beyond the art



Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark had in common a cultural and political project of “de-aestheticizing” art.

Since the end of the 1950s, and more incisively in the beginning of the 60s, the common project of Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica aimed at “transforming art processes into sensations of life”. Taking the crisis of painting to the limit, the de-aestheticization launched artists in search of a “beyond-art” that responded to the “new directions of contemporary sensibility”. The solutions they found – in line with the developments they had been making about the possibilities opened up by the constructive aspect of modern art – guided them towards realizing the complex relationships between art and life. The articulation of constructiveness and experiences had the idea of ​​“participation” as the nerve center of the transformations they proposed: more than aesthetics, the proposition was cultural and political.

In this common work of overcoming painting and destroying all artistic circumscriptions, they discovered their affinities. Initially, the propositions are parallel, but starting with “Parangolé”, by Oiticica, and “Caminhando”, by Lygia, each one becomes singular in terms of participation. In a letter to Lygia, Oiticica says that their “great innovation” was “exactly in the form of participation, or rather, in the sense of it”. He underlines that this distinguishes them from what was done in Europe and the USA, perhaps because in Brazil there was a “heavier bar”, “perhaps because the problems were checked in a more violent way”. An allusion, certainly, both to the repression and censorship of the military regime and to the reactions of the public art system to its proposals.

The letters they exchanged make such problems explicit. Distance, exile and immersion in other artistic-experiential circuits sharpen lucidity. In Brazil, the regime's repression parallels the “avant-garde plagues” and the mediocrity of the artistic milieu: competitiveness, aestheticism, conviviality, denounced by Oiticica in texts (such as “Brasil Diarreia”) and statements. These letters serve as a chronicle and survey of symptoms of Brazilian diarrhea: dilution. They are also valid as a manifestation of the irreducible signs of difference, of critical radicalism, of artistic originality.

Contrary to the criticisms, which confused the implicit marginality of their programs with a merely circumstantial marginality, Lygia and Oiticica affirmed a behavior – in which the letters expose the viscera and drives – that faced institutional closure, de-aestheticization and the challenges of experiential proposals through actions that undo the contradictions between aesthetic nonconformity and social nonconformity. They did not live at the expense of the theme of the death of art, which had already been won for them; they lived from the transmutation of art into “something else”.

Oiticica once said that by installing “Eden” in Whitechapel Gallery of London in 1969, had reached “the limit of everything”, as the parangolé program would have taken its experiential proposition to its ultimate consequences. “Eden” materialized the structural opening, the environmental manifestations, the “Supra-sensorial” and the “Creleizer”, performing the articulation of the “conceptual” and the “living phenomenon”.

In another record, in Paris, Lygia developed the sensory propositions that would lead her to “Relational Objects”. In both, the beyond-art was presented as a transmutation of art and life, detaching itself from the realms of art. How to name what they tended to? For Lygia, what she did was no longer art; as it turned out later, he arrived at a singular mode of therapy, although “Relational Objects” were linked to constructive-sensorial propositions.

In Oiticica, the permanence of the “sense of construction” in propositions-experiences is more evident and purposeful. The beyond-environment of “Ninhos”, for example, the idea-project “Barracão”, the “Contrabólides” are germ cells of participatory experiences in which the principles of constructive developments are discovered, patents from “Metaesquemas” to “Environmental Manifestations” '. What was art is life, and vice versa.

Nostalgia, said Oiticica in 1978, is only felt by those who haven't eaten the whole fruit, who only took a bite. Having reached the limits of everything, in Rio, in London, in New York, upon returning to Brazil he finds that the dilution remains and that, once again, in art and culture, interest in “roots” is increasing. The deculturation that had spread everywhere in the post-68 period had not taken root here. The proximity of redemocratization pointed to what had been stagnant in Brazil in 1968. Not for him, however, because uprooting did not propose “remythologizing” but “demythologizing”. It was about relaunching the loose threads of the experimental; explore them – as I already said in “Experimentar o Experimental”- in an open field of possibilities.

This trajectory of Oiticica is exemplary for understanding the direction and destiny of the experimentation that stretched the limits of modernity. He opened possibilities that only after his death could be properly evaluated and valued. In this sense, an indispensable reference is the catalog produced by the “Projeto Hélio Oiticica”, for a large itinerant exhibition of the artist that visited Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, ​​Lisbon, Minneapolis and Rio de Janeiro. It constitutes an eloquent example of the strength of Oiticica's work and its possible repercussions on contemporary art.

It should be noted, in the organization of the catalogue, the conceptual procedure. Instead of following Oiticica's developments according to chronology, priority was given to an ordering of propositions that highlighted, in addition to coherence, syntheses. So, with propriety, it starts with “Eden”, followed by the fundamental “Brasil Diarréia”. Thus, Oiticica's experimental position and the cultural-critical position are simultaneously formulated. It would have been very interesting if “Experimentar o Experimental” had also appeared in this block, as it not only reiterates the radical nature of “Brasil Diarreia”, but also shows some inflections of Oiticica’s thought in the face of issues posed by consumption and the recoding of the early 70s.

The next block retraces the formation of Oiticica's propositions from the “Metaesquemas”; texts already collected in “Aspiro ao Grande Labirinto” by “Projeto HO” (and which is in need of a new edition, more careful and more complete), unpublished notes, studies, etc. Finally, the very important block of texts, notes, diagrams and projects, after 69, little known because some appeared in magazines of short duration or in catalogs of posthumous exhibitions by Oiticica, and others were dispersed in newspapers and several unpublished, which were part of from the artist's diaries. In fact, a more complete knowledge of Oiticica's thoughts and projects from 1970 to 1980 will only be possible when you have access to these diaries. Mainly because only then will we be able to better understand the scope of what he said shortly before he died: “I consider everything I did before as a prologue. The important thing is starting now”.

Returning to Brazil with the many projects outlined in New York, he relaunched the loose strands of the experimental according to his “demythologizing process” that commanded the “program in progress“: “Everything that came before (...) is nothing more than a prelude to what is to come and which begins to emerge from that year onwards in my 'work': what I previously called the 'egg' must follow 'the new '. The egg and the new of Oiticica's experimentation are now at our disposal. It is about knowing, in the ongoing appropriations, how to overcome the legend and save the honor of the name.

*Celso Favaretto is an art critic, retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and author, among other books, of The invention of Helio Oiticica (Edusp).


Luciano Figueiredo (org.). Lygia Clark/Hélio Oiticica: Letters, 1964-74. Publisher of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, 262 pages.

Luciano Figueiredo (org.). Hélio Oiticica – Exhibition Catalog. Hélio Oiticica Project, 279 pages.


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