Ania Jaworska: Relocating the Canon


In her exhibition last fall at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Ania Jaworska presented an impressive set of screen prints titled A Subjective Catalog of Columns. In one print, a flattened flame of concentric lines burns behind a cartoon capital filled with a wood grain pattern. Beneath the image, a line of text reads, “Wooden Column on Fire (It Was Always Burning).” Hung side-by-side within inches of each other, Jaworska’s playful columnar designs reimagine the canonized history of architecture while offering many entry points for the casual viewer.

In an adjacent gallery, Jaworska installed monochromatic black sculptures within a room of black walls and carpet, creating an island of architectural misfits. A HERE sign marks nowhere in particular. A set of stanchions and a corded rope form a circle only to guard an empty space. Throughout the exhibition, Jaworska questions the implicit power of signage and archetypal forms like an arch, a column or a step. 

“A column is still a very powerful symbol,” Jaworska said, “that is not really questioned. It sends a powerful message and it does an excellent job.” More recently, the Polish architect has been researching how universities, banks, law firms and other institutions interpret columns graphically in their logos. By cataloging these graphic designs, Jaworska hopes to more thoughtfully assess how they function in contemporary life. 

This fall Jaworska will present a new body of work—functional furniture—at Volume Gallery in the West Loop. “I’m building up my interest in simple forms,” Jaworska noted, “very bold forms that bring references that are not necessarily specific to anything else.” Producing functional objects is not entirely new for the designer who was commissioned in 2013 to create the now iconic mesh metal bookshelf for the Graham Foundation. However, she considers that project “more as an installation in space. I’ve thought about furniture before but this [at Volume Gallery] is a new experience. ” 

Jaworska grew up in Stary Sacz, a small town in southern Poland along the border with Slovakia. “It’s an old town, 750 years old,” she said. “It used to be a prominent town, but it never really grew so it stayed very small. There are gothic and baroque churches, a market square and it’s all still cobblestones, so people are very much aware of their heritage in the town. They keep as much of the original old town as possible, which influenced my understanding of what architecture is, because I was surrounded by really beautiful buildings—not many, but some.”

At that time in the eighties, Poland was coming to terms with what it meant to be post-communist state. “If you wanted to build your own house in my town you had to do it on your own,” Jaworska said. Her parents, with the support of friendly neighbors, built their house from start to finish, which she compared to a barn raising—a community coming together to help a neighbor construct a necessary structure. Jaworska, who attended the Cracow University of Technology and Cranbrook Academy of Art, connects these early memories to her decision to study architecture. “I always knew I wanted to study something related to art, and the more I thought about it architecture seemed to be the best approach.”

As a designer, Jaworska benefitted from the traditional architectural approach at Cracow focused on drafting, drawing, and planning, coupled with the hands-on, material based studies at Cranbook. “I explored two different sides of architecture,” she said. “At Cranbrook I was mostly building so I had the experience of how to actually make things, which of course as an architect you know it—in theory. But I think that really changed my practice. I had two years of studio time. There are no classes and no grades. It’s really you and your own ideas.” 

While it’s common for young architects to experiment with proposals as a means of developing their practice, Jaworska continues to employ this method in her work. “I use proposals deliberately as a way to express ideas and communicate what I would like to do,” she said. “The proposals also exist as works that are already done and finished. They can be experienced as they are but also can promise works of a larger scale.” Monument for Them, an oversized kneeling “Hi” sign that was installed at the MCA, functioned as a unique sculpture but also represents Jaworska’s desire to engage viewers within public spaces. 

“My interest in language came directly from signage,” Jaworska said. “I started with ‘Hi’ in my explorations because I realized that signage really is about saying what we as a group of people or specific company or institution represent in the most direct way. It sends a message. You can’t get any more direct than ‘Hi!’” 

Ania Jaworska’s upcoming exhibition opens November 12 at Volume Gallery. 

Top image: Installation view, BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works: ANIA JAWORSKA, MCA Chicago, August 25, 2015-January 31, 2016. Photo: Travis Roozee. © MCA Chicago