A Conscience of Civilization.


“Die Menge” by Magdalena Abakanovicz

The lithograhic print “Die Menge” by Magdalena Abakanovicz consist of large dark mass of people, passing through the middle of a drawing, of which you (the viewer) could be a part. You see only hunched backs and their bowed heads. Using perspective, this group is indicated to be walking away from the viewer. The mass of this group divides the image in two nearly identical symmetrical halves. The background consists of what appears to be a wall of people, depicted by drawing their heads only, without the use of any perspective.

 I was unimpressed when I first came across the print “Die Menge” by Magdalena Abakanovicz. I at first thought the exhibition to be that of students. I had in fact walked by the piece previously and thought it to have poor composition, elementary perspective and an uninteresting use of symmetry. I did not take time to identify the black mass as people, the name of the piece or the name of the artist, and I went on to where I was headed.

I gave this piece no further thought until I again was faced with it, only this time I found a different sort of appeal in the piece. For a brief second I thought to myself “But I didn’t like it the first time. . . .” Then I saw the name Abakanowicz. I have seen several of her sculptures; they often involve barbed wire, large groups of hunched backs that seem burdened or in deep inner pain. I am not particularly fond of her work, but it has caught my interest before by its stark use of the kz — camp symbolism (Abakanovizc was born about 1930 in Poland.)

Once the imagery has been somewhat decoded, it becomes more interesting. The hunched (or burdened, possibly by pain or embarrassment) group somewhat absorbs the viewer, who then can sense the weight carried by this group. Then your attention is drawn to the outside crowd, outside because they are intentionally separated by not being depicted in perspective as is the main group. This other group is not going anywhere, they are to busy watching you with their mindless little eyes; mindless as they all do the same repetitive act. They have nothing going on in their lives other than watching you in your pain, shame or embarrassment going to a destination that you never chose, otherwise why drag your feet?

I was born fifteen years later than Abakanovicz, and not in Poland, but rather in Denmark. Yet I was feeling the consequences of war in a country that recovered much faster than Poland. I had aunts and uncles that were enemies until their death over events taking place during the war, I have family that fought in the Danish underground, was caught and lived, only their nerves and minds were no longer intact. I to this day often have the thoughts when entering Germany “this country (and many of its present day people) took up arms against my country and my family.” Poland is just now starting to recover their freedom, and the work of Abakanovicz appears to me to have some of this longing for freedom, as it might be felt by her fellow countrymen. Another possibility is the constant overhanging threat of the now defunct Russia. There is however no doubt in my mind where Abakanovicz gets her symbolism and that has my deepest respect.

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