Magdalena Abakanowicz, „Androgyne (In tribute to Witkacy)”, 1984/1985, own technique, 115 x 172 x 95 cm
1985 was officially celebrated as “Witkacy Year” in Poland to mark the centenary of the birth of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and Teatr Studio, then called Centrum Sztuki Studio Teatr – Galeria [Studio Theatre Art Centre – Gallery], was renamed after the artist and writer. In October of that year, an exhibition took place in Galeria Studio dedicated to Witkacy as a visual artist and historical figure, preceded by a brief display of posters for his plays, as staged in various theatres across Poland up to that present day. The October show was comprehensive and also included new work and projects by modernist Polish artists such as Jerzy Berdyszak, Jan Dobkowski, Grzegorz Kowalski, Erna Rosenstein, Jacek Sempoliński, Jonasz Stern, Józef Szajna, and Maciej Szańkowski.
Abakanowicz, by then already a well-known weaver and installation artist, was also invited to take part in the exhibition. She created an object made of resin-cured jute, and placed it on a wooden construction. It depicts a hollowed body with no head and limbs partially severed, placed on a handcart- or litter-like structure. In the first inventory of the exhibition found in the gallery archives, the work bears no title. It was apparently named after the exhibition was closed, upon entering the collection. Abakanowicz’s contribution to the exhibition was typical of the sculptures she made at that time. In the early 1970s she had begun to make freestanding sculptures from burlap, the series Androgyne followed a cycle of similar works called Backs [Plecy] from 1976. One of the objects of the Androgyne series was dedicated to Witkacy. Even if this is perhaps coincidental, it is in no way deprived of a deeper meaning. The Androgyne series has been widely interpreted as a metaphor political oppression.
Witkiewicz committed suicide in 1939 when news of Russian troops invading Poland reached him, just two weeks after Germany had attacked the country. Due to the symbolic dimension of this tragic gesture, as well as his antitotalitarian political stand, his work was deemed dangerous to socialist imagery and esthetics in the early years after the war. After the political thaw of 1956, Witkacy was restored to favor. Abakanowicz’s sculpture could thus also be read as an escape from the peculiar trap whereby vivid memory is endangered by ossification. Today it might be understood as a figure of the fate of every artist. The audience is just waiting: when will they fall off their plinth?