Tatiana Wolska:
Leisure As Resistance

“It’s surprising that we’ve been discussing ecology for decades,” says artist Tatiana Wolska. “We all talk about it; plastic, bags, cotton swabs, and so on. We know it by heart, yet we continue to purchase non-degradable plastic bottles. They take 500 years to decompose, and yet persist in buying them.”

In her latest solo exhibition, Wolska has turned these potentially polluting materials into a series of captivating artworks. Taking place at Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham, Wolska’s first UK solo exhibition, Leisure As Resistance, showcases sculptures, drawings, an enormous mural and a makeshift hut.

Beyond showing how discarded materials can be transformed into beautiful artworks – which the show does superbly – the collection of work offers a solution to society’s problem with overconsumption by reframing the idea of a leisurely lifestyle as a form of rebellion. The exhibition encourages visitors to live slower lives as an act of resistance against the wastefulness of today’s world.

Wolska’s resourcefulness was ingrained in her during her childhood in communist Poland, where recycling became a necessity due to the scarcity of goods. This ethos has grown over the years, leading her to become an environmentally-conscious maker with an eye for seeing beauty in overlooked and discarded materials. Plastic bottles, rusty nails, salvaged timber, foam from old mattresses and abandoned furniture are all gifted new life and a second purpose through Wolska’s skilful hands.

“I find them everywhere,” Wolska remarks, discussing how she sources her alternative materials. “I collect everything that crosses my path. It also happens that friends bring materials directly to my studio. I used to take absolutely everything, but now I need more space in order to create.”

As well as a prolific ‘junk collector’, Wolska is a passionate advocate for purposeful relaxation. She strongly believes that leisure activities like drawing, reading and gardening can empower individuals and foster positive social change. The slowest and most meditative aspect of her own creative practice is the daily drawing ritual. Wolska wakes at 6 am each morning to dedicate an hour and a half to ‘warming up her hands’.

“Drawing has a therapeutic aspect for me. What I qualify as ‘lazy drawing’ is a completely free creative mechanism that is not influenced by any particular thought process,” Woska explains. “I draw for myself, without stress of a useful production or obligation. In a society where everything has to make sense in a precise, organised and efficient way, I need this freedom. I think that drawing allows you to release stress and to free one’s creativity. It is a motor that propels ideas. When someone tells me they have no ideas, I advise them to draw.”

Julien Pacaud: of gods and men

This instinctive drawing is guided by material; leading ink, pen, pencil and around abstract curves and over ribbed surfaces, folds and undulations. The results are mesmerising. The intricate details draw your eye in until your nose is almost touching the glass of the frame. Getting lost while viewing a Wolska original is as meditative an experience as the process of its creation.

Over the past decades, Wolska’s creative output has expanded to include makeshift shelters and nomadic dwellings. One of these monumental structures is the focal point of Leisure As Resistance. As you wander inside the hut, constructed of hundreds of planks of reclaimed wood, you’re transported back to childhood memories of hideaways and treehouses. You’re welcome to stay in this sustainable sanctuary for as long as you wish, basking in this sense of nostalgia. There is comfortable seating to lounge on, a seed-swapping station to peruse, books to explore and even hot drinks to help yourself to.

“In Birmingham, it was important to create a comfortable, welcoming space where people could relax, let their children play, meet up and have a cup of tea,” says Wolska. “In the city, there is a lack of spaces where people can relax for free. The exhibition is also a reaction against this economy of comfort and rest, so it is crucial that visitors can make the space their own.”

There is so much to delight the eyes in this exhibition; from the series of robust yet playful sculptures made from more reclaimed wood to the gigantic, expressive mural which was spontaneously created during the exhibition installation as a last-minute addition.

Beyond this, however, what makes this show sing are all of the details which subvert expectations. Simple touches such as music playing from one corner of the room and the luscious, leafy plants which are dotted around the space give the show a homely atmosphere. Cultural institutions like galleries can all too often feel like silent spaces where only a select few are allowed to speak. These thoughtful details soften the atmosphere and invite a wider audience to be part of the conversation.

This sentiment is also stitched through the series of events which are running alongside the exhibition. Midlands Arts Centre has collaborated with local community groups and organisations to schedule a special programme of events including clothes swaps, feminist readings, gardening workshops, knitting socials and meditative drawing sessions.

“I want to raise people’s awareness and create a place for community and exchange,” Wolska explains why this community-led programming was a huge draw for her bringing this show to the MAC. “There is a real exponential and contagious effect to the project, where new ideas are born through dialogue. By organising workshops, there is the activation of a community already working on these subjects. I offer them a place to meet and exchange ideas, so that their projects can come together.”

Wolksa has done more than simply throw open the doors; she has visited the next-door neighbours and mingled around the neighbourhood to learn how best to engage with the local communities. Having spent her entire life nurturing the ethos behind her work, Wolska has a bold statement to make: leisure is a form of resistance. Moreover, she knows that, for it to have the desired effect, the message needs to be spread as far and wide as possible.

There is optimism at the heart of Wolska’s solo show and the ‘collective utopia’ in envisages. “A lot of people are working on parallel economies and dreaming of another way of life, far removed from overconsumption and capitalist excess.” Ultimately, Leisure As Resistance offers a glimpse at what we can achieve together if we learn to slow down.

Words by Greg McIndoe


Tatiana Wolska: instagram.com/tatianawolska
Midlands Art Centre: macbirmingham.co.uk

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