For her Artpace exhibition, Fire Escape, Monika Sosnowska took her cue from local architecture, inspired by the ubiquitous emergency stairwells that scale the sides of older buildings throughout San Antonio. The image of the zig-zagging fire escape has become intuitive within Western architectural iconography. In response, Sosnowska has fabricated her own stairwell, stripping it of its functionality, dismantling the main elements of the apparatus, and giving each component its own autonomous sculptural identity. Together the pieces would comprise a small, working fire escape; but taken apart the segments are misshapen and warped beyond use, presented as a series of vignettes in their own space.
The horizontal metal platform and balustrade featured at the top of the stairwell have been detached from the stairs, then wedged and suspended into a corner of the gallery. The stairs and ladder extension of the stairwell are divided into two parts. The set of stairs hangs obliquely on the wall, folded and compressed, while the ladder rests in a composed, collapsed heap on the concrete floor of the space. The metal bars and plates that comprise the stairwell remain intact, but the sculptures, constructed in a 1:1 ratio, are curved and deformed, their original form rendered organically dysfunctional. The monumentality of each piece of the stairwell adds to the physical weight in tonnage; they are built just as an emergency stairwell would be: thick metal beams, steel steps, and a broad metal balustrade.
The image of emergency stairwells climbing urban architecture in cities across the United States has become so commonplace that little aesthetic consideration is given to them. Sosnowska challenges the relationships of architecture, and the elements that comprise a whole, altering perception, reviving memories, and inviting the viewer to recall associations with the often mundane objects.
-Leslie Moody Castro, Graduate Intern