Tatsuo Miyajima’s ‘Art in You’ reinforces the inevitability of the state of flux
by Dilpreet BhullarApr 06, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Shraddha NairPublished on : Feb 27, 2023
Walking into the gallery on the second floor at Tate Modern, London, one is awestruck by the larger-than-life scale of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s tapestries. Creating a truly immersive environment, the works combine fleece, cotton, silk, and even horsehair, requiring to be viewed up close and from a distance. Subtle smell of the fibres add to the multi sensorial experience, and the drawings on paper provide a unique perspective to her thought process. Carefully crafted yet organic and experimental in approach, the fiber sculptures hang on the wall, as well as sag and bend suspended in space.
Tate Modern is presenting another stunning viewing of art in the immersive and expansive style that Tate does, both often and well. Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz’s practice (1930-2017) is an example of a deep, creative engagement with textile. Her artistic career of 50 years left an immovable legacy as seen at Tate’s solo show, titled Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, which is curated by Ann Coxon, curator of the International Art department at Tate, and Mary Jane Jacob, an independent art curator who worked with Abakanowicz for many years.
Abakanowicz’s life story is certainly one for the books. The artist, who is allegedly a descendent of Genghis Khan, witnessed and survived the Second World War at a young age. She grew up in Poland during its communist regime, a different version of the country we know today. Abakanowicz studied art formally in the early 1950s in Poland, and was interested in textile as her main mode of expression from the beginning. She is most well known for her large textile installations known as Abakans, the title of which is derived from the artist’s name, which are the focus at Tate.
Mary Jane Jacob tells us more about the roots of these transformative works. “While Abakanowicz was first introduced to weaving at university where wool was the common material, with her transfer in 1950 to the Academy of Arts in Warsaw she entered a realm of experimental practice that drew from traditional as well as modern art movements. It is significant that the weaving studio there was a division of the painting department,” she says, adding that the artist developed a distinct perspective on this medium. Jane Jacob goes on to say, “By the early 60s she took this further, using horsetails from the Zakopane region, cotton laundry line, discarded sisal from factories, and hawser from shipyards. These stiffer materials allowed her to achieve texture and dimension, eventually allowing for three dimensions to take shape.”
Abakanowicz broke past ordinary conventions of textile art by experimenting with this array of materials, breaking past categories of what was seen as ‘textile’ and expanding further the use of fibre in art. Among a medley of others, the artist used hemp, horsehair and sisal, a fibre extracted from the agave plant, to create these large works. Jane Jacob tells STIR, “I have to say that for a moment I feared this show would be seen as just another in the ubiquitous flood of fibre art these days. But Abakans are so different in real life and so alive. Some not on view for over 50 years, were a surprise even to me!” The hanging large scale installations at Tate invite viewers to appreciate the complexity of woven textile, as an experience of space and colour. The Abakans, made with organic materials, even have their own unique smell, as well as texture and form. “This show also gives today’s museum conservators a chance to examine and compare Abakans for the first time, and we hope it can lead them to understand and care for these works into the future,” adds jane Jacob.
In the later years of her career, Abakanowicz worked with traditional sculptural materials like bronze and stone. At the point of this transition, Jane Jacob had the opportunity to work with the Polish artist on her first major showcase in the United States. Jane Jacob shares, “By the time I did the first major US survey of Abakanowicz’s work in 1982, she was considered a ‘new’ artist, but she had already had 51-person shows in Europe. This, of course, goes to show how isolated the American art scene was in 1982, but not that this artist had been unappreciated!”
What sets apart Abakanowicz’s work from other textile art is its ability to transform a site, conflating our spatial and visual awareness in the process. The Abakans bring together organic references, the resulting experience being as nuanced and distinguished as the original concepts themselves. The artist communicates these ideas through form, scale and colour, each a visible metaphor for something encompassing beyond what is visible to the naked eye. Jane Jacob says, “The focus of the show through its six years of planning never wavered from a commitment to study her works in fibre. While the majority of works date from a narrow timespan—1965 to 1971—they demonstrate a transformative period for the artist in which the enormous energy of her making suffuses the very substances of her works. This was also a period of great change in contemporary art and in which we aimed to demonstrate that Abakanowicz can be counted as one of the prime progenitors of installation art. Thus, it was important to present a section of her art in the manner she would: as a space to experience, a fibrous forest.”
The exhibition is on view at Tate Modern, London, until May 21, 2023.
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