»Intelligence starts with improvisation.«

Yona Friedman

Blog Review

The Rise and Fall of Air

Katarzyna Krakowiak maximizes space through sound at Warsaw's National Gallery

  • Krakowiak’s installation uses only sound to occupy Zach?ta’s 15,000 cubic meters of unused space, including the area above a floor of skylights. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zach?ta) 1 / 11  Krakowiak’s installation uses only sound to occupy Zachęta’s 15,000 cubic meters of unused space, including the area above a floor of skylights. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zachęta)
  • Drawing showing the occupied voids around the gallery spaces in black, including spaces between walls, elevator shafts, and technical rooms. (Drawing: “Nowa Zach?ta,” Katarzyna Krakowiak, 2013) 2 / 11  Drawing showing the occupied voids around the gallery spaces in black, including spaces between walls, elevator shafts, and technical rooms. (Drawing: “Nowa Zachęta,” Katarzyna Krakowiak, 2013)
  • The noises produced by the installation changed the way people related to each other on the space — they stood closer and spoke louder. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zach?ta) 3 / 11  The noises produced by the installation changed the way people related to each other on the space — they stood closer and spoke louder. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zachęta)
  • “The Rise and Fall of Air,” a drawing by Katarzyna Krakowiak, 2013. (Photo: Zach?ta) 4 / 11  “The Rise and Fall of Air,” a drawing by Katarzyna Krakowiak, 2013. (Photo: Zachęta)
  • Only one structure was built in the show: this false wall in an archway that provided access to the older part of the building. It was meant to highlight the division between the two areas. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zach?ta) 5 / 11  Only one structure was built in the show: this false wall in an archway that provided access to the older part of the building. It was meant to highlight the division between the two areas. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zachęta)
  • Electromagnetic knocking devices atop the skylights were charged by ambient sounds picked up by microphones in other areas of the building. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zach?ta) 6 / 11  Electromagnetic knocking devices atop the skylights were charged by ambient sounds picked up by microphones in other areas of the building. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zachęta)
  • The scale of the galleries seemed to increase through their emptiness. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zach?ta) 7 / 11  The scale of the galleries seemed to increase through their emptiness. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zachęta)
  • The artist in the space. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zach?ta) 8 / 11  The artist in the space. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zachęta)
  • The Zach?ta show is the second show in Krakowiak's "architectural trilogy," the first part of which was the Polish Pavilion at last year's Venice Architecture Biennale. (Photo © designboom) 9 / 11  The Zachęta show is the second show in Krakowiak's "architectural trilogy," the first part of which was the Polish Pavilion at last year's Venice Architecture Biennale. (Photo © designboom)
  • Simulation of wave propagation, part of the acoustic model of Venice 2012 installation. (Image: Andrzej K?osak © Katarzyna Krakowiak) 10 / 11  Simulation of wave propagation, part of the acoustic model of Venice 2012 installation. (Image: Andrzej Kłosak © Katarzyna Krakowiak)
  • The busy, pompous neo-classical façade of the Zach?ta National Gallery for Art, which contrasts with the voided-out installation within. (Photo: Zach?ta) 11 / 11  The busy, pompous neo-classical façade of the Zachęta National Gallery for Art, which contrasts with the voided-out installation within. (Photo: Zachęta)

Katarzyna Krakowiak is the artist whose powerful sound installation won a special mention for the Polish Pavilion at last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. That work formed the first part of her ongoing “Architectural Trilogy,” the second iteration of which was a recent installation at Zachęta National Gallery for Art in Warsaw. This work, The Rise and Fall of Air, occupies every last centimeter of the museum's unused space with amplified sound. Here’s why a possibly esoteric-sounding sound installation is remarkably relevant to our contemporary moment. 

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It’s a well-known saying that we humans only use 10% of our brains. This may be a scientifically-laughable fact (we use pretty much all we’ve got), but the concept retains a certain appeal. Perhaps it’s because we love the idea that there exists a whole store of unharnessed brainpower inside us just waiting to be tapped into – if only we could get to it. Study harder? Do more cardio? Invent a nanochip implant? 

In her installation Powstanie I upadek powietrza (“The Rise and Fall of Air”) at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, the Polish artist Katarzyna Krakowiak tapped into our common desire to access that vast unused territory of grey matter – in this case the museum’s total 15,000 cubic meters of unoccupied or inaccessible space. These “voids” were the gaps between walls, elevator shafts, technical rooms, and an entire separate floor of skylights. Any building has these negative spaces, but Zachęta has a particular wealth of them; its entire two-floor gallery space is a structure built in the early 1990s within the shell of the original architecture, which dates back to 1900.

“The Rise and Fall of Air,” a drawing by Katarzyna Krakowiak, 2013. (Photo: Zachęta)

Krakowiak installed microphones in the various shafts and corridors between the museum’s inner and outer skeletons, which picked up ambient sounds such as ventilation air flows and echoes of visitors traipsing up and down stairs. The sounds collected by the microphones were transmitted to energize a group of electromagnetically-powered knocking machines, which were scattered in a gigantic space atop the second-floor ceiling of skylights. Additionally, speakers positioned behind the walls around the building repeated sounds as they reflected off a multitude of internal surfaces.

This work was the second in Krakowiak’s “Architectural Trilogy,” the first part of which was presented in the Polish Pavilion at last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. That installation, called Making the walls quake as if they were dilating with the secret knowledge of great powers, won a Special Mention. Upon entering the empty-looking space of the pavilion, viewers encountered a fully-dimensional sound sculpture carefully engineered for the space. Surfaces were designed to alter or garble reflection and reverberation of sound, ventilation pipes were installed in a ceiling shaft to transport the sounds from nearby pavilions into the room, and the “quaking,” or vibrations, of the main walls caused by viewer presence and atmospheric conditions were made audible through amplification. This installation was intended to manifest the space inside the skull in an architectural scale, that is, to mimic in the room the way the human head-apparatus interpolates and localizes sounds.

The artist in the space. (Photo: Krzysztof Pijarski, courtesy Zachęta)

In the age of the Quantified Self, when your Nikes can track your heartrate and your iPhone can measure your sleep cycles, we’re all trying to find and expand the limits of human capacity through measurement. You can learn quantified-sleep techniques on YouTube that are designed to teach you, through rigorous measurement and training, how to ostensibly increase your lifespan by decreasing the amount of sleep you need over several years. You’re supposed to find, map out, and maximize every empty air shaft or ventilation duct of your body.

Krakowiak’s installation at Zachęta, however, wasn’t about exploiting every possible square meter for maximum knowledge, use value, or “art” benefit. It was the opposite: a way of honoring zones of the unconsciousness, bringing them to the edge of perception without exposing them to quantification. Personally, I don’t consider sleeping “dead time” anyway – when else would I get a chance to dream?

- Elvia Wilk, Berlin

www.zacheta.art.pl

 


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