Oskar Dawicki [Poland]

Drzewo wiadomości / Tree of Knowledge
Wisielec / Hangman

location of Tree of Knowledge: wall of a building, 33 Heweliusza Str. (can be viewed from the 11 Rybaki Górne Str.)
location of Hangman:  roof of St. Bartholomew’s Church, Gnilna Str.

Far from the tales of artistic valor that abound in pages of art history books, Polish artist Oskar Dawicki replaces grandeur with intense, absurd, and often masochistic acts of self-doubt. Educated as a painter but enlightened as a performance artist, Dawicki’s iconoclastic actions position him as both the object and subject of self-inflicted ridicule. With a corresponding philosophy of black humor and existential urgency, he questions his personal and professional identity in photos, video, objects and installations. In this harsh glare of art’s spotlight, Dawicki cynically, but earnestly invites his audience to see the artist as both brazen showman and flawed fool. Dressed in his signature blue brocade jacket and dress pants, there is an abject, endearingly pathetic quality to the actions that ensue. With his head bowed in the 2005 video I’m Sorry (2005) Dawicki tearfully apologizes to the audience for failing to author an acceptable exhibition – turning his shame into the object of contemplation. In so doing, like a battered lounge singer who both satisfies and frustrates the expectations of the gallery system (for the artist to be as much a saleable product as his/her work), he presents his insecurities as art. Yet as he wallows, Dawicki also takes flight, levitates, moves through walls and dodges imminent death in his work. The superhuman dimensions that thereby propel this desolate artist out of his self-destruction allude to an unknowable, but unmistakable transcendence that tempers pathos with promise.

With characteristically caustic humor, Dawicki’s Tree of Knowledge reworks the iconic Biblical parable as a modern-day fable where moral imperatives yield to a profane, but ultimately life affirming hunger. In a scene where “existential torment reveals deeply felt humanity,” the artist’s downtrodden magician character searches for a way back to the poisoned promises of Eden. The film begins at nightfall as he breaks into the heavenly garden – a desperate artist in search of inspiration or enlightenment, even if it is eternal pain. Bearing Adam’s burden without any of the paradise that preceded it, Dawicki repeats and amplifies the original man’s sin: taking a bite out of every piece of forbidden fruit on the eponymous Tree of Knowledge. As he spits out the ensuing mouthfuls, Da-wicki’s moral defiance challenges the foundations of social, spiritual and ethical order. Yet to do so, this performer nonchalantly rises from the earth – escaping gravity (and gravitas) to float like an angel amongst the treetops. Transgressing the codes of this garden to be exiled into someplace new – someplace better – Dawicki explains, “The fruit is half-consumed, the judgment is suspended and…hope for a new history is reborn.” Moreover, by playing this scene upon the roof of St. Bartholomew’s Church, the work speaks to the desire to pierce the very structure that separates man from heaven. Transcending pious ground, easy iconoclasm and empty illusion, Dawicki is an ascendant sinner dreaming a new Shangri-la.

The artist continues to defy gravity and fate in Hangman: once again playing the existential performer who seeks desperately to feel – even if that means pain, embarrassment and death. As we enter this scene Dawicki’s life hangs in the balance, yet we are unsure if he is prolonging his suicide or escaping a James Bond-like predicament. A rear spotlight is the only source of illumination in this otherwise black chamber, searching for similar answers as it evokes the dramatic setting of a Baroque martyrdom. With a noose around his neck and a stool lying on its side, Dawicki hovers precariously in the center of the frame/stage as he clutches bunches of white helium balloons in each hand. As the camera pans back and forth his shadow looms large on the ground, feet dangling and breath strained as the balloons slowly evacuate their lift. Despite the imminent danger Dawicki speaks in a calm, measured tone: “warmly” welcoming us and thanking the audience for their attendance. As the endangered, but everpresent showman he reassures every surrounding eye that “It gives me great pleasure to perform for you” – even as he insists this scene is true; that this is “not a movie… Certainly not!” As such he is real and unreal at once; center stage and behind the curtain; seen from both alleyway and major street on this tall white building. Hanging where a bright, happy advertisement would normally beam, Dawicki becomes a spectacle/spectre lingering between life and death: implicating our gaze in the rise and fall of performer, performance and place.