Saturday, 12 October 2013

Review Regional Modernities Monika Sosnowska

ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art) Sturt Street Southbank

Exhibition dates 10 August – 29 September 2013

Billed by ACCA as: “The first major showing of internationally acclaimed Polish artist Monika Sosnowska in the southern hemisphere, following her recent site specific commission for Central Park, New York”.[i] The Centre presents four works by the artist, Façade, Wall, Corridor and Screen.  As can be imagined by their title these works all relate to architecture, more specifically to the architecture of soviet-era Warsaw, Sosnowska’s home and the subject of her art.

The artist studied at the at the Academy of Fine Arts, Poznań, Poland between 1993 – 1998
and at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam between1999 – 2000[ii] and received significant international attention at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 with her work 1:1, an enormous steel structure bent and distorted seemingly to fit into the gallery interior.  She has collaborated with architect Christian Kerez in 2007 and designed “The Promises of the Past” exhibition structure, an untitled work that Michal Wolinski refers to as “art-as-exhibition-design” for the Centre Pompidou in 2010[iii].  She has also been interviewed in architecture and design magazines such as ‘DOMUS’ for her views on soviet era architecture in her native Warsaw.[iv]

The four works she presented at ACCA are quite diverse from one another demonstrating her intent to conceptualise and present an idea rather than a method of working or a particular attitude towards materials, though this is certainly apparent through her use of industrial workshops. 


Entering Gallery 1 we are presented with Façade, a six meter high steel structure hanging from the gallery ceiling, collapsed.  The impossibly thin elements of this ‘façade’ are recognizably a window frame system with fixtures (such as window handles and stays) which have been folded and distorted to resemble the form of a hanging piece of fabric.  The work hangs there limply to be admired and pondered at as if all life has left the structural integrity of the original rectilinear façade.




The second work Wall is an in-situ concrete construction approximately two and a half meters tall with very thick walls painted internally in that unmistakable shade of institutional green.  The dado line is there too, reminding us of the emphasis on ‘practicality’ that the institution demands of its builders and architects.



As Robert Nelson (2013) points out “Looking like a substation plonked near a railway, this concrete booth presents an interior that is just as confusing as the outside. There's enough room to enter; but you wouldn't call it a room, even if the painted dado makes a concession to the eye.”[v]

The placement of this work invites us to proceed towards it in order to explore it, but once inside the ribbed interior walls, which hint at a maze-like space, don’t deliver any spatial experience, therefore one experiences it as if looking at a screen rather than as a room.

Corridor on the other hand is definitely a space but one that is too narrow to enter.  The impracticalities of a system which is more preoccupied with its own bureaucratic rules rather than with the comfort of its citizens comes to mind here.  The ultra-white light of the fluorescent lighting accentuates a sinister or at least a totally mundane and utilitarian reality for which similar corridors were built behind the iron curtain.



Screen in Gallery 3, on the other hand, sits rather demurely on a side wall a bit like the hall stand inside a front door though in reality the work is as large as a shop front.  Sosnowska seems to play here with distortion in scale and visual composition by concertinaing the steel structure along an imaginary horizontal line.

My impression of the exhibition is that the four works cause the visitor to experience an oscillation between nostalgia and dystopia, nostalgic because of their physical distortions and dystopic because of the hermetic nature of their meaning.  It as if the artist is writing a kind of manifesto, a retrospective one, of an era where innocence and brutality coexisted but which are now abstracted through her work in order to be exorcised of meaning and power. 


Handrail, from the 2008 Venice Biennale, compared with Louise Bourgeois’ work The Blind Leading The Blind (1947 1949) demontrates how power in Sosnowska’s work seems to leaked out, totally lacking the visceral, instinctive impetus of Bourgeois’ piece.


Bourgeois, L 1947-1949, The Blind Leading The Blind                       Sosnowska, M 2008, Handrail

In ‘Artforum’ critic Michal Wolinski makes reference to Sosnowska’s minimalism explaining how she reduces ‘each project to one idea and amplifying an element that is crucial to the given space” (Wolinski 2010).  So while Sosnowska’s architectural connections are real and quite well documented her ability to bring about a reaction to her works that could hit us with the same force as  the actual soviet-era architecture that inspires her is in little evidence. 

During Sosnowska’s artist’ talk on 13 August 2013, curator Charlotte Day’s assertion that she “creates large, psychologically charged architectural installations” seem to me untrue.  If I have a criticism of the work it is that she takes a powerful reality and turns it into a ‘decorative’ motif, because by adhering to the minimalist aesthetic, Wolinski refers to, and stripping down the work to an elemental simplicity (however distorted), Sosnowska leaves behind the ‘grayness of everything’ she discusses in her interview with Fudala for DOMUS (2009).  The smell of bureaucracy is gone, the inconvenience and joylessness of an architecture that was only built for its utilitarianism has disappeared and only its ghost, Sosnowska’s work, is left. 

The many delightful additions and ingenious modifications she refers to in her interview are not referenced at all.  The spirit of those citizens, who resisted ‘the system’, by adding humanity to their environment and creating homes and places they could live in doesn’t exist in the work, and that is a pity because she misses the opportunity to make the work affect us in a visceral and instinctive way.

Eli Giannini

[i]Monika Sosnowska: Regional Modernities.  ACCA website, viewed 14 September 2013,
[ii]Monika Sosnowska, Press.  Hauser and Wirth website, viewed 14 September 2013,
[iii] Woliński, M 2010, ‘Monika Sosnowska’, Artforum, May, New York NY, p.224
[iv]Fudala, T 2009, ‘Interview with Monika Sosnowska, Concrete Heritage’, Domus, Rozzano, Italy no. 926 view 14 September 2014.
[v] Nelson, R 2013, ‘Monuments to the failure of modernist architecture’, The Age, September 4, p 13

Friday, 16 September 2011

Object vs Non-object

Reading some critiques of Anish Kapoor's work this week started me thinking about the relationship between objects and space.  I have been interested in typology as away of relating my work to shared experience, each typology containing the essence of our cultural knowledge reference back to the type makes the work comprehensible.  More recently I have been interested in researching typologies of space, as space itself as a cultural construct is evolving and has a history we can all access. 

Kapoor's work which has been described as material becoming object and a non-object has made me analyse my own position in respect to the object.  I am not interested in creating the object itself but rather in the relationship which the new object is made to have with its surrounds.  This way of working goes beyond understanding context and working within a historic continuum which is common way of looking at design in Italian and European architecture, the work I am interested in pursuing is the actual relationship.