Monika Sosnowska: Untitled 2004 , installation at the Serpentine Gallery; © 2004 Monika Sosnowska; courtesy Serpentine Gallery

Space has seemingly appropriated us, it possesses and determines

our psychological states of acting and being. [1]

The writing on the Serpentine wall reveals that Monika Sosnowska is Polish, she is relatively young, and that her work is strongly influenced by the utilitarian architecture of 1970s’ Poland. What it doesn’t tell you is how you feel when you walk into her structure because this feeling is almost impossible to convey.  And this, above all of the component parts, is the very strength of the work.









Monika Sosnowska: Untitled 2004 , installation at the Serpentine Gallery; © 2004 Monika Sosnowska; courtesy Serpentine Gallery

This is Sosnowska’s first exhibition in a public gallery in the U.K.  Commissioned by the Serpentine, the exhibition is curated by Rochelle Steiner and constructed with the help of a team of engineers. The installation itself is made from wood, MDF and gloss paint, the crude materials relying on the artist’s manipulation for their sophisticated effects.

The catalogue reveals the artist’s intentions to “engage and confound viewers with her constructed space,” and that she does. On my first visit I was blissfully unaware of the spatial dimensions of the gallery itself. The viewer’s feet and eyes seem to work antagonistically, the former being led through corridors at obscure angles and the latter constantly confronted by the visuals created by cleverly illuminated polygonal panels.









Monika Sosnowska: Untitled 2004 , installation at the Serpentine Gallery; © 2004 Monika Sosnowska; courtesy Serpentine Gallery

The structure has several external sources of illumination; strip lights on the ceilings’ periphery, spotlights pointing toward the white walls, with window paneling in the flanking galleries and four skylights under the main rotunda. Gloss paint is the tool that reflects and deflects this light from the white walls; from the interior each individual panel appears to be a different shade. The decision to light the work from the exterior makes the interior more surreal, to produce what feels like an interactive abstract painting. Both light and materials are used in collaboration with what I view as the most essential of Sosnowska’s tools – colour.









Monika Sosnowska: Untitled 2004 , installation at the Serpentine Gallery; © 2004 Monika Sosnowska; courtesy Serpentine Gallery

In previous works Sosnwska has used colour and spatial distortion to displace the viewer. [2] In the past her colours have been bold and interwoven with patterns and stripes.[3] These bolder colours were easily associated with spaces linked to fantasy and childhood; physical involvement without a sense of displacement. This changed in her 2004 installation in De Appel in Amsterdam, where a similar site-specific installation was painted pale pink. The monochrome work is more difficult to associate with previously experienced space.  The Serpentine work is painted a light brown; without pattern or relief it feels claustrophobic and disorientating.  This colour is significant to the artist as it was commonly used in Polish architecture in the 1970s.   It was used in the prefabs of my Dublin primary school and it makes me shudder.  It is the colour of the everyday, of function, of work, not that of art or relief or escape.  The contradiction is entertaining; a physical playground in a colour that condemns play.









Monika Sosnowska: Untitled 2004 , installation at the Serpentine Gallery; © 2004 Monika Sosnowska; courtesy Serpentine Gallery

The artist uses noise to further disorientate. The noise is of other visitors, seen but not heard, invisible due to the angled walkways.  This adds to the tension; it draws awareness to human life in the communal rather than individual sense and this ties in with the artist’s claims of inspiration from communist-style architecture.

The structure is visible in patches from the flanking gallery walls.  From these points the viewer sees the structure framed by the gray tiled floor and the fresh white walls.  From here it is attractive, with the appeal of an abstract painting, full of triangles and angles in different hues of brown.









Monika Sosnowska: Untitled 2004 , installation at the Serpentine Gallery; © 2004 Monika Sosnowska; courtesy Serpentine Gallery

Similar to Anish Kapoor’s 2003 installation in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall [4] , Sosnowska splays her monochrome work through the gallery, touching all of the peripheral walls and (when seen from the side wall of the two flanking galleries) achieving a decidedly horizontal thrust.  However, Kapoor’s piece is threatening, as if the monumental streamlined design may act as a vacuum, sucking up the viewer into an imaginary space.  Sosnowska’s piece provokes a polar-opposite sensation.  The viewer is actually in the piece, tramping all over its scuff-marked floors. There is no threat, rather disorientation.  Sosnowska teases out our preconceptions of social space with her use of colour, and then altars it with her distortion of space.  Changing a person’s spatial perceptions would be a daunting task for any artist, but this young Pole has done it in style.

Isobel Harbiso n writes for several art magazines, most recently ArtReview in London. She currently works for Sothebys in London.




[1] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life , University of California Press, 1997

[2] Doors , 2003, 210 x 100 cm, Koksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Numerous doorways framing each other, from the smallest letting in a shaft of light to the largest, optical distortion is achieved  using this simple framing device.

[3] Bon Voyage , 2000, installation at Rijksakademie, Amsterdam.

[4] Marsyas , 2003, Tate Modern, London





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