In the legend of basilisk, a monster so terrifying that the mere sight of it turned people into stone, the one who wins with the beast is a boy with no more than his own cunning and audacity as weapons. It only took a mirror and the reflected image of the beast to destroy the inimical power and save Warsaw from peril. A similar strategy of painful self-recognition has been used by Karolina Mełnicka in her show From the Block. Her works reflect nostalgia for childhood spent in a Plattenbau block and a yearning for modernity captured in glass skyscrapers of the present-day city. The artist creates sculptures that critically refer to visuality of a big modernist housing estate in old Wola district — Behind The Iron Gate Estate (Za Żelazną Bramą) — formerly known “the bedroom of Wola”, and to the contemporary landscape of the neighbourhood, where sleep and rest have been replaced by labour and capital accumulation.
Mełnicka appropriates the aesthetic of pre- and post-transformation landscape of the district: the metalwork of gratings, gates and fences, the never-ending labyrinths of stairs or windowpanes hiding and revealing neighbours’ (and corporate) secrets. She traces the remnants left after acts of vandalism and offers them a second life in a peculiar museum of resistance against the basilisk of gentrification. However, as almost every legend tells us, the most horrid monsters always have more than one face. Lacking in sentimentalism, the artist’s pieces do not provoke a longing for childhood pastimes on block staircases, instead they reveal unification and submission to the system: regardless of whether it is the communist or capitalist one.
The original graffiti copied from demolished buildings return like ghosts to spook the new residents of the financial centre. A chewing gum cheekily stuck to a handrail shows off in full light as a kind of trophy. Saliva (or as us-kids would say, hockle) is leaking from slits to evoke both disgust and amaze, just like it did when we were children. The artist is fascinated by the forbidden, the indigestible and the vulgar — all that is banned by etiquette and generally accepted rules of propriety.
Mełnicka’s From the Block is full of sharp jokes, cocky taunts and bratty jibes, all working like a stodgy candy that makes your stomach flatulent. Like a lollipop that fell and cracked on the stairs, but since it didn’t stay there for more than ten seconds, you can still put it back in your mouth.
22.12-2020 – 15.01.2021
Artist: Karolina Mełnicka
Curator: Michał Grzegorzek
Production: Joanna Manecka
Translation: Aleksandra Jabubczak
Organizer: Fundacja Sztuka w Mieście, Ghelamco
Photos & video: Rafał Wilk