Observation

Welcoming Alienation

Warsaw

23 March 2016

What to make of designer Maria Jeglinska’s The Faces of Autor, a series of copper, mask-like mirrors on oak and walnut pedestals that she has created to welcome guests to the rooms of the Autor Rooms hotel in Warsaw? Fear not, cultural theory is at hand to help.

Mirrors have a rich history in 20th- and 21st-century thought, not least in the work of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. To Lacan, mirrors were tools of alienation; devices through which a person comes to identify with an image of themselves, thereby forging the ego, and prompting imaginary alienation through identification with that reflected alter-ego. That’s already heavily, brutally summarised, but admittedly still fairly dense.

Fortunately, Jeglinska’s mirrors are rather more accessible creatures: devices designed to welcome and integrate, rather than to alienate. In this sense, they're reverse Lacanian. “This project is really based around hospitality," says Jeglinska. “Warsaw is a very difficult city in the sense that it doesn’t have a proper centre like London or Paris. Everything is a little bit exploded and not obvious, and one of the nice things about the Autor Rooms is that they really give you advice about where to go, what to visit. It's about recreating the positive aspects of visiting friends in a place.”

The Autor Rooms is a series of four bedrooms hosted within an early-20th-century townhouse on Lwowska Street, a building fortunate to survive the city's destruction during the Second World War. As well as a functioning hotel, Autor is also designed to act as an introduction to effort to Warsaw's creative scene: the hotel is operated by the design firm Mamastudio, and furnished with a mixture of vintage Polish design and objects and artworks created by the likes of Warsaw-based creatives such as Jeglinska, Segiet Oniszh and Galeria Starter.

The Faces of Autor – part of a wider series of glassware, a turned wood tray, and doorknobs, shelves and mirror brackets developed by Jeglinska for the project – are amongst Autor's most compelling outputs. The designs, sheets of folded copper inserted into simple bases, are cheerful and beckoning. The simplified copper faces, executed through geometric cuts and holes in the metal, luxuriate in their warm materiality, casting reflections out over the rooms as well as picking up on the copper used elsewhere by the hotel’s interior designer Mateusz Baumiller.

“We started the design process by finding ways of placing very simple 2D graphics onto a pedestal that could support them,” says Jeglinska. “You see simplification of form and pattern in design a lot, and I wanted to push that a little bit further. The designs are for a hotel, so you can really think about how people will interact with them, because most only stay for one night, which means they have a different relationship with the objects there. You can be a little more experimental than with something that you might have at home.”

Experimental, but still welcoming. The Faces of Autor are generous in form and beckoning in their materiality. Far from Lacanian alienation, Jeglinska’s mirrors are happy souls: familiar faces to put you at ease.