Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope

November 23, 2022

Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz broke through boundaries throughout the entirety of her career. Yet it was her Abakans, now showing in an exhibition at the Tate, that first prompted her critical and international success as a radical artist.

Magdalena Abakanowicz began creating textile art in the mid-1950s and 60s, shocking critics with her experimental methods of weaving. Yet by the late 1960s she took this even further, breaking from the traditional rectangular format and creating a series of three-dimensional woven sculptures that came to be known as her Abakans. ‘Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope’ recently opened at the Tate Modern and offers the opportunity to explore Abakanowicz’s body of work, an experience that will enable the viewer to see the world through the artist’s eyes and understand the motives behind her creations.

Abakan Situation Variable Magdalena Abakanowicz

In discussing her Abakans, Magdalena Abakanowicz expressed the desire to create something ‘which existed in space’, stating that it is ‘the total obliteration of the utilitarian function of tapestry’ which ‘enraptures’ her. The result is a collection of suspended forms that completely evade categorisation, at once human and spectral, natural and supernatural.

Abakan Brown IV Magdalena Abakanowicz

She invariably used natural materials in her artworks, weaving with sisal, wool and horsehair, because she saw ‘fibre as the basic element constructing the organic world on our planet’. It is perhaps this that prompted her description of her installations as ‘environments’. It is also through this that Abakanowicz introduces the connection between her creations and the viewer, explaining that ‘it is from fibre that all the living organisms are built, the tissue of plants, leaves and ourselves’.

Abakan Yellow Magdalena Abakanowicz

As such, Abakanowicz presents her Abakans as being inextricably intertwined with the spectator; they are extensions of the individual. It is for this reason that she invites the viewer to immerse themselves in her artworks since it is only through doing so that they can come to fully understand them. Indeed, the significance of these forms becomes known to the viewer as they walk through them, in the ways in which they interact with each other. In identifying with the forms surrounding them, the spectator ultimately becomes a feature of the sculptural landscape that they navigate.

Abakan Red Magdalena Abakanowicz

‘Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope’ is showing at the Tate Modern until 21 May 2023.

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