Human Landscapes is the first UK retrospective of the work of the much-overlooked Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow (1926–1973).
Szapocznikow’s career was cut short by her premature death at the age 47, but her work has been reappraised internationally in the last decade. This exhibition highlights how the artist’s work developed from classically figurative sculptures to her later ‘awkward objects’, which are politically charged and overlaid with Surrealist and Pop Art influences.
The exhibition features more than 100 works created between 1956 and 1972 including drawings, photography and sculpture, incorporating Szapocznikow’s characteristic use of cast body parts, many of which she transformed into everyday objects like lamps or ashtrays.
Szapocznikow radically re-conceptualised sculpture, as an imprint not only of memory but also of her own body, related to her traumatic experiences during the Second World War as a Polish Jew, imprisoned for over 10 months in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt concentration camps. [Exhibition website]
The exhibition space consists of clusters of translucent fabric screens that thematically group artworks, whilst maintaining visual connections to other works beyond through the visual transparency. The design is a direct reference to Alina Szapocznikow’s own studio where the artist used translucent partitions to frame, photograph and protect artworks. The artist investigates the human body, whose work is displayed in chronological order across four exhibition spaces. While her early work is more classical and figurative, her later work is increasingly materially and formally experimental, often distorting the human body.
The exhibition graphics are also echoing to Alina Szapocznikow’s main works. The typography employed is Totentanz — German for Dance of the Dead — whose structure is delicate and fragile. Many of Szapocznikow’s pieces had been cast from her own body and Totentanz is a direct reference to her traumatic memory, recalling the human body’s frailty, turned into something elegant.