A conversation with Spokane artist and dancer Ildikó Kalapács about a sculpture that calls us to look at the human experience in the wake of warfare.
Ildikó Kalapács’ vision for “Bearing,” a life-sized sculpture that gives form to the human burden of warfare, does not arise from a single moment, or memory, or place within her consciousness. Yet it does carry some weight of her history.
“I grew up in Hungary during the Cold War era. My grandparents were in the Second World War. And they experienced the German takeover, and then the Russian takeover, and then the socialist era. So they, especially the women, were very, very tough. Under the harshest conditions women always had to figure out how to get what they wanted, for themselves, but mostly for their families.”
She had been “brooding” about this phenomenon, and its extrapolation to the aftermath of armed conflicts globally, when she walked into her back yard in Spokane, Washington, and began molding a figure out of wax. From there it evolved to a table-top sculpture, a tenth the scale of the full-size bronze that will be cast and then unveiled for public display on a bluff overlooking the Spokane River.
What one sees in “Bearing” is a matronly woman, her arms swept back, with a basket on her head. In the basket is a man. On the man’s lap is a military-style assault rifle. It is, very purposely, a different kind of monument to warfare from the mind of an artist who readily admits to spending some part of every day as a student of social justice. From her hands and her points of view, she sees “Bearing” not as a hectoring polemic, but as a starting point for reflection and discussion.
“When this is finished,” she says, “it’s not really about me. I want this piece to be owned by people if they don’t buy it. I want them to feel like they own it, even if they can’t stand it.”
In its scaled-down form, “Bearing” was on display along with several of Ildikó’s paintings when fellow artist Jennifer Campau first saw it during the so-called “Rumble in Sodo” event, in October 2009, at Seattle’s well-known art project in the historic Bemis Building.
Campau doesn’t hesitate to call “Bearing” a masterpiece.
“I just had never seen a sculpture like that before,” she says.
“There are monuments to war heroes and memorials to war casualties. But when it comes to artworks for those have to shoulder the costs of war and carry the burden, there isn’t anything. I try to have an eye for art that connects with larger communities and this piece has enough fertility to be that big of a project, especially in the way it examines the plight of women in juxtaposition with the warring community.”
“She’s going to be very accessible to give this feeling that she could be near, I could be her or she could be any of us,” says Ildikó. “She’s not on a pedestal because her story hasn’t ended. When it does, I don’t know if she’ll still be upright, whether she will be able to carry that weight. It’s an open-ended story for me.”
It is already a story with several milestones, and one of the most important came in May of 2016, when the City of Spokane’s Park Board voted to site the finished work in a park overlooking a bend in the Spokane River, just west of the city’s downtown core, along the Centennial Trail. In some ways, the siting is an ideal juxtaposition, affording a view of the flightpath to an active Air Force base that was once home to intercontinental bombers carrying nuclear warheads. It is also only a few miles from now infamous landmarks in the brutal, mid-19th century conflicts in which a cavalry led by U.S. Col. George Wright subjugated the Native American tribes of the Upper Columbia Plateau. Thus, while “Bearing” speaks universally to the often unacknowledged casualties in all war, the artist who brought it to creation is also aware of its poignancy in this particular place and time, where her own community is now open to such reflection on near and far scales.
Our most recent interview (above) was recorded in early October 2016 at her home on Spokane’s lower South Hill. For more information on the work and to make a donation in support of it, visit The Bearing Project.