Monika Sosnowska, Gate 3, 2014, steel, lacquer, 13' 7 3⁄8“ ×  4' 1 1⁄4” × 2' 11 3⁄8".

Monika Sosnowska, Gate 3, 2014, steel, lacquer, 13' 7 3⁄8“ × 4' 1 1⁄4” × 2' 11 3⁄8".

Monika Sosnowska

Three large steel sculptures suspended from the ceiling were the only works in Monika Sosnowska’s recent solo show. Titled Gate 2, Gate 3, and Gate 4 (all works 2014), they formed an ensemble as austere as it was opulent, melding a sense of lightness, even levitation, to leave an almost palpable impression of weight. The title Gate is emphatically prosaic, but given the degree of defamiliarization and deformation, it might equally be considered an attempt at mystification. How these free-hanging steel constructions might represent portals, points of access, or passages was hard to see at first. The three pieces seemed to be focused studies in fragile monumentality, in which compact form clashes with splintering and contorting disruption.

Sosnowska’s four Gate pieces (Gate 1 was not on view here) were first displayed in 2015 at the Ginza Maison Hermès Le Forum in Tokyo. Their title is in fact a reference to the objects’ origin in the world of vernacular architecture: Their forms derive from semi-industrially manufactured gates common in Sosnowska’s native Poland during the country’s socialist postwar era, when growing economic difficulties led manufacturers to resort to inexpensive materials such as rebar. The cheap and widely available steel product, recognizable by its ribbed surface, designed to allow it to bond with concrete, could be spotted in Gate 4, where it is wrought into lozenges with asterisk-shaped embellishments. The geometric pattern is a typical relic of the legacy of Constructivism as it was filtered through socialist mass culture and kept alive by local artisans. In revisiting such features of the built environment in her work, Sosnowska does not treat the gates as objets trouvés of interest solely for their formal qualities. Rather, she scrutinizes a piece of utilitarian architecture whose aesthetic is the durable reflection of aspects of a bygone era’s society and politics.

Sosnowska’s long-standing interest in prefabricated architectural elements also has to do with the semi-industrial mode of production characteristic of the Eastern Bloc. Unlike the standardized gates, stairways, fire-escape ladders, and similar components now sold at home-improvement superstores, these objects were not mass-produced but manufactured by skilled metalworkers, as is evident in the design details. Sosnowska’s references, that is to say, are always also homages; her anti-functional transformation of a tradition is a way of paying respect to craftspeople’s expertise. She conducted research in Poland, photographing various gates from the period in question, and hired craftpeople to make full-size steel replicas of some of them. Those, in turn, served as the basis for small paper models, which Sosnowska then hung from a string tied to a single point. The transposition into a different material made these paper versions of the gates susceptible to the effects of gravity, especially when dipped in water.

The artist notes that the resulting Gate pieces were thus effectively sculpted by their own weight, adding, “The models are my first sketches. Often the first one is the best, because it’s a quick transition from the thought to the material.” In selecting four of them to be executed in steel by a team of specialists using only the traditional tools and techniques of the trade, Sosnowska intended less to faithfully reproduce the paper model than to realize her vision of the creative idea it proposed—what she calls its “gesture”: “We are trying to grasp it when translating it from paper to metal. So I ask my fabricators not to copy the model exactly, but rather to think about that gesture and look at the material, how it behaves during sculpting.” In the Gate sculptures, as in earlier works, Sosnowska’s synthesis of deformation and form grows out of her unusually keen grasp of her material in its historical, social, aesthetic, and sculptural dimensions—and its correlative in the attention to detail that distinguishes her art.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.