Source of All Joy: On Alina Szapocznikow

From The Paris Review:

FaceThe Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow made a career of disassembling the body, of exposing its weaknesses, its many vulnerabilities, whether through the uses and abuses it’s been put to in the abattoir of twentieth-century history or at the mercy of the more mundane, if no less fatal, everyday mortality. If that sounds like a bit of a downer, worry not: Szapocznikow managed to keep a sly tongue firmly in cheek, and her work, for all its startling beauty, its nearly unbearable intimacy, its sublime evocation of pain and disease and suffering, is witty, even funny.

Her sculptures—on display, through January 28, at the Museum of Modern Art, where they are presented as part of a retrospective entitled “Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone, 1955–1972”—indulge in the darkest shade of black humor, extracting their punch lines from abysmal pockets of human experience. Take, for example, her Lampe-bouche (Illuminated Lips) (1966), a series of resin casts of a female mouth set atop metal stands and wired to work as lamps. These resonate as blazoned bits of romantic poetry, the celebration of the mistress’s body through its reduction to component parts, but also as morbid enactment of the apocryphal human-skin lampshades made by the Nazis. Here is the human body, desecrated and unmade, and it is glorious to look at, an illuminated, illuminating display of power and its subversion. Something similar is at work in Petit Dessert I (Small Dessert I) (1970–1971), the lower half of a woman’s face, done up in colored polyester resin, sumptuously melting beyond a glass saucer, like an over-scooped sundae breaching the borders of moderation. And there is Cendrier de Célibataire (The Bachelor’s Ashtray) (1972), which transforms the female visage into a vessel for cigarette butts.

That Szapocznikow was a Holocaust survivor helps contextualize her concern with abjection, with how easy it is to destroy other bodies, how difficult to control and maintain the integrity of one’s own.

More here.