Out of My Mouth: The 'Photosculptures' of Alina Szapocznikow
3 June – 29 August 2010
Exhibition in the Upper Sculpture Study Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery
This remarkable series of works depict pieces of gum which have been chewed by the artist to produce an assortment of abject sculptural forms.
Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow (1926-73) coined the term photosculpture in 1971 to describe these unique close-up images of blobs of chewing gum, manipulated into curious shapes in the artist’s mouth and attached to concrete or wooden supports. She describes the eureka moment for these works as she sat down one day and began to daydream, unconsciously chewing gum:
Pulling these odd shapes out of my mouth, I suddenly realised what an extraordinary collection of abstract sculptures was passing through my teeth.
It suffices to photograph and enlarge my masticatory discoveries to create the event of a sculptural presence.
Szapocznikow regarded photography itself as a sculptural medium, which allowed her to explore specific formal qualities such as scale, texture and contrast through these works.
Throughout her career the body was the principal focus of Szapocznikow’s art. Moving on from more conventional figure sculpture, from the mid-1950s she began experimenting with new materials and production methods. She took casts of her own face and body parts and translated them into grotesque and sexually-charged assemblages. Thus, the body became not only the subject of her work but the active agent through which sculptural forms could be created.
Born in 1926 to a Jewish family in Kalisz, Poland, Szapocznikow survived the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen and Teresienstadt during World War II. Following the end of the war she went on to study sculpture in Prague and at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris.
Returning to Poland in 1951, she established a reputation as a figurative sculptor through official commissions, such as the 1953 ‘Monument to Russian-Polish Friendship’, and in 1958 she was one of seven shortlisted artists in an international competition chaired by Henry Moore to create a memorial to Auschwitz.
After representing her country at the 31st Venice Bienniale in 1962, Szapocznikow settled in France where she became associated with proto-feminism and Nouveau Réalisme. Her untimely death at the age of 47 was caused by breast cancer; a subject she also explored through her work.