Her artistic evolution has drifted from photography and video to installation and performance, often bringing the viewer into a deeply intimate rapport with the artist-cum-subject
Born 1979 in Warsaw, Wawrzyniak's family moved to New Zealand when she was eight years old. Today she lives in New York with her photographer husband Richard Kern, yet her memories of communist Poland remain a substantial influence on her work as an artist. Her photographs take a raw, natural look at everyday people, places, objects and even condiments, such as in her Kids and Mothers and Daughters portrait series (2009), Ketchup performance and photography series (2009) and the highly riveting video Chocolate (2011) in which the fresh-faced Wawrzyniak gets gradually covered in chocolate sauce - to the point where she is completely submerged beneath a pool of sticky brown liquid. The work is sensual on a variety of levels, from the artist's facial expressions and the texture of the liquid flowing across her face and upper body. In 2011 Wawrzyniak represented Poland a the 54th Venice Biennale, with Chocolate as part of the Commercial Break international artist series.
In her 2010 video Lipstick (four) and Lipstick (two), made as part of the collaborative project 4 Sale curated by Anne Huntington in New York, she and other models smear one another's faces and bodies with lipstick with an sexual energy that borders on violence. The project is an ironic statement on commerce and the depiction of women in commercial visual culture. In its commentary on the show the fashion magazine W wrote that "explores femininity with both brutality and warmth".
Her performances have been called "unsettling" as she unabashedly flaunts her naked body and tiptoes across the line between pretty and perverse, flattering and filthy. Her goal is to "take the nude self-portrait to the next level of intimacy", delving into other media to further narrow the boundary between artist and spectator. Her most recent project Smell Me, shown at the Envoy Enterprises Gallery in New York in the fall of 2012, takes its cue from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit' and perhaps Patrick Süskind's murder mystery novel Perfume, with the artist gathering a chemistry research team to collect and concentrate the essence of her hair, sweat and tears. Of the 47 essential oils created, 10 will be on show at the gallery, contained in tear-shaped chemistry vials. These substances vary in consistency, from a pale mist to a brown sludge, some delicate in scent - such as the rainwater scent of tears to the animal smell of a sweaty nightshirt and the peppery smell of her hair.
In an interview with New York Times Magazine, Wawrzyniak traces her obsession with scent back to her childhood in communist Poland, recalling buses filled with smelly passengers in days when deodorant was a luxury good and explaining, "I have incredibly vivid memories of liking certain people because of their smell and being afraid of others because of their smell". Today she complains that people mask their smells with soap and perfume, calling the mix of inorganic scents a "horrible cocktail". The scents were presented both in vials, which could be purchased by gallery visitors, and also diffused in a scent chamber that provided a full-on olfactory experience, bringing the visitor directly a human being's most intimate sphere. In a world where deodorants and perfumes mask a human's natural smell, Wawrzyniak's project strives to challenge the perception of organic smells and the natural scent of a woman.
For more information on the artist, see: www.martynka.com
Author: Agnes Monod-Gayraud, November 2012
Selected Group Exhibitions:
Contemporary Culture, at the 54th Venice Biennale, Italy
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