San Gimignano

Monika Sosnowska

The labyrinth is often a metaphor for an inner psychological state. Monika Sosnowska, born in Ryki, Poland, in 1972, uses it to evoke Eastern Europe during the Soviet era. In constructing her “buildings” inside other buildings, she pushes the imagination toward shut-in situations of intimacy or personal solitude. Her environments, seemingly without exit, reveal the impasse of a blocked reality, where one enters and sinks into oneself, as in the corridor she constructed at the 2003 Venice Biennale or in her labyrinthine sequence of rooms at Manifesta in 2002. These possess an immediate connection to a social reality; the pale green applied to the walls of her installation at Manifesta, for instance, recalls the intentionally anonymous and nondescript color of hospitals, offices, and prisons—and not only in Poland. In contrast, the clear, incisive drawings of her “buildings” break the linear idea of closure, bringing to light the memory, imagination, and solitude that develop even within blocked situations.

In her installation in San Gimignano, The Room, 2004, Sosnowska addressed the uncertainties of this vision, situating the work in an area of the gallery that itself has a labyrinthine layout. Sosnowska enclosed its passages, keeping it hidden from outside view as well as unpredictable in its turnings from within. This single tortuous passageway led, through two doors on opposite sides, from one exhibition space to another. But even these entrances were camouflaged. On opening either of the doors, the visitor was engulfed in a low space whose surfaces were completely covered, the walls with beige wallpaper of old-fashioned design and the floor with gray carpeting. From here, a series of little rooms unfolded, alternating with steps, acute-angled openings, breaches through which one could not penetrate, and rooms that turned off in other directions, until one reached the exit, which led, in turn, to another side of the gallery. It was a labyrinth with two ways out, and thus simplified, but also an invisible bridge that joined two interior parts of the building.

This labyrinth’s position between the gallery entrance and the sequence of the other rooms turned it into the heart of the entire architectural complex. Like a heart, it was internal and had ventricles and arteries. But the explicit reference to the house (wallpaper and carpeting) conjures the emotional nature of habitation, the images that each of us carries in our dreams and the anxieties that a shadow or a door opening arouses every time one returns to a house that played an important role in one’s life. The completely closed, windowless environment significantly intensifies the power of imagination, and while it may be a positive thing to have strong feelings about one’s personal sphere and the houses that symbolize its passages, it’s not easy. The iconography chosen by Sosnowska is tied to the houses in which she has lived and to the furnishings typical of Eastern Europe. But the cuts, the twisting pathways, the volumes of this building-heart-labyrinth delineate the inevitable relationship that ties each of us to our own closed-off areas and our need to make them habitable.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.