My body is my medium to communicate the ideas…Martynka Wawrzyniak


Why would you use Chanel No 5 or CK One if you can smell like yourself? Your smell reflects your lifestyle and if you are good for yourself, your natural juices might be the best perfume of the world!

Martynka Wawrzyniak was born in Warsaw, however she decided to live in New York where she creates, shocks and lives her organic life. As a child she was traumatised by losing her father and moving to New Zeeland. She feels that New York is her place on Earth. She speaks through her art, composing all sorts of visual art to communicate simple values to the world. Her latest project “Smell me” is all about smelling and looking for pure essence of woman, literally. But you can’t smell flowers or herbs but Martynka’s body juices, captured in little perfume bottles and showed off to the wide audience. It’s one of most interesting artistic voices of young generation. She talks about her life, values and art.

Interviewing: Gosia Szwed


Hi Martynka, I came across your art projects while reading about new exhibition in New York: “Smell me”. Can you tell us what is your project about?

This project is an olfactory self-portrait. I was interested in isolating and extracting the pure essence of a woman, devoid of visual prejudice.

Who are you?

I am a small Polish girl who is powered by vegetables!

Why have you chosen „performance” as a form of art, why not painting or photographing for example?

I have worked in many mediums, including photography but lately my body has become my preferred medium through which to communicate my ideas.

What are you aiming for in your projects?

On a personal level the experience in itself is a therapeutic process of self-discovery. Through documenting and sharing the results I hope to make people feel and think.

Ketchup, chocolate…

For the “Ketchup” exhibition I gave four ten year old boys water guns filled with ketchup and had them fire at me as I stood blindfolded against one of the gallery walls. 

The performance took place  on the morning before the exhibition opened, was videotaped and later projected during the exhibition over the ketchup splattered wall. The boys were not visible in the video, only the sound of their loud giggling and shouting was heard. In addition I showed 6 large photographs – blown up, close ups of ketchup covered mouths of young children which I appropriated from images found online by google image searching „ketchup face”. Ketchup to me represents America and American children, as well as being a metaphor for war, violence and male aggression….. 

Chocolate was a performance piece documenting my face as it is slowly submerged in 16 gallons of chocolate syrup. Chocolate is a metaphor for greed, gluttony, the dangers of excess pleasure, consumer culture, the 2010 BP oil spill….

Rooms, mothers& daughters…

These photographs taken between 2004-2009, document New York City youth and families in their natural environments. 

What would you like to communicate to us?

I am interested in exploring human nature and commenting on the society we live in.

What kind of problems you intend to tackle?

Primal instincts, gender politics.

Shoots of naked women…Was it difficult to undress women for your „4 Sale” project? What did you reveal to the audience?

It is easy to undress a girl but very hard for her to reveal her true uninhibited self. The girls in my “4 Sale” collaboration were only fully exposed in the Lipstick (four) video. Through the process of destroying their faces with lipstick they were able to let go of their insecurities and reveal their true selves.

Why have you chosen NYC for your place to live?

I initially moved here to visit my father who had lived in NYC since I was 6 years old. I fell in love with the city. The high frequency energy is highly addictive, inspirational and motivating.

Is Warsaw not inspiring enough?

I left Warszawa when I was 8 years old, when my mother, sister and I immigrated to New Zealand –  so I only know Warszawa as an outside visitor.

I do know that there are amazing artists working in Warszawa today, so it must be inspirational.

So let’s get back to the inspirations…how did you come to the idea about capturing human’s smell in a bottle?

I wanted to create a work that was purely visceral, to be experienced through primal, animal sensation alone. I have been driven by my nose ever since I was a child, hence decided that smell was the perfect medium. I chose to extract and bottle the aromatic molecules from my body which contain the chemicals produced by both my physical state and emotional being.

It sound almost Lady Gaga provocation. Do you like provoking?

I don’t seek to intentionally provoke with my work. I actually try to keep it as stark and minimalist as possible. I bring attention to primal human urges which might make some people feel uncomfortable.

I have heard that even the bottles were produced especially for you. So tell us about the project itself, how did you extract the smells and what did you actually capture in the bottles?

The bottles themselves are authentic tear shaped chemistry vials which sit in glass stands which I designed and had hand blown in Brooklyn.

The project took over a year and a half of work from the time of conception to the exhibition. After a couple months of my own research on how to attempt to isolate the human essence I realized that I must work with a chemist. I decided to reach out to a college to put up a sign on one of their notice boards looking for an assistant. I was very lucky to be connected to Professor Donna McGregor who was immediately very interested in the project. She suggested that I enroll as a chemistry student to have access to the labs and chemicals and she paired me up with a team of three incredible research students who worked with me on realizing the project (Charles Paszkowski, Paul Tewfik and Paul Kozlowski). Together we investigated and researched various methods of scent extraction and came up with a plan on how to isolate my essence in the lab. We pre-soaked white 100% cotton t-shirts and hung them out on laundry lines in the lab, after which I wore them either to sleep for 5 consecutive nights (Night Shirt essence) or to Bikram yoga classes (Sweat essence), brought them back to the lab in a sterile mason jar, where they were soaked and washed in ethanol again, which was then evaporated to leave behind the aromatic essential oils. I collected my dirty hair in a jar and the boys would strip the wax off by soaking it in a series of solvents. The tears essence was the hardest to collect. I made a playlist of material which made me nostalgic for my childhood in Poland – it included the “Akademia Pana Kleksa” soundtrack and Youtube clips of “Pszczolka Maja.” I also listened to a tape of myself and my parents in our kitchen when I was 4 years old – before my father left. We worked in the Hunter laboratory full time for the whole summer semester and continued meeting a couple of days a week for the past year. We succeeded in collecting 47 unique organic essences out of which I chose 10 of my favourites to exhibit and sell (3 hair, 3 sweat, 3 tears and 1 night shirt). I then selected my favourite of each to synthetically recreate for diffusion in the Scent Chamber installation. This stage was done outside of Hunter College. I worked with the famous perfumer Yann Vasnier at Givaudan and the scent director Dawn Goldworm. We started off by smelling the selected organic essences – and since these evaporate and change over time we further perfected the recreations by smelling my actual hair and armpit to make the synthetic versions even more authentic. 

So after exhibiting your soul and body, you are trying to exhibit your own smell?

Exactly! I often refer to this project as taking the nude self-portrait to the next level of intimacy. The olfactory aura which surrounds us is like another layer of invisible clothing.

Would you sell anything?

You will never be able to buy my soul!

Were you thinking about moving into perfume industry?

No, I dislike perfume.

Your favourite smell…

The smell of my husband’s armpit.

Do you use any fragrances or perfumes?

I do not wear any perfume and prefer using all unscented body products and laundry powder. I like to smell like a human.

I smell like what I eat. Being a vegan I smell very vegetal. My sweat smells like green vegetables with coconut and sweet notes of honey & chocolate.

Wielu naukowców wierzy, że przyszłość reklamy np. leży w omamianiu wszystkich zmysłów człowieka. Sklepy już dziś masowo wykorzystują tą filozofię. Widzisz, czujesz, smakujesz, dotykasz, słyszysz…Czy twoje przyszłe projekty też takie będą?

Most of scientists and marketers believe that the future of advertising industry will bring multi-sensory experience. Even now most of the big shops use the philosophy and all your senses are under attack. You smell nice aroma, see colourful things, taste good things, touch products, and listen to the optimistic music while visiting supermarket or perfumery shop for example. Are your future projects going to be like that?

This is exactly the direction I am heading in with my work. I am interested in delivering ideas through unconventional sensory experiences.

What comes first: shocking and provoking or exhibiting humans errors to build stronger, self-conscious society?

As I said, I do not strive to intentionally provoke. I hope that my work can have an effect of enlightenment on certain people.

Are you happy immigrant?

This is a very loaded question…. I don’t have any major regrets other than being separated from my family. I try to make the most of the situation I was dealt. I often think about how my life would be totally different had we stayed in Poland.

Are you in touch with Poles in the US?

I am in touch with many Polish people and I would love to have an exhibition in Warsaw.

I have some Polish friends in NY. Coincidentally two of the Hunter College research students who worked on extracting my essences turned out to be Polish and the third was Ukranian, we had a lot of fun working together in the lab.

What do you miss the most?

I miss my home and family in Bieszczady.

You are journalist, photographer and artist performer. It sounds like successful woman. So how to succeed in America?

You have to believe in your dreams, work hard, never give up and they will come true.

I took one year of Anthropology and Philosophy at Victoria University in Wellington New Zealand. I was planning on going to school in New York but couldn’t afford the foreign tuition fees so I got an internship at an art magazine instead. The internship lead to me co-founding an art and culture publication called Issue Magazine which I was the co-editor in chief of from 1999-2004. Working on the magazine was my introduction to the worlds of art and publishing and I formed many important relationships which laid the ground work for my career. When Issue folded I focused on my own art work which initially started off as photography. I later experimented with video  and finally stepped in as the subject by doing performance.

Have you got disadvantages, weaknesses that you aware of?

Of course – who doesn’t?! I am a total control freak and have terrible OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

Do you think that you can succeed the same way in Poland while working for Polish Academy of Art for example?

It is hard for me to answer this question as I have only lived in Warszawa as a child. I do know that New York city is the hardest place to make it in the world and I like challenges!


To make enough money to live stress free and one day have a roof deck or garden in the city.