The Meaning of Being Abakanowicz

„Art has many meanings as our everyday experience, which has many meanings, that can not be explained in words.” This is one of the final statements that Magdalena Abakanowicz ended her lecture with at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago this past November.

abacol

Magdalena Abakanowicz

This statement is important, it sums up exactly what she achieves and ultimately what should be found in art. There are times in our lives in which we are given epiphanies by our eyes. These moments of revelation often may come from very simple things. One may walk out of his house in the early morning after snowfall to find the world adorned with a silent blanket of pristine snow. The peacefulness, the sheer grace of the appearance of that fresh snow has the power to send shivers up your spine. You cannot repeat this experience in words; this must be experienced through your eyes. This is the kind of feeling that artists search for in their work. This is the kind of experience that Abakanowich has the power to produce with her sculpture. When I was initially exposed to the work of Magdalena Abakanowicz, during my first year of study at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I was in a sculpture class, and the teacher’s assistant brought a book of her work to class. Her sculpture has incredible visual power. Her sculptures and drawings are simply captivating.
The images drew me in; I could not take my eyes away. They are beautiful, but not beautiful in a way that we would generally classify beauty, they possess a stronger beauty, the organic beauty of nature. The artist notes of her work while talking about the surface of her sculptures as being „marked with countless traces of my fingers, of knife cuts or rug pieces . . . as obvious as broken stone, animal fur, or human wrinkles, all originating from a natural process.” That feeling of process, which is attuned to the process of the cycle of our everyday lives is felt in every curve and angle of her figures. Her focus on the ordinary visual events of our lives such as shape of our bodies in relation to nature, the laugh line around your mothers lips, the metaphoric power of trees, creates a body of work that is simply moving.

Magdalena Abakanowicz was born in Poland in 1930. She studied art in the academies of Gdansk and Warsaw (1945-54), where she focused her efforts on painting; later she moved to sculpture. Her sculptural work stems from her fascination and exploration of forms found in the environment, such as clay, twigs, stone, and leaves, which she played with as a child on her mother’s country estate. During the time of communism, when she was faced with economic difficulty, her ability to turn natural and found objects into monumental and expressive works of sculpture would become her trademark.

Abakanowicz first gained international attention during the 1960’s and 70’s when she created the large relief weavings that culminated in the series Abakans. This series of work comes from her eagerness to prove to herself and to others that she can create objects within the guideline of Art with a capital A; objects that serve no practical purpose, but objects that carry with them only philosophy. Objects that are also not paintings or sculpture, but are something other, something completely their own. Objects that have their own language and being. In order to create them Abakanowich went within herself.

She states: „When one begins to talk of one self, one talks of the world at large. It is important for this to be real; at this point one begins to discover.” She further goes on to say that „My three-dimensional weavings are in opposition to a systematic life and art. They grow in a slow rhythm, the growth of nature. . . like the growth of nature, they are organic. Like the other works of nature, they are objects for contemplation.” They are organic indeed; to me the Abakans bear a striking resemblance to the shape of the human heart. They seem to have openings for arteries, thicker pieces of weaving look like veins rushing with blood. The surfaces are very meticulous, balanced, but in an organic sense. They invite exploration; they invite the viewer to follow the path of the maker’s hands as she had weaved. Abakanowicz first gained international attention during the 1960’s and 70’s when she created the large relief weavings that culminated in the series Abakans. This series of work comes from her eagerness to prove to herself and to others that she can create objects within the guideline of Art with a capital A; objects that serve no practical purpose, but objects that carry with them only philosophy.

Objects that are also not paintings or sculpture, but are something other, something completely their own. Objects that have their own language and being. In order to create them Abakanowich went within herself. She states: „When one begins to talk of one self, one talks of the world at large. It is important for this to be real; at this point one begins to discover.” She further goes on to say that „My three-dimensional weavings are in opposition to a systematic life and art. They grow in a slow rhythm, the growth of nature. . . like the growth of nature, they are organic. Like the other works of nature, they are objects for contemplation.” They are organic indeed; to me the Abakans bear a striking resemblance to the shape of the human heart. They seem to have openings for arteries, thicker pieces of weaving look like veins rushing with blood. The surfaces are very meticulous, balanced, but in an organic sense. They invite exploration; they invite the viewer to follow the path of the maker’s hands as she had weaved.

They invite the viewer to take part in that same exploration that Abakanowicz embarked on during the creation process. These abstract forms seem to be asking us, „What is it that we are really made of?” „How were we made?” „How dose creation look?” These are simple questions but important ones without simple answers. They also ask, „How is it that we ourselves find our nature to be so mythical?” „Why can we not explain ourselves?” They are imposing, but comforting at the same time. Looking at them is like being in the middle of a farm field that is overflowing with the power of birth and rebirth, and being overcome with the feeling of not knowing were to begin and were to end your journey, but being certain that that journey begins in the center. Abakanowicz explores the systematic constraints on our lives most powerfully with the series of sculptures entitled Tlum (Crowd) 1989. They are frontal casts of the male body in burlap, standing upright in an erect position in a large crowd such as one would find in a military line up. These casts are repeated over and over again. In her lecture she talked about being struck by the images of people in endless lines during communism. The lines never seemed to end and people seemed always to be in line. She talked about these images producing a kind of helpless feeling. The sculptures are a bit primal, like the crowds of birds or of insects. Just lines of people waiting for the bare necessities, young and old, in lines as time passes, and they are still in line. This waiting became systematic. People that should have been out doing things were stopped in lines, their inertia halted. All they could do is wait. The men in the crowds that Abakanowicz creates have no heads, as if the waiting has taken away their logic. They have creases, wrinkles on the surfaces of their bodies as if time has passed them by, and while doing so, has left a severe, irrevocable mark. As if erosion was the object of their wait. Nevertheless they are not eroded, they stand straight up, facing what is coming whatever it may be. The crowds of men feel like mountains. They have been standing there, are standing there right now, and will be standing there forever. Their persistence seems to be so great that it becomes impossible to ignore. They will stand there and be heard. They form a silent manifesto.

Abakanowicz ended her lecture stating that the ” . . . imagination is one of the mysteries of human nature.” She is right, our imagination takes us many places, to the moon, across the ocean, on a car ride. The world as we know it has been created by our imaginations. Our imagination gives us the power to take leaps of faith and feeling. To associate our experiences with what we see, Abakanowicz’s sculptures ask us to use our imagination and to feel. No, they do not ask us, they demand that we use our imagination. For we are not human without the power to imagine.

To see work By Magdalena Abakanowicz we are suggesting to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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