Joanna Piotrowska’s (b. 1985) artwork dwells on the dynamics of power. Often expressed within domestic spaces and other manmade environments, her compositions document both the psychological and physical dimensions of human relationships, as well as the spaces which help to shape them. Rather than employing a documentary style, however, the images capture a range of gestures that have been carefully staged and directed; they are intimate performances set up for the camera. Bodies take an almost sculptural role that verge on the edge of claustrophobia and danger. Referencing self-defence manuals, the theatrical movements reflect an ever-present threat of violence against women, whilst demonstrating the potential for empowerment.
Polish-born and London-based, Piotrowska studied Photography at the Royal College of Art in London and the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. Over the past year, her work has most notably been included in the 10th Berlin Biennale and Being: New Photography at MoMA, New York. For this first UK solo exhibition, All Our False Devices, she has created an installation combining 16mm films with carefully composed black and white images. It is the latest in Tate Britain’s ongoing Art Now series of free exhibitions showcasing emerging talent and highlighting new developments in British culture.
As well as pieces from the Self Defense series from 2015, the show includes selections from the Shelters 2016-2018 series, in which Piotrowska engaged local people in Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Warsaw and London to create makeshift structures in their homes. Capturing constructed environments and their inhabitants, the resulting works include both children’s dens and temporary shelters made by the dispossessed and those without a home, showing a universal need for a private space. The compositions reflect upon a diversity of reasons for making shelters, from the freedom of play to fearful flight.
Sara de Chiara, who curated one of Piotrowska’s previous exhibitions, connects such spaces to philosopher Michel Foucault’s concept of “heterotopia” – discrete locations which seem to disrupt the flow of space and time. She writes: “The practice of building shelters does not completely end with childhood: as adolescents and adults we keep seeking an intimate space where we can be in solitude, read a book, listen to our favourite music, or just rest. At the very opposite of kids’ playful and spontaneous attitudes, the construction of shelters is the expression of an urgent need for immigrants and homeless people searching for a lair in the rips of the urban fabric.” The viewer is left considering whether these somewhat absurd structures resemble a home to escape into, or a trap. Participants barely fit within the walls. In this way, the exhibition considers the spaces we inhabit on a daily basis, questioning the comfort surrounding domestic spaces as a projection of the self and of the psyche.
Until 9 June. Find out more here.
Lead image: Untitled, 2014. Courtesy of Southard Reid and Dawid Radziszewski.