by Julianne Cordray
Torn fragments bearing vibrant traces; shimmers of lacquer and assorted plastics; chipped, fraying, crumpled edges and faded marks. A number of interrelated themes manifest through the aesthetics of gentle decay in Patricia Sandonis’ varied practice. By repurposing and recollecting, what comes to the fore in her drawings, paintings and ready-mades are the untold stories — personal, historical, geographical — the social phenomena of our everyday environments, and corresponding systems of remembrance and preservation.
The socio-political dimension that emerges within this context is often abstract — a conglomerate of partial realities, reconfigured to visualize their affective power. In Sandonis’ practice, this often manifests in the form of the monument. By recasting monuments in various media and locations, Sandonis examines their very nature, and the systems through which they are developed and valued — who/what they are for, by whom they are created, and their democratizing potential.
Of central importance to the conception of monuments, for Sandonis, is also the question of time: how long should monuments, as embodiments of collective memory, be expected to last? And, based on this temporality, what form, material, or scale is suited to their preservation? The column, as both monument and architectural support, raises such questions in both sculptural and two-dimensional works.
In ‘Das Kiez-Monument’ (2018), for instance, a stack of black beer crates forms a looming monolith, painted to evoke the patterns of marble — and the associations of value and importance that go along with it. The monument, with its clear material artifice, was created as a memorial to the Neukölln Späti International in Berlin — which once acted as a site of artistic intervention. Similarly taking up the aesthetic of marble in ‘Photo until it becomes marble’ (2018), a column of car tires is covered in torn poster fragments collected from around the city. The layering of ripped pieces of paper — now mostly white, their surfaces extracted by tape — produces a marbling effect through the traces of color that still cling to their edges. Here, Sandonis links the temporality of the material to their status as monuments. In replacing marble with everyday waste from the urban environment, she posits a more perishable, precarious material, better suited to the contemporary moment.
In another series, titled 'The Open Romantic' (2020), this marbling effect is transferred to two-dimensional panels, evoking abstract paintings, while reiterating the ripped papers’ original function — as posters. Their flat, rectangular form and placement on the wallalso allude to another architectural element: the marble slab. In their visual, if not material, imitation of marble, Sandonis’ panels draw a particular reference to the walls of Romantic-era Prussian palaces in Berlin, which were made out of fake marble — painted plaster that was substantially more expensive than the real thing.In Sandonis’ translation of an imitation, the material’s high cost and exclusive nature — as palace interior — are eroded through the panels’peeled surfacesand material connection to the public realm. That the marble is built up of remnants of street posters collected from around the city further highlights its contemporaneity -- visualizing an aesthetic moment from the city’s past, while embedding it in its present.
While monuments are traditionally intended to be everlasting, permanent, stable, in Sandonis’ practice they are emphatically temporary, transient — literally marked by systems of movement. In its disembodied state, the column is not only a symbol of enduring stability, but also of fragmentation, disappearance — an architectural ruin. A speculative reimagining of the material and form of the column is also presented in two dimensions in ‘Fortuna Populi. The missing columns’ (2016-18). Paintings in acrylic, lacquer and nail polish on sheer nylon are positioned on the floor, leaning against the wall, approximating the traditional form and function of the column. But these columns are depicted as precariously balanced assemblages of stone and marble in varying shapes and sizes. Their surfaces are electrified, glimmering; some even replicate the signature colors and patterns found on the seats of Berlin’s metro cars — proposing new aesthetic possibilities for the column, while examining the ways in which it shapes, or alternatively is informed by, the identity of a place.
At times, columns also emerge more peripherally, within the architectural framing of the spaces in which Sandonis’ work is presented: for instance, at the Palazzo Ducale, Genova, where the public installation ‘Exchange Value. Intercultural’ (2015-2016) was featured. A reenactment and rethinking of bureaucratic systems in the context of migration, ‘Exchange Value. Intercultural’ is linked to Sandonis’ broader investigation of public spaces, participatory practices, and themes of migratory movement, collective memory and sites and systems of exchange.
Such themes are similarly reflected in works on paper that take the migrational patterns and collective flight behaviour of the starling as their subject. Or, in ‘The Great palm-tree. A Victory column’ (2018), in which Sandonis invited the community to participate directly in the process of developing an anti-monument — one in the form of the palm tree, which carries its own history of extraction, of being geographically relocated. In this specific form and context, the anti-moment shifts the palm tree’s symbolic function, as well as the methods by which monuments are produced, while simultaneously reflecting on the environment and increasingly urgent climate crisis.
Acts of transference occur in other contexts, as well: in words, colors and images that have been lifted from urban public spaces. In ‘Beautiful Disobedience’ Sandonis recreates graffiti and markings from metro cars and stations throughout Berlin, bringing them together in a single installation — forming an aesthetic topography of the city. The installation is a collaboration with anonymous participants, opening up questioning of artistic authorship. Moreover, the gesture of transposing reproductions becomes a mode of preservation, capturing a particular moment in the city’s public aesthetic — monumentalizing what is only able to exist in these spaces of transit on a temporary basis.
Elsewhere, installations of black tiles, as well as a translucent floating column — titled ‘What you wanted me to know. Speculating as a practice to decipher meaning on the walls of Berlin buildings that are speculated on’ — are covered in multicolored messages, extracted from public toilets and the walls of various buildings, respectively. Once again taking graffiti and scribbled notes as found material, Sandonis compounds their transitory nature, while extending their existence. Inspirational statements like “love as if you’ve never been ghosted”, as well as more general declarations of love, are both timeless and exceedingly contemporary. By extracting and compiling messages from public spaces in this way, Sandonis also underlines the temporariness of the city’s buildings, which continually transform or even disappear due to real-estate speculation — while increasing privatization limits access to space throughout the city.
Sandonis’ recycling and redistributing of materials counters such models, while engaging in another speculative mode, fabricating systems for preserving the aesthetics of the present, moving towards a contemporary culture of remembrance. The materials that Sandonis collects are at times intangible — her own memories and impressions of places, for instance — as well as relics of Berlin’s nightlife, scraps and waste, everyday refuse. Paintings may be composed of acrylic,nail lacquer, rhinestones and more. In ’Not anymore – Not yet. The beauty of precariousness.’, a collection of Sandonis’ fragmentary impressions and memories of walks through Berlin have been painted on semi-transparent nylon and then washed and faded. The randomness and haziness of memory is thus materialized in the final installation, which takes the form of a construction site fence — an element that stood out particularly well in her memory.
The partitioning of space — boundaries — shapes us and our experiences as we move through the city, directing our movements and routes. Once again taking up the fence as structure and material, in ‘Partition of the sensible’ (2020), various objects and traces are compiled into a spatial installation that troubles the relationship between private and public space, while literally upending the functionality of the barrier. Public barricades are here contained, no longer defining space but rather held within one, namely a greenhouse — the boundaries of which are transparent and inherently intertwined with the natural environment. Sandonis subverts the proposed order that the fence enforces by deconstructing and utilising it as a component inan assemblage that itself occupies an in-between space.
Overall, Sandonis’ work is largely rooted in questions around the relationships, memories and behavioral patterns shaped by the environments we collectively inhabit. Taking a sociological approach, she likewise observes the behavior of viewers as they interact with the situations she sets up — situations that are permeable, destabilized, communicative, replete with floating, transparent and shifting objects, images and materials. Rather than offering a passive, distanced reflection of the world — acting as a mirror — her work ultimately acknowledges and embraces the active role that art plays in everyday life.