Anita Birkenfeld’s inimitable bronze sculptures render visible the haunting connection between bodies and garments. Using materials completely foreign to clothing and fashion—concrete, aluminum, plaster, clay, polymer, and bronze—her dresses, hats, robes, and tunics signify bodies while remaining noticeably devoid of them. Instead she depicts a present absence in which garments make tangible abstract concepts of loss and grief.
Born in Poland, Birkenfeld’s background is primarily in interior design and fashion styling, and though these creative pursuits are visible in her work, it was the death of her daughter after a severe illness that led her to begin making art. And indeed, though her sculptures are not explicitly biographical, they clearly bare the traces of her mourning. Turning to the familiarity, comfort, and even sentimentality of clothing, Birkenfeld began creating indestructible meditations on life and death, permanence and ephemerality.
In her sculpture Robes (couple), Birkenfeld casts the sleek, smooth, ghostly shells of two figures. Created in different scales and tones, the two hovering robes appear to depict a man and a woman, their postures animated by the appearance of invisible hands stuffed into bulging pockets. Extraneous details are spare, and though any overt indication of mood remains unknowable, the pair seems to float in a somber fog.
Classical, on the other hand, is a small, playfully rendered sculpture in the form of a girl’s dress or coat. With a large collar, cuffed sleeves, and decorative closures, the garment is fluffed and creased as if it was wrought of thick, stiff silk instead of bronze. The lines and textures of the garment feel full of life and character, a visual echo of the girl who wore it. However, the exuberant irreverence of the beautiful, rumpled dress remains foiled by an impalpable absence.