Aesthetics and politics in Lygia Clark

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By RICARDO FABBRINI*

The reactivation of Lygia Clark's political strength in the present involves examining the "desire for community" underlying the artist's trajectory

Lygia Clark would be 100 years old next October. Her work contributed significantly to the inflection in Brazilian constructive art, by promoting in a unique way the expansion of the plane in geometric painting to the so-called “real space”. Lygia's first geometric paintings, rarely exhibited, are from the late 1940s and early 1950s. It is a geometry that incorporates both the sinuosities of Burle Marx and the cubism of Fernand Léger, her teachers, as well as the translucency of Paul Klee and the Piet Mondrian's righteousness.

It is clear, however, in this period of formation, a concern with the expansion of the painting plane, by the borders of the painting or, frontally, by the contrast between the colors. This attempt to expand the plan led to the work frame break, from 1954, in which the frame becomes the central figure of the composition, while the painting, turned into a background, projects itself into the space of the world. It is a work in which the plane expands beyond the support, advancing along the edges or flowing through the gaps in the frame. These gaps, which in the “modulated surfaces” of 1957 and 1958 will result from the juxtaposition of wooden boards, are, in Lygia's language, “organic lines”. They are bits of nothing that allow the “space of representation” to infiltrate the heart of the “real space”, in the terms of the artist and the critics of the period by Ferreira Gullar and Mário Pedrosa.

Lygia also sought to conquer the space before or in front of the work by overlapping metallic plates. This swelling of the support began with the “counter-reliefs”, in which the creased, folded and unfolded planes create a space between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality. And he continued with the “cocoons” in which iron sheets invade the external space even more, creating a place of retreat and coziness. In the cocoons, the plates, like uterine walls, shelter a piece of the world that, hidden, seduces the spectator, who can only see it from the side: what was a slit becomes, here, a region of space. But the cocoons fell from the wall to the floor. And from fallen cocoons sprouted pointy animals.

Os Bichos, Lygia's best-known works, are aluminum bioforms or tinplate organisms: some, a rare species, are whole, as they have a fixed spine; while others, more easily found, being equipped with hinges, move when touched. O Bug it is never the same, as it is always renewed when fertilized by the manipulation of the “former spectator”, who has become a participant.

It is a machine for building unexpected spaces that, once set in motion by the hand of Midas, responds with new constellations of shapes, shadows and reflections, with “luminous iridescences, invaginations that open up”, in Pedrosa’s poetics, for a new spatial reality: the experiential space that results from “a melee between two living entities”, as Lygia said. Not all animals are, however, metallic and hard. There are soft, shredded, rubbery animals. They are flexible works, without obverse or reverse, which react to the participant's touch in a condescending way.

Finally, we have the “climbers”, the last creation of 1964: they are serpentine shapes, in metal or rubber strips, similar to climbing plants and sloths that cling to the trunks of trees, blending in with the vegetation. Lygia recounted that once, having thrown one of these climbers to the ground, Pedrosa said to her: “Anyway, you can kick a work of art…”. “And I loved it,” she concluded.

Lygia, since then, has replaced “works of art” with “experiential propositions”, aiming at expanding the sensorial experiences of the participants: “the support”, he said, “is now the sensorial body itself, the phantasmatic itself, the group of participants”. Calling herself a “proposer” (or “non-artist”), she rejected “aestheticism” (or the fetishism of art) in defense of an “aesthetic state”: a “singular state of art without art”, situated below the conventions social, in which each gesture would become a poetic gesture, open to the delineation of becoming.

Lygia thus created the constructive propositions, individual or group, of the 1960s and 1970s that can be freely experienced by the public. Some examples: Body Nostalgia: Breathe With Me, from 1966, is a plastic bag, inflated with air, with a superimposed stone, which once pressed should produce the experience of breathing, not as a gaseous exchange, but as a joyful burning that reverberates throughout the participant's body. The I and You, from 1967, are vast garments without visors that aim to encourage partners to look for each other and, once they meet, to feel each other: a moment in which each one, opening the zippers that hide their partners, would discover that the “I” does not only exists for the “you”, but that the “you” also exists for the “I”, in short, that they correspond and that, therefore, it is the exteriority of the other (the receptacle to the touch) that would allow each one to , to know your own interiority.

Lygia Clark also created polynuclear or collective propositions, such as Anthropophagic Baba, from 1973, with his students from the Sorbonne now participating, where he taught from 1970 to 1975. Anthropophagic Babe, which refers to the ritopoetic thought of Oswald de Andrade, it is in the line expelled from reels brought by the participants in their mouths that the erotic charge is found that envelops them, constituting a “Collective body”. This “red silk thread soaked in saliva” would be the food or drink that binds the bodies: the guests anoint themselves, make it “fall on their faces” weaving a “warm and viscous net” that consecrates the union.

This “anthropophagic space” is not a “place of communication”, according to the artist, but a “mixture of psychic contents”. Swallowing drool would also not produce a feeling of abjection or horror that marks the experience of bodily tearing: vomit is not, here, waste, but food of “collective creation” that, bringing bodies closer together, would eliminate all “indifference or existential neutrality” . In this anthropophagy, there are no castrations, excrements or screams of lacerated bodies, but a silent revival of their “erotic sublimity” by the disquieting ingestion of the group's experiences.

The final phase is that of the experimental office that Lygia has maintained in her apartment in Copacabana since her return from France in 1976. She then developed, resuming various “experiential propositions”, a therapeutic attitude based on the bodily contact of the “patient” with the so-called “relational objects”: light pillows with polystyrene balls; pillows heavy with beach sand; plastic bags filled with air, water or seeds; or tights with tennis balls, ping-pong balls, rocks and broken shells.

Lygia applied these objects all over the patient's body, eliminating its “fissures”, making it whole, or “inhabited by a true self”, as she said in a text from 1980, written with Suely Rolnik. This work, however, as Rolnik sees in more recent texts, does not constitute a therapeutic method, as it lacks a theoretical confinement, nor an artistic activity, long since abandoned by Lygia, but a hybrid with a disruptive force of art and clinic, which makes one flow into the other. Two months after interrupting this practice founded on the “tension between art and clinic” Lygia died, on April 25, 1988, at noon, aged 67, by the sea.

New philosophical references have been mobilized, it is worth noting, since the Lygia Clark retrospective show, in the 1990s, which toured Barcelona, ​​Marseille, Porto, Brussels, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Since then, questions have been asked about the possibility of updating, especially the countercultural propositions of the 1960s and 1970s. It is visible that the production in this period has been appropriate to characterize the relationship between art and politics in the context of the so-called globalization.

For some authors, it would be possible to reactivate the “ethics of desire” of the 1960s and 1970s, as long as the old romantic dreams of final solutions, whether utopian or dystopian, were abandoned. The reactivation of Lygia Clark's political force in the present would thus imply the examination of the “desire for community” underlying the artist's trajectory: “What was the invention of community, as a missing people, that was behind her operations?”, asks Thierry Davila.

Several authors, in the wake of Maurice Blanchot, Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and Roland Barthes have thought, as is known, notions of community, which can specify the notion of “collective work” in Lygia Clark. Not only in the artistic regime, but also in the work, clinical or friendship regimes, Jaques Rancière, Toni Negri, Michael Hardt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Mauricio Lazzarato, Giorgio Agambem or Francisco Ortega have been figuring ways of life that elude the so-called “life in common” (as “identity or fusional community”), as shown by Peter Pelbart.

There are different designations of “non-unitary”, “non-totalizable”, “non-filialist” forms of community; that is, “community made of singularities”; because irreducible both to “individualism” and to “communalism”, as would occur, according to Lygia Clark, in Collective body. Common participation did not provoke, said Lygia, the “annulment of individuality”, since the “loss of internal substance” experienced by the participant would lead him to “the experience of redefining his individual presence”.

Similarly, the effect of participation in collective propositions, as well as the application of the relational object — still in Lygia Clark's terms — “lasted over time, changing the behavior of the participant/patient in their daily lives”; that is, it would develop at the end of EXPERIENCE, “a new form of communication that would integrate him into the set of social relations without losing his individuality”. It is possible, therefore, to reactivate the “work” of Lygia Clark, taking the collective body (Or the self-structuring) as the place of origin of politics: a space in which one glimpses forms of community that may arise. His poetics of the constructive root gesture is, in other words, a modern device, supposedly active, which can be repotentialized according to the current conditions of culture and the arts.

*Ricardo Fabbrini Professor of Philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Art after the vanguards (Unicamp).

Revised version of article published in Journal of Reviews no 52.

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