Jaume Plensa’s Nomade at Antibes.
By constructing figures out of letters, Plensa’s work explores not only the human form, but also the role of language in the human experience. The figures are literally made out of the building blocks through which we communicate and describe emotion, both expressing the importance of language in the human experience and giving a physical, tangible form to language.
Many of his pieces, like Nomade, above, are built so that the viewer can walk inside of the piece. Very different from viewing a three-dimensional sculpture from afar, the viewer is now inhabiting the piece, having his experience of the work shaped both by the shape of his physical environment and by the language it is made out of, incomprehensible though it is.
The contemplative poses of many of his figures also suggests the artist’s interest in the role of language in reflection. While true meditation may be thought of as the absence of thought, by quite literally forming shapes out of letters, Plensa seems to emphasize the importance of language in giving shape to our inner monologues.
In the Midst of Dreams, above, in which three ambiguously-gendered and race-less forms appear illuminated from within while in sleep, was described by the artist as an exploration of the centrality of dreams to the human experience and his own interest in the concept of a universal human race, democratized by common experiences like dreaming.
In Song of Songs, the artist constructed “walls” out of letters that, when read from top-to-bottom, form the classical poem of the same name, walls that guide the movement of and form “rooms” around the viewer as he experiences both his environment and the poem.
Interestingly, the letters are suspended rather than laid against an impermeable surface, meaning that while the sheets of letters form “walls” around the viewer, the walls are transparent, allowing a visual interactivity with the entire room while the viewer reads the poem that mimics the way one also brings outside experiences and reference points to the reading of poetry in more traditional mediums.
If you want to check out more of Plensa’s work, read about his Crown Fountain project in Chicago here