Monika Sosnowska is known for turning space into her canvas and the exhibition of new work by the artist currently on show at Hauser & Wirth’s space in Savile Row is no different. Titled ‘Structural Exercises,’ it is both a display of sculptures and an immersive installation – large scale structures extend in space so ambitiously as to transcend the boundaries between each other. ‘Rebar 20,’ a jagged, ribbed metal rod painted red, extends across eleven metres, connecting the gallery’s floor with its ceiling. Its texture is reminiscent of so many rather more orderly metal rods, textured and painted red, yellow or green, that for anyone who grew up in Eastern Europe would conjure up images of children’s playgrounds nested in little islands of green amid post-war housing estates. Sosnowska’s rendering of this familiar texture with a familiar colour erupts from the white of the gallery wall like an uncanny apparition, like a past suppressed, but not quite well enough.
The history of architecture, modernist utopias, and socialist urban spaces have been formative to Sosnowska’s practice. But this new body of work truly does feel new. Previously, Sosnowska’s practice manipulated architectural forms: deflated, twisted, and wrung them until there was not a hint of function or rationale left. Her 2014 ‘Tower,’ a distorted carcass modelled on Mies van der Rohe’s famous Lake Shore Drive Apartments, or the 2013 ‘Façade,’a black girder-like structure hanging from the ceiling are both monumental in their uselessness. This defeatist monumentality is achieved precisely because the semblance of architectural form is sustained. One senses it so strongly because these sculptures still look like buildings, like buildings in which one cannot live – modernist dreams turned nightmares. By contrast ‘Rebar 12’ hangs from the ceiling with nothing like the uncanny power of ‘Façade.’ It is more painterly and abstract. If a reference is made, it is to the modernism of Jackson Pollock, not Mies van der Rohe.
The works in the show are still grand and imposing as gestures but seem to enact a shift towards a more formalist approach, one that seems to fall into a neater lineage with minimalist sculpture. ‘T,’ an imposing L-shaped black metal sculpture that extends across the wall and floor of the gallery calls to mind the sculptures of Carl Andre and Donald Judd. Like minimalism’s objects, Sosnowska’s structures defy genre, falling somewhere between painting, sculpture and architecture. But just as references to modernist architecture critiqued the utopian imaginary invested in the geometric economy of means, Sosnowska’s ‘homages’ to minimalism are similarly disruptive. The slight warp to the edges of ‘T’ is unnerving, injecting a dose of the surreal into a neat narrative of geometric simplicity and functionality. Form may take centre stage in ‘Structural Exercises’ but if anything it exposes the ways in which form itself carries potent meaning, from one period, medium and ‘ism’ to the next.