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“When examining man, I am in fact examining myself… My forms are the skins I strip off myself one by one, marking the milestones along my road. Each time they belong so much to me and I belong to them so that we cannot exist without one another”.

 

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Backs, 1976-1980

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Backs, 1976-1980

 

At first glance, the work of Magdalena Abakanowicz “Bambini” is the canonical example of creativity of this the Polish artist. Human figures without heads are standing next to each other in the crowd but yet separately. Although these are the same concrete forms, which were several times shown at: Les Jardins du Palais Royal (Paris, France: V-VII 1999), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, (Madrid, Spain: III – VI 2008), Museum Kunst Palast (Dusseldorf, Germany: IX 2008 – I 2009), at Royal Castle in Warsaw (Poland: VI 2010 – XII 2011) or in Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko (Poland: VI – XI 2013), each time they constitute a new constellation. Their appearance and impact changes with the setting, lighting and proportions between the different objects. All these details have a significant affect on the relationships between them, and consequently on their impact. A great example of this was the recent presentation of that group in St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin (30 April – 4 May 2015).

 

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“Bambini” installation is stripped off that what is decorative and beautiful. Abakanowicz skinned a man to show what is essential, what is individual and what is shared. “My forms are like successive layers of skin, that I shed to mark the stages along my road”. What’s left is just empty, dried shell after human silhouette – in this case children’s bodies. Looking at them from the front they are like a form, cast – fixed forever. Silent and still remembering history. Silent witnesses, like the inhabitants of Pompeii stuck forever in time because of lava.

 

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998-99, St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin, photo Contemporary Lynx

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998-99, St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin, photo Contemporary Lynx

 

However, when we look at them from behind they are like blank castings, shells. There is no flesh, that fills and shapes them. Through this absence concrete forms more and more “are screaming” about the former presence of these 83 children. “The inside is as important as the outer shell. Each time the shape is a consequence of the interior, or exterior as is a consequence of the inside. Only together they form a whole. The invisible interior, which can only be guessed at, is as important as it is when it opens itself for everyone, allowing physical penetration”. We need to enter personally in relationship with the Magdalena Abakanowicz’s objects. We have to confront ourselves, confront our physicality, our senses with every object of that installation separately, and then with the whole establishment – with this crowd. We have to connect, to blend ourselves with it, to finally find ourselves.

 

Written by Dobromila Blaszczyk

Magdalena Abakanowicz, (born June 20, 1930). Sculptor, weaver, educator. Her artwork appeared internationally in more than 100 group and solo exhibitions. Magdalena Abakanowicz studied at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, 1950-55. Honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Art in London and the Academy of Fine Arts in Lodz, Poland. Magdalena Abakanowicz began working as a painter, as a weaver and as a sculptor working in the fiber arts, as a weaver, and moved to other media including clay, wood, and sacking. She is noted for groups of large figures which she has called “Abakans.” Her work is in many major public museums.

 

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998-99, St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin, photo Contemporary Lynx

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998-99, St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin, photo Contemporary Lynx

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998-99, St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin, photo Contemporary Lynx

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998-99, St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin, photo Contemporary Lynx

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998-99, St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin, photo Contemporary Lynx

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998-99, St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin, photo Contemporary Lynx