Unexpected Beauty – Scrap Metal Art in Central Eastern Europe

In this outdoor cabinet of curiosities on the outskirts of Bratislava, Slovakia, animals made of the most unlikely of materials – scrap metal – come to life. It is an art form that is quickly growing in popularity across Eastern Europe.

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Srot Park
In Slovakia's Šrot Park – an open-air museum near Devínska Nová Ves, artist Branislav Pokorný exhibits his extraordinary scrap metal masterpieces. Photo: Helena Jankovičová

Fantastic beasts and where to find them? Simply visit the Slovenian capital of Bratislava and visit Šrot Park – an open-air museum near Devínska Nová Ves, just fifteen kilometers from the city center. Artist Branislav Pokorný, who exhibits his work there, is a specific kind of sculptor. He doesn’t work in stone or wood, as a typical artist might. Instead, he uses scrap metal.

The word Šrot – technically translated as junk metal – is not necessarily flattering when one talks about cars or other machines. But in Pokorný’s hands, scrap metal turns into beautiful life-sized creatures. Connecting science and art, technology and works of pure imagination. You don’t have to be a connoisseur or an engineer to appreciate how he turns springs into a horse’s neck or a fox’s body, or how an old bicycle chain morphs into dreadlocks for one of the “metal” band members.

Or into Predator’s “hair” because the gallery, though started as a scrap metal zoo, also includes fantastic creatures known from the movies. Especially fitting are movie figures like the Terminator and Iron Man; metal versions of metal originals are, technically speaking, more replicas than copies. But turning scrap metal into art is not solely a Slovakian idea.

What was old is new again

In bordering Poland, one can find even a traveling exhibition called the ‘Gallery of Steel Figures,’ which has its cradle in the scrap metal recycling center in Pruszków, near Warsaw. The owner of the business, which is called “by the tank,” thanks to its location near a war machine-turned-monument, started creating scrap metal art as a hobby and then as a side business. The current exhibition, featuring cars, characters, and animals, travels around Poland to cities like Krakow and Silesia.

For some time, one could visit their exhibition even in the Palace of Culture and Science, a prominent post-Communist building in Warsaw that houses several theaters, a cinema, a conference hall, and a few museums. The gallery encourages you to touch their art, hug the figures and even get in the life-sized machines to take a photo or feel the mood of a racing car. Gallery (and scrap metal recycling center) owner Mariusz Olejnik, known by the nickname Jose, claims to have invested millions in creating his exhibitions. His team curates collections by dozens of artists worldwide. These incredible sculptures leave us asking the question – is junk the new glam?

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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