The Rise and Fall of Air
02/07 - 18/08
Zachęta - National Gallery of Art
Katarzyna Krakowiak - sculptor
Ralf Meinz - sound designer
Michał Libera - curator
Andrzej Kłosak - room acoustician
Katarzyna Krakowiak is the first artist ever whose work is presented in all of the Zachęta – National Gallery of Art’s thirteen rooms at once. None of those, however, will be accessible for visitors, and most are ‘no entry’ spaces for the gallery’s staff as well. Though not located far from the familiar rooms and staircases, they are too narrow and too cramped, often missing doors and sometimes floors, to be entered. Some of those spaces have been classified in the building’s architectural plans as ‘voids and technical rooms’; these include elevator shafts, ventilation shafts, skylights, unused corridors and rooms. Spaces between seemingly monolithic walls or skylight grilles do not even appear in those plans; all together, they add up to a staggering space of nearly 15,000 cubic metres.
In the hidden system formed by these spaces, and especially in the building’s three, nearly parallel, huge wall voids, Krakowiak finds the shape of her new architectural sculpture. The voids cut vertically across the entire building, supporting the massive skylight floor, often associated with the institution’s logotype. Together, they constitute what is in fact a new Zachęta, empty and inaccessible, based on a new construction, but also possessing new ornamentation and a new form. Unlike in previous expansion plans, whether realised or not, this new Zachęta is not created by adding new elements; rather, it is crammed into the inter-wall voids. Rather than creating new architectural plans or models, Krakowiak builds the monumental and overwhelming space with sound. In the case of working with inaccessible space, this is a natural choice: nothing but sound reaches the spaces where her sculpture has been crammed in.
Acousticians call such voids ‘rooms within rooms’. As from their point of view nothing isolates better than a few centimetres of empty, tight and inaccessible space, the function of such voids is clear: it is to muffle sound; to not let it through; to withhold it; to weaken and mute it. This means that the ‘building within building’, the Zachęta within Zachęta, is an architectural equivalent of the air pump, a machine for pushing air. It absorbs sounds and makes sure that nothing of what transpires inside the gallery is let outside; it retains all sounds until they fade away or transmits them upwards, to the huge collecting and storing container: the skylights. This process, the isolating-muting work of void in architecture, is of crucial significance here: the fact that architecture can be the ‘last to hear’, can get rid of our audible traces, can muffle us. And finally the fact that the process can be amplified so that the inaccessible voids fill the entire building.