Joanna Piotrowska and Formafantasma: Sub Rosa

8 Oct-16 Dec 2022
PV 8 Sep 2022, 6-8pm


Phillida Reid presents Sub Rosa, an exhibition by Joanna Piotrowska in collaboration with design studio Formafantasma. Developed over an extended period – beginning with a residency at ARCH, Athens, where the show's first iteration runs concurrently until 23 December – the resultant works fuse Piotrowska's photographs with a series of stainless steel 'anti-frame’ framing devices, created in site-specific response to the gallery spaces. 

Comprised of elements, materials and forms found in or referring to interrogation rooms (stainless steel, a barrier, a two-way mirror, a border) the conception of the sculptural objects derives from a 2015 incident in which Piotrowska found herself accused of spying and questioned by local military police in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan. "After the interrogations", she recalls, “I was released and told I should continue taking photographs. Disturbed by the experiences and knowing my every move was followed, I decided to censor myself and focus my attention on what, it seemed to me, was the only safe subject in a place of military conflict – the omnipresent roses.” 

Piotrowska continued to photograph roses following this experience: an enduring 'safe subject' across shifting contexts and locations. Documenting a subject which, on its surface, might profess to sidestep controversy or place the photographer in a position of assumed neutrality, the images contain a germ of resistance or concealed power which is gestured to in the project's title, Sub Rosa (a Latin phrase which translates as 'under the rose'), signalling secrecy or clandestine activity.

The photographs, mounted within the custom-designed steel structures, are here returned to the context of their conception: spaces of interrogation and intimidation common to law enforcement and border control authorities. The prints are simultaneously supported and held down, locked in place with bolts and sheets of tinted glass or pinned against the wall like caught suspects. Formally suggestive of carceral frameworks that claim to protect in order to impose threat, the devices could also be seen to fortify and reinforce their comparatively delicate contents, both recalling and complicating the power dynamics of the events which preceded their making.