Zuza Golińska (1990, Gdańsk) is a visual artist currently living in Warsaw, who explores the relationship between public spaces, architecture and the human being. Summing up the experiences she has gathered during her fieldwork, she creates site-specific installations that prompt viewers to rethink social structures and the concept of space. During her long and tiring urban expeditions, she walks the streets of Gdańsk, Warsaw and London, directing her attention to the function and visual language of the constructed forms found in public spaces. Her observations are also strongly influenced by human behaviour in architecturally composed public spaces that are used according to a certain set of rules. Her experiences vis-à-vis built spaces are often complemented by the anxious observations of philosophers, sociologists and urban planners. She graduated in 2015 from Mirosław Bałka’s Studio of Spatial Activities at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw; her thesis was supervised by Anda Rottenberg. In 2015, Golińska was nominated for the Start Point Prize, a European award for young artists. She has presented her works at such prominent venues as the Museum of Modern Art and the Zachęta National Gallery in Warsaw, the Delfina Foundation in London, and the National Gallery in Prague. Between 2015 and 2018, Golińska worked as a teaching assistant and junior lecturer at the Studio of Spatial Activities, led by Mirosław Bałka.
The interview began in September 2019, during WGW (Warsaw Gallery Weekend), when Golińska had a solo exhibition entitled SUN at the Piktogram Gallery of Warsaw.
Mónika Zsikla (MZs): Would you talk a bit about the background of the exhibition? How was your work inspired by Polish sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris?
Zuza Golińska (ZG): I came up with the main concept for the exhibition during a month-long residency in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. A friend of mine recommended this place and residency. We were actually supposed to meet there; it’s a friend I have known for a long time but we lost touch for over a year – I did go to the residency, but he didn’t, which was funny for me. It was a programme organised by MetaLab and curated by Liva Dudareva and Eduardo Cassina, a collective also known as MetaSitu. Long story short, I ended up in Ivano-Frankivsk on the premises of the Promprylad Factory, which is currently being gentrified. The ground floor is still semi-functioning as a factory but there is almost no production. The upper floor was being renovated: there is a coworking space, some ‘cool’ offices, a gallery, a bar and even a progressive kindergarten. Promprylad is also hosting an office of MetaLab and their workshop.
It was June, and the temperature was very high, not only in Ukraine but all over Central and Western Europe. It was crazy hot and everyone was worried about the bees making it. I spent a lot of time alone. At the beginning I was confused about my role in this strange place. So, I worked mostly by myself, wandering around and sweating, feeling the heaviness of this small city brought on by the heat. Most of my friends had no clue where I was or why I even went there, so it seemed like I had disappeared a bit. This gave me a sense of freedom, even though the feeling of solitude was profound too. For the biggest part of that month I was mostly an observer. A month, in the end, is a very short amount of time. But I did look at the factory and its workers, the leftovers from production that were scattered around.
During this month, global warming and climate change were constantly brought up in public discourse. It seemed that people were surprised that it’s all actually happening! Now I can’t remember when I thought of the totemic form of the Suns sculptures. But I made a drawing of it in my notebook. Promprylad Factory is the place where I made my first try-outs. Together with Ihor Prokopiy and Yurii Wolman – employees of the factory – we welded the material I found on the factory premises. We used the factory’s ‘yellow room’, where they usually powder-coated the gas measuring elements produced there.
The work was actually not inspired by Lem at all. Lem just felt like a natural association after some of the works had been made and I had written my short text. The process of making the sculptures and firing them in a special oven at 240 degrees also looks quite sci-fi. You should visit this factory, it would make it all very clear!
MZs: You have mentioned that, as an artist, you try to distance yourself from the compulsion to create works of art. Why do you feel, as an artist, that you cannot surrender to this pressure?
ZG: It depends on what we define as an artwork. I think what I could’ve meant was creating objects rather than artworks. The words are important here since an artwork itself doesn’t necessarily have to be material, or it can be material, but still not an object.
When it comes to objects, I personally don’t feel much of this pressure. It is quite visible in my works since most of them are rather installations, spaces or environments that I create by predominantly working with the space that is given to me. The amount of separate objects I produce is relatively small. I do like to consider if there is any point in bringing a new object into the world. Making artworks should, in my opinion, be justifiable.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t create many works of art. I’m quite active and I constantly make new artworks. I’m not the type of artist who makes three works and then proposes them repeatedly everywhere over many years. I feel that such an attitude is a bit like branding, rather boring and not very creative. It seems to me that as an artist you should often verify your thoughts and the forms you are using. For me, it’s a process of constant checking. I’m never sure if what I’m doing at the time is any good. I’d rather say I am in constant doubt.
MZs: In the introductory part of your thesis, you analysed the concept of ‘discipline’. In your view, how are the concepts of discipline and constructed space connected?
ZG: They are definitely entangled. Public space is a great example. It is discipline that is brought to the space around us, and on the subconscious level, it is keeping us as citizens in some order. What I mean here is rather cities, where there are more people moving, commuting, passing each other, while being more or less disciplined by the general urban planning, pathways, sidewalks, curbs and metal barriers.
A very clear example of the next level of this connection is hostile architecture (which is part of the public space), with its anti-homeless spikes, metal constructions that don’t allow you to enter the corner of the building etc. There are a variety of such objects – I call them sculptures – which are custom designed and often have peculiar shapes. Made out of stainless steel, they are supposed to serve the people, but it seems they rather serve the system and social order, understood in a very unequal, intolerant, and non-empathetic way. Their forms in themselves are usually very piercing as they tend to be firmly attached to buildings and sidewalks, yet they are not part of the main construction. They are added afterwards. Hostile architecture is perverted in many ways, even in its form.
Another topic is architecture itself, estates, apartment blocks. The flats and their layouts. I find all of these observations crucial to my practice.
MZs: Why are sports stadiums such an important reference point to you? In your thesis, at one point, you made a reference to Leni Riefenstahl’s film Olympia.
ZG: My theoretical thesis supervised by Anda Rottenberg was actually only about Leni Riefenstahl and the relations between her movie Olympia and discipline, structure, control and power. Sport in Olympia was rather a demonstration of strength and discipline that Hitler was using as part of his propaganda. At that point it was not just any sport stadium.
While writing my thesis, I was working in parallel on my main degree project, called Run-up, at the Mirosław Bałka Studio of Spatial Activities, and on series of images made in sport schools for kids. All of these had many juncture points, as part of the same research.
I guess there is also a personal reason why sport is a point of reference for me. My father is a professional sportsman who currently works as an S&C coach for the Olympic Polish Sailing and Windsurfing team. I come from a family of sailors, and most of the men in my family were professionally involved in sports. I was also quite into sports until I was 18, but I’ve always been too scared to turn professional and I hated competing with other people.
MZs: How did you conduct your London-based research?
ZG: I mostly walked through the city documenting it with my iPhone. I like to observe and I like to do it most when I’m in a place that I don’t know so well. But of course I also went to very specific places that interested me at the time. Apart from wandering around, I did a proper guided tour in Poplar. My boyfriend at the time found it and got us tickets. There was a small group of people and a guy specialised in the history of the neighbourhood and its architecture. I visited the Alexandra Road Estate, the Barbican, and Balfron Tower and Trellick Tower, both of which were designed by Ernő Goldfinger, and Robin Hood Gardens by Alison and Peter Smithson – to name a few. That was three or four years ago.
In 2018 I spent three months in London at the Delfina Foundation residency and another month at the beginning of this year, working with the team again on the show Power Play, curated by Aaron Cezar. All in all, I got to know the city a bit better since my first research there. While living in Delfina, I would do a lot of wandering around – just getting out of the room and walking in random directions and then walking back. London is a huge city, it would take me 4 or 5 hours just to walk somewhere and come back. It was such a privilege that I could do that often, I was very grateful.
MZs: What does the process of a project look like, from the initial observations to the finished project?
MZs: What does the process of a project look like, from the initial observations to the finished project?
ZG: It’s a bit a different with each project. I try to stay in the process of thinking about my works most of the time. When I work it often goes on for a couple of months without any break, and then once I finally have a break, I have health issues immediately, and I become so tired that it is hard for me to do even very simple things. Currently I’m working on a method where I can work systematically and have some time to rest as well. I have to do it mostly for health reasons, but I also think it will be a calmer way to grow, and I’m looking forward to that change.
While working on new projects I often make drawings; sometimes I make cardboard models, though I’m very bad when it comes to making small and precise things, unlike other artists. I read, make notes, take pictures – the usual. I work with my friend Gosia Machaj on visualisations, so we often make a model or render of the project with a computer. I work mostly alone, in peace, I cut socialising to zero or to a minimum, and I try to eliminate all the things that are defocusing me. While making sculptures I spend a lot of time in the workshop in Gdańsk Shipyard with workers, making them and doing try-outs. I often ask my mother and her partner for their opinion on the technical solutions I use in my works. Both of them are very good at it and sometimes they sit down with me and take a look at the projects. Also at the beginning and during the whole process, I try to spend as much time as possible in the space where the project will be exhibited. Putting works in the space and in relation to each other is something that is extremely important for me. I try to check the materials before I use them and I often make experiments. I’m always present during the installation days and making sure things I can’t do alone are done as best as possible. Sounds just like any regular job, to be honest!
MZs: Your attention is engaged by such iconic buildings as Robin Hood Gardens in London (built by Peter Smithson in 1972, Robin Hood Gardens was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson) and Falowiec in Przymorze. What is it about Brutalist architecture that you find attractive?
ZG: I found it especially attractive five years ago when the slightly superficial fashion for Brutalist architecture was not yet so prevalent, at least not in Poland. I love the monumental, sculptural feel that some of these buildings have. I was interested in the way the dynamics between people living in the estate and the outside world are designed. I paid attention to the leisure areas within the building, the green areas, and the relationship between architecture and nature designed within it.
The Robin Hood Gardens estate was located in Poplar, the neighbourhood of London I mentioned before. I am extremely happy that I managed to see this residential estate when people still lived there, before it sadly got demolished. I think that the Victoria and Albert Museum managed to save a three-storey section of the estate. I like that when you look at the plan of the two buildings they separate a green area on the inside of the estate from two big streets located on the outside edges. It’s a bit like two hands shielding something precious on the inside. Indeed Robin Hood Gardens was a prominent example of Brutalism in architecture with its simplicity, monumental and raw form, clear rhythm and concrete as the main facade material. Its apartments were also maisonettes – two-storey flats!
Falowiec is the longest residential building in Poland; it is modernist architecture but not an example of Brutalism. I guess Falowiec was my architectural childhood friend. As a kid I lived nearby with my mother. It was only for one year that we were neighbours, but seeing it through a kid’s eyes, it was outrageous for me! I literally could not believe that such a building could exist, and at the time it seemed never-ending!
MZs: What interests you in the relationship between the skateboard and built spaces?
ZG: I’ve been a fan of skateboarding for a couple of years now. I used to watch it a lot maybe six or seven years ago. I often worked with a skateboarding video on my screen. Now I do it once in a while but I do have a lot less time, I must admit. It is all connected to my interest in public space and how people tend to interact with it. Obviously skateboarders work very creatively with a given public space, with its rules and its order. They absolutely transform the way you perceive the public space and the obstacles within it.
MZs: How about the film Permanent Vacation by Jim Jarmusch?
ZG: Funny that you ask about that film. I have a small old poster of that movie hanging above my desk. I think it was my mother’s originally. It is a movie that is close to my heart. It has a lot to do with wandering around, walking, observing without any expectations or specific outcome. Just hanging around, being curious yet easy. It’s very vivid in my memory and it is definitely a cinematic point of reference for me when it comes to my walking practice. I haven’t seen it for many years, it almost feels as if I’m scared that by watching it again I would spoil something from the memory I have of it.
This article was written and published in the frame of East Art Mags programme with the support of the International Visegrad Fund.