Collected Works: Art



by Magdalena Abakanowicz
Sculpture, Textile art

View an image of the artwork

Fourteen sets of shoulders slouch in sequence. Each bent back buckles forwards, every cracking vertebra rendered as a rough-cut crevice. Arms end at the elbow, torsos touch the floor. If we were to stroke the sculptures, our palms would meet wizened skin, the wrinkles of resin and burlap contrasting with the softer flesh of our own hands. Moving to view them from the front, we discover that these structures, so convincingly solid from behind, are hollow.

Magdalena Abakanowicz considers her textile-based creations, known as ‘Abakans’, to be complete only as a collective. Crafted as indefinite forms from natural fibres, the boundaries of each individual figure are ambiguous; they are defined by their arrangement as a whole. Allusive to the organic world in both their craggy outlines and non-traditional materials, the Abakans serve to subvert the idea of the sculptor who, chisel in hand, works with a rugged block of stone.

Carving tools set firmly aside, the fabricated flesh of Backs seems prepped for imminent impact, as if awaiting a reassuring rub or braced for a heavy blow. Though the hollows appear to echo the same mould, the spines’ softness, folded from scraps of sackcloth, makes uniformity impossible. Every pair of shoulder blades seems to stand for a different person: perhaps a shirtless worker on a sunny day, or a crouched prisoner braced for violence.

Observing these beings, we are placed outside of their group. The curving quotation of an individual can be made out in each arch, but we are unable to identify any one particular person. Weaving together specificity and anonymity, the artist suggests bodies as containers of knowledge, which we can access only partially. Declining to crush the viewer with the might of marble, Backs instead silences us with the stitched and the sinewy.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

More to discover

Visit Magdalena Abakanowicz’s website here. Find out more about the artist on the website here, view a gallery of the artist’s works on The New York Times, and read an excerpt from Joanna Inglot’s book The Figurative Sculpture of Magdalena Abakanowicz here.

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