Jadwiga Sawicka - Contemporary Art from Cracow, Poland (2007)

Mariusz Salwinski
artdesigncafé - art | 30 October 2011
This text was previously published in the exhibition catalogue Otwarta pracownia— Offenes Atelier, Zeitgenössische Kunst aus Krakau ("Open studio: Contemporary Art in Cracow" in English) (16 September - 4 November 2007) at the Kunsthalle Erfurt, Germany.

Jadwiga Sawicka, The behavioural researcher

"Clothes make people" [1]
— Gottfried Keller

Genetics are responsible for making us what we are. Whereas there are opposing views on the omnipotence of DNA, scientific research has revealed that humans do absorb adaptations to the environment into their own chromosomes, even passing them on to later generations. In this process the individual’s lifestyle plays a major role; environment, behaviour and genetic make-up condition one another in a reciprocal way. Humans are neither purely "genetic products" nor exclusively culturally ethereal beings.

It is in such spaces between biology and everyday life that Jadwiga Sawicka’s art is at home. The articles of clothing painted and portrayed in a sort of relief or simply photographed are the quintessence of her artistic statement and simultaneously the intrinsic representation of the entire code of the wearer. Sawicka builds a bridge between biological and social processes. In this two-way flow of information her statement reflects the social context. She links the seemingly disconnected portrayal of shirts, suits, dresses or stockings, bags and other everyday objects to particular personality profiles, occupations, leisure pursuits or the sexes and their sexuality. Sawicka thus gives the wearer his or her "second skin". At the same time she plays with ancient, deep-rooted cultural and historical attitudes— certain colours associated with a particular gender or religious, professional or sexual connotations and their significance in society. Sexual types of games vary in their connotative significance from perversion to norm, depending on the period of history or cultural factors. With her "silent witnesses" of daily events Sawicka creates the fetishes which through their complex associations refer to so-called "normality". The intensity of sexual desire is influenced by social, cultural or even religious circumstances and moulding. This phenomenon is termed by the US psychologist, Roy Baumeister, as "erotic plasticity".

Jadwiga Sawicka’s photographs of see-through, slightly creased, skin-coloured women’s tights set against an azure background create the ambivalence between the concrete, the promising and the frowned upon. It causes in the beholder feelings of cognitive dissonance and with that, a certain unease, evoking personal experiences and socialized behaviour patterns. In another photo we can see a lovely white Communion dress, making the association with the innocence of the girl it was worn by. The third shot in this series shows a white, priest’s cassock, trimmed with lace, all clean and pure. In this case the artist engages us in a discussion about the badly damaged image of the priesthood.

On first seeing Jadwiga Sawicka’s pictures at an exhibition in Cracow at the end of 2006, I experienced the feeling of déjà vu. I recalled the objects by the Berlin artist, Wolfram Odin, who, years ago, used to present mass-produced garments in display cabinets. Draped over a wallpaper background, the exhibits were assigned contact ads from the daily newspaper, in direct reference to expressions of sexual desire. In this unconscious dialogue between the artists, Jadwiga Sawicka’s statement wins due to the economy of the means she employs, directly giving us a genetic print in the form of an article of clothing.

Click to see a catalogue introduction to Open studio: Contemporary Art in Cracow.

[1] A recognized expression in the English language and title of the novella by Gottfried Keller written in 1866. The work deals with the phenomenon that being well-dressed gives the wearer the appearance of being more influential and successful. The origin of this phrase may be traced back to the Roman rhetorician, Quintilian— "vestis virum reddit": "Clothes make the man".