Critics’ Picks

View of “Household Spirit,” 2019.

View of “Household Spirit,” 2019.


Dominika Olszowy

ul. Wspólna 63
September 20–November 9, 2019

Unlike unhappy families, every unhappy house seems unhappy in the same way. The Surrealists de Chirico and Dalí were among the first artists to exploit the haunted house psychoanalytically, locating the Freudian unheimlich within the most banal, everyday rituals. With the beginning of capitalism in Poland in the 1990s—and with, more specifically, the privatization of housing and the ubiquity of cheap mass-market furniture—a semidetached house with a little garden and a painted plastic gnome encapsulated the national dream. Today, domestic interiors have become even more aspirational, staples of our ever-scrolling screens.

Dominika Olszowy turns this dream into a powerful nightmare. For “Household Spirit,” the millennial installation artist drew inspiration from old furniture catalogues, bringing its demons out to play in a site-specific environment. A petit-bourgeois family salon is re-created, its stout, leather armchairs evoking a kind of failed elegance. But upon close inspection, the feng shui begins to disintegrate. Posh lampshades turn out to be made of animal skin; the chairs are stained and covered in wet, filthy rags, most made of swaddling clothes. And—in lieu of tasteful, melting snowflakes—the trees in a little Japanese garden drip snotty liquid, its dirty gray oozing a cadaverous aura. Olszowy nails the horror of familial bonds without summoning a single human figure. She even cut a passage to the gallery’s defunct, dusty cellar, where a knotty old broom suggests the presence of a witch, but, perhaps more terrifyingly, there is no witch. There is only darkness and dampness, and a pool of milk on the floor—one more grimy symbol for Olszowy’s warped and all-to-familiar simulacrum.