Cleansing Utopia, Staining Utopia: Monika Sosnowska’s A Dirty Fountain in Zamość, Poland

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Bryn Mawr College. Department of History of Art
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From June to August of 2006, the exhibition Ideal City – Invisible Cities brought contemporary art to the small historic town of Zamość, Poland. One of the many contributing artists, Polish sculptor Monika Sosnowska, designed her site‐specific piece "A Dirty Fountain" for the old water market south of the city’s central square. As a grey concrete form with harsh angles and no ornamentation, Sosnowska’s fountain sharply contrasts the aesthetic of the Italian‐influenced Polish city structure and design present in Zamość. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Zamość is most notably known for its urban planning in the model of the città ideale, while also boasting beautiful examples of Polish 16th and 17th‐century architecture. The city’s reputation as “ideal” began with its creation in 1581, when founder Jan Zamoyski planned it to be both a physical and social utopia. The city, which is still often discussed in terms of its aesthetic beauty and rich historic achievements, found itself facing particularly dark times with the onset of World War II. The population was completely dispersed when the Nazis invaded and renamed it as a German territory. Considering the ideal physical condition and historical reputation of the city, they eerily contrast the dystopian social and political reality that took hold in the years of the war. When we look at contemporary Zamość and its representation in tourist culture, the history that emerges is of the former ideal city. The remembrance of the atrocities that took place there is often ignored in favor of its utopian counterpart, and the city becomes promoted mainly through its physical beauty in tourist literature. Sosnowska’s "Dirty Fountain" considers the tension within Zamość’s complex history by engaging with discrepancies between the visible and invisible components of the city and its past. The unsettling black water and the dysfunctional fountain disrupt the harmony of contemporary Zamość, intervening in the perpetuation of the reductive tourist culture. Examining the disjuncture in Zamość’s aesthetic and historical components, I argue that "Dirty Fountain" can be re‐understood through the lens of interventionist practice: Sosnowska’s work acts as a simultaneously physical and social intervention that reinserts the imagery of the Holocaust into the physical city, lessening the divide between Zamość’s visible and invisible histories, and their presence in tourist culture.