Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Brilliantly inarticulate Polish conceptual art

Oskar Dawicki: the last Polish artist
Gambia Castle
26 February - 27 March 2010

This exhibition organised by Daniel Malone (who now lives in Warsaw) brings the work of Polish performance artist Oskar Dawicki to Gambia Castle. Dawicki specialises in an ironically morose art that features carefully crafted inarticulate wisecracks coated in a dour or hangdog veneer - asides sometimes muttered between sobs (sending up grovelling self-abasement) or questions answered with ‘I don’t know’ (ridiculing lacklustre passivity).

Often presenting himself as a rakish dandy wearing a glittering blue jacket, Dawicki exploits his urbane demeanour by making gentle – calculatingly self-effacing – murmurings about art, his many inadequacies, and visual culture in general.

The ten works he has chosen for Auckland vary. Three are amusing videos in the manner of those he and a performance group he is part of (Azorro) present on YouTube. One is the tearfully apologetic I’m Sorry (click here), and another (in the GC office) is computer-based, about opening folders to images of an increasingly turbulent sea - with the sound of The Doors’ 'Riders Of the Storm' gradually morphing into thunder and splintering glass.

The third video, The Unbearable Lightness of Meaning, is a sarcastic meditation on Lenin’s comment that film is the most important of the arts. On top of the monitor is a small china Madonna being mutilated by an American eagle. On the screen we see interminable, never ending credits from several Hollywood films like Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’, which occasionally tilt and veer off to the right like a drunken driver - mixed in with acerbic quips about the triviality of the movie industry. Dawicki likes to have fun manipulating subtitles.

Other works are more about ambiguities of language and identity. A work in the street-front window (normally used by Sue Crockford) taunts passersby with 10,000 Polish Zloty (about $NZ2000) as bait for a smash and grab, but actually – as you’d expect- it is just photocopied notes: though the catalogue listing says they’re authentic. A second work of images of cannabis plants on window sills, shows fake marijuana specimens made from recut and reassembled plastic bushes. Dawicki’s photos of these ‘plants’ on Polish window ledges are now positioned in Gambia Castle’s New Zealand windows.

Another presents a section of a famous Polish epic poem, but deliberately untranslated as something impossible to correlate - its identity and content being too unique. A fourth exploits paradox by having a sentence I’ve never made a work about the Holocaust, written on the gallery wall in pencil; this action of course making it a lie. A fifth uses the Gambia Castle door where Dawicki, like Bruce Lee, has seemingly hurled his body through the solid wooden panel, leaving a spreadeagled silhouette with a large body and small head. We know it is cut with a jigsaw, yet it smirks at film props and provides a visually witty introduction to this artist’s ‘corpus’ of work.

There is an even more slippery evasiveness about some other works, where visual properties are not supported by any confirmed underpinning physical or chemical structure. For example, a churning, gestural oil painting, made with vaseline mixed in with linseed oil and paint, has its hardening, oxidising process put on hold. It is a work literally about its own, seemingly never attainable, never completed, chemical process. Or a multiple, made of green rat bait laid out on paper, spelling out the term OD. Apart from being a joke about what art can do to the mental metabolism of its consumers, its poison is not that which relies on conventional overdosing, but is a gradually cumulative anticoagulant that is slowly absorbed, not relying on large single hits.

Dawicki’s art has a high quota of discreet cunning that goes beyond sly corner-of–the-mouth quips. It needs several visits for the thematic connections linking different works to become apparent, and YouTube is a great introduction. Gambia Castle is only open on Fridays and Saturdays and the show finishes this week.

No comments: