Monika Sosnowska at Kunstraum Dornbirn
By Kate Mothes
Steel beams, concrete, and reinforcing bars—the structural bones of modern buildings—are recreated out of the same construction-grade materials at 1:1 scale for Polish artist Monika Sosnowska‘s architectonic sculptures. In Fatigue, the artist’s solo exhibition recently opened at Kunstraum Dornbirn, the warped skeletons of mid-20th century structures nod to the architectural contrasts that emerged as regime interests sought to rebuild the artist’s home city of Warsaw following the Second World War.
Modernism, the mid-20th century vanguard of new ideas and innovative methods in building and art, has slid—rather ironically—into the past. As many buildings have fallen into disuse or the materials have aged, contemporary architects face the challenge of maintaining, or in some cases reimagining, their original spirit.
‘Facade’ (2013), a suspended lattice of crumpled steel, is modeled after the actual framework of a four-storey 1963 building in Warsaw originally commissioned by the Polish Craft Association as a glass-walled showcase pavilion. After many years of neglect, the façade was in need of repair, and the Foksal Gallery Foundation, which purchased the building, commenced a redesign of the exterior in 2015 with the help of Swiss firm Diener&Diener. The steel beams were replaced with smooth concrete and the smaller windows restored with wider, more minimal panes of glass.
In Sosnowska’s scale reconstructions, the beams have acquiesced to an intense amount of manipulation. The beams of ‘Facade’ have folded in on themselves, the gridded fabric now supporting only itself, like a kitchen rag hanging from a hook. A bundle of 16mm thick reinforcing rods comprise ‘Rebar 16’ (2016) dangle from the concrete wall as if exhausted at the end of a long journey, and the immense white ‘Pipe’ (2020) unfurls across the space as if it was a paper tube cut into a strip. ‘T’ (2017) slumps against the wall in an ‘L’ shape, elegantly folded at a 90-degree angle that sits in exact opposite of the load-bearing T-beam’s purpose. If the sculptures appear weary, it is because the artist has tested them beyond their limits by distorting and twisting them almost absurdly until they buckle under the pressure. In spite of their heft and intention, they have been through it all and have finally given in.
The artist’s work is at home in the historic assembly hall of the former Rüschwerke turbine factory in Dornbirn, Austria, which has been exhibiting large-scale contemporary art exhibitions since 2003. “Buildings are understood as places of experience, places of memory, with all the historical, political, psychological and anthropological markings that have been inflicted on the architecture over time,” reads a museum description. Fatigue reflects on technological advances of the past and how time and the elements have an inevitable way of making even the most state-of-the-art design part of the past.
Header image: Kunstraum Dornbirn, Monika Sosnowska, ‘Fatigue’, 2022, installation view. Photo by Günter Richard Wett, Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw.