Lampe-bouche (Illuminated Lips)

Colored polyester resin, light bulb, electrical wiring and metal
36 x 11 x 8 cm / 14 1/8 x 4 3/8 x 3 1/8 in

A pioneer in her field, Alina Szapocznikow was among the first artists to work in more unconventional modern materials like polyester resin, which is typically used for industrial purposes. Szapocznikow used the polyester resin to create her ‘Breasts’ and ‘Lips’ series, disembodied casts of female body parts. She was struck by the idea of illuminating these forms and planned to make a commercial line of lamps, the ‘Lampe-Bouche’ works, in the shape of women’s lips.

‘Through casts of the body, I try to fix the fleeting moments of life, its paradoxes and its absurdity ... I am convinced that of all the manifestations of the ephemeral, the human body is the most fragile, the only source of all joy, of all pain and of all truth.’ –Alina Szapocznikow [1]

A highly individual and unique response to the new concepts and movements Szapocznikow encountered in Paris, ‘Lampe-bouche’ transforms the dark eroticism and humor of Surrealism into a proto-Pop body-object. The artist made plaster casts of both her own mouth, lips, and breasts, as well as the mouths and chins of a small number of close female friends, ultimately sculpting them in coloured resin and wiring them to concealed lightbulbs. The illuminated lips on their slender stems became functional desk lamps. Challenging traditional conceptions of sculpture and figuration, Szapocznikow’s radical ‘Lampe-Bouche’ explores the objectification and fragility of the human body, while simultaneously immortalizing it.

Alina Szapocznikow

Born in Poland to a Jewish family in 1926, Alina Szapocznikow survived internment in concentration camps during the Holocaust as a teenager. Immediately after the war, she moved first to Prague and then to Paris, studying sculpture at the École des Beaux Arts. In 1951, suffering from tuberculosis, she was forced to return to Poland, where she expanded her practice. When the Polish government loosened controls over creative freedom following Stalin’s death in 1952, Szapocznikow moved into figurative abstraction and then a pioneering form of representation. By the 1960s, she was radically re-conceptualizing sculpture as an intimate record not only of her memory, but also of her own body.