No 2 (82) 2010
April - June

La vita é dolce…?

First pictures of the graduation diploma series by Agnieszka Żak – entitled Craziness Is You and Me Raised to the n-th Power, Apocalypses, Milano – deal with “extreme experiences” of mental decease, homelessness, passing away.

Magdalena Wicherkiewicz

Art historian, she writes on contemporary art.

Magdalena Wicherkiewicz

THE FORM OF HER PIECES IS QUITE STRIKING, seemingly "not compatible" with the topic, drawing on visual  culture, in a wide sense of the term. Due to this form, Agnieszka Żak has succeeded to render the essence of the subject matter without direct references to emotions; merely contrasting these with cool, "media" like form of her works.

The latest pieces from the Dolce vita series, presented on the exhibition at the Promotional Gallery, mark Agnieszka Żak's comeback after a year and a half absence. She has changed the topic of her works. Extreme experiences and otherness are no longer in the sphere of her interest. It seems that now everything is approachable, sweet, free of any problems, as suggested by the title of her most recent series. Nevertheless, some intuitive, inner feeling prevents a total surrender to the allure of the contemporary life. The first picture of the new series distinctly refers to "mass imagination" images: music and movie icons, the world of fashion and pop culture, popular toys, as well as iconographic motives borrowed from the history of art. Everything well mixed together and perfectly fitting. After all, today anything is possible... One can be anyplace one wishes, one can become whoever one wishes... "All have an impression that they have been there" - as clearly stated by the title of one of her pictures. So, she paints new visual samples and remixes: Madonna as a star of popular building blocks, her own husband as Adonis, herself - as a Barbie doll... Game, irony, pleasure...Other works present memories, fragments of reality "we had been in", our share in it, as the one of the first Communion... Anything can be possible, courtesy of relevant objects. And technology. But first of all - courtesy of ever present images. It seems that Agnieszka Żak really paints how the contemporary visual culture functions. What colors and shapes it gives to our emotions and imagination. The objects we possess and the images filling our imagination carry a "meaning", they exceed what they are. First of all, they take over the space of feelings. The sweet life. No longer light and pleasant. This is a whole sphere of references, associations, images, colors; a specific aura of the Italian style of the 50's and 60's. The ritual of existence.

The pictures by Agnieszka Żak strike a dialogue with the cult movie by Fellini. And with a certain image of life, an icon of luxury. (Is this criticism...?). "La dolce vita" is merely a shadow. Our "sweet life" has outgrown its original model. It is more than true. More than sweet... Hyper sweet. It is a simulation. Not even nostalgia.

Some pictures of the most recent series by Agnieszka Żak contain autobiographic motives, marked with personal emotions. Here, cool photographic detachment has slightly disappeared. The author has moved towards her own iconography, attempting to develop/recover her own images. Is it still possible, when it seems that all and every image is available by just a click? I think that her artist grandmother has taken a very special place in the latest series by Agnieszka Żak. The title character has been featured as a little girl. In contrast to other pictures of the series, maintained in an intense palette, the latter is practically monochromatic; whites, grays, blacks and dark blues. Strangely nostalgic and strong.

The Dolce vita series, similarly as her earlier works, refers to photography stylistics, and advertising iconography. Thus, she has developed a certain detachment; like a statement put in brackets. Filtered. Here, she has applied this form even more consistently than in her earlier pieces. A sense of reserve has been strengthened by elements of collage (lace) and drawings added to the painted pictures. Further, these efforts suggest that she is searching for new forms.

Where is the life sweet? Can it still be?

Agnieszka Żak-Biełowa, "Dolce Vita", painting, the Promotional Gallery, Warsaw, April-May 2010.