The Shock of the Now Issue 41
Featured Exhibition Text
Rafał Zajko
'Song to the Siren' Solo Exhibition
Cooke Latham
18th May 2022

Modular trichromatic murals set the stage for ‘Song to the Siren’, where Rafał Zajko transports the viewer to a Modernist mission control in keeping with his ongoing exploration into the innate queerness of science-fiction and the artistic possibilities of science fact. The siren of the exhibition’s title - whilst conjuring connotations to both emergency alarms alerting of imminent danger and mythological mermaids whose sweet songs would leave sailors shipwrecked - evokes illusions of industrial action, where sirens would mediate the monotony, signalling a weary workforce to up or down tools with welcome or unwanted wails.

And so, speaker silhouettes, ceramic klaxons and their respective control centres line Cooke Latham‘s gallery space, their faintly figurative forms echoing the artist’s Eastern European upbring and the enduring influence of Soviet-style architecture. One horn-headed cardboard cutout is embellished with brushed bronze nipples, another with illuminated lips locked behind steel mesh, alluring yet inaccessible. Spools of sewing thread and orange extension cords supposedly power the assembled circuitry, while aquatint etchings in hand-cast frames serve as diagrammatic illustrations from a futuristic instruction manual or show storyboarded scenes from a narrative as yet unknown.

A suite of terracotta totems sits atop a cruciform plinth, some heated by single stoves, silently steaming, others awaiting activation. A recent performance staged as part of this year’s London Gallery Weekend saw the space animated by Zajko and collaborator Eve Stainton, who initiated a surrealist call and response or dystopian duet with the now smoking, screeching sculptures. Stainton acted as the submissive subservient worker, observantly obeying the whims of the whistling earthenware. Stamping their feet; stopping and swooning when the siren instructed; inhaling the perfect smoke rings produced by one pouting poor; before unveiling in a cloud of vapour the bust of some alien evolutionary anomaly, its gills exposed and light emanating from its open mouth, perhaps symbolic of the exhibition’s eponymous seductress.