Comprised of myriad letters, Tel Aviv Man XVIII is a beguiling example of Plensa’s text based sculpture. Text has long preoccupied the artist having grown up in a family of bibliophiles, who every Sunday would trawl through second hand books in old markets. It is this material collected from childhood that inspired this iconic body of work. For Plensa, one letter alone signifies nothing, but together with other letters it becomes a word, a word with a word becomes a text. Likewise a person alone cannot achieve anything, but together with others we become part of a community, a country. As the artist expands: "[The letters in my sculpture] are completely random. I wanted to take the biological part of the text, the cell. One letter is like a cell. But with another it can compose a word, a word becomes a text, a text with a text becomes a culture. It’s like our body, the little cells can compose something more complex, which is our body. Also very similar is a metaphor of a community, a single person seems nothing, but together with another person could make a family. A family with a family could make a neighborhood, a city, a country, a continent. It’s a collage of small elements to make something bigger" (Jaume Plensa in conversation with Robert Michael Poole, Blouin Artinfo, 1 December 2014, online).
In this moving work Plensa elevates the letters into a combined physical shape. We are faced with an incomplete male form where the torso, shoulders, neck and much of the head are clearly identifiable. There are no facial characteristics and no individuality. The partially formed head could imply injury, suffering, and wounding to the viewer. Yet in his upright position, the character of the sculpture lives. This brilliant, difficult, almost philosophical work speaks to us on an aesthetic level, but also on an intensely human level. In his extraordinary use of hard industrial materials, he creates a work that embodies the delicacy of being human.
Tel Aviv Man XIII stunningly unsettles the viewer and compels us to consider the human condition. Here Plensa brilliantly demonstrates the appearance of fragility in the sculpture when viewed from a distance with its naked and transparent form without protection. Up close, the sculpture transforms. No longer fragile, we now see in its steel construction, the sculpture takes on an immovable strength. In this, Plensa shows us one of the many paradoxes in what it is to be human: both vulnerable and strong, and everything else on the spectrum between these two conditions.
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