Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Art does not solve problems but makes us aware of their existence. It opens our eyes to see and our brain to imagine.” Magdalena Abakanowicz.

Over the years, I have walked with the Walking Figures and felt the presence of the sculptor who created them – Magdalena Abakanowicz. Situated near the busy Vancouver street corner of Broadway and Cambie, surrounded by the noise of construction and progress, these 9-foot tall, monumental, headless cast iron figures challenge me to consider my place within a complex society.

Stately in their quiet solitude, the Walking Figures merge into the stream of city life that flows with passer-by conversations and laughter. These Walking Figures have a message for us, embedded in their cast iron bodies by the sculptor who gave them life. It is a message that comes to me as a gentle voice that has been energized by a powerful need to warn against a mindless herd mentality.

Magdalena Abakanowicz brings attention to the transformation and loss of the individual within a group as a reference to the human condition and the shaping of our world throughout history,

Born on June 20, 1930 of Tartar descent, Magdalena Abakanowicz is recognized as one of the most influential sculptors and artists of the 21st century. Poland, her place of birth and native country, considers her as their national treasure. Known for her use of textiles as a sculptural medium, her outdoor installations grace major collections and museums throughout Europe and North America.

The imagery of Magdalena Abakanowicz uses materials that embrace nature and ancient mediums. They speak of her personal history and survival.

May we remember her words, “It is easy to follow, but it is uninteresting to do easy things. We find out about ourselves only when we take risks, when we challenge and question.”

68 Thoughts

  1. These are very impressive, Rebecca. I wonder why she created them with no arms. Our ability to stand and free your hands and fingers for uses other than walking are pivotal in our progression as a species. It seems quite pointed that no arms or hands or heads are included. We follow blindly, but that is a generalisation. Many of us try to take the moral highroad in our own ways. Have a wonderful new week, Rebecca.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed seeing the Walking Figures, Robbie. I believe that you will find her ideas come from her personal experiences living in the years of both Nazi and Soviet occupied Poland. It seems that these sculptors are a reminder to reflect and think rather than accept the status quo. They certain make one think, don’t they!!

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for joining Magdalena and me at the Walking Figures. Whenever I look at an artwork, I imagine that the artist/sculptor is there “in spirit.” Magdalena Abakanowicz’s life experiences were not for the faint of heart, which is reflected in her artwork. Walking Figures is a testament on how art can bring solace as well as being the means to carry the voice of an artist beyond their passing. Sending hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Good morning, dear Rebecca,
    for us these figures are a symbols of how we are following something in headless way and therefore we can’t act, we are arm-and-hand-less. This is a fine symbol of consumerism. It’s perfect where it’s positions.
    With big HUGS and lots of love ❤ ❤
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I am delighted that you joined me on Broadway and Cambie. I agree – the positioning is perfect – a busy street, surrounded by shops, close to a main transit hub and City Hall. Walking Figures, as you said so eloquently, is a reminder of following something in a headless way – something that we don’t want for our personal lives. Even so, the need to belong is a powerful incentive to engage in group think – without knowing we do. As well, we live busy lives so take shortcuts in our thinking and decision-making. Walking Figures remind me to pause, to consider, to reflect. Our current measurement systems reward productivity – how much is done, how many widgets are produced etc. I believe that we are seeing a trend to consider creative thinking as the most productive activity of all. Sending many hugs and love to my dear friends, The Fab Four of Cley

      Liked by 3 people

  3. These are amazing Rebeca. That we always walk on has never been more apparent and I like the withered nature of the feet. t. It is indeed a reminder not to follow blindly and to think. I can see why she’s a national treasure.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I am delighted that you joined me at the Walking Figures exhibition. I have been doing some research. It seems that Walking Figures was originally part of Walking Figures (USA 1999 – 20 bronze figures). Magdalena’s Crowd sculptures providing an underlying theme to her art: “Abakanowicz’s figures have no faces, they lack this element of autonomy which determines the individual’s features. Deprived of faces, they have no identity and no right to speak. Even though each figure has some specific features that differentiate one from the others, they are difficult to notice. What’s important is the repetitiveness, identicalness, impersonality. The individual always gets lost in the crowd, but it’s also in the crowd where it finds its place.” https://culture.pl/en/work/the-crowds-magdalena-abakanowicz. The idea of individuality with society is complex – belonging but having individual thought. Always a balance isn’t it?!!!

      Liked by 5 people

    2. I was actually struck by the feet too Shey. I am going to namedrop Leon Bakst & August Rodin. If you ever get a chance look at the feet of Rodin’s sculptures, literally carved from the very rock of the earth itself. Bakst was an artist who designed costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. His posters are amazing for their hammer toed knotted ballet dancer’s feet- the figures are dynamic caught in mid pose while the dancer’s feet are real sized (most portraits minimise the feet) and painted with more loving detail than the dancer’s face… probably because they are the dancer. Bakst designed The costumes for the faune in Nijinski’s great faux-Greek-vase erotic ballet L’apres midi d’un faun, the spectre de la rose, l’dieu bleu, Daphnis & Chloe, the prune slave in the sultry Sheherazade, the tormented puppet Petrushka, and of course the scandalous Rite of Spring that cause such a riot in Paris while being met with polite applause in London (quelle surprise!)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s a stunning monument(s)! Thank you, dear Rebecca, for introducing it to us. It’s true: Art is a part of God or whoever has given to us to keep imagining for developing our mind and soul. And here, it might mean; just keep going, curious and fearless.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. How very well said – keep going, curious and fearless. I think Magdalena would be pleased. She once wrote: “Art will remain the most astonishing activity of mankind born out of struggle between wisdom and madness, between dream and reality in our mind.” I’m delighted that you joined me on a street corner in Vancouver. Travel may be curtailed but virtual travel is flourishing. Many thanks for your visit and comment.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. The sculptures are so striking and evocative. They “say” a lot — as you note, Rebecca. I was impressed not only with the statement the artist made but with her skill at molding feet and toes.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I am with you on the feet and toes! I kept taking photos of them – each one is unique – the differences attracted my attention. When I first saw the installation, I was taken aback by the sheer height and force of the message that came through. As the years past, they became a go-to place for reflection. Originally, there were 20 but over the years, they were sold to international collections and institution to help fund Vancouver Biennale initiatives. Of the 20, only 5 are left, so I am now taking photos to ensure that I have a record of their presence in Vancouver.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. You didn’t miss them Margaret. The history of the Walking Figures began in the early 2000s when Vancouver Biennale commissioned Magdalena Abakanowicz specifically for its 2005-2007 exhibition. Twenty figures were individually cast at an industrial foundry in Śrem, near Poznań, Poland under the artist’s direction. The Walking Figures sculptures were initially installed in Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park for the Vancouver Biennale’s 2005-2007 exhibition. For the 2009-2011 Vancouver Biennale exhibition, 9 sculptures were relocated outside the Broadway – City Hall Canada Line Station. For the 2014-2016 exhibition 9 figures were installed along Lonsdale Avenue in the city of North Vancouver. I have photos of the Figures on Lonsdale somewhere in my photos. I must find them. Anyway, there are only 5 remaining sculptures. The others were sold to collectors and institutions. I am enjoying the 5 while they remain at Broadway and Cambie.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am a big fan of public art Rebecca. If I’m in a new city, I love discovering new pieces as I walk the parks and sidewalks and then trying to figure out what they are saying. Thank you for introducing me to Walking Figures and an interesting message about the loss of the individual within a group.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Melanie! I am delighted that you traveled virtually to Vancouver to meet up with Magdalena Abakanowicz and me. I agree wholeheartedly that one of the most exciting places to visit in any city is their public art exhibitions. I believe that a city’s story comes to life in their public art, activating our imagination and encouraging us to pause and listen to the messages that comes through the creative endeavours of artists. Public art reminds me of our interconnected lives. Thank you for your visit and comment!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes! I love your belief that “a city’s story comes to life in their public art.” That is the truth and gives visitors (and residents :)) wonderful insight to where they are and what message the artist is saying about the place…and our place in it. These installations really are special.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for another fascinating public art installation. I had two immediate impressions. The first was that the Walking Figures seem to harken back to ancient Egyptian figures. The second was that the foot you feature reminds me of how Christ’s feet are depicted on the cross. When you described the figures as cast-iron, I thought they would be hollow, a statement of the often hollow existence we face in modern society. But they don’t even have hollow three-dimesionality–just a facade!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I knew you would enjoy the Walking Figures exhibition, Liz. I was fascinated by Magdalena’s use of textiles in her abstract fiber works beginning in the 1950’s Her earliest exhibition named “Abakans” were huge hanging textiles. In the 1970’s she moved into bronze, wood, stone and clay. She is best known for her headless and fragmented human forms, which can be rather daunting at first sight. There is an ambiguity to her work which allows for many interpretations. One thing is for certain – her work demands our attention.

      Liked by 4 people

  8. Thank you for sharing these photos and the story behind them and the Artist. Her life and story includes lots of time, travels and experiences–what an interesting read! I enjoyed and appreciated the details, especially of the feet—I notice when reading the many comments that there were others who enjoyed them as well. This article should tempt us to visit the headless figures. I did not know that there are more of them elsewhere.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes – 20 in all, as I understand from my readings. In the video, there are two positions that are no longer there so I am taking photos just in case the Walking Figures find new homes. I enjoyed reading up on Magdalena Abakanowicz’s biography, which gave a much greater understanding for her artistic endeavors. I am delighted that you enjoyed this post and video!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your heartwarming comments, Meg. I am delighted that you traveled to meet up with the Walking Figures. I went passed them tonight and I see that two more have left their stations to be loaned to another exhibition. Of the original 9, only 5 remain. Somehow, there is a feeling of loneliness.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. A wonderful and personalised guided tour Rebecca.. what an amazing artist and such a profound understanding of all those who walk this earth without voice or defences to protect them from harm.. All they can do is put one foot in front of the other with their feet taking the weight and the terrain beneath them in their stride.. ♥

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh, I love your interpretation, Sally – very insightful. Magdalena’s words echo your sentiment: “My work comes from the experience of crowds, injustice, and aggression… I feel an affinity for art when it was made a form of existence, like when shamans worked in the territory between men and unknown powers… I try to bewitch the crowd.”

      Liked by 2 people

  10. These figures certainly do hold a message, in form of a warning of sorts.
    Not all will see the message. Not all will even see the figures, as they walk blindly by the blind headless figures.

    I know this because often when I take pictures of murals or street art, people look at me like I’m a freak…. what is she taking photos of? Then they look at what I’m seeing, and their faces show SURPRISE!
    The rugs I just did, people were standing on them! I stood patiently by with my camera, staring at the rug. Then they would see the rug.

    Hey ….. kind of aside, but when you said “These Walking Figures have a message for us, embedded in their cast iron bodies by the sculptor”, I thought of an artist hiding a message on paper, scratched into metal or otherwise inside of their art. Of course, one would have to disassemble the piece. Not going to happen. What if lightening struck, and the piece was demolished, and there was this message left behind… carved on the inside of a foot?

    OH! They took away the Henry Moore from outside the Art Gallery! I saw some men trying to wrestle another sculpture into its place.
    I wasn’t pleased, but my mind can change. It’s just that I adore that Henry Moore, and have many great memories of sitting on it with friends, family and lovers!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Just this morning I was reflecting on the idea of impermanence – of beginnings and endings, of building and rebuilding, of creating and recreating. I look back and I see those arching narratives in my life more with greater clarity, just as Søren Kierkegaard wrote many years ago, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” As I read more into Magdalena’s life, I realize that her sculptures were her way of looking backward with new meaning. When I view your photos of mural art, I have the same feeling – that these artists have a special ability to embed their past experiences in their art.

      Isn’t it interesting to watch when people discover something new that is in front of them, but never noticed before. It is an awakening!

      I had to research Henry Moore and found this marvelous page on the AGO website that I had to share!!

      https://ago.ca/agoinsider/whats-made-mold

      Liked by 1 person

    1. A very good description Jennifer. Their size and implacable forward motion is indeed chilling. It is as if nothing can stop them. I just went by the Walking figures tonight and see that two more have been taken away on loan to another exhibit I believe. Of the original 9, there are only 5 remaining.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed the tour of the Walking Figures. They do indeed have a zombie, menacing feeling, especially when I walk by them in the evening. I agree that the artist’s personal experience was pivotal. There is a running theme throughout her art that speaks of world events that impacted individual lives and choices. Sending hugs back!!!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh Audrey – you would be amazed by the changes that have occurred over the past decades. You must come back one day and see the changes. You would especially appreciate what has happened on Granville Island. in 1978, the centrepiece of Granville Island – the Public Market, was one of the first to open. It is now an arts, theatre, restaurant and market!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I am intrigued! Thank you for sharing the information about this very impressive art work, Rebecca. I never had got knowledge about before. If i ever will be able visiting Vancouver, now i know where i have to take a stop. Thanks again for sharing, and have a nice week! xx Michael

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Michael, for your heartwarming comments. International travel and travel in general still remains difficult, so I am exploring my city. Isn’t is interesting that we don’t think of “traveling” where we live. Now, is the best time to be tourists in our cities.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I knew nothing about these before today and I find them fascinating. Many thanks for introducing me to them and I hope no more of them are sold off.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Alex! I hope that the 5 remaining Walking Figures remain in Vancouver. It depends upon funding. This is from the Biennale website: “The Walking Figures sculptures continue to be sold to international collectors and institutions to help fund Vancouver Biennale initiatives and the International Artist Residency Program. The Biennale hopes that, through a philanthropic donation, the five remaining Walking Figures will become a Legacy Artwork in the City of Vancouver’s permanent public art collection.”https://www.vancouverbiennale.com/artworks/walkingfigures/. Crossing my fingers!!

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Better late than never… love the Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz. magnificently inspirational. Among other aspects of imagination that her that her figures provokes, they make you appreciate the ability to walk, as well as run, comfortably and with ease. Having been a long distance runner, walker and racing cyclist for the better part of my life, her Walking truly speak to me. Thank you for sharing this, Rebecca!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am delighted that you joined me to meander among the Walking Figures. How well said – the ability to walk, to be able to go from point A to point B without any pain or hesitation is a gift. You would be interested to know that close by the City of Vancouver has built a bike lane. They have also installed Mobi, Vancouver’s public bike share system. https://vancouver.ca/streets-transportation/public-bike-share-system.aspx. Several of my friends use this form of transportation even in the rain.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My dear Rebecca, what a terrific idea, that of including the bicycle lane offered to the Vancouverites to peddle even in the rain! Thus bringing to mind a memorable personage who enjoyed the rain sufficiently to sing and dance in it, with and eventually without. Lo and behold, he just happens to be at it right now!

        Liked by 2 people

  14. It is so true, it is very easy to follow, but it’s important especially in this current climate that you don’t follow alone. We need to be kind to each other and love more. Love yourself, love your fellow man and of course let’s love our planet because if we don’t there will be nothing left to follow.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am delighted that you joined me at the Walking Figures public art exhibition, Olga. They certainly invite people to stop by and pause to look up at their headless features. Thank you for your visit and your comments – very much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

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