There’s a group of ugly/beautiful headless and armless statues at the south end of Grant Park in Chicago. I always liked them and I was excited to find out about a year or two ago that they were created by a Polish artist named Magdalena Abakanowicz. I think it’s my country’s shaky history (not every country makes such a comeback after disappearing from the European map for over a hundred years…) but I always feel a strong connection to my fellow Poles. It’s not really patriotism and I’m not sure I can define it, but there’s something there. Anyway, after finding out the Polish origins of the sculptures (and in fact, this piece was a gift from the Polish government to the city of Chicago), I like them even more.
From the artist’s website:
“Agora” 106 iron cast figures, each about 9 feet tall, shell like, frozen in walking movement. They are permanently displayed in Chicago Grant Park along the Michigan Av. and Roosevelt Rd. The figures are similar in general shape, but different in details. Models for each figure were made by hand, by myself and my three assistants. The surfaces of figures are like a tree bark or wrinkled face expressing a different individuality of each sculpture. The figures were cast during two years 2004-2006 in the huge industrial foundry in Srem near city of Poznan (Poland). Then transported to USA. The installation took place in October /November 2006.
The title of the work, “Agora”, refers to the urban meeting places in Ancient Greece. The artist, who grew up during WWII, has talked about her fear of crowds:
“I’m thinking about the time in which I live. I think about the experience of crowds as brainless organisms acting on command, worshipping on command and hating on command. I speak about the time of Hitler, which was my childhood, and the time of Stalin, and other influences of leaders. Then there is the historical experience, which begins with Herodotus, the Greek historian five centuries before Christ who made the remark that it is much easier to influence a crowd than one single person. But there is also another observation, in which a crowd of people or birds,insects or leaves, is a mysterious assemblage of variants of a certain prototype. It is a riddle of nature’s abhorrence to exact repetition, just as the human hand cannot repeat its own gesture. I invoke this disturbing law [as well].” (source)
When I look at the piece, it makes me think of of chaos and disorganization in life. It makes me think of bumper cars (sophisticated, I know). Each body is going a different direction, facing a different direction and it is inevitable that some of them will bump into each other if they stay their course. On a deeper level, it makes me think of how we go through life, each on our own path, but forever crossing paths with others. While I do get that dark sense from the piece, I also get a more positive vibe from it. How we all influence each other, alter each others’ paths and in that process, get worn, rusty and carry all of our own personal history with us. I like Abakanowicz’s reference to nature and the things we cannot control, this all makes sense to me when I walk through the piece.
Here are a couple photos from the process I found:
(Source for all photographs: http://www.abakanowicz.art.pl)