Contemporary artists we're loving

Oskar Dawicki

contemporary artists - Oskar Dawicki

Warsaw-based Oskar Dawicki may not be as familiar as many fellow Polish artists, but we like his work enough to think that he should be.

Born in 1971, Dawicki began his art studies as a painter, but soon found himself drawn towards mediums such as performance, video and installation.

His work takes a cynical, though always witty, view of issues ranging from his own identity as an artist and individual, to the absurdities of of life in late capitalist society.

One of his best-known pieces features various perishable foodstuffs arranged on shelves.

Each is connected to a digital timer which counts down the days until the item's expiry date; by the installation's end, all the products are technically inedible (above).

A pertinent update of the the vanitas genre and its focus on mortality and attendant spiritual issues, Dawicki's piece provides a blistering commentary on 21st Century living: mired in greed, consumption and waste, the insinuation is that our closest connection with the notion of death involves nothing more than the life-span of a product.

contemporary artists - Oskar Dawicki

Similar themes are also central to the 2008 video Tree of Knowledge (left).

In it, the artist is seen breaking into the Garden of Eden where he not only repeats Adam's sin of sampling the Forbidden Fruit, but compounds the crime by not leaving a single fruit on the Tree of Knowledge uneaten.

With characteristically caustic humour, Dawicki re-works the Biblical tract as a modern-day fable in which moral imperatives are lost to an overpowering hunger for transgression.


If the paradigmatic Renaissance dictum 'know thyself' points to moral integrity through self-awareness, it's no coincidence that much of Dawicki's practice likewise confronts the issue of his own being.

In early works this took the form of an existential quest to establish identity by, for example, hiring a private investigator to appraise his character.

The detective, who apparently assumed he was being hired by anxious prospective parents-in-law, provided Dawicki with the means to see himself through the eyes of an impartial other.

Similarly, the question "who am I - and do I even exist?" was also asked literally during performances.

Quizzing the audience about his persona or immediate presence, Dawicki - perhaps inevitably - often received a negative answer regarding his own existence.

contemporary artists - Oskar Dawicki

The question of identity rises again in a series of works from 2002, although, in this case, Dawicki chooses to assert rather than question his creative and physical presence.

Employed at the time in a Warsaw advertising agency, the artist concealed tiny photograph of himself in the marketing materials he was preparing. Dawicki's interventions were never noticed, his miniscule presence overlooked although leaving an enormous conceptual mark (left and below).

contemporary artists - Oskar Dawicki

Dawicki's fascination with personae is reflected, too, in his occasional allusions to celebrities with near-mythical status.

The 2003 video Riders on the Storm is his own 'Homage to Jim Morrison', while Homage to Bruce Lee, 2003 (below), wittily evokes the movie star's presence while also signifying his absence. If the 'good guys' of popular culture are nothing more than outlines our imaginations are required to fill, humankind is bereft of heroes or, indeed, saviours.

How can such absences be redressed? In a 2009 solo show, familiar questions regarding Dawicki's own role as an artist - and by extension, the role of art itself - re-emerged. The Portrait of Cicely Saunders commemorates the originator of contemporary palliative medical care, an allusion which begs the question as to whether art can ever succeed in ameliorating the wrongs of a wayward world, or simply tranquilise as we endure life's inevitable slings and arrows.

The only answer Dawicki could provide was uncertain and ambiguous; a knotted rope of his own clothes slung from an upstairs gallery window - yet too short to provide either a means of escape or entry.

contemporary artists - Oskar Dawicki
All images © Oskar Dawicki

more artist profiles: Allison Schulnik | Sara Ramo | Joana Vasconcelos | Nora Schultz | Nicholas Hlobo | Tillman Kaiser

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