Young children think that closing or covering their eyes makes them invisible to others. This simple, introverted gesture, that responds to an instinctive desire to hide themselves, is then projected into the real domestic space, where children take refuge in small places enfolding them, to feel protected but also to define their first spaces of autonomy and identity. Since we were kids, we used to carve out in our house, even in our room, a corner elected to be an asylum for our imagination and where to build a shelter, a cozy and off-limits place where we could dream and play. Michel Foucault included this kind of “localized utopias” that children know very well – like the bottom of the garden, the Indian tent erected in the middle of the attic, or the parent’s great bed – under the broader concept of heterotopia, recognising in these “other” spaces discrete areas that mark interruptions in the space-time flow, revealing the illusory nature of reality and undermining the coherence of its systems.
The practice of building shelters does not completely end with childhood: as adolescents and adults we keep claiming for 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 attitude, the construction of shelters is the expression of an urgent need for immigrants and homless people searching for a lair in the rips of the urban fabric.
Joanna Piotrowska’s new project develops from a reflection on these diverse urges and purposes that lead to the erection of provisional huts ment to protect us, even at home, a private place which should already provide security and freedom.
The photographs of Frantic document a series of temporary shelters built inside different houses, using all sort of materials found in the same houses. The shootings took place in Lisbon, where Joanna Piotrowska involved local people to erect inside their own apartments or gardens a tent, a shelter they could inhabit, using furnitures for the structure and selecting personal objects they would live with. The result is a series of different environmental assemblages that look like their authors: some are solid and minimal, some are complicated and fragile, giving the impression they can collapse at any time. While these temporary constructions represent abstract places made to receive mental leaks, all the elements that shape this small-sized kind of Merzbau work as precise clues to the status, taste, lifestyle and interests of the portrayed person. The presence inside the shelters of their creators, the bodies that barely fit in, reveal them to be traps rather than comfortable places. The photographs strengthen this contrast: the charming atmosphere evoked by these ephemeral, absurd, constructions become disturbing when the person is present. Their disarticulated poses and the peculiar artist’s use of the flash, that flattens the image, render the human bodies as inanimate objects, entangled in the rudimental architectures they inhabit.
The different shades of the title, Frantic, refer to the different attitudes behind the act of building a shelter: from the high excitement of children, to a wild activity due to a feeling of fear, from a hurried search for protection, to a rapid and disordered or nervous activity, like the movement of an animal in a cage.