Monika Sosnowska looks to architecture as the source material for her work, analyzing 1960s and ‘70s socialist buildings from Poland where she grew up under the communist Eastern Bloc, and where she continues to live today. Her sculptures reflect on the Modernist assumptions of functionality and the promise of progress represented in the constructions of that period. Through her practice, Sosnowska confronts the shifting social and political values embodied in our built environments, inspecting the remains of an era and how it continues to echo in today’s daily life.
Dividing the gallery in two halves is a large wall conceived by the artist as a pivotal instrument within the exhibition. This partition wall becomes a sculpture in itself, or rather a large installation composed of several smaller works that depend on it. As contemporary geopolitical conversations centre surrounding territories, division and defence, never have borders and walls been more prominent. Sosnowska modifies the pre-existent architecture of a wall, transforming the physical space around it into mental space that plays and provokes with the viewer’s perceptions.
Sosnowska’s wall offers a lens into an abstract, post-dystopian ruin, portraying images of disjointed, bent and broken steel and concrete fragments draped and hanging from the divisive edifice. Whilst appearing physically solid and intact, what comes to be shown is it only existing in a particular moment, place or time. Mining from the deeply complex and rich histories from her home country, Sosnowska’s wall is a catalyst of memories of past divisions and separations. Defiantly built but now in a state naive of collapse, the wall becomes a metaphorical carrier of memory in a broader landscape. The construction evokes questions of historical rights to land, drawing boundaries, control over borders, control over resources, and disputes over unoccupied islands.
Consolidating the politics and poetics of space, the entangled forms located on and around the wall evoke warped and distorted architectural structures, barriers or fences. On closer glance, visible among the basic vocabulary used by the artist are pipes, handrails, gates, flag holders and vendor stands. Using materials such as metal, PVC and concrete, Sosnowska replicates once-functional structures, transforming them almost beyond recognition. She translates these forms first by constructing small paper models, and then by building 1:1 full-scale works produced in collaboration with industrial workshops. The resulting pieces are contorted replicas, which combine a certain degree of violence and malleability with the beauty of the alluringly strained and distorted shapes. An example of this effect can be found in her outdoor sculpture Fire escape, on display outside the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, where she presented a solo exhibition in 2011.
Deformed and crumpled, the sculptures that compose the exhibition at times appear fragile, precariously resting over the wall, while others are forcefully crushed under it. Steel pipes crowned with fist-like cracked concrete blocks, shot- through glass and warped flag holders evoke the cityscape from which they were abstracted. As the viewer navigates the installation, these imagined metal objects and security obstacles have been de- welded and rendered useless, reworked of their original function to an altogether new and abstract form. Sosnowska’s treatment makes these elements look unfamiliar, fostering a new way of perceiving both the artwork and the reality around us.