In 1807, the British chemist Sir Humphry Bartholomew Davy separated a light, silvery-white metal from clay. The French called this unusual substance argent d’argile, the Germans Lehmsilber. In Polish, two names are used today; the term glin is applied when describing the element in scientific terms, while aluminum is used when the metal is referred to in terms of industry and production. Aluminum is the most common metal in the Earth’s crust, however the ease with which it binds with oxygen made its properties unknown until modern times. When Magdalena Więcek began creating her aluminum sculptures in the 1970’s, the material was still viewed as state-of-the-art in most Communist countries and its use was considered very avant-garde.
The idea of a strong, independent female artist was also perceived as a very modern concept. In 1950’s Poland, however, a large group of Polish female sculptors were working – including Magdalena Więcek – and these women are widely remembered today. The sculptures presented within this exhibit were made of steel and aluminum by casting, welding, polishing and metal sheet bending. Their abstract forms convey architecture’s perpetual essence – intersecting arches recall vaulted Gothic cathedrals as well as contemporary parabolic arches, while many elements – much like suspended roofs – seem to contradict gravity. Themes of flight and transcendence are significantly visible in Więcek’s works from the 1960’s and 1970’s, and are affirmed in the titles given by the artist to the sculptures from this period: Close to the Earth, Take Off, Separation, Volatile, Horizons, Infinity, Sacrum. In this context, her untitled piece from 1967 – a strip of thick aluminum sheet bent into a dynamic loop – can be interpreted as a sculptural equivalent of aerobatics. The pilot making such a loop experiences a g-force overload, and the world, for a moment, stands is on its head.