In the second half of the 20th century, Monika Sosnowska’s hometown of Warsaw, Poland, was transformed. Born in 1972, the artist witnessed the city’s sharp change from its utopian and modernist socialist aesthetic – begun in the aftermath World War Two – to a distinctively neoliberal landscape in the 1990s, dominated by new developments. This had an immeasurable impact: she continues to be fascinated by exposed architecture, a key motif in her work, along with a committed exploration of the poetic potential of urban ruins.
A recently opened exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, London, titled Structural Exercises, examines the underlying layers of buildings, revealing the material fabric of the environment as a palimpsest. Seven sculptures cover the entire North Gallery, offering an immersive experience. Walking amongst the constructions, which are recognisable as architectural forms, yet warped, the viewer is prompted to think of the transience of places. Nostalgia and collective memory have been a key feature of artistic explorations of the former Eastern bloc (in the case of East Berlin, even coining a term, östalgie, to convey the sense of loss felt by some its inhabitants). In many cases these depictions verge on the sentimental.
The pieces on show in this case are, however, unyielding. They convey the ambiguity and confusion of such feelings, many of which are, of course, predicated on very real and relatively recent experiences of trauma. Geometric and monochromatic it may be, but this collection of concrete, steel beams, pipes and rods will spark different responses in every person who sees it; visual and emotional memory are closely interlinked and entirely subjective.
In previous installations, Sosnowska has used notions of familiarity to make audiences question physicality and reality: a twisted, virtually unrecognisable staircase, for example, or a disconcertingly warped, shocking red handrail. Here, however, such externality is stripped away, forcing the foundations of buildings to take centre stage and speak for themselves. Their previous outward forms would have been inescapably quotidian, yet the emotive and exploratory potential of these supportive elements is developed here to astonishing effect.
Structural Exercises is at Hauser & Wirth, London, until 10 February. Find out more here.
1. Installation view, ‘Market’, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami FL, 2013.