View of “Simone Ruess,” 2010. From left: Okno (Palace Window), 2010; Żyrandol (Chandelier), 2010; Kaseton (Ceiling Panel), 2010.

View of “Simone Ruess,” 2010. From left: Okno (Palace Window), 2010; Żyrandol (Chandelier), 2010; Kaseton (Ceiling Panel), 2010.

Simone Ruess

Galeria Studio

View of “Simone Ruess,” 2010. From left: Okno (Palace Window), 2010; Żyrandol (Chandelier), 2010; Kaseton (Ceiling Panel), 2010.

To be at the top of Warsaw’s 1950s Palace of Culture and Science—still Warsaw’s dominant architectural presence and Poland’s tallest building—is not to be lifted out of the city’s grasp. Quite the opposite; it is to be in its neglected heart and at the source of its tensions. German artist Simone Ruess spent two years walking Warsaw’s streets with a camera and a sketchbook. Quite naturally the palace, built to serve as a sign of Soviet political influence in Poland, and of which Galeria Studio is a part, became a subject of her study. The artist plunged herself into its endless corridors and rooms to investigate the remnants of the past and the traces of the country’s ongoing transformation.

Displayed on the gallery’s ground floor, the installation Centrum (Center), 2008–10, gathered photographs, drawings, and cardboard objects relating to the palace’s surroundings. The drawings turned the area’s traffic junctions and underground passages into biomorphic forms, reminiscent of flowers, leaves, or aortas—yet they alluded as well to the urban terrain, the daily life of the streets, patterns of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, potential viewpoints and trajectories. Centrum was juxtaposed with two pieces, Suszarka (Clotheshorse), 2010, a found drying rack wrapped in colored cords resembling the colorful shoelaces sold by street vendors in the area, and Dywan Czerwony (Red Carpet), 2010, a work cut from recently discarded carpeting originally in the reception area of the palace’s Congress Hall; it represents a plan of the Palace of Culture and Science and the adjacent Parade Square.

The relationship between the palace’s original interior and the current Galeria Studio space was the subject of the works shown on the gallery’s second floor. In the 1980s the gallery was transformed from a twenty-three-foot-high space with large windows and massive chandeliers into two stories with artificial light. Ruess unraveled this history with a few significant gestures. The installation Okno (Palace Window), 2010, revealed one of the windows that had been hidden behind false walls and covered in black cloth; this panel was placed to one side and formed an integral part of the work. Kaseton (Ceiling Panel), 2010—six feet long and made of wood—lay on the floor, while a construction of glass and a steel pipe, Żyrandol (Chandelier), 2010, with the same dimensions as the chandelier that originally hung here, almost touched the floor of the room that was now about half its former height. Kre˛gosłup (Spinal Column), 2010, a single work in forty-three parts made of sand mixed with epoxy, exhibited in the center of the room, represented the system of twelve elevator shafts between the first and the forty-third floor, which the artist identified as the building’s spine. In the corridor of the second floor, a photographic survey, Wne˛trza pałacowe (Palace Rooms), 2010, supplemented the installations. The color photographs document the unique interiors of the Studio Theater, still furnished as it had been in the time of the People’s Republic of Poland, but now being refurbished; for instance, the props workshop was recently turned into a rehearsal room.

The variety of media (drawing, photography, sculpture, found objects) and skills Ruess used here reflect her studies with Alexander Roob in Stuttgart, Germany, and with Grzegorz Kowalski in Warsaw: Roob encouraged Ruess’s interest in drawing; Kowalski her use of photography and large-scale sculpture. This range of means enabled her to express the complexity of what the Palace of Culture and Science represents as a relic of the Soviet presence in Poland and a manifestation of the ongoing transformation of the city. Ruess speaks about Warsaw’s history as nonlinear, performative, and difficult to trace. The conjunction between feelings of otherness and the sense of Warsaw as a site of memory gave life to this deeply thoughtful intervention.

Sylwia Serafinowicz-Wesolowska