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Jaume Plensa - A Study in Faces

Words:

Edd Norval
July 28, 2020

Everything has been commercialised, corporatised and packaged. When Jack Kerouac said that sex is the last Holy thing - it was true. Although, not for long. Now, what do we have left? One of the few honest moments of intimacy are those we share not with our bodies, but our eyes. A simple look may be the last Holy thing we have left.

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Predicated on the power of the gaze is much of Jaume Plensa’s work, a Spanish sculptor who draws attention to the power of a look, precisely by taking it away. With eyes closed, a serene and contemplative look on their faces, the artist’s large-scale figures - either busts or entire bodies - refuse to look back at us as we look upon them. As a result, we feel something missing, a connection broken, a glitch in our personal matrix. 


Opting not to look at the world around them, his figures are clearly removed from it. Their introspective qualities are tinged with mysticism. In ‘Looking Into My Dreams, Awilda’, a Dominican girl is gigantically situated as a sense of hope and respite near the sea in Rio de Janeiro, taking on connotations of the deity of the sea - Lamanjá.


Plensa’s visage sculptures borrow from classical works in their devastating simplicity and attention to detail, intently centered on the emotions of his protagonist through the interpretation of expression and the physicality of reaction to light - with most of his artworks doubling as installations in outdoor locations, absorbing the characteristics of their ever-changing environment.

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His technique veers some from classicism though. Utilising modern technologies like 3D scanning and printing, or incorporating LED lights as a means of adding a dimension of movement and kinetic energy to the otherwise sedate. 


Commenting on his approach to sculpture, Plensa considers it a reflection on life itself, “We are always with one foot in normal life and one foot in the most amazing abstraction. And that is the contradiction that is life.”


This contradiction between the real, the surreal and the hyperreal are all explored in his works, many of which could be considered deeply humanistic, others, a reflection on reality and identity - particularly when the Spanaird blends innovative means of production with simple concepts. 

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Unavoidably, the sense of future and AI emanates from his work - the very profound question of ‘what makes us human?’ acts as the foundation for it all. That he is posing questions is clear. They’re public works of art. Which questions exactly are less clear, dependant greatly on how the individual interacts with the piece.


Toying with scale and dimension, elongating and warping the size of faces, situates the works in the domain of the unreal. An ode to digital interpretations of humans, or a scathing commentary on it - who knows? Perhaps, until we can look into their eyes, we never will.

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