Born in Poland to a Jewish family in 1926, Alina Szapocznikow survived internment in concentration camps during the Holocaust as a teenager. Immediately after the war, she moved first to Prague and then to Paris, studying sculpture at the École des Beaux Arts. In 1951, suffering from tuberculosis, she was forced to return to Poland, where she expanded her practice. When the Polish government loosened controls over creative freedom following Stalin’s death in 1952, Szapocznikow jumped into representation. By the 1960s, she was radically re-conceptualising sculpture as an intimate record not only of her memory, but also of her own body.Read More
In 1962, Szapocznikow experienced a breakthrough when she began to cast her own body in plaster. Her first work with this approach, Noga (Leg) (1962) depicts the artist’s right leg–a very public statement on the human corpus as vehicle of pleasure, liberation, illness, death, and decomposition. She spoke of this turn in her development: ‘Haunted by the increasingly academic nature of abstract art, and at the same time, partly out of my spirit of contradiction and partly perhaps out of some artistic exhibitionism, I made a cast of my own leg and an assemblage of casts of my face… Fortunately we believe that in art everything has been already, so nothing has been yet.’
Szapocznikow was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1969, a turn of events that shaped her later sculptural and photographic efforts. In a series of sculptures titled Tumors, made of resin, gauze, crumpled newspapers, and photographs, the artist gave form to the anxiety and existential challenges of illness. Szapocznikow’s final works express her pointed desire to engage with something deeper and ineffable, physical and psychological, the symptoms of bodily experiences and the traces of what we leave behind. She wrote, ‘Despite everything, I persist in trying to fix in resin the traces of our body: I am convinced that of all the manifestations of the ephemeral, the human body is the most vulnerable, the only source of all joy, all suffering, and all truth.’
Text courtesy Hauser & Wirth.
Ocula Advisory highlights ten artworks showing in Frieze Viewing Room.
__ To Exalt the Ephemeral is Alina Szapocznikow's first solo exhibition in the U.K. since 2017.