwarta Pracownia, Krakow Bloody, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw 2001 38 Executions, Kolo Gallery, Gdansk 2002 Accidents of Memory (with Joan Grossman), Zacheta Gallery, Warsaw Revision and Consolidation, Otwarta Pracownia, Krakow 2003 Numbers, Narod Sobie Gallery, Poznan Sweet Souvenir, Potocka Gallery, Krakow Nothing Inside!, Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow 2004 Wrapping up, Kronika Gallery, Bytom 2005 Attracts and Repels, Atlas Sztuki Gallery, Lodz Selected group exhibitions 1996 Woman on Woman, BWA, Bielsko-Biala 1997 Borders of Painting Centre for Contemporary Art Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw 1999 The Grip, Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz 2000 Scene 2000, Centre for Contemporary Art Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw 2001 Bureaucracy, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw Outside, Centre for Contemporary Art Laznia, Gdansk Masquerades, Inner Spaces Gallery, Poznan Bustling, BWA, Wroclaw 2002 Supermarket of Art, DAP Gallery, Warszawa Semiotic Landscape, Hilger Gallery, Charim Gallery, Vienna, Krolikarnia Gallery, Warsaw 2003 Architectures of Gender, The Sculpture Center, New York, USA White Mazur, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin, Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow 2004 Distances?, Galerie Le Plateau, Paris Beauty and Painterly Effects, BWA, Bielsko-Biala Beyond the Red Horizon, Centre for Contemporary Art Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw 2005 Painting as Cold Medium, Piekary Gallery, Poznan Time of Culture, Arsenal City Gallery, Poznan Polish Woman, Centre for Contemporary Art Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw These are not the feelings seen in films or prattled on about insistently in confessions. They are feelings lodged at the very bottom of the soul, the basic feelings that are almost inexpressible - sighs, loss, yearnings, intimations of disappointment, stifled pettiness, joy underlain with visions of sorrow, and helpless melancholy. These feelings elude form, and yet - perhaps for that very reason - they determine everything. They construct the personality, and they rip it apart. Many people sense them, psychologists attempt to grasp them, but hardly anyone can express them. These feelings are so delicate and vague that the touch of form kills them. Yet artists manage from time to time to find a way of referring to these feelings. Then art history rewards them generously. This is no whim, because imaging these feelings requires outstanding sensitivity and formal control. Some gestures go too far, others are clumsy, and the feeling for which the painting sets a snare fails even to appear, crushed beneath a misplaced comma. The formal precision required to convey the “feelings at the bottom of the soul” can be highly stressful for the artist. And it can demand the development of a whole new formal strategy. For the purposes of her super-feelings, Jadwiga Sawicka has developed an extremely effective instrument, meticulously perfected. Hints of it, and its evolution, may be traced in her earlier work. For an art historian interested in the creative process, she is a highly interesting case. The early period features several closely associated probings in search of a solution that would guarantee formal fulfillment. These early approaches to the problem are dialectical in nature: the important moments are when the heart of the matter fails to appear, when the snare laid for it does not work quite right and the startled prey escapes in a flash. For the insightful artist, it is enough to try to make a better snare and lay it better next time. Sawicka played things right and devoted no more steps to this phase than necessary. This phase is doubly demanding, because the search for the appropriate form for one’s feelings is also an attempt to understand and grasp the feelings themselves. The pursuit is amusing, because neither the prey nor the weapon are known in advance. During the chase, we build the one and discover the other. This is the most dangerous hunt in the artist’s life. Some artists discover nothing more than a slingshot, and spend the rest of their lives launching stones from it. Jadwiga Sawicka emerged from this stage fully armed and with a full collection of trophies. She developed an individual formal kit and an awareness of the feelings she wanted to understand, penetrate, and charm out of ineffability. The depiction of human feelings, and especially those that cannot be uttered - the feelings that only suggest behavior or a fleeting mood to the person who experiences them is a complex process of many stages. Sensitivity to the feelings of others is a necessary connection. (Even among artists, this is hardly common. The decided majority of artists concentrate on their own feelings or forget about the feelings in general while concentrating on the quest for the unusual symbolic blows that reality supplies in large numbers.) Sensitivity to the feelings of others, however, is only the beginning, only a state of readiness. The next stage is the knack of reading these feelings and understanding the reactions, facial expressions, and situations that represent them. This moment confirms the intuition. The artist has arrived at a theatre playing an uninterrupted production on the subject of the impossibility of concealing the emotions. The fascinating show teaches brilliantly about the signals belonging to the various feelings. This is the moment where observation ends and the preparation for one’s own expression begins. The artist does not comment on the course of this process, yet certain things may be inferred on the basis of the ultimate conclusion, which is the work of art. It is hard to say when and how Jadwiga Sawicka realized that she is “addicted to” the drama of human emotions. Her behavior, delicacy, attunement to others, and melancholy gaze suggest that it has always been this way. Her attitude goes beyond sensitivity and arrives at something like an inability to exist separately in the bubble of her own happiness, oblivious to the anxieties and pain of others. All of this might sound like sentimental praise, but it isn’t necessarily that. It’s hard to say how far this artistic contract with other people’s feelings is a gesture of empathy, and how much it is an impatient attempt at coping with the insistent presence of other people’s feelings. I have the impression that it is both the one and the other. The combinations of opposites, the collision between intuition and egotism and the struggle between them, and the commingling of shame and the right to protect oneself - all these give Jadwiga Sawicka’s work the great existential force that must always be backed up by the contradictions, dilemmas, and the struggle between the vision of the self and the insistent anti-vision that inevitably inhere in each of us. Having described the intuitions associated with the essence of Jadwiga Sawicka’s work, we should now examine the facts responsible for it. The dominant mood in her earlier work is expressive disorientation, conveyed through compositional excess or disintegration, in an aggressiveness of shapes and lines, in an excessive accumulation of material or symbolic gestures. Clearly visible in these works is the setting free of unverified energy that then needs to be examined and rigorously purged of everything “that I don’t want if it’s to be me.” Sawicka’s later works show clearly what it was that struck her as alien in the earlier work. These brief passages perfectly illuminate the decision about identity. The decisions taken at this point, of course, had differing values. The most important and strategic ones had to do with the choice of representation. Used clothing and shopworn words, filled to the point of weariness with traces of the human being, became the objects representing existential feelings and tensions. Formal decisions marked out a territory where it was possible to move unerringly while ensuring the fullest voice for the contents. The representation renounced compositional complexity and accepted a central position for the objects that were photographed or painted. Sawicka operates in several media, among which painting is surely the gold standard. The multiplicity of media and their hierarchy has crucial significance in the depiction of clothing. The starting point, embracing an object taken from reality and changing it into a presentation ready for further “discussion,” is photography. The clothing appears in a realistic scale, perfectly clear, colorful, and very sad. The longing for a person, the strong sense of the absence of a person, emanates from these photographs. But this is only a small part of the success. A goal emerges, but not the most important one. The photography of clothing is associated with the helplessness of the dead body, nicely laid out, colorfully and coquettishly awaiting reanimation. Painting surveys this moribund readiness and initiates the act of resurrection. With one “Let there be!” from the medium’s power, the inert clothing or paper mask turns into a living emotion. The transformation is so intense that it creates the impression of life being breathed into the painted image. The painted clothing vibrates with motion, blurts out some sort of stifled confession, attempts to say something, but—fortunately—cannot quite find the words. It changes into the energy of tangled, inexpressible feelings. In comparison with the respectability of photography, it seems drunk. Sculpture looks on at this contention between photography and painting, and provides a commentary of its own—the utility of which, perhaps deliberately, is unclear, even as sculpture makes it possible to fulfill the “interpretational deformation” of the object through the use of media: photography stiffens the shape of realism, painting animates it with feeling, and sculpture mocks it with bluntness. The contention among these deformations is a survey of the symbolic efficacy that a media assault liberates in the object. Painting wins hands down, because it is in painting that the departure from the object and the obliteration of its meaning appears most forcefully, followed by the symbolic transformation of the object into feelings, the real into the emotional, and the definable into the sensible. Clothing is not the only hero in Sawicka’s pictures. No less important, if not the most important “image” in Sawicka’s work, are words, or more precisely the phrases built out of them. “Words, phrases, the clothing of thoughts . . . the imperfect images that tear at our feelings.” The human environment is full of utterances that have become so banal that no one will ever penetrate their meaning. Yet this does not diminish their importance or dull their functioning. These phrases are sighs from the depths of the soul. Behind them stands some sort of incapacity, disappointment, foolishly invested hope, or presentiment of failure. When we sigh these words, we are not trying to communicate anything to anyone. They are only the release of the tension resulting from real or anticipated unpleasantness. They are the simplest, most childish way to “bear the whips and scorns of time.” “Oh, Jesus.” “Give me everything.” “Good Lord.” “The cattle, the cattle.” “One thing on top of another.” These sighs, these incantations, unreal wishes and retaliations, all this verbal magic, surrounds us all the time, and there is a great deal of it left to discover. In Jadwiga Sawicka’s art, as in the case of clothing, these words are modeled with painterly craft. Their form, slightly skewed and not always fitted properly into the space of the painting, imitates the tension that accompanies the utterance of such words. Once again, painting gives life to inert phrases that no one pays any attention to anymore. This painterly intervention reveals the deeper layers of tiny, private dramas sick with helplessness and frustrations. Aside from incantations, words also appear in several other guises. One of the most important of these consists of painting over carefully selected newspaper headlines. As opposed to the verbal magic where only vague emotions can be discerned behind the words, we are dealing here with narrative. “They kill again” is an insistent invitation to let the imagination roam and reconstruct a situation—and, by the by, to create and experience the feelings that inevitably accompany such a dramatic event. The evocation of narrative is followed by pictures that convey trauma: “Causes Cancer,” “Plague, Plague,” or “How Can People Go on Living?” Such slogans tear away our illusions of happiness and brutally remind us of the sting of existence. Another fruitful painterly procedure is the painting of tales that sum up episodes of soap operas like those on television. This is a literature intended to last for a week and that achieves a shoddiness below the level of its time. This inventory of facts and tangle of psychological commentaries on the scullery-maid level is a symbol of the quality to which we are sentenced or exposed. The gutter-press painting turns into an excuse for not living, an accusation against the quality of life. Yet another textual procedure involves multiplying the text in the form of wallpaper, an endless reiteration where the ends of the phrases run into their beginnings, creating the impression that the pressure of the painful significances borne by the words is eternal and infinite. Pictures of the simplest of texts plumb the repressive potential of verbal messages. The oppressive contents, uncomplicated and carefully chosen, create a perceptual experiment as perfect as art can be. Under the pressure of the magic power of painting, the meanings of the words reveal how manipulative they are, showing how they play with human feelings and, while pretending to be helpful, only increase the disorientation. It is impossible, of course, to blame the words for everything. Usually, they are no more than tools in the hands of others. In several realizations dedicated to public space, Jadwiga Sawicka attempts to expose those “hands.” In the Foksal Gallery, she blames Bureaucracy; in Anschluss (in Vienna), history; and, in Does Poland Love You?, patriotic frustration. Each of these subjects, and there will be more of them, has a great talent for traumogenic words in its manipulative nature. These words have their methods for infiltrating language: they grow dull with use, stop being noticeable, but never cease infiltrating the emotions. This strategy of ostensive non-presence guarantees their power over people. There is nothing worse than symbols hanging around in disorder and apparently without any purpose, waiting for a mood or a moment of weakness. Jadwiga Sawicka restores life to these words (these clothes), dragging them up to a level where they start being visible. As a result, their emotional force submits to conscious reflection. The emotional manipulator ends up in the prison of the intellect. It is subjected to the rigor of a system, arranged according to resemblances, and exposed to view. Jadwiga Sawicka’s artistic strategy is not, of course, a social message or an attempt at helping. Authentic and justified at the highest level, it is a genuine confrontation of egos between artistic sensitivity and the slings and arrows that reality aims at such “weaknesses.” Nor is there any contradiction here between egoism and the empathy that was mentioned at the beginning. Yet it is a miracle that this “private matter” penetrates to the intuition of culture and, for many people, alters the taste of words and images. “The word gives us the chance to experience Being. It cannot be rational, but only poetic and metaphorical. Only thus does it make it possible to hack out a clearing in the center of the imagined forest in which people find themselves.” 1 See Mickiewicz, Ode to Youth. 2Hamlet, III, i. 3 These are not the only possible interpretive associations; these works are very complicated in terms of meanings. 4 Luc Ferry, Jean-Didier Vincent, Co to jest człowiek? [What Is Man?], (Warsaw: PIW, 2003), trans. Monika Milewska, p. 137