There’s a visual contradiction at the heart of Monika Sosnowska’s new series of sculptures (on view in The Modern Institute’s white cube gallery space through September 7, 2019). Her mangled steel structures are precisely arranged, hanging on the walls, dangling from the ceiling, and resting imposingly on the concrete floor; they also exude newness with their pristine coats of black paint. Contorted and stressed, these damaged architectural forms appear perfect in their imperfection.
The works—nine in the gallery and one on a patch of grass outside—take their inspiration from the hyperboloid steel towers pioneered by the Russian engineer Vladimir Shukhov (1853–1939). In particular, they reference the 160-meter-tall Shabolovka Tower in Moscow (also known as Shukhov Tower), his best-known and most historically significant feat of structural engineering and constructivist design. Built in 1920–22 during the Russian Civil War, and personally authorized by Lenin, it was designed to transmit radio signals. It quickly became a symbol of early Soviet architectural innovation and technological achievement.
Conceived in a context of recent revolution and national steel shortages, the tower had an anything but trouble-free construction history. About halfway through, a section collapsed from metal fatigue—there’s a grainy black and white photograph of the aftermath on the wall above the gallery handouts—and it’s this incident that most directly informs Sosnowska’s exhibition. While the photographic record shows how the steel buckled and snapped, the sculptures offer a kind of choreographed destruction, all beautifully smooth curves, kinks, and flowing forms.
The titles of the pieces (all 2019) play on Shukhov’s reputation as a structural engineer and reflect what their pre-mangled purposes could have been: five wall-mounted pieces, all differently contorted, share the name Cross Brace; a twisted cascade of metal hanging from a ceiling hook is titled Struts; a floor-based vertical Truss droops over at ceiling height, as if wilting in the heat. Two further freestanding sculptures, both called Tower, sit across the floor from each other, one upright, the other on its side as if it had been violently jettisoned across the gallery.
Sosnowska, who is based in Warsaw, has an ongoing interest in the relationship between architectural space and ideology, as well as in urban landscapes and how they reflect and shape mental states. Here, there’s an almost cartoonish sense of fracture—a glaring disconnect between the world in which Shukhov’s tower was made and its place now as a piece of Modernist heritage in Putin-era Russia. There’s even a hint of something akin to slapstick in the precarious-looking physical presence of the sculptures and how they seem to have squeezed themselves into the space. A sense, perhaps, of a mythologized 20th-century icon groaning under the weight of our contemporary reality.