The Tired Room ‒ Monika Sosnowska
The Tired Room designed by Sosnowska looks as if it was being sucked in. The planes of the floor, ceiling, and walls are creased like cardboard, creating geometrical intersections.
A distinctive feature of Polish post-war version of modernism were the architectural standards: one the one hand excessively difficult to meet (from the point of view of architects working in highly limiting conditions), on the other very low (from the point of view of the inhabitants, living in boxy, low-ceilinged rooms). The rapidly urbanising Poland wrecked by World War 2 was marked by a huge demand for new apartments; however, so many people needed them that they couldn’t be too spacey or tall. The architects were limited by the contemporary methods of construction (the so-called wielka płyta – pre-fabricated, pre-stressed concrete, very popular in Poland and other countries of the Eastern block) and, obviously, the economic situation. The basic task was to squeeze as many functions as possible into a space as small as possible, using as little material as possible. Claustrophobia became an inherent element of the concrete heritage of a statistical Pole, dubbed ‘a lucky guy’ in the times of Communist Poland. One had to be lucky to get a state apartment assignment.
Some works of Monika Sosnowska, a sculptor using architectural form and frequently referring to the modernist heritage, can be considered metaphorical representations of these spatial limits. In 2007, Sosnowska ‘thrust’ a bigger construction into the interior of the Polish pavilion at Venice Biennale (the work was titled 1:1). The steel form was built in a house factory in Warsaw and had to be crushed to fit into the pavilion. The Tired Room is similar in this respect. To fit the size of the exhibition window, the simple interior had to be crushed. The walls, floor, and ceiling were breaking and bending, up until the room got small enough. It ceased to look like an ordinary room.
In Warsaw The Tired Room could be seen in 2006 in one the windows a building in Constitution Square. The room behind the vitrine looked as if it was sucked in. The planes of the floor, ceiling, and walls were creased like cardboard, creating right angles and geometrical intersections. The door tilted and leaned over. Even the lamp hung at an angle, still shedding light. The interior did not, however, lose features familiar to us – the lamp is a typical shining sphere, popular in school common rooms or the corridors of borough offices or hospitals, the door was simple, and the whole interior was painted in a colour strongly resembling the old, neglected corridors of Polish public institutions. No excessiveness. Due to the location of the installation, The Tired Room gained an audience not only among art galleries regulars, but also random passers-by. Despite the unusual view, they surely must have found familiar, well-known motifs in it.
The artist thus operates on the verge of what is known, owned, familiar, and what is alien, or even hostile. Heimlich lurks behind unheimlich, like in the philosophy of Sigmund Freud. The room, which we expect to stay what it is and give us shelter, loses its basic features, changing in a horror-like manner into something not fit to live in, becoming dangerous and baleful. We the ground beneath our feet. Sosnowska creates an oneiric vision, but we are still in familiar surroundings. Yet something is wrong. The perspective is lost somewhere, the room is shrinking, the walls are breaking, we’re unable to stand still on the crooked floor.
We do not experience The Tired Room directly; we watch it from behind a glass pane. The pane is a screen dividing us from the space created by the artist. It is experienced similarly to a thriller, a film that makes us feel anxious, yet we know this isn’t really happening. It is this tension that creates pleasure. The cognitive dissonance, especially if experienced accidentally by a passer-by, works like a mannerist surprise.
But Sosnowska also achieves another end, the one comprised in the title. Architecture, whose basic function is to be stable, giving shelter and strong basis for a human being, becomes ‘tired’. Just like people exhausted by work need a moment of relax, the room also needs to take some rest. The Tired Room is special, because we see it from within, as if from the inside of a whale stomach. German expressionist painting or analytical cubism could serve as reference points for the artist’s gesture; representatives of the latter movement, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, depicted objects seen from many perspectives at once. In The Tired Room, they become mixed in a similar manner.
Using the poetical device of personification, Sosnowska creates alternative forms regarding the aging of architecture. Modernism is usually said to age in an ugly way. Abandoned blocks of flats or even geometrical villas from the 1920s and 1930s do not turn into picturesque ruins that would delight the Romantics. Seemingly, they undergo the same processes as, for instance, the Parthenon. However, it seems that modernist buildings were created to be shining new rather than overgrown with moss. They don’t serve as a symbol of vanitas. However, in the work of the artist elements of modernist architecture die in a beautiful way – metal staircases faint gracefully, fade elegantly, the crumbs of walls create ‘clear’, geometric, modernist fragments, and the ceiling panels come off as a result of the sculptor’s gesture and not gravity. This is what Sosnowska’s art is based on. Architecture comes to life only to die in convulsions. We always watch only the moment ‘after’.
But there is also humour to these works, one of a kind we wouldn’t expect from modernist traditions, more surreal-like. Similarity between Sosnowska and Edward Krasiński is detectable. Modernism is mixed with an element of surprise, typical of mannerism, everything is ‘as if’. A metal stave accretes to another one, ‘as if’ it was turning into ivy, the metal spiraling stairs look ‘as if’ they were fainting, the room ‘as if’ shrinks. The elements lose their primary function. Architecture bereft of its functionality turns into statuary. It resembles the scenography of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) or the works of Fritz Lang. The Tired Room could easily serve as decoration in expressionist films. One things is known for certain – nobody is ever going to live in it again.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, March 2011, translated by NS August 2016
• Monika Sosnowska
The Tired Room