Clothing is probably the first, or one of the first artefacts produced by culture. It is also an artefact most sensitive to civilisational changes



"Reverse. Peasant corsets" Bownik, 2016

"Reverse. Peasant corsets" Bownik, 2016

BWA Tarnów, one of the most interesting contemporary art galleries in East-Central Europe hosted an exhibition whose subject and point of departure was fashion and clothing. A group of artists and fashion designers from Austria, Belgium, Poland and the USA created works of art inspired by stories which accumulate around clothes and fashion.

Kacper Szalecki, opening of he the exhibition   PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW

Kacper Szalecki, opening of he the exhibition PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW

The following artists took part in the exhibition: Bownik, Przemysław Branas, Magdalena Burdzyńska, Mario Kiesenhofer, Elizabeth Szancer-Kujawsk, Krzysztof Maniak, Janusz Noniewicz and the students of the Chair of Fashion, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Marzena Nowak, Agata Endo Nowicka, W P Onak/OCR- Creations, Hanna Rydlewska, Jadwiga Sawicka, Kacper Szalecki, Alina Szapocznikow, Kazimiera Szczuka, Wendy&Jim (Hermann Fankhauser and Helga Ruthner). Historical works of art presented at the exhibition included a nineteenth century dress by the haute-couture designer Charles Worth and the 1868 portrait of Helena Sanguszko painted in Rome by Antoine Bourlard. The exhibition featured works from the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Regional Museum in Tarnów, the National Museum in Krakow, Malopolska Foundation of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hanka Podraza Collection. 

Kacper Szalecki, view form the exhibition  PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW

Kacper Szalecki, view form the exhibition PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW


Clothing is probably the first, or one of the first artefacts produced by culture. It is also an artefact most sensitive to civilisational changes. It changes more often than architecture or design. Clothing is the litmus paper of cultural change. Politics, art, power or religion – all of them leave an imprint on clothing. Clothing also reflects the personality and intimacy of its owners, their fears, obsessions, joys or lies. It communicates the functions we perform and the position we occupy or would like to occupy in the society. Clothing and fashion can thus serve as a point of departure for researching and describing the history of a city and its inhabitants. By means of clothes PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW will talk about the city – its culture, history, memory and oblivion, domains, heroes and heroines. The exhibition will refer to a specific place – Tarnów. Tarnów, however, will become a universal city, “everycity”, whose inhabitants and culture reflect the fortunes and histories of Poles, Europeans, people. 

Portrait of Helena Sanguszko (1868) painted in Rome by Antoine Bourlard, Muzeum Okręgowe w Tarnowie

Portrait of Helena Sanguszko (1868) painted in Rome by Antoine Bourlard, Muzeum Okręgowe w Tarnowie

The necessity of story

The project has been launched to describe the city by means of stories which go hand in hand with fashion and clothing; to construct a map on which instead of conventional signs and colours there would be works of art inspired by visions generated by fashion and clothing, visions which fashion and clothing are made of. In order to exist, fashion – that is clothing which means – needs a story. In his The Fashion System Roland Barthes says: the protective function [of clothing] is taken over by a social system of communication. Clothing always uses myth, charm, or anti-charm; it always uses a story. In order to blunt the buyer's calculating consciousness, a veil must be drawn around the object – a veil of images, of reasons, of meanings; a mediate substance of an aperitive order must be elaborated. PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW does not deal exclusively with veils which have been made to sell clothes in a shop or a magazine. The mediate substances and the system of communication make and reflect culture and civilisation. Fashion illustrates civilisational changes and exerts influence on them. 

WENDY & JIM "Vail", view form the exhibition PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW

The exhibition PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW was preceded by almost two years' research and explorations in the fields of visions, image veils, reasons, meanings, lies and generally speaking stories which accumulate around clothes found in Tarnów. Clothes which create the mythology of place and culture. Clothes which create the history and identity of the place.


The meaning of story/fashion

Clothes and fashion have accompanied man since the dawn of mankind. The beginning of this relationship is symbolically presented in Fatboy Slim's video clip Right Here Right Now. The plot starts 350 billion years ago when the future Homo sapiens is still an invertebrate. The creature subsequently transforms itself into a fish, a reptile, a monkey... and finally becomes a human. The moment Homo sapiens comes into being, the hero of the video clip puts on jeans and a T-shirt never to take them off again. Fashion appears when man becomes capable of abstract thinking, when he constructs social systems and power relations – both in primitive tribal cultures and contemporary democratic or totalitarian civilisation. Clothing is one of the earliest cultural artefacts.

PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW will describe the city by means of important new objects. Important, as they are close, intimate, related to emotions, as they create and determine sex, influence successes and failures, deepen or heal traumas... Clothing is one of the most intimate objects we use. It constructs intimacy, civilisation, politics. 

Marzena Nowak Pattern, 2002

Marzena Nowak Pattern, 2002


Marzena Nowak's painting Patterns may serve as an artistic metaphor of the project PATTERN. CITY. TARNÓW. The work is a part of the collection of the Malopolska Foundation of the Museum of Contemporary Art. The artist transferred onto a canvas a real sewing pattern and created one of the most distinctive works in the recent history of art. Marzena Nowak revealed an abstract pattern, which depicts (the transfer of the pattern onto a canvas takes away its technical function: the pattern becomes a depiction) a structural and symbolic record of clothing; clothing which creates and socialises body. Clothing is a coagent in the making of society, sex, politics or power relations. Thus Pattern is a pattern which, having gone a long way, creates a specific civilisation and enables us to participate in it. Clothing is not only a product and instrument of civilisation. Clothing co-forms civilisation.

Patterns also resemble a fantastic constellation, to which there is no analogy in the constellations we know. Patterns talk about the intricate language used by fashion and reflect the mythology, fairy-tale quality which are necessary for fashion to exist. This fairy-tale quality is created by, among other things, painting as well as fashion photographs and films, whose subject is not, after all, the protective function of clothing, but which create non-existent, fantastic worlds full of princesses and princes.

The illegibility of Marzena Nowak's complex constellation-pattern reveals a specific contextualism of the language used by fashion. Understanding this language depends on being familiar with the context in which given clothing or given fashion comes into being. One has to know (consciously or subconsciously) the myth which creates a fashion in order to see fashion at all. We have to know the scientific story about Ursa Major to be able to see this specific constellation.


Partners of the exhibition:

Muzeum Okręgowe w Tarnowie (Regional Museum in Tarnów), Tarnowskie Centrum Kultury (Tarnów Cultural Centre), Österreichische Kulturforum Warschau (Austrian Cultural Forum in Warsaw), Katedra Mody (Fashion Department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw), Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego (Ministry of Culture and National Heritage).

Mannequin design: Agnieszka Zawadowska/Chair of Fashion 

Paulina Latham