Still life is a painting genre with a rich tradition that has been rooted in the interest in human surroundings. In the history of art it has got several functions – to sum up the visible world, to remind about passing of life.
Still lifes by Marcin Zawicki, contrary to their topics, do not reconstruct the outside world. They simulate reality, while developing the universe governed by its own rules. The most recent pictures, showed on „The Fall” exhibition at the State Art Gallery in Sopot, have been introducing into the world created by the artist. Zawicki has revealed its mysteries with the scientist like zeal. Watching the pictures, initially it is hard to define the source of the colorful chaos. After a moment, recognizable elements start appearing from the many- hued magma – a yellow head of a May bug, a blue hand holding a sword, a dinosaur’s tail, bits of artificial plants – fragments of plastic animals and children toys. The compositions have been placed in the center of the canvas, suspended in the abstract space. Reproduced on the picture, they offered an impression of scientific exhibits, horizontal cross sections, segments of the more extensive reality. They have been marked with the baroque splendor and passion for collecting typical of modern kunstkamer.
Zawicki has been gradually revealing secrets of the worlds he had created, showing these in the micro and macro perspective. Besides pictures, the exhibition has offered objects; models being a starting point for painting compositions. One of the exhibition rooms has been devoted to the characters of the works created by the artist. Here, the painting intrigue has got even more clear. Plastic animals, children toys – displayed in a row on the shelves around the room – head one direction, as though towards the modern Noah’s Ark. The light has been a significant feature of these pictures, emphasizing the surreal realities against the dark, abstract background. While watching the pieces, one has a problem to define its source precisely. On some compositions it seems to come from behind the piece framework, on others it originates in the created visibility.
The scenes presented by Zawicki have been both, entertaining and disturbing. Familiar elements have been developed into the unfamiliar whole, an artificial light intensifying the climate of mystery. The atmosphere can be rendered best with the category of the uncanny. Its characteristic features are a kind of intellectual uncertainty, the mixture of a sense of closeness and alienation that lead to a cognitive dissonance, attracting and simultaneously rejecting. Ernst Jentsch – the father of the term – wrote in the On the Psychology of the Uncanny essay: „While telling a story, one of the useful tools to develop the „uncanny” is to leave a reader hesitating, whether a main character is a human, or an automaton. Simultaneously, a reader is not focused on his uncertainty, thus he cannot trace the source of his condition”. Based on the theory of the uncanny, robotics have developed a hypothesis of the „valley of the uncanny” that describes a threshold of realism in the behavior and look of robots. Once the threshold is crossed, one can sense fear, repulsion, and disgust. The more human a robot turns, the more disturbing he gets. This phenomenon has been described by Masahiro Mori, a Japanese robotic. „When one sees an object, one is immediately attracted or repelled. There are beautiful stuffed animals, and these „horrible dolls” that nobody would put on his sofa” – as Mori stated in one of his interviews. What are the still lifes by Marcin Zawicki – a nightmare of the posthuman reality, the garbage dump of civilization, the simulation of reality, an apocalyptic vision of the world; the artificial world since it has been deprived of natural qualities; by the same token being incomplete, damaged and devastated as a result of men activities? The exhibition title indicates the latter interpretation.
In the pictures by Marcin Zawicki the artificial has been governed by natural laws of chaos, decay and new order. Plastic toy components seem to be conquered by nature, grown with moss and fungi. At a closer look, however, they turn to be artificial.
Marcin Zawicki, „The Fall”, the State Art Gallery, Sopot, September – November 2012.