Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowica comes to English Bay
Wikipedia regards Magdalena Abakanowica “… as being one of the most important and influential female artists of the 20th century.” Why they have to preface her description with “female” seems is a bit curious and insulting. Is John Cage described as one of the most influential male composers of the 20th century? I think not. If I could ever figure out the full functionality of Wikipedia it would be worth to try and edit this sentence.(put that one on the “to do list”.) Wikipedia
Anyways, I have always been a big fan of her work. While she is more known for her textile works of headless figures that are more bound to museum space than outdoor monumental works, the Walk Figures definitely are recognizable as her work.
Abakanowicz was trained in Poland and lived through both the Nazi occupation and the Soviet occupation of her country. Part of her artistic training was done while social realism was mandated by the Soviet state and was the only allowable form of artistic expression in Poland. One can only imagine the acts of subversion in art schools at this time. One would have two portfolios, one to be officially graded and one for yourself and to be shared with trusted friends. Think of all those poor art students in Soviet gulags that dared to be Egon Schiele knock offs. (OK maybe that was my art school. Everyone trying to be Egon Schiele, Max Beckman, Anselm Kiefer, Jasper Johns Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys all at the same time). No joke though, Poland under the Soviets was a very oppressive and controlling society.
Her groups of figures have an unsettling sense of a critique of totalitarianism. Groups of headless duplicated figures assembled in a military parade speaks to a socially imposed conformity that is at once intriguing and then repelling at second thought.
What appealed to me about her work in art school was her use of serial casting. A method of creating one object and then creating a mold of that object and then casting multiple copies from different materials. Her early works used paper and textiles as the material of the casting. This method of working was a way of commenting on our own identities as consumer and our connection to the methods of production. Her work speaks to the real horror of conformity when we are all striving to be different.
“Walking figures” is installed in at Queen Elisabeth Park as part of the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale as a temporary exhibition. At the September 22 Vancouver Park Board meeting commission will be asked to decide to move the sculpture to English Bay. Staff is recommending that the Board approve the instillation this sculpture as a temporary installation for a period of 18 months from Sept. 2009 – March 2011.
VPB staff report
Although I have some issue with Vancouver International Sculpture BiennaleBiennale website around the issue of the use of public land for promotion of art that will be sold at a private gallery, I am looking forward to this working being down in English Bay. I have only seen her work in books so it will be a real treat to experience “Walking Figures” in person.