Sliding Out Of Space, Making Space Slide Out Of Itself

… In 1928 U.S. Customs made a decision to classify Konstantin Brancusi’s abstract bronze “Bird on Space” as a kitchen utensil. “I was sick to receive the news that a bastard in New-York made you pay duty on your sculpture,” Ezra Pound wrote to Brancusi. “I could spit in the eye of the skinflint in charge of these matters.” Brancusi fought back, and in Brancusi v. United States, two now obscure sculptors, Robert Ingersoll Aitken and Thomas Jones, were called by the government to testify that the bird was not art. Marcel Duchamp and others rushed to defend Brancusi, who eventually won the case…
Harper’s Magazine, Feb. 2013, p. 43

Konstantin Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” (1923)
Constantin Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” (1923)

Brancusi’s bird is not only a bird, but a fish. It is a fish in the ocean of the air, and it is a bird in the sky of the ocean.

“Bird in Space” is not only body of the bird, but bird’s body that is at the same time a trajectory of the body’s movement in space. It’s a body-trajectory, trajectory incarnated into a body.

Bird’s body itself, a bodily bird is as sentimental as animation cartoon, but bodily-trajectorial bird is not only poetic but scientific.

It is a creature and at the same time – a space. It is a body-trajectory-space-time. Here, we are witnessing the very birth of sculpture as a completely different art from painting or installation, art which shows a figure amidst its unseen context. In sculpture the figure is called to personify not only itself but its implied surrounding. It is its own environment that it carries inside.

Brancusi’s soaring bird is a body-trajectory-environment in one. And as such, it is matter and energy simultaneously. It is application of energy to the direction. It is matter and energy awakened not only by vitality but by grace. It is a bird curving the space by its very movement, bird-co-creator of the world by its very presence inside it.

This flying bird is angelic but not in the traditional sense when angels moved by empathy fly down to humans – to witness, to help, to suffer along with us and for us, but in secularly humanistic sense of spirituality, when angels are the very energy of human sublimation of our animalistic fears and greedy obsessions. This bird is the nobility of our humanistic idealism when it is beautified by humility and asceticism – it is our dream of overcoming ourselves, of becoming better, lighter than we are.

But observing the brutality and nastiness of those among us who are overwhelmed by the superstitions of money-idolatry and righteous hate, whose souls have been corroded into assault weapons and chauvinistic megalomania, we see that Brancusi’s flying bird with its gentle non-imposition is leaving our age as a poetic dream, which is further and further from the greasy rot of our civilization. Don’t believe for a moment that the feather-bird is static – that it’s assembled with its stand. It takes this stand, the hall where it is exhibited and us, the viewers, with itself, we don’t know where.

Too many of us cannot afford grace, modesty, sensitivity to beauty. They need fights, weapons, profits and hate. If Brancusi’s flying bird could condemn us, we would deserve it, but she won’t – she is too transcendent and translucent to the belligerently vigilant prosaic-ness of our age.