Interview by Małgorzata Czyńska
Abandoned routine transformed into an affirmation of everyday life: the last sip of coffee in a coffee cup is a memory of the morning, a map – an echo of a simple stroll or perhaps a longer journey. Jola Wagner not only sees, but also perceives. She does not allow any of these important things to slip by, things like delicate trinkets, an incidental pitcher, spoons or a small pair of shoes, lipsticks, dresses, and smells – the traces of our own selves carelessly left behind despite our best intentions, she reads them as essential and beautiful proofs of our presence. Unique signs.
Each of your drawings is like a page from a diary?
I draw all the time, it’s my daily preoccupation, and a drawing is a document of a particular day, a record of my life a type of intimate documentation. Depicted events are only important to me, therefore the pictures should not be too overly literal. I obscure their legibility – I hide one thing behind another, paint over it, sometimes I go so far as to sew them up. Maybe someone can guess or discover their meaning, but it’s better when they can’t figure it out. The personal nature of my work makes me feel very embarrassed when I see it hanging in a gallery or in someone’s house.
When did you start cataloguing objects; making those large and small inventories of everyday life?
I think that every person is searching for their own system which will organize the chaos of reality. I became conscious of this need in a difficult moment of my life: I just became a mother; it was the nightmarish time of the marshal law, which provoked within me the incredibly overwhelming feeling of despair, helplessness in the light of an unpredictable future. It was at that moment that I began to document my daily impressions and ordinary objects which surrounded me; this process was something like a therapy. I built my own world which gave me a feeling of safety and a sense of control over an unfriendly reality. Even when the political situation changed, I continued the habit of recording my days. The rhythmic organization of objects and subjective maps of places – this is my way of organizing and taming the world, on paper.
Do you like to observe yourself and your immediate surroundings? The Banality of everyday life can be beautiful and worth noting?
For me, it is very important. Small events or seemingly trivial gestures are significant clues to our presence in the here and now. All these images determine our individuality. They are not unlike the distinguishing features found in a passport. I even make such passports – portraits of friends and acquaintances: an image of a body, an outline of a silhouette, also the characteristic traits of a person described in letters or represented with the aid of props or symbols: an open book, high heels, labyrinths, the silhouettes of animals and plants…
You often return to the theme of powder cases, brushes and lipstick…
Everything that I create, constitutes a “large table of contents of the present day.” I make my inventory step by step: cities, houses, people, table settings, and discarded empty packaging of cosmetic products… These works are created as parts of a series. At the moment I am interested in architecture and urban planning, and therefore I draw a series of small, big and extremely large maps and blueprints of places which exist in my memory or only in my imagination. I will probably soon return to the themes of cosmetics and other objects which are always close to me and are an inseparable part of everyday life.
You have in your garage a few thousand used cosmetic cases that belonged to you or someone else. Instead of being thrown away, these cases find their way into your installations and drawings; an unusual form of recycling.
A discarded perfume bottle or an empty tube of cream or a used container of mascara is a record of several months of a woman’s life. Supposedly, they are just used up containers, but apparently, within them exists the passage of time along with their own inherent poetry.
You arrange them into colorful, fragrant compositions; afterwards you make an inventory of them on paper – a list of all these cosmetics. While drawing, you simplify the form. One can “play” at recognizing brand names: Kenzo perfume, Lancome creams, Armani, Dior - luxuries without limit, like the inside of the largest perfume store in the world.
It is a fascinating game. I play with the shapes and colours of bottles, jars and boxes, I take out the stoppers – I want to sense the evaporating odors. The touching, the opening and closing, the smelling are a little like entering another person’s life, at an intimate moment, the moment of being good to one’s body.
Aren’t you afraid of the “woman’s art” label?
I have nothing against this term if it is understood as an affirmation of the feminine in art. The ability to capture the beauty of life, the subtle appreciation of everyday matters, is more often associated with a feminine sensibility. This theme is of my own choosing, but it is also an obvious fact – I see the word through the eyes of a woman and I have the feelings that I have.
In your works, you repeatedly register the passage of time; you record things, moments and motions – fluid thoughts on paper devoid of any precise beginning or closure.
I am conscious of the passage of time and I am humbly aware of the fact that I’m just an element in the rhythm of the world. Against better judgment, I am drawn to the things that are fragile and not long-lasting. Our world is overflowing with man made objects, pictures from periodicals, and sheets of paper, tissue paper that is not long-lasting. At present, these things allow us to enjoy the moment, but after a while they are annihilated, making way for other objects that do not yet exist.