Tatiana Wolska, installation view of “Leisure as Resistance,” 2024. Photo: Tegen Kimbley

Tatiana Wolska

Birmingham, U.K.

Midlands Arts Centre

Tatiana Wolska’s intuitive, materially driven practice is founded on clear political and ethical principles. The Polish artist takes an open, democratic approach to art-making, inviting viewers to activate the exhibition space through participation and exchange. “Leisure as Resistance,” her first solo institutional show in the U.K. (on view through June 2, 2024), finds a perfect home at the Midlands Arts Centre. The MAC, as it is known locally, focuses on making and community; alongside its visual arts program, it also hosts a cinema, dance program, outdoor theater, and a suite of working studios for ceramics and jewelry-making.

Wolska fills the gallery with 19 pallet sculptures that give the appearance of a group of nonconformist individuals. These One pallet sculptures (2016–2024), as the title suggests, are each made from a single wooden pallet, scavenged by the artist, cut into pieces, and reassembled into varying constructions. This strategy is rooted in Wolska’s childhood in communist Poland, where resourcefulness was essential and leisure was frowned upon. One of the pallet sculptures has small wheels attached to its base, introducing a degree of instability and a sense of vulnerability that would normally be associated with a living being, not an inanimate sculpture. A 20th pallet was burned, and Wolska used the resulting ashes to draw a mural on the wall of the gallery. She also left a pile of loose ash on the floor below, drawing attention to changing material states, as well as broader ideas of transformation and exchange.

Untitled [Module 1] (2019), a red biomorphic form constructed from reclaimed plastic water bottles, hangs from the ceiling, hovering lightly, like a cloud. A similar structure is suspended in a tree outside the gallery. The transformation of the deconstructed bottles into sculptural material again speaks to Wolska’s resourcefulness, ethical stance, and material focus, qualities evident in all of her work, including her large drawings. Made with pencil or cheap biro pens, these works exceed their two-dimensional status to suggest physical volumes seemingly extracted from the artist’s internal being. The organic forms, which appear to swell, buckle, and yield, are as sculptural as the objects that occupy the space.

Transformation and exchange—no longer thematic metaphors, but real-world actions—also underpin the show’s central work, a makeshift dwelling constructed from reused wood. About seven meters high and with several distinct “rooms” mapped out, Hut (2023) acts as a shelter for anyone who enters. It offers a space to lie down and rest, a seating area, and an area in which to make tea, as well as a space for trade in the manner of a circular economy. There is a book exchange, a seed exchange, and a clothing exchange. A small, eye-level shelf supports a row of jars holding fermented starters for sourdough, kefir, and kombucha that gesture beyond circularity and maintenance toward growth and expansion. For Wolska, the invitation to rest in this space of exchange and shared humanity becomes an act of resistance. It might also be considered a radical act of kindness to strangers. I, for one, left “Leisure as Resistance” with a sense of acceptance, community, and shared responsibility for the planet and my fellow humans.