Sept. 24, 2021

“I IMMERSE MYSELF IN CROWD, LIKE A GRAIN IN LOOSE SAND”

"I immerse myself in crowd, like a grain in loose sand. I become engrossed in the anonymity of glances, movements, odors, in the shared breathing of air, pulsation of juices under the skin. I become like a cell of this boundless organism, I belong to other species, cells that are already bland, already melted into each other. Destroying one another we revive, hating one another – we stimulate each other. Similar in bone structure, brain construction, sensitivity of skin. Prone to tenderness and to kindness turning into the need of murder, we fill up the planet". 

Magdalena Abakanowicz

MAGDALENA ABAKANOWICZ IN HER WORKSHOP, WARSAW 1993, FOT. COURTESY OF STARMACH GALLERY

The series of "Crowds" is among the most recognizable works of Magdalena Abakanowicz. The first work from this cycle was made in1986-1987 and consisted of 50, relatively realistic, almost identical figures. Each of them was impressed by the artist from a mold which she filled with linen and saturated with fresh resin, giving them a certain shape. “Crowd I" was first presented in 1988 during the retrospective exhibition of the artist at Műcsarnok Museum in Budapest. “Crowd II" also consisted of 50 jute figures cast of an adult male and it was made at the end of 1988, when Abakanowicz together her husband moved to a house on the outskirts of Warsaw. During this time she travelled a lot, working and organizing exhibitions in Germany, Korea, Japan, USA and in other countries. Figures that were at first realistic, over time became more and more abstractive, increasingly resembling organic forms created by nature. An example of such a work is the most imaginative one from the series “Crowd IV", consisting of 60 standing figures presented for the first time in 1991 at the Sezon Musem in Tokyo. 

“Crowd III" is one of the most interesting works out of the entire series. Using the multiplication of human figures was very significant in relation to the contemporary political situation in Poland. Within this context, “Crowd III" which was created in 1989 – an unquestionably crucial year in the Polish history – acquires new significance. A crowd of similar, hollowed-out, anonymous figures was for the artist a reflection on the reality of human masses, isolated from the outer world, constantly standing in lines and literarily cut off from any information regarded as prohibited. The work analyzed here is a set of 50 figures standing in an organized formation resembling a phalanx. Similarly to the previous crowds, this one was also made of a coarse linen, soaked with synthetic resin. The figures are highly simplified, devoid of heads, with slightly splayed legs and gently rounded bodies. The artist deliberately deprived them of their faces, which were, in a way, emblems of autonomy, constituting individual character of each human. The figures are in the form of shells and their surface is strongly creased and rough. They remind of lids of sarcophagi or bark of tree trunks. Abakanowicz associated them with a skin shed by a snake. They all are 1,70 m high, indicating, that we are dealing with the figures of adults. It is really difficult to identify their gender, which is, however, characteristic of Abakanowicz, who deprived their figures of the attributes of their physiognomy on purpose, suggesting that each of them is an androgenic everyman stuck in a crowd of equals, deprived their own nature or content. Each of the figures is different, each one is individually modeled by the artist's hands. There are no two identical sculptures, because, as the author sais: nature never repeats itself twice. “Crowd III" was presented at the first Abakaniwicz's individual exhibition in Marlborough Gallery in New York in 1989. 

TŁUM III, FOT.COURTESY OF MARLBOROUGH GALLERY, NEW YORK

The very subject of a headless crowd, interpreted as an existential metaphor, remained the main area of interest of the artist during the next decades. The life-size creatures were meant to indicate her concern that a human being is threatened by the collective mentality blurring individual features of each person. Moreover, the very notion of a crowd was for the artist a kind of metaphor for the historical transformation which she experienced personally. Her reality were the works themselves, reflecting the reality which cannot be perceived separately from the cruelties that she witnessed. Abakanowicz knew perfectly well that the crowds are ruled by a common mind making out of the subjects a potentially dangerous and easily manipulated team. She wrote: “during the marches and parades great and good rulers were worshipped and they soon turned out to be mass murders. I was obsessed with a crowd". It could therefore be concluded that the figures in the crowd illustrate our common destination, the same right to live and to die and the biological community of all species on Earth. Abakanowicz's sculptures portray each human and thus they are understandable regardless of where they are viewed. They move us, they stimulate reflection, encourage to look inside ourselves. Art critiques agree that it is extremely difficult to achieve universalism in art. While the artist herself calls it reaching the old, eternal codes passed down from one generation to another.