Marzena Nowak is a painter, author of videos and installations. She was born in 1977 in Piaseczno.
Nowak attracted attention with her series Wykroje / Cutouts from 2002, which she continued in the following years. Using tracing paper, she put complicated nets of sartorial patterns onto stretchers. It is a long, time-consuming process. Overlapping sets of lines created complicated, even abstract tangles. The images are not free from reference. They are similar to maps, schemes, constellations. Most of all though, they reference memory, especially the artist’s individual memory – they are reminiscent of the sartorial patterns published in the German magazine Burda that her mother read. In an interview, she explained:
When I was a child, my mother sewed garments based on the patterns from old magazines. I duplicate them in my work, but now these patterns are turned into constellations of stars, fingerprints, even the universe.
When, invited by Mirosław Bałka, Nowak took part in the Generations project (which had both commercial and artistic value), she showed a pattern of an Absolut bottle, which she later presented at the Venice Biennale.
The connection to objects from the past also turned out to be very important in Nowak’s other works. She explained:
These are ordinary, everyday things, which we don’t notice, but which build our lives. They leave a trace in our memory and form our minds, our aesthetics, they are forever associated with something pleasant or unpleasant. They are important to us. And we also connect with them emotionally. We give them a meaning.
It can be said about the series Pościele moje / My Bedclothes, which is composed of painted copies of fancy cloths, as if they were taken from her childhood. Another installation of the artist, presented in the ZOO Gallery in 2005, was less obvious in its message: it was filled with numerous, diverse interventions made of textiles and yarn: a pile of rags, a needlework, a tangle of threads, finally – a sort of shelter, reminiscent of a sleeping bag.
Before graduating, Nowak also became interested in video art. Her first films were connected to Cutouts – she sometimes interpreted them or tried to give them new meanings (Oko / Eye, 2002), sometimes revealed the creative process (Tworzenie / Creation, 2003). Wiesław Borowski wrote that her videos lack:
Gaudiness, so often present in video art. Her works whisper tenderly, but still have an expressive force.
Nowak’s films often show poetic close-ups of hands, faces, feet. In the artist’s hands camera becomes very private and subjective, it registers the process of getting to know and contemplating the world through intimate actions and a purposeful rediscovering of some objects. Some of the films have a surreal quality to them: eye lashes grow from nails and flutter when the fingers move (Rzęsy / Eyelashes, 2003). In the film Woda / Water (2003), a surprising effect is achieved when the image is turned by 90 degrees. The artist filmed a hand touching the surface of the water, but it is not shown horizontally but vertically. The motives connected to sewing and the feminine sphere returned in Szwalnia / Sewing room (2004). The process of preparing for sewing has been show in an unreal way. As Alicja Bielawska wrote:
We come to a moment when one cannot talk about reality anymore.
The way of presenting her videos is very important for the artist. She considers the context and the surrounding of the projection very important and often supplements them with objects or arranging the whole space of the exhibition. The film Woda / Water, presented in Zakręt Gallery in the Institute of Art History at the Warsaw University, was shown on a screen hidden behind a closed, glass door. Nowak’s first video installation was Red Square Dance, presented in the Foksal Gallery in 2004. It consisted of two projections – sequences of feet moving during cuticle removal and while dancing in a sequence designated by a chessboard of ceramic tiles on the floor. In the gallery small objects created by the artist – knitted toe protectors – were also shown. The theme of the installation was the oppressive character of everyday activities which become a ritual of preparing for a dance. As Bielawska noticed:
When talking about her works, it’s important to underline, that what is shown, is the artist’s own body. This gives them an additional autobiographical dimension and points to a female view on the body.
Nowak’s art is a penetration of private, familiar areas. The artist filmed his father at home, telling a ‘funny’ story about his life (Tata / Dad, 2005). The house is not only a physical space, a concrete place, to which one is connected emotionally. In Aleja Róż / Avenue of Roses (2005), Nowak recorded a farewell to such a space. In an apartment with no furniture, which her family leaves, the artist lays on the floor immobile for a while,and repeats this ritual in every room.
Nowak is interested in the areas of privacy and memory until today. Her last realisations on the one hand form a synthesis of visual culture of the 1980s, filtered through the artist’s imagination, and a dreamlike perspective. During Nowak’s individual exhibition in Galerie Mezzanin in Vienna in 2008, echoes of memories (taking on diverse forms – from paintings to video) could be found, connected to ordinary elements of everyday space, such as postcards and patterns on ties. On the other, the artist quite literally showed the direction of her search – she presented a film, on which she uses a mirror to look inside her throat, and in this way reach her insides.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2008, translated by: N. Mętrak-Ruda, November 2015.
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