Over the portico of the Fridericianum in Kassel, between the allegories of architecture and philosophy, a shimmering green figure is caught in a handstand. It is a lacquered aluminum sculpture that was created especially for this location by the artist Alexandra Bircken, who was born in Cologne in 1967 and now lives in Berlin. The work immortalizes the action of a young gymnast, captured by Bircken with great precision using a 3D scanner to create a mold from which the sculpture was cast. The gymnast’s thrust-back head, straining arms, and taut, straight, upraised legs, convey the body tension that enables the dainty acrobat to defy gravity at great heights. The figure can be studied in more detail down below, where a counterpart to the roof-top gymnast is installed in the square in front of the Fridericianum. Situated a few meters from the portico steps, this second aluminum sculpture, cast from the same mold and also painted green, is identical to the high-flying acrobat above. However, unlike the figure on the roof, the one on the cobblestones is rotated 180 degrees: rather than balancing on her hands, she rises from the ground on the tips of her toes, her upraised, angled hands seemingly carrying the firmament.
This pair of balancing gymnasts converses with and yet also counters the classical architecture of the Fridericianum and the outdoor sculptures from past documenta exhibitions installed around Friedrichsplatz. Titled Top down / Bottom up, these two sculptures form a single unit in a finely tuned interplay directly tied to Bircken’s investigations into the physical and psychological parameters of objects and beings, which she articulates in a unique, intense, and often surreal language of form.