brodno people – front view in collaboration with pawel buchholz, marcin leszczynski, michal mioduszewski, stawomir mocarski, julia matea petelska, jedrzej rogozinskimage © designboom

pawel althamer (b.1967 warsaw, poland)’s sculptures, videos, and performances explore the fragility and contingency of the body–often his own–within the wider sphere of social and political contexts. he has often submitted his body to extreme states, either physically or psychologically. in one earlier performance work, althamer sealed himself inside a body-sized plastic bag that slowly filled with cold water (‘water, space, time’, 1991), and in another, with the help of hypnosis and hallucinogenic drugs, he explored the inner landscape of his mind (‘the so called waves and other phenomena of the mind’, 2003-2004).

his sculptures engage with the body less directly, often through the logic of substitution. his human-scale sculptures, representing himself or members of his family, are constructed from hair, straw, intestine, and cloth-visceral, rough-hewn materials that seem poised on the threshold between embodiment and decay.

for this year’s gwanju art biennale, althamer has created a new version of auguste rodin’s the burghers of calais, entitled ‘brodno people’ made with the help of people from a working class neighborhood of warsaw. rodin’s sculpture tells the story of six leading citizens of the town of calais, france, who, in 1347, volunteered themselves as hostages to king edward III of england in exchange for lifting an eleven-month siege on their city during the hundred years war. althamer’s version emphasizes the social and political circumstances of the work’s production by foregrounding collective practice over individual authorship. like totems or idols from a personal religion, his figures appear almost as placeholders for the artist’s body and those of his loved ones, as if their presence might somehow ward off the inevitable decay of the flesh.

pawel althamer at gwangju art biennale 2010 exhibition view image © designboom

pawel althamer at gwangju art biennale 2010 image © designboom

pawel althamer at gwangju art biennale 2010 general shot image © designboom

pawel althamer at gwangju art biennale 2010 brodno people, 2010 by pawel althamer (1967- ) image © designboompawel althamer at gwangju art biennale 2010 side view image © designboom

pawel althamer at gwangju art biennale 2010 pawel althamer portrait © designboom