Tatiana Wolska: Leisure as Resistance

Published in Doris

Art Criticism

Born in Poland, Tatiana Wolska arrived in France in 2000 to find everybody talking about ecology. Under communism everything that could be was repurposed. In those harsh childhood times nothing was wasted. Inspired by the barter systems she’d witnessed, the transformation of material lies at the heart of her creative practice. The scarcity of goods experienced as a child and the recycling of today’s discarded, polluting materials – old plastic bottles, rusty nails and salvaged timber – merge in her work.

Leisure as Resistance, her show at MAC (Midlands Art Centre) features several new commissions, including sculptures constructed of scrap wood, alongside a sensual biomorphic form made from fused red plastic water bottles that hangs from the gallery ceiling like a giant scarlet appendix. There are also large scale drawings and a site-specific mural. Describing herself as a ‘junk collector’ Wolska fuses her concerns about ecology with the appropriation of recycled materials in a contemporary form of arte povera. Something of a magpie, she collects whatever takes her fancy from street garbage cans, while friends bring all sorts of detritus to her studio. In her abracadabra art, the discards of our wasteful global consumerism are conjured into new aesthetic forms highlighting our constant lip service to ecological preservation – the fact that we know that plastic bags, cotton swabs and non-biodegradable plastics take 500 years to decompose – she repurposes her found materials in a silent visual protest to highlight both our wastefulness and the creative potential of these abandoned objects.

Immersing herself in the material’s possibilities her work, particularly her drawings, evolve intuitively. Rising at 6.30 each day to draw, she follows, in this almost meditative practice, shapes and colours, letting them lead the way. A pink may suggest a certain shape. Then a shape will prompt the use of a grey pencil which, in turn, might lead her to painting. One of her favourite materials is biro. These drawings are soft and fleshy. Some resemble organs or internal body parts. Others biomorphic forms such as pods and flowers that give a nod towards Georgia O’Keeffe. Floating in the middle of their white paper sheets they’re reminiscent of 19th century botanical or medical drawings. She refers to them as her ‘lazy drawings,’ meaning that she doesn’t start out with any preconceived intellectual of aesthetic notions but simply follows where her hand and heart leads. She describes the process as completely freeing, almost therapeutic. It’s through the act of drawing that her ideas emerge. In a society where everything is controlled, regimented and categorised, she sees this process as a form of liberty.

mac, Tatiana Wolska, Lesuire as Resistance. Photographer, Tegen Kimbley

A key component of this exhibition is a makeshift shelter made from higgledy-piggledy wooden offcuts purchased from the Woodshack in Sutton Coalfield. Part Phyllida Barlow, part Mario Merz’s 1968 Giap’s Igloo, this temporarily constructed space is a refuge where people can relax and make a cup of camomile tea or lie on the bunk-like bed reading one of the available books on sustainability or ecology. This idea is adapted from a project done in the municipal gallery in Nice, which took the form of a ‘utopian vision of nomad, democratic and relational architecture.’ Birmingham is a city that lacks communal spaces, so she felt it important to create one where people could meet and relax and let their children play. A space that was welcoming to those who might not normally visit galleries. There’s an exchange library and a rack of pre-loved clothes that form part of a swap system. You bring in a work shirt and leave with a pair of sequin trousers. There’s also a seed bank where visitors can help themselves in order to propagate their window boxes and gardens. This cosy structure evokes memories of childhood hideaways and tree houses where play was paramount. There’s also a suggestion à la Thoreau (American naturalist and essayist), that we might all lead a more connected, simpler existence, that none of us need so much ‘stuff,’ that we’d all be better off connected not only to nature but to the wider community.

According to the American writer and critic Suzi Gablick ‘in Has Modernism Failed? the overarching principle of modernism [and one might add postmodernism] has been autonomy. It’s touchstone is individual freedom, not social authority.’ Tatiana Wolska’s work reaffirms art as a social activity rather than one which is ego-driven or a Romantic quest for self-hood. Capitalist society has separated us from one another and art and museums tend to be the provenance of the well-healed and the elite. To coincide with Leisure as Resistance exhibition MAC will be hosting a number of interconnected workshops run under the Public Programme. There’ll be a  Grafting Workshop by Fruit and Nut Village where participants can learn to graft fruit trees and take a cutting back home. There is a Composting Surgery and a Knit Social – an afternoon of stitching and chatting inspired by the exhibition – and a Repair Café where you can learn to fix household electrical appliances and textiles instead of throwing them away. It all sounds rather quaint but Tatiana Wolska attempts to reestablish the communal and the collective that has largely been erased by the overconsumption of late capitalist excess. It may be wistfully utopian, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Tatiana Wolska: Leisure as Resistance MAC Birmingham, UK until Sunday June 2nd


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