Alina Szapocznikow: Human Landscapes at The Hepworth Wakefield

Dismembered, dislocated bodies, almost abstracted in their detachment from their source. A solitary arm lies lifeless upon the plinth in the foreground of my vision. Behind it, human forms snatched of their perfect refinement lack unity and selfhood. A chaos of jumbled half-bodies, like ancient Classical sculptures in their brokenness. They strive upward, as though for an ever-elusive source of life. They look upon the school children who draw obediently at the instruction of the eager educator. They tower, they shrink, they surround. In the video they are scattered on pavements and roads; strident, timeless figures amidst the blandness of the mundane. Butchered heads at once Classical emblems and discarded trash littering the pavement.

Alina: you never talked about your experiences in Bergen-Belsen or Terezin, well not in words at least. I wonder about these mutilated bodies, if they’re mere abstraction or if their broken, melancholy incompleteness is…well, all is speculation. I will not impose interpretation where I have not been invited. Exhumed is blunted, deformed, hunched. Exhume: ‘dig out (something buried, especially a corpse) from the ground.’ Is this a dead figure then, frozen in his dying breaths, ever fragile yet forever and inescapably cast in unrelentingly hard bronze?

Alina: you call your objects awkward and in some ways they are, oscillating between paradoxical registers, I am confused, lost within your imagination. Alina: you constantly take away but I am not left feeling empty, for meaning pervades as materiality fades. Alina: your creations gesture urgently, communicating across the void of viewership expectation.

Speak! Will you not speak? But no, for that would taint the stillness.

An elusive face in the window tentatively hovering on the cusp of life, rendered into nothingness with the sweep of the next shot. Black ink, thick and flurried, pervades my vision to the soundtrack of children’s voices, one rapidly overtaking the next. It reaches an incomprehensible crescendo as I turn, confronted by the Virgin Mary, swirling in drapery, indistinguishable from her frozen form. Smooth, polished. Dry, no blood seeps from your severed limbs. You bare your wounds with dignity. Breasts detached, lips removed, hovering on precarious structures. Lips bold, rendered in bright alluring colours. Their sensuality pervades the room, at once seductive and disturbing.

Surrounded and hidden by translucent coloured screens, and yet I am always exposed. Exposed to the invigilators, exposed to you, exposed to the haunting sculptures, whose gaze follows my path around the display.

'Alina Szapocznikow: Human Landscapes' was on display at Hepworth Wakefield between 21 October 2017 - 28 January 2018. 

The Hepworth's current exhibition 'Anthony McCall: Solid Light Works' is running until 3 June 2018.

Tascha von Uexkull

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