Magdalena Abakanowicz: Contemporary stranger

Every time I am done sitting at home, I take my backpack and go on an adventure. Living in such a beautiful city is never boring. I don’t need to go somewhere I’ve never been before to experience something. Mostly I just go to my favourite coffee shop, sit in my favourite corner and read.
Some time ago I discovered that there’s an exhibition in my city, devoted to Magdalena Abakanowicz. I know you haven’t heard about her. There aren’t many people who actually did. I wouldn’t have either if my dad hadn’t told me about her. Furthermore, I assume not many of you consider contemporary art actual… art. And I get it. It’s completely different to what was considered such in a renaissance, for example. However, I came here today with somewhat a mission. Sure, films are amazing in the matter of art, but they have their renaissance right now. They won’t be ignored anytime soon. Other ways of human creations, however – that is a whole different story.

That is why today’s post is about something else. I must believe it’s more important. And please, don’t go away just yet.

The exhibition is a tribute to the artist after her death earlier this year. It shows plenty of her important works in one place. Or, actually, not exactly one. A couple of pieces of the exhibition are all around the city. The main one is on the first floor of Main Railway Station. It was a modernized couple of years ago and I adore the looks of it. It’s really something. I’ve never been on the first floor, though. It’s surprisingly nice area to make the exhibition there. And the rooms look like they were made just for sculptures.

Abakanowicz was an extraordinary artist. Her works are different to literally anything you can see in a museum. She created with cloths and fabrics. Her one of the most famous type of art is called Abakans (after her surname) and are quite special. They look like huge woolly blankets. Apart from them, she made sculptures showing people without heads, animals and embryos (don’t even ask).
She was born in 1930 and died this year in April. Her work received a lot of appreciation inside art circles. They are exhibited in plenty of countries, including USA and UK. She was very famous in the States, by the way. She was a visiting professor at University of California and was travelling whenever she could when Poland was more or less problematic for artists (and not only them).
To be honest, I don’t understand her work. I try to interpret it my own way, but if someone asked me to explain them, I would simply answer “I do not know”. But it doesn’t make me stop admiring them. Being at the exhibition, I constantly murmured to myself “what the hell is that” or “how come this is art”. And I believe it’s okay. This is what art actually is. One big unknown.

On the other hand, though, I was really impressed with the time and work put into them. There were literally dozens of fabric sculptures of people or animals. If you tell me, you can’t admire that, I don’t know what you’ve done with your empathy. And there were times that I actually enjoyed the art I was seeing; looking for details or thinking how they can resemble the time when they were created. I really liked her drawings. I always enjoy seeing the artist’s not so important works because they show their continuous search for themselves. The charcoal drawings felt pretty much sad to me. They showed faces, which are absent from her sculptures. The faces that have no actual personality, nor any special features. Like they were empty. Faces of people who feel nothing and think nothing. They seemed like a shell waiting for life to be put into. They weren’t dead though. Just absent.
From the sculptures, my favourite was the pony-like animals. They seemed so joyful. I could imagine them suddenly moving and running away. That was really lovely. But what actually made me wonder was a rope. Just rope – convoluted, laying on the floor. Seriously, what was that?
The people she carved are the sculptures I know her from. They are the most iconic pieces of her. As I said before, most of them are standing as one piece of art. Abakanowicz explained that she hadn’t focused on quality that everyone was talking about because she’d lost the understanding of it. Instead, she’d wanted to show the crowd. The injustice and aggression it can be.
Being Polish myself, I’m completely convinced. After The Second World War, Poland was going through a lot of problems and there were rebellions everywhere. I believe plenty of what was going on was the inspiration for her art. And I could’ve felt it. People without faces, standing in the crowd. Standing for the cause. Uniting against government and injustice.

We, as a nation, have a similar situation now. Our government is trying to do something that brings fear and there have been more protests since the last election than ever before in my quite short life. And I am standing in the crowd.
What was sad about the exhibition – there was no one else but me. I didn’t expect many people to go there but I hate seeing museums empty. There are so many people in Wrocław. A lot came for the Paralympics or some other holiday idea. And there’re so many people in Main Railway Station, waiting for their train to arrive. No one comes upstairs, though, even out of curiosity. It’s disappointing.
Believe me when I say it: everyone can find inspiration in art. Forget school and what other people made you think about it. Figure it out yourself. This monument in your small town? Definitely, some forgotten figure was behind it. Find them in a local library or go look for other monuments. Take a picture. It’s your small adventure. Go out and find it. You know where to look.
All pictures by me. Art by M. Abakanowicz, of course.

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