The alliance between artist and curator began as a byproduct of Heather Pesantis’ quest to better understand her mothers family history originating in Poland. Where her grandparents lived before they escaped Nazi regime on S.S. Orduña, traveling to Cuba to eventually reach the United States. As a first generation American, Pesanti looked to her past for answers in her current curation, Habitat.
Behind the scenes
The connection between artist Monika Sosnowska and curator Heather Pesanti began in Poland, where the works of Sosnowska were proudly displayed around Warsaw. Her artwork was picked up by many reputable galleries early on in her career becoming accessible to the public eye. Inspired by Psychological and Brutalist architecture, Sosnowska distorts the reality of utilitarian building construction. Many of the ambiguous buildings in Poland are the product of Brutalist Architecture consisting of only wood, brick, concrete, steel, and glass. These materials as well as plastics are the foundation of Sosnowskas work, building off of her environment and innate family history in Poland.
As an American curator in Poland, Pesanti was pleasantly surprised at the admiration of the artist community in Warsaw, although she noted “if I lived there the red carpet wouldn’t be as red.” During her stay, she was bewitched by the landscape, the forest and its trees. Monika Sosnowska’s studio and residence happens to be across the street from an abandoned dismantled Jewish cemetery covered in Polands iconic trees. These trees inspire Sosnowskas site specific entangled metal sculptures, working with the fractals found in nature juxtaposing man-made construction. Pesanti researched other artists who have been inspired by the environment such as Frank Stella’s Synagogue Abstractions and Adam Mickiewicz poems, an excerpt became Peresanti’s the inspiration for Habitat:
A fallen oak thrusts branches to the sky,
Like a huge building, from which overgrown
Protrude the broken shafts and walls o’erthrown.
Fragility vs. Industrial
The Contemporary Austin Downtown had been under construction for a few months leading up to Habitat, once opened some viewers mistook Sosnowskas work for installation remodel. When first stepping into Antichamber the viewer enters a distorted reality, almost dreamlike where the walls are vanish into tight corners. The walls covered with a white woodblock pattern of the Georgia knot on top peach wallpaper, inspired by a photograph of Lyndon B. Johnson. This was the first time Antichamber was used in collaboration with the artist own sculptures featured in the rooms created by negative space. The upstairs gallery showcases works that were manufactured in Poland by the artists’ personal fabricator, with decades of experience in building Brutalist architecture; he now works exclusively on bringing Sosnowska’s paper models to reality. What may appear innocent on paper can prove to be heavier than expected during installation.
The Contemporary Austin experienced many remodeling situations when installing the works of Monika Sosnowska. Pesanti recalls Façade as was one of the most difficult pieces to move into the upstairs gallery space, its weight alone required proper bracing in the gallery to support the structure. Pesanti has fond memories of the three-hundred pound fire freighters hanging on the bars in order to piece the structure together, after scissor lifting it to the second level of course. The wall mounted Handrail came with a specific hand drawn diagram from the artist, noting where each connection welds to the wall of the gallery. The sculptures have an aura in the pristine gallery space, hiding their secrets behind painted welds and raw edges. The Contemporary Austin redefines sculpture through exhibitions such as Habitat by gathering local youth programs to inspire creativity, imagining a Labyrinth instead of a traditional gallery space.
1Adam Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz, trans. Kenneth Mackenzie (London, 1964), 77, as reprinted in Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 59.