Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Kwade Alicja - VM - James Romaine

Alicja Kwade: Trans-For-Men 11 (Fibonacci)

Who is my neighbor?

James Romaine

In English there is a saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Alicja Kwade’s Trans-For-Men 11 (Fibonacci) visually proposes that mirrors might create a more perfect community. This 2019 sculpture is composed of eleven elements or units. Each unit is a different material: marble, sandstone, ceramic, concrete, limestone, granite, volcanic stone, berg crystal, bronze, aluminum, and corten steel. Each element is also a different shape: sphere, rectangular cube, an array of irregular organic forms and several geometric polyhedrons. Aside from the sphere and the box the other nine forms are non-symmetrical. While each unit is unique in form, they are all identical in volume. These eleven metallic and mineral elements are separated by mirrors. The work has ten mirrors in all. These mirrors simultaneously divide and unite the sculpture’s parts.

Walking around Trans-For-Men 11 (Fibonacci) is an uncanny experience. Every uniquely shaped element is reflected in the mirrors that frame it. However, the image we see in the mirror aligns perfectly with the shape of element on the other side of the mirror. As such each individual unit is seamlessly bonded to its neighbor. As we walk down one side of Trans-For-Men 11 (Fibonacci) and back along the other side, this unbroken defiance of boundaries unites the work as one. But Trans-For-Men 11 (Fibonacci) is more than a spectacle of illusions. Kwade has succeeded in creating a work in which eleven elements, each unique in form and material, are enriched by their connection to their neighbors and their participation in the whole. Each part of this community finds meaning and purpose in sum without ever being required to relinquish its own distinctiveness.

Born in Katowice, Poland, Alicja Kwade is based in Berlin, Germany. In fact she has lived in Germany since she was eight, when her family escaped from communism. Viewers can consider for themselves how the artist’s life as a resident foreigner (growing up divided from her “home” country by the Berlin Wall) is manifested in Trans-For-Men 11 (Fibonacci).

Although Kwade doesn’t make any specific religious claims for her art, her work has addressed spiritual themes. For a 2016-2017 installation entitled Medium Median Kwade created a sort of mobile (think Alexander Calder) from which twenty-four iPhones were suspended. As these screens slowly orbited each other, they displayed images of the universe. Using GSP to locate the position of the phone in relationship to the ever-expanding universe, each screen pictured the infinity of space as it appeared from that single point of space and time. Medium Median also had an auditory component. All of the mobile devices featured Siri reading the book of Genesis in unison. Standing in the center of this installation the viewer’s imagination is transported by image and sound into a realm beyond time and spatial dimensions. But simultaneously the viewer is made more acutely conscious by the technology of being located in a particular moment and place.

What many of Kwade’s sculptures have in common is a poetic exploration of systems of knowledge and perception. Employing both physical material and metaphysical, combining wonderment and doubt, these sculptures visualize a spatial and temporal self-awareness. In what the New York Times called a “test of faith”, Kwade’s art challenges viewers to think about their own relationship to infinity and eternity.

Trans-For-Men 11 (Fibonacci) transcends both description (including the description of the photograph) and deciphering. For example, how should we interpret the fact that this work begins with marble sphere (a classical material rich with history and a form that is associated with universality, perfection, and transcendence) and ends with a corten steel box (a material of modern industry and a form that visualizes gravity, perhaps even death)? Or does it begin with the steel box and end with the marble sphere? Perhaps the work begins in the center, with the white boulder, and develops in two directions simultaneously.

Alicja Kwade’s ability to visually and compositionally unify twenty-one elements (including the mirrors) into a single whole, without losing any of the forms’ individuality, is a masterpiece of 3-dimensional composition. Her poetic art makes no direct or overt political or religious statement, but it is thoroughly and inherently charged with social and spiritual implications. Even though each element is unique in form and material, the mirrors perfectly align and visually unite them. As her sculpture makes partners out of strangers, it asks us if we can see ourselves in our neighbors.


Alicja KwadeTrans-For-Men 11 (Fibonacci)2019, mirror, berg crystal, ceramic, sandstone, concrete, limestone, granite, marble, volcanic stone, bronze, aluminum, corten steel, 96.8 × 870 × 66.7 cm.

Alicja Kwade ((born 1979 in Katowice, Poland) lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Alicja Kwade’s work investigates and questions the structures of our reality and society and reflects on the perception of time in our everyday life. Her diverse practice, which is based around concepts of space, time, science and philosophy, takes shape in sculptural objects, video and even photography. In 2017 she participated in the 57th Venice Biennale “Viva Arte Viva” curated by Christine Macel and in the Aros Triennale “The Garden - End of Times; Beginning of Times, #3 The Future” in Aarhus, Denmark. Kwade has been selected for the 2019 Roof Garden Commission for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

James Romaine is an Associate Professor of Art History at Lander University. He is the co-founder of the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art (ASCHA). His videos on art and faith can be seen as SeeingArtHistory on Youtube, His books include Art as Spiritual Perception: Essays in Honor of E. John Walford (Crossway) and Behold: Christ and Christianity in African American Art (Penn State University Press).

ArtWay Visual Meditation 26 May 2019