Scottish artist Lucy McKenzie flourishes in creating civic works that critique urban landscapes whilst simultaneously perpetuating temporary change. Born and raised in Glasgow, a city that had been ravaged by de-industrialisation and urban decay, McKenzie borrows stylistic and aesthetic anachronistic modes found in catalogues and books to highlight societal issues and implement nostalgic utopias. Her sight-specific works, which pictorially recall such diverse styles as East European propaganda, avant-garde abstraction, Art Nouveau architecture, 1920s fashion and 1980s pop music, are immersive and relational, and unveil contemporary issues in social structure. Working with close friend Paulina Olowska, born in turbulent post-war Poland and consequently also witnessing seismic societal changes, McKenzie treats her ‘source material as reflections of social reality – particularly gender issues – and of the changes that have taken place in the art world over recent decades, often so inconspicuously that they initially went unnoticed’ (Stephan Urbaschek, quoted in Hold the Colour: Paulina Olowska/Lucy McKenzie, exh. cat., Sammlung Goetz, Munich 2007, p. 46). The two works on offer here perceptively fuse a careful stylistic selection of source material with an engagingly social imperative.
Co?Në, McKenzie’s proposal to Düsseldorf Kunstverein’s request for a piece of public art, takes the form of a cartooned vintage advertisement, humorously scrutinising the role of women in advertising. A scantily-clad young woman dances with a group of smartly dressed males, her lace-like underarm hair streaming impossibly into the mouths of the spellbound men. The eponymous, brashly nonsensical advertising slogan punctuates a neutral background above an illustration of roll-on deodorant. The work, stylistically referencing the flat graphic design of Polish Modernism, is outdated in its illustrative scheme, yet strangely alien and otherworldly in its content. Whilst the advertisement’s narrative is immediately evident, the work is implicitly a challenge to urban development. The ‘advertisement’, unfamiliar in its otherworldliness, was intended to be positioned on a wall in a newly gentrified harbour, opposite a vogueish bar. Surveying the public surroundings, McKenzie openly and surrealistically ironizes the attitudes towards women in commercial media whilst conjuring an anachronistic alterity in an area of inexorable change.
Lucy McKenzie and Paulina Olowska opened a temporary artists’ bar in Warsaw in 2003. An underground venue which illegally sold alcohol and hosted avant-garde concerts and performances, Nova Popularna was a hip hangout for Warsaw’s creatives, who journeyed to the saloon for good company and cheap drinks. Nova Popularna had an artistically bespoke interior, with McKenzie and Olowska designing and fitting everything themselves, from the bar and curtains to the installation of modified second-hand furniture, sculpture and murals. Nova Popularna was the bar’s visual centrepiece, a diptych loosely mirroring a scene of leisure. Recalling the graphic design of 1920s Art Nouveau, angular geometrical shapes dance in an ambiguous fusion of figuration and abstraction, with the light and breezy palette complementing the jazzed arrangement of the forms. Whilst the life of the bar itself may have been short-lived, McKenzie and Olowska’s rhythmically animated mural ensures its legacy is immortalised.