Monika Sosnowska



Not on display

Monika Sosnowska born 1972
Painted steel
Object: 2240 × 7600 × 5200 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2017


Pavilion 2016 is a black painted steel sculpture measuring approximately three metres high by five metres wide by just under seven metres long and weighing approximately two thousand kilograms. Displayed directly on the floor, the form resembles a crumpled architectural fragment, in which three bent rectangular forms resembling doors are entangled in a twisted latticework. These solid black forms contrast with the more delicate, filigree elements of the object. Pavilion is inspired by Sosnowska’s research into the 1960s housing estate Osiedle Slowackiego in Lubin, Poland, designed by Zofia and Oskar Hansen (1924–2013, 1922–2005) according to Oskar Hansen’s concept of ‘Open Form’. Distinctive architectural details, such as the star-like metal window grills from one of the now dilapidated shopping pavilions on the estate, are echoed in Sosnowska’s work. However, in the sculpture the metal latticework is rendered distorted, collapsed and functionless.

Sosnowska’s sculptural practice is concerned with the material traces that mark the transformation of cities and, more broadly, with how architecture and architectural processes embody shifting social and political values. Her work often deals with modernist architecture, the experiences of often rapid and imposed post-war modernisation, especially in the former Eastern-Bloc, and the type of institutional architecture that evokes mid-twentieth-century socialism. Art critic and curator Adam Szymczyk has commented that her practice ‘has less to do with the exposing of the intrinsic qualities of sculptural process than with the sculptural memory of a specific era in history’ (in Museum of Art Aspen 2013, p.108). In her sculptures, Sosnowska has used the primary materials of industry, from metal and concrete to prefabricated MDF panels, replicating readymade, industrially produced objects such as door handles, balustrades, stairs and skeletal frames, in addition to replicating entire structures, including rooms and corridors.

Sosnowska first visited the Osiedle Slowackiego estate in 2014. Designed between 1960 and 1963, it was built from 1964 to 1972 during the era of the communist People’s Republic of Poland. Responding to the need for social housing, Oskar Hansen conceived a number of such residential architectural projects, including the Osiedle Slowackiego estate in Lublin (1961) and the Przyczólek Grochowski estate in Warsaw (1963), using the principles of ‘Open Form’ which relied on the active participation of individuals to create their own environment and co-author the space in which they live. One of these principles was to reveal the tensions that occur within the construction of a building by exposing its structure. The original shopping pavilion which served as an inspiration for Sosnowska’s sculpture thus has a steel framework which is exposed within the building’s interior. Sosnowska’s visit to the estate left a deep impression on her: not only were the buildings in a physically deteriorated state, but the utopian ideas upon which the complex was built had also failed. The project was beset with difficulties from the outset, including the use of lower quality materials than those intended by the architects, and later changes were implemented which contradicted the architects’ original vision. It is this failure of the utopian idea embodied in Hansen’s architecture to which Sosnowska’s contorted and tangled Pavilion refers.

Sosnowska’s research for Pavilion involved her documenting the dilapidated Osiedle Slowackiego estate using digital photography. Since 2000 she has created a vast digital archive of photographs, capturing the deconstruction and reconstruction of Warsaw, and other cities in Poland and beyond, from demolished buildings and exposed frameworks, to broken doors and shattered windows. These photographs serve as research material for her sculptures. Although she does not exhibit them, they are used to contextualise her sculptural work in exhibition catalogues and publications. She has commented:

My choice of motifs is spontaneous, without any code ... these pictures are only a kind of reference for me that I sometimes use as an inspiration for my work ... the Praga district ... has always been the most neglected and poorest part of the city. It is the district in which I lived for most of my time in Warsaw, and it still inspires me. Most of the pictures were taken in this area: viaducts, subways, and other places that seem to have been forgotten. (Quoted in Monika Sosnowska, exhibition catalogue, Schaulager Basel 2008, p.8.)

Having conceptualised a project, Sosnowska typically creates small-scale macquettes, made from paper and board, which are then realised in painted steel, cement or rubber by specialist technicians in the building and metalworking industry. Warsaw’s Factory for Houses, a former socialist state enterprise that produced skeletal structures for housing and industrial buildings, now delivers materials, services and design solutions to Sosnowska. Complex sculptures such as Pavilion are the result of a number of stages, and are produced in collaboration with specialised technicians. In recent years the artist has collaborated with architects and engineers on larger-scale projects such as the monumental steel construction 1:1 2007, exhibited in the Polish Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007. In a conversation with curator Sebastien Cichocki Sosnowska commented: ‘Architecture arranges, introduces order, reflects political and social systems. My works are more about introducing chaos and uncertainty. They make reality stop being obvious.’ (Quoted in Hauser & Wirth 2014, p.91.) In the catalogue for the artist’s solo exhibition at Aspen Museum of Art in 2003, art historian Maria Gough summarised Sosnowska’s approach:

Over the course of the last decade or so, Sosnowska’s aesthetic practice has produced not only a phenomenology but also a defamiliarization of perception, both rooted to a significant extent in her own direct observation of everyday life in contemporary Warsaw, namely, the violent erasure of the unwanted heritage of its communist past, particularly of the latter’s modernist instantiations. What has emerged most recently from the artist’s sustained exploration of the imbrication of space, experience, and history, however, is a distinct sculptural language of deformation and displacement that, far from being confined to the specific time and place of its production and reception, opens out into a fully developed transhistorical aesthetics of the sculptural-cum-architectural uncanny.
(Aspen Museum of Art 2003, p.123.)

Further reading
Adam Szymczyk, Maria Gough, Heidi Zuckerman Jacobsen, Monika Sosnwoska, exhibition catalogue, Aspen Museum of Art 2013.
Juliusz Sokolowski, Andrzej Turowski, Tower, exhibition catalogue, Hauser & Wirth, New York 2014.
Suzanne Cotter, Gabriela Switek, Architectonisation, exhibition catalogue, Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto 2015.

Juliet Bingham
March 2016

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