Spanish-born sculptor Jaume Plensa is known around the world for his visually arresting and intellectually reflective works of art.
Plensa has many large-scale public works on display across the globe, and, as such, he could be considered not just a Spanish denizen, but a citizen of planet Earth.
The current exhibition of Plensa's work at Telfair's Jepson Center, “Talking Continents,” is a meditation on global citizenry. It is also a recurring theme in his art that aims to “unify individuals through connections of spirituality, the body, and collective memory.”
The installation is made up of 19 cloud-like, stainless steel sculptures suspended from the ceiling, each consisting of numerous individual die-cut characters taken from eight different alphabets. A human figure sits atop five of the largest cloud-like orbs symbolizing the five largest continents.
“I think it's most interesting when you find yourself within it,” says Telfair's curator of modern and contemporary art, Rachel Reese. “You're encouraged to walk through and around it which is an important part, sort of imagining yourself within the space, both physically, but also emotionally and psychologically, which is a really big part of what [Plensa] thinks about as an artist.”
Reese explains that the different characters of alphabets from different cultures is a way for Plensa to address issues that are pertinent to the moment without being preachy or heavy-handed.
“When you have an individual element from an alphabet, just one character doesn't mean anything,” says Reese. “So for [Plensa] bringing in all of these together in sort of nonsensical ways creates this portrait of humanity. He likes to think about the alphabet as the perfect portrait of a culture. It's honed over many years or millennia. It's a very conceptual way to talk about these ideas of globalism or about how individual identities come together to create something larger than yourself.
“I think it's really timely because we're talking about these issues of nationalism and we're highly focused on things that divide us. I think this body of work is very relevant to those topics, hopefully in ways to think about how we're united as opposed to ways we're divided. I think it's a really poetic way to talk about those issues rather than a didactic way. He's sort of a visual poet.”
The exhibition also includes an additional complementary element that Plensa created around the same time. A 6-foot tall alabaster head sculpture sits meditatively in an adjacent room as a conceptual metaphor for dreaming. Collectively the works create a peaceful place for contemplation and reflection, transforming the gallery space into something of a spiritual repository.
“I think the beauty of this show is its understated elegance,” says Reese. “It's a really simple installation, but it's also very complicated. But, it’s also just a wonderful visual experience to find yourself in.”