ROOTEDNESS A detail from Michalowska’s “dom.”
"Dom: means home," Providence artist Agata Michalowska says in a sign introducing her installation "dom" at AS220's Project Space (93 Mathewson Street, Providence, through February 25). "My memories solidified into objects/they fit in a suitcase and i pack them when i go/my home i carry with me as i move in between."
In the first room, a lacy curtain covers the storefront window and a lamp hangs over a small felt house on a pedestal. What looks like balls of dough — but in fact are chestnuts cast in porcelain — are scattered across the floor. A gray paper on the wall reads, "i dreamt/i sewed a house."
In the next room, another hanging lamp dimly lights a table covered with a tablecloth and a pair of striped table-runners laid off center. The table is set with six saucers stained yellow and 28 glasses, some cast and icy-looking, others laser-etched with a leaf-and-berry design. From a clothesline on the wall hang three large sheets of paper, creased with grids of folds. Behind you, hidden in the corner, is a pile of folded, gray towels and a saucer with a white circle porcelain resembling a well-used wafer of soap.
Small sheets of paper are taped around the walls of the last room. They are printed with poetic words in Polish and English: "an exercise in lightness," "here: /full/spilling/dense/baroque," "it will be forgotten." Pressed against the wall is a wooden table holding three more papers printed with the Polish and English words for "salt."
The installation is nearly all in tones of white, with a crisp, starchy cleanliness, everything set just so. You can feel the mind behind it all. The main impression is a mood: meditative, sensual, elegant, nostalgic, cleansed, wistful.
A line from Michalowska's artist statement says: "i belong to the place i was born, the place i moved to, the places i visit, the half-homes inhabited by friends and family. warsaw, providence, seattle, gothenburg, berlin." The installation is filled with such references to her personal history that will be obscure to those who don't know her.
Many conceptually-driven artists today favor such vagueness rather than risk squelching the magic by spelling things out too much. But wouldn't it be more meaningful if the installation made clear that these are actually her grandmother's curtains, casts from her drinking glass, a replica of her soap? That Michalowska inherited these things when her grandmother died about four years ago? That Michalowska slept on the creased sheets of paper and they reference her stepfather's penchant for collecting linens and having them stiffened with potato starch?
The installation, Michalowska tells me, is about "being in between, home, traveling, two different cultures, two different languages." You could also say it's about inheritance — the objects, the ideas, the beliefs that our families and friends pass down to us. She grew up in Warsaw, Poland, five people in two rooms. Her parents divorced when she was a kid. So she spent summers in the US then returned each year to Poland for school, until she came to Providence to study at RISD and stuck around afterward. When fall comes she gets a migratory itch.