Magdalena Abakanowicz

Magdalena AbakanowiczEmbryology, 2010. Photograph by Thierry Bal

Magdalena AbakanowiczEmbryology, 2010. Photograph by Thierry Bal

Magdalena Abakanowicz (b.1930, Poland) is one of the most revered Polish sculptors living today. Since the early-1960s her practice has been primarily concerned with organic form and the use of textiles as a sculptural medium. A recurring element throughout her work is the human body which provides a source of creative and imaginative inspiration. Abakanowicz has deployed a range of sculptural processes in her work, from taking casts of bodily forms in the Backs series (1976-80) to weaving soft objects using threads pulled from discarded ropes in the Abakans, a celebrated cycle of large-scale three-dimensional textile works.

Among her most famous and striking works is Embryology (1978-80), which was acquired by the Tate Collection. This sculptural installation comprises hundreds of hand-sewn objects of varying sizes that are loosely stacked and scattered around the gallery to create an environment that evokes the natural landscape. Abakanowicz’s installation confronts us with an ambiguous and disturbing place between bodies and amorphous organic matter, while the title and form of the work suggest cocooned life-forms about to emerge and flourish. The textile sack-like skin and spilled interior stuffing also suggest ideas of trade and storage, particularly in the context of Tate Liverpool which is housed in a converted warehouse.

First presented at the Venice Biennial in 1980, Embryology was shown for the first time in the UK. It offered a succinct correspondence with the theme of the Biennial in 2010, and constituted the opening element of Touched at Tate Liverpool.

Abakanowicz’s practice continues to resonate with younger generations of artists and the inclusion of Embryology within the Biennial provided a historical backdrop against which to view and experience the exhibition’s newly commissioned works. Premiering the display of the work as part of Touched also positioned the Tate Collection and its remit to acquire works of art from across the globe in relation to the theme of ‘Touched’.

Magdalena Abakanowicz at Liverpool Biennial 2010

Embryology, 1978-80
Mixed media
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool

Supported by

Adam Mickiewicz Institute
Polska! Year
Polish Cultural Institute