Barbara Falender is a sculptress. She was born on 23rd January, 1947 in Wrocław.
Sculptress. Born on 23rd January, 1947 in Wrocław.
Between 1966 and 1972, she studied at the Faculty of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw under the supervision of Prof. Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz. She now lives and works in Warsaw.
The artist mostly uses stone and bronze, often combining a variety of materials or types of marble. In the years 1973-74 she carried out research on the use of plastic materials (epoxide) in sculpture. Since the eighties she has also incorporated more fragile materials, such as porcelain.
Starting in her studies, Barbara Falender work has seemed to run parallel to contemporary art trends considered to be leading the avant-garde.
Among the sculptors who influenced her work are Alina Szapocznikow, who Falender is sometimes compared to, and Jean Ipostéguy. The artist wrote a thesis about the latter, and in the 90s she organised an exhibition dedicated to him.
Barbara Falender’s diploma project was a group of sculptures – Portret wybranej zbiorowości. Ludzie z Krakowskiego Przedmieścia / Portrait of a Selected Community: People From Krakowskie Przedmieście (1972). The work was preceded by photographic research on people she met on the street, friends and models, photographs with strong sociological undertones. The nine plaster figures arranged on a wooden platform and their (dead) counterparts lying below were an echo of the events of March ’68. Dressed in contemporary clothes the figures had bodies painted in black. As the artist explained:
It took me four years to be able to go back to this shocking experience. (...) I had to pull it out of myself, and I did. Of course I had my heart in my mouth because these were times when you couldn’t say anything directly, and even less so in a diploma project. (...) I expressed a political idea that I was afraid of.
In the 70s Barbara Falender’s work was dominated by erotic sculptures. The first one was Poduszki erotyczne / Erotic Pillows (1973) from the period of her research on the use of epoxide in sculpture – body marks left on soft sheets full of desire, captured by the artist. Around the same time she created the complementary sculptures On i Ona / He and She (1973/1974), also made of epoxy. These were torsos transformed into a vagina and a phallus. Her first sculpture in stone had a similar character (e.g. Muszla / Shell, 1973/1974). Zbigniew Taranienko wrote that in the early works of the artist eroticism was not just their theme and content. They were meant to become fetishes asking to be touched, and attracting furtive looks.
In 1977 Falender herself talked about the internal need for an ‘affirmation of eroticism’, where the theme of her sculptures comes from:
The physical contact with the material and its transformation bring me sensual joy.
With hindsight, it becomes clear how the then innovative and controversial content formed part of a moral revolution, which nowadays is mostly associated with artists who abandoned traditional media for the sake of photography, performance and conceptual art (e.g. Natalia LL, Ewa Partum). Recently, Paweł Leszkowicz looked at Falender’s work in this context, emphasising that she was among the first to display full male nudity. He wrote:
She introduced an erotic and aesthetic male nude unique to modern art in Poland, stressing the sensual beauty of the male body, including the genitals.
In 1976, she was an artist in residence in the Italian Carrara, famous worldwide for its white marble deposits. There Falender created marble versions of Pillows, as well as sculptures, in which she combined different types of stone. Female bodies reduced to their lower parts were supplemented by organic, highly erotic forms (Pełnia / Full Moon, 1976), or merged with marble sheets (Sen / Dream, 1976). Eventually, the combination of various materials proved to be one of the characteristics of her work. In the second half of the 70s Falender began to add bronze and steel elements to her marble sculptures (for example, Odpływ / Outflow, 1978). In Drzewo Życia / Tree of Life (1980/1981) the perfectly matching materials correspond to the loving union of a couple presented by the artist. The choice of stone or metal was never accidental; Falender skilfully made use of the textural differences and properties of materials. This is especially visible in Narcyz / Narcissus (1979), for which the artist Krzysztof Jung posed. The torso of the mythological young man, gazing at his own reflection, is made of unpolished stone, in contrast to the smooth legs cast in bronze. As the sculptress explained:
You can see your own reflection in the polished golden thigh, thus becoming an accomplice to the mythological character.
In Narcissus eroticism merges with another big theme – that of death, which Falender engaged with mostly in the 80s (Ganimedes / Ganymede, 1984; Przemijanie / Vanishing, 1986). The two topics appear in a similar, though more emphatic way in Sarkofag / Sarcophagus (Romeo i Julia / Romeo and Juliet, 1984/1985), which Dorota Jarecka called ‘a bit of a bed, a bit of a tomb’.
Inside the stone structure two figures are intertwined as if in an ecstasy of love. The sarcophagus motif, in turn, appeared for the first time in the sculpture dedicated to the prematurely deceased artist Alina Szapocznikow (1978). Here the sarcophagus is composed of dead-body parts (limbs cast in bronze), pressed into the stone.
In the late 80s Barbara Falender started using new, more fragile materials, such as porcelain. In Strefy / Zones (1989-95), the figures appear from behind spirals made of the thin material. In 1995, the artist attached classical porcelain busts to basalt columns based on Venus de Medici, but with the face of a contemporary woman. Crippled by straight cuts, they did not represent perfect classical sculptures (Kolumny / Columns, 1995). This gesture can be seen as symbolic of Falender’s work. During that time the attitude of the artist changed:
Until recently the reflection of the perfect human body in art evoked my admiration, it was an artistic beacon for me. And suddenly something changed. In a world where the old canons of beauty were being thrown into the dustbin, my efforts to preserve them struck me as pointless.
Along with her fascination with naturally occurring geometric forms (basalt), Falender decided to introduce geometric elements made with a chainsaw. She began to treat the material very sketchily and almost brutally, leaving traces of sharp cuttings. The most representative work from this period is perhaps Sarkofag / Sarcophagus from 1993 – a kind of a box made of black marble, Dębnik, composed of raw cubes. Inside, like in the sarcophagi of the 80s, there were body fragments of pink, flesh-coloured marble. The artist’s most radical sculpture using geometrical figures was Fatum / Fate (1995), a pyramid of basalt cubes, dedicated to the death of a loved one. Falender explained:
For the first time I gave up on creating a human figure, it seemed to me that the body is defenceless against finality. (...) I realised that only an abstract form could carry the mystery of death.
In 2011, the artist carved a marble Sarcophagus for her parents. It is a combination between the archetypical sarcophagus, known since ancient times, and a garden hammock. The work is a metaphor for sleep and death, but also proximity.
I tried to capture the coexistence of two people swathed in a shroud in a somnambulistic state, half dead, half alive.
– said Falender.
So far, the largest retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work was in the Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko (10th November, 2007 – 31st January, 2008.). The works presented there and normally found in private collections and museums, allowed to trace Barbara Falender’s artistic development from her early sculptures of erotic bodies to her geometric and metaphysical creations. Art historian and curator Paweł Leszkowicz wrote about the exhibition:
The sculptures of Barbara Falender contain something which I consider the most interesting characteristic of Polish art of the 60s and 70s. It is an artistic testimony to the moral and sexual revolution that changed and liberated modern culture. However, while this revolution transformed Western culture completely, in socialist Poland it was a marginal phenomenon that was suppressed and censored, and is today difficult to recover. The art of the sculptress is one of the unique remains of this breakthrough, which was never fully realised in Poland, and is now once again negated.
In 2007 Barbara Falender was awarded a Silver Medal for Merit to Culture Gloria Artis. She received the Kamil Cyprian Norwid Prize for the monographic exhibition in the Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko, as well as national and international scholarships (Italy, France). She has participated in several International Sculpture Symposia (in France, Italy, China, Germany, Israel, and others).
To this day, Barbara Falender’s work follows two, though not mutually exclusive, tropes: geometric shapes and fascination with the human body. These motifs were often combined, like in Izyda / Isis (2007). The allegorical sculpture Rok 2001 / Year 2001 (2001/2005) has a similar character, referring to the drama of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York – a small tin statue of a naked man standing between two pillars. In addition, the artist created outdoor sculptures, where the fluid, geometric forms were incorporated in the surrounding landscape, for example during a symposium at Ben Amira in the Sahara (Mała Aisha / Little Aisha, 1999/2000) and a symposium in Guilin, China (Pomiędzy ogniem i wodą / Between Fire and Water, 2000). Łoże Penelopy / Penelope’s Bed (2006/2007), a kind of a cocoon made of wire, wood and plasticine, is in turn a proof of the artist’s continuous search for new methods and ideas.
Falender is also the author of funerary sculptures: those of Krzysztof Jung (2000), Jerzy Grzegorzewski (2006), Anna Skwarska-Kowarska (2012) and the bas-reliefs on the grave of the Burnatowiczów family (2007). Since April 2015 her work Strażnicy / Watchmen (statues of Tyche, Hermes, Fortuna and Mercury) stands in front of the entrance to the Ufficio Primo office building on 62 Wspólna Str. in Warsaw. Barbara Falender’s works can be found in numerous private collections and museums, including the Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko and the National Museums in Warsaw, Kraków, Poznań and Szczecin.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2008, update: AW, April 2015, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, May 2015