Archive for a Work-Event: Activating the Body's Memory of Lygia Clark's Poetics and its Context / Part 1

Suely Rolnik

At the very moment when the artist digests the object, he is digested by society, which has already found him a title and a bureaucratic function: he will be the engineer of the leisures of the future, an activity that has no effect whatsoever on the equilibrium of social structures.

Lygia Clark, 19691

The work of Lygia Clark is today recognized as one of the founding gestures of contemporary art in Brazil, and has an important presence in the international scene. Her artistic trajectory occupies a singular position in the critical movement that shook the international art field during the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. But as with many artistic practices of that period, especially in Latin America, her work risks being reduced to an unarticulated set of sterilized legacies.

 The need and desire to face this situation triggered the creation of a project, which I undertook between 2002 and 2010: constructing the bodily memory of Lygia Clark’s work and the context from which it originated. The result is an archive of sixty-five interviews registered on film, fifty-three of which were selected to be released in a DVD format,2 and which have already been the object of diverse unfoldings in different contexts, some of which are still ongoing: an exhibition of the artist at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes (2005) and at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (2006); a series of exhibitions of the archive in different countries;3 incorporation of the archive in the collections of museums in Latin America, Europe and the U.S., each subtitled in the appropriate official language; and finally, a box that contains a selection of twenty DVDs and a booklet, which has been produced in both France and Brazil.4

The project will be the starting point for an attempt to revisit Lygia Clark’s work and to problematize the operations of archiving, preserving, collecting and exhibiting this kind of artistic practice, if indeed it should persist as a living experience today. What will be presented here is a stance on the current debate regarding the destinies that are given to this kind of work—destines that range between its announced death and the vitality of its pulsing in the present.

An unusual territory

Lygia Clark’s trajectory began in 1947. She dedicated her first sixteen years of activity to painting and sculpture, which had a surprising early repercussion in Brazil and, already in 1964, represented the beginning of an international presence.5 The singularity of the artist’s research led her, in 1963, to the creation of Caminhando (Walking).6 The origin of this work was a study that Lygia had made for one of her Bichos (Beasts): while cutting a piece of paper as a Möbius strip, the artist realized that the artwork consisted in the very experience of cutting that surface and not in the object that resulted from it. She then decided to transform it into an artistic proposition: the receiver would experience a time without a before or an after, and a space deprived of rear and front, right and reverse, above and below, inside and outside. The work would be accomplished through that experience: in the temporality of the gesture of the person who would definitively stop being reduced to the condition of “spectator”, with his or her sterile relation with a supposedly neutral object, situated outside in a supposedly inert space. This experience privileges a living space created through the act that operates between the two; made of the fusion of the bodies of the hand, the paper and the scissors. Simple and powerful, the proposition went beyond the frontiers that delimited the field of art in that period, and allowed Lygia Clark to foresee an unknown territory. This vision opened a deep crisis with no return: there would be from then on an inflection in the trajectory of the artist that would lead her to risk the beginning of an international consolidation; to radically follow her new path of research. She would need three years more to start giving body to what was by then only virtual. The first proposition to follow was Pedra e ar (Stone and air) (1966),7 which inaugurated a series of works that Lygia Clark put together under the title Nostalgia do corpo (Longing for the Body).8 Four other series of propositions that mobilized the last twenty-three years of her work followed: A casa é o corpo (The house is the body) (1967–1969); O corpo é a casa (The body is the house) (1968–1970); Corpo Colectivo (Collective Body)—that the artist subsequently named Fantasmática do corpo (Phantasm of the body) (1972–1975)—and Estruturação do Self (Structuring the Self) (1976–1988).9 Those works progressively embodied the virtual territory that she had inaugurated with Caminhando (Walking), and in which she would invest her creative power for the remainder of her life.

 After the turn that took place in 1963, the artist’s research persisted in the creation of proposals that depended on the processes they mobilized on the bodies of people who offered themselves to live them as a condition for the realization of those practices as artworks. The oeuvre was accomplished in the expansion of each persons’s sensibilities. It activated his or her aesthetic experience, that is to say the capacity to be affected by the forces that shake both the objects created by the artist, and their environment, thereby demystifying the illusory stability of their shape as could be apprehended by perception. The work was completed by the activation of those persons’ vulnerabilities to the sensation of the paradoxical disparity between two exercises of cognition—on one hand, perception of the world’s shapes, and, on the other, the resonance of the forces that animate it—when its tension reaches a threshold of tolerability. This cognitive approach challenged the experimentalist to sustain him/herself in the “empty-full”10 zone of otherness that such forces open in his or her own subjectivity. I refer to the zone made by a fullness of sensations of the forces that disturb the layout of ourselves and of the world, producing an emptiness of meaning that pushes us to reinvent both. The opening of this otherness that inhabits subjectivity was the event through which the work was accomplished. The wager was that this event would affect the daily life of the people who had experienced the propositions; the opening would impregnate their relation with the forces at play in the different environments of their existence.

Even in her early practice of painting and sculpture, Lygia Clark tried to shift from the reduction of the eye’s exercise to its retinal potency (that which apprehends the forms), in search of its resonance potency (that which apprehends the forces) and the paradoxical dynamics between both.11 What changes and becomes more complex after 1963 is that the research of these dynamics is no longer limited to the eye, and is now explored with the other senses, through the creation of objects that appeal to all of them. It is in this aspect that Clark’s works are distinct from the exploration of the senses made by the “sensorial experiences” or by the practices of “bodily expression” developed during those decades, most of them limited to perception. The coincidence of such movement with the sensorial propositions of Lygia Clark simply indicates that they breathed the same air du temps, which summoned the question of the body-in-art practices, especially in the research of other senses, towards an overcoming of the primacy of vision, both in artistic creation and in its reception.

Lygia’s work would no longer be interrupted in the finitude of the spatiality of the object; it would now be accomplished as temporality, in an experience in which the object would lose its thingness to become, once more, a field of living forces that affect, and are affected, by the world, promoting a continuous process of differentiation of subjective and objective realities. If this central aspect of the artist’s thinking poetics was part of her pictorial and sculptural strategies, after the shift in 1963, it expanded and became even more radical. It is true that in Bichos (Beasts)—the last series before the inflection—the gesture of the so called “participant” and, beyond it, the experience it enabled were summoned as part of the work, through the invitation to the manipulation of the object. Yet the work could still exist as such, independent of this experience, and those who approached it could still remain simple participants. From 1963 onward, Clark’s works could no longer support themselves on the autonomy of the individual objects—isolated from the experience of the context of the specific dispositive they belonged to, as otherwise, they risked becoming a sort of nothingness. Such is Lygia’s strategy to avoid her creations from succumbing to any desire of fetishization (even if the institutional system of art is able to turn anything into a fetishized work).12 The artist digested the object: the work becomes event; an action on reality that transforms it.

 It is important to underline that the invitation of Lygia Clark’s work to mobilize the body as its decisive element cannot be mistaken with the simple invitation to manipulate the objects created by the artist, as was the case with other works that invited spectator participation, common to the artistic scene at the time. In their missives, both Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica insisted on distinguishing their works from those practices.13 It still makes sense to establish that distinction in regard to the contemporary works characterized by a fascination for “interactivity”, in which aesthetics is usually qualified—and more recently theorized—as “relational”,14 reduced to a sterile relation between the façade of the objects and that of the body that manipulates them, both turned into things. This is very different from the disruptive experience produced by the mobilization of the resonance of the experimentalist’s body operated by Lygia’s Relational Objects and by the dispositives that create the conditions to approach them. Such postures, which tend to belong to the sphere of entertainment, will always remain foreign to this other sphere in which the body and the objects it encounters awaken from their inertia as things, in order to exist as living beings, in a permanent process of creation that takes place between them, leading both to become others.

Lygia followed that path for twenty-six more years, until her death in 1988. Her penultimate step would be taken in the work with her students in the recently created Faculty of Fine Arts at the Sorbonne,15 where the artist taught from 1972 to 1976.16 Known as Saint-Charles, the name of the street where it was located, it was the first art faculty of the university, created to answer to the conservatism of fine arts schools, to which art training in France had previously been confined. As a consequence of the movements that shook the country in 1968, Saint-Charles redrew the very field of contemporary art practices, and of the freedom of experimentation that usually characterizes them. Therefore, in order to pursue her artistic research, Lygia Clark chose to exile herself from the institutional and disciplinary territory of art, and to migrate to the university. In that context, it was more feasible to sustain, in her propositions, the otherness of the field of forces that destabilises the forms of subjects and objects, hereby dissolving their separation, which belongs to a perceptive, representational and rational approach. This choice strengthened in her work the active presence of otherness that inhabits the body, and the becomings that it implies; a presence that tended to be banished from the official art world at the time.

The conditions that the artist encountered in the university allowed her to take a step ahead and to exhaustively explore the experiences propitiated by her dispositives. For the first time, she began closely following the effects of her objects and procedures in the subjectivity of their receivers. With a relatively stable group of people for sufficiently long sessions, an appropriate environment was created for the experimentalists to allow the sensations summoned by the propositions to emerge, to free the images they evoked, and even to verbalize them, if they wanted to. In that setting, the process amplified and unfolded according to the rhythm of the recurrent sessions. Also, Lygia’s presence became an essential element of the experience that the work required to happen. The artist participated in the process: a ritual that she conducted, using the objects in the bodies of her students, and/or offering the conditions of their experimentation.

The new experience of the university work would allow Clark to face the difficulties that most of the students experienced in their attempts to abandon themselves to her propositions, which depended on their possibility to free their aesthetic experience and the poetic capacity they mobilized. Lygia realised then that the subjective event presupposed and mobilised by her objects and dispositives as the condition of their expressivity tended to clash with certain psychic barriers of those who accepted to experiment them. These barriers are built by the phantasmatics inscribed in the “memory of the body”, as the artist herself called it.

This unease can be perceived in the interviews of her Sorbonne students, which are part of the archive.17 Most of them recognize the germinal importance of these experiences for their lives, and those who became artists admit the strong influence they played in their work. However, many revealed a clear ambivalence when recalling the rage they had felt for the artist, when they were haunted by their phantoms and by the memory of the sensations that convoked them and caused anguish, without having an adequate environment to deal with the body’s memory of their traumas and to carry out the work of elaborating it.

Phantasmic barriers—which in this case were manifested through the students’ resistance to experience the artist’s proposals—are raised as a protection from traumatic memories, caused by failed attempts to live the aesthetic experience and to reinvent oneself through this process. This failure is the consequence of an inhibition of aesthetic experience because it is unable to find an environment that responds to its expression. The micropolitical characteristic of dictatorships, for example, tend to summon and strengthen existing traumas; or to produce them for the first time in those who have had the opportunity to live the aesthetic experience and its expression before the installation of such regimes in their countries (an opportunity that was especially favoured by the countercultural movements that preceded the dictatorships and that continued during their first years, before being repressed). Phantasmic barriers are inscribed in the body’s memory as a strategy of defense, alongside the traumatic experience that unleashed their construction; both the trauma and the defense can simultaneously be mobilized by any context that directly or indirectly evokes the original situation.

It is in relation to this impasse that the artist created Estruturação do Self (Structuring the Self), the last gesture of her oeuvre, which took place after her definitive return to Rio de Janeiro in 1976. To realise it, she dedicated a room of her flat to a sort of installation, where she received each person individually for one hour long sessions.18 one to three times a week over a period of months, and in some cases, even a period of years. The Relational Objects were the instruments conceived by the artist to touch the bodies of her “clients”, as she referred to those who were available to experience this proposal. Naked,19 They would lay on one of those objects, the Grande colchão (Large Mattress),20 and the session would begin. Many were the uses of the Relational Objects, and they were chosen concerning Lygia’s listening to the requests made by the client’s bodies at each moment of the process. The feeling of an invisible demand oriented her in the selection of the objects, as well as in the sequence of their use and their manipulation during the session. 

Traumas and their ghosts inscribed in the memory of the body consequently became the focus of her research, whose mobilization would no longer be a mere collateral effect of her proposals, but rather, the nervous center of their dispositives. Lygia Clark sought to explore the power of the objects to bring this memory to the surface and to treat it (an operation she called “vomiting the phantasmatic”). It is therefore the inner logic of the investigation that led her to invent her last artistic proposal, which included a deliberately therapeutic dimension. Her many years of psychoanalysis had prepared her for such experience,21 by making her delve into the complexity of her own body’s memory and the work of releasing its entanglements. A new exile of the institutional terrain of art took place, this time toward the field of psychotherapeutics—a far distant region from the boundaries of art, within which was still situated the university context that she had chosen to make her experiments possible.

It is worth recalling that throughout the twelve years in which Lygia worked on Estruturação do Self (Structuring the Self), she insisted in pointing out that it was a psychotherapeutic practice and, at the same time, often repeated that she had neither ever stopped being an artist, nor had become a psychoanalyst (or anything of the sort). How then, can we understand her exile into psychotherapeutic terrain? Perhaps such a shift was the solution she had found in order to free the exercise presupposed by the word "art" from the determinations that prevailed in the institutional terrain in which the artistic practices were confined at the time; a gesture that was shared by many artists of her generation (those who had made the act of questioning this context the main focus of their aesthetics. From Lygia’s unique answer, through her work, to the challenge of such a state of things, we can assume that what mattered to her was the operation of the artistic practice and the event it promoted, and neither the field in which the event took place nor its name or categorization, and even less so, the place it was assigned inside a pre-established hierarchy of cultural values. In fact, in that moment, the institutional field of art was the least suitable place for such an operation.

Lygia was accordingly obliged to migrate to the terrain of psychotherapy in order to continue and to complete her operation of creating a new territory that she had constructed throughout her artistic trajectory. From the viewpoint of that unknown territory, the polemic surrounding the question of where to situate this specific work is sterile; it is a false problem; a cul-de-sac: it does not matter if it is still in the field of art or already in that of psychotherapeutics. We should thus make an effort to enter the singular territory created by the artist: there where aesthetics and therapeutics reveal themselves as potentials of experience, inseparable in their act of interfering in subjective and objective realities. Such an act is therefore also political, given its disruptive effects on the dominant mode of subjectivation and, specifically, in its power in the institutional field of art. It is precisely the confluence of poetic, therapeutic and politic powers in a single gesture that we need to (re)activate when updating Lygia Clark’s works in the present.

The event fades away 

During Lygia Clark’s life, and in the ten years that followed her death, her practices dedicated to the bodily experimentation of those who had accepted to involve themselves with her propositions enjoyed no reception in the institutional context of art. The artist was recognised exclusively by her works of painting and sculpture, which only comprise one third of her trajectory. With the exception of a brief period between 1968 and 1971, in Europe, with the retrospective of her work in the Venice Biennale (1968), the dossiers published in two issues of the magazine Robho22 (1968 and 1971), and the beginning of her “classes” at the Sorbonne (1971), the attention towards the remaining two thirds of her production only emerged in 1997–1998. Such attention was the result of the successful reception of the small room dedicated to some of her propositions in documenta X, organized by the curator Catherine David, and mainly of the itinerant retrospective organized by Fundació Antoni Tàpies, where for the first time the whole body of works by the artist was exhibited.23 From that moment onward, the practices dedicated to the body have been recognized as part of her work, which has since been admitted to the exclusive club of the international stars of contemporary art. In recent times, the artist's work has appeared in at least thirty exhibitions globally every year. The experimental period has increasingly been paid attention to; her paintings and sculptures fetching ever-higher prices on the art market.24 

In that context, and considering the way in which Lygia’s propositions tend to be presented, they are on most occasions drained of vitality—something that also happened to other artistic practices of those decades. Only the objects that participated in those actions are exhibited, and sometimes the actions are remade for an audience of museums and biennials, who observe them with a mixture of curiosity and distraction, without any condition for actualizing the experience that makes them make sense. Such propositions, especially Estruturação do Self (Structuring the Self), are strictly incompatible with the presence of anyone adopting the position of "spectator"; of anyone who is exterior and/or immune to the experience such works require and mobilize—not to mention the silence, the temporal continuity and the mute intimacy between resonant bodies; essential aspects for the realization of the work. We could say the same to anyone adopting the position of ”receptor” in its passivity—as the work doesn’t exist without his or her action—or the position of “participant”. If the artist had made of her work the digestion of the object in order to reactivate the critical power of the artistic experience, the circuit was now digesting the artist, turning her into the engineer of the leisure of a future that was already there, which "in no way affects the balance of social structures", just as she had predicted more than three decades earlier.

In the best of cases, the objects are presented alongside documents, and sometimes the only thing that is presented is the documentation. Yet, these allow no more than a fragmentary and merely external apprehension of such actions, stripped of their relational essence, according to the meaning of the term implied by Lygia Clark’s work. The artist’s poetic gesture is thus emptied out, and her work is turned into a luxury item for the feast of the reification of art that “cultural capitalism” promotes. The epigraphy to this text is a sort of prophecy that confirms the artist’s acute lucidity in relation to the new regime back in 1969, when one could only vaguely discern it in the horizon. This lucidity was already evident in shift of the artist’s work in 1963: by circumventing that instrumentalization, she was laying it bare, even if it was still too early to be able to verbalize it with such accuracy. This was something that could only happen six years later. 

The critical forms set in motion by Lygia in her proposals over the two following decades—mainly when she migrated outside the field of art—only found resonance after her death, during the second half of the 1990s, in the extra- or para-disciplinary drift of a new generation of artists. Those young artists began to rethink and activate the movement of Institutional Critique initiated in the 1960s from different conceptual and political grounds.25 Many of those artistic practices that began to proliferate, especially in Latin America, tried to infiltrate the interstices of the urban life, making apparent what was irrupting in the official cartography of the city. The drift outside the official spaces and categories of art undertaken by that third generation of the Institutional Critique did not imply a complete exile, as was required for Lygia in her time. The context had completely changed: the relation of those new artistic practices to the official circuit of art was now marked by a fluid dynamic of comings-and-goings that tended to disseminate micro-movements of a critical deterritorialization of the established field. That generation was thus moving away from the anti-institutional and anti-disciplinary imagery that had triggered the most radical creations of the 1960s and 1970s, and had also embedded Lygia’s propositions, despite that her drift out of the institutionalized realm was not motivated by an opposition to it but by the very demand of her poetics, which could not be addressed within that context. 

The anguish I felt by the way in which the work of the artist had been incorporated within the official circuit found a fertile ground for confrontation in the critical gesture that was reactivated by this new generation of artists, now employing other strategies. For them, the entire act of questioning the value of acting in the institutional terrain of art had become a false problem. A collective support was now offered to my desire to activate the poetic power of Lygia’s work in its recent return to that terrain, which she had deserted in life. In fact, this desire originated much earlier, in the impulse that had initially led me to take her bodily propositions as the subject of my doctoral thesis at Paris VII, in response to a request by the artist herself, who was frustrated by the lack of dialogue with the critics at the time. The thesis was a first step, but the desire to push the task forward and to give more consistency to it remained. I owed it to Lygia and to her work, which thinking poetics contributed—and continued to contribute—to my own work. And so it was that, in 2002, I began to conceive the project of building a body’s memory of her propositions, which resulted in the archive.

To be continued in Manifesta Journal #14

  • 1. “L’homme structure vivante d’une architecture biologique et cellulaire,” in the dossier dedicated to Lygia Clark in the magazine Robho, n. 5-6 Paris, 1971. Copies of the magazine are rare, but the reader can make use of the facsimile of the journal, as well as of the first issue that was dedicated to the artist in the 1968 issue of the magazine, published in the exhibition catalogue Lygia Clark, de l’œuvre à l’événement : Nous sommes le moule, à vous de donner le souffle, Suely Rolnik and Corinne Diserens, eds, Nantes: Musée de Beaux-Arts de Nantes, 2005. Portuguese version: Lygia Clark, da obra ao acontecimento: Somos o molde, a você cabe o sopro, São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, 2006. The Brazilian edition includes the reproduction of both cahiers, which have been translated to Portuguese.
  • 2. The fifty-three DVDs of the archive will be available for free public consultation in the museums and cultural institutions of several countries. In Brazil, they are already available in São Paulo, at the Cinemateca Brasileira, that also makes available for consultation the DVCams of the sixty-five interviews, in their original, unedited version.
  • 3. Exhibitions of parts of the archive, accompanied by a conference by the author of the projects, were presented in the following countries and institutions: in Belgium, as the co-initiative of four institutions: Performing Arts Research Training Studios (PARTS), Extra City—Center for Contemporary Art, Beursschouwburg Theatre, and Gallery Jan Mot, with conferences and workshops of Hubert Godard and Guy Brett, in collaboration with the author (Brussels and Antwerp, 24 March–31 April 2007); in Germany, as part of IN TRANSIT 08 Performing Arts Festival “Singularities”, at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin, 11 June–21 June 2008); in the United States, at Cage, an experimental gallery that was inaugurated with a one year long presentation of the archive (New York, January–December 2012). In Brazil, at the Museu Universitário de Arte of the Federal University of Uberlândia (Uberlândia, 14 March–25 April 2008); at the Centro Cultural Banco do Nordeste (Fortaleza, 17 April–07 May 2010) and at the Museu de Arte Moderna Aloísio Magalhães—MAMAM (Recife, 2011). Other than the exhibitions of the archive, five DVDs of the interviews were presented in Spain, on the initiative of the Ministry of Culture of the Brazilian Government in the edition of ARCO ’08, which had Brazil as the guest country (Madrid, 13 February–18 February 2008). Among the exhibitions of this archive, scheduled for 2012, are: In France, at the Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers (Paris, June 2012) and in Spain, at MACBA (Barcelona, October 2012).
  • 4. This essay was originally published in a booklet included in the DVD box set "Archive pour une oeuvre-événement. Suely Rolnik." Carta Blanca Editions, Paris 2010. Les Presses du Réel. The initiative of the realization of this box set came from a suggestion of the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, in France, after the enthusiastic reception that the exhibition Lygia Clark, de l’œuvre à l’événement. Nous sommes le moule. À vous de donner le souffle... had received in the French and international press. Some of the volumes were freely distributed in libraries, cultural, and educational institutions in both France and Brazil, and the other volumes are being sold in bookshops in both countries.
  • 5. The text refers to the exhibition of David Medalla and Paul Keeler at Signals Gallery, in London, in which the English critic Guy Brett was involved. Brett was the only person to maintain a dialogue with the work of Lygia Clark from that period until the end of the artist’s life, and he did not move away after the inflection of 1963. Mário Pedrosa also remained close to her, and continued to praise her research. His reaction to Trepante, the last exemplar of the Bichos series, made of rubber, is widely known. Seeing her first version, he kicked it, joyfully exclaiming: “Finally—we can kick a work of art”. However, Pedrosa recognized that he did not know how to think of her work after Caminhando (Walking). The same happened with Yves-Alain Bois, who explicitly declares so in his text “Nostalgia of the Body”, in October 96, October Magazine, MIT Press, Summer 1994, 85–99.
  • 6. The proposition consists of offering the spectator a strip of any paper, scissors and glue. The objects come with instructions: he or she should twist the strip 180 degrees, then glue the front face of one extremity to the back face of the other, forming a two dimensional single surface (like a Möbius strip). Then choose any point of the strip to start a longitudinal cut, avoiding hitting the initial point every time a lap is completed. The cut generates both spiral and intertwined forms, while the strip narrows and lengthens, until the scissors can no longer avoid the point at which the operation began. At this moment, the strip regains its front and back, and the work is fulfilled.
  • 7. Pedra e ar (Stone and Air) consists of a plastic bag, a rubber band, a pebble, and air. The receiver must fill the bag with her or his own breath and close it with a rubber band; in one of its exterior angles, facing it up, he or she places the pebble. Then he or she should hold the air balloon with the palm of his or her hand, pressing it with systolic and diastolic movements to make the pebble go up and down. Lygia Clark considered Pedra e ar (1966) her first work on the body, the simplest one; and perhaps because of that it was her favorite.
  • 8. “Nostalgia do Corpo” is a phase from Clark’s trajectory from between 1966 and early 1967. The following works, among others, are from this phase, and were all created in 1966: Pedra e ar, Livro sensorial, Pingue-pongue, Desenhe com o dedo, Água e conchas, Respire comigo, Diálogo de mãos e Natureza (Estrutura cega).
  • 9. For further information on the Objetos Relacionais and their use in the Estruturação do Self (Structuring the Self), see: Suely Rolnik, "Breve descrição dos Objetos Relacionais”, in Lygia Clark, da obra ao acontecimento (catalogue), Op. Cit., 15. In the original French: “Brève description des Objets Relationnels”, in Lygia Clark, de l’oeuvre à l’événement. Nous sommes le moule, à vous de donner le souffle.
  • 10. “Empty-full” was how Lygia Clark referred to this kind of experience; a conceptual refrain throughout her artistic trajectory.
  • 11. For further information on the presence of this direction of research since the early works of painting and sculpture, see: Suely Rolnik, “Molding a Contemporary Soul: the Empty-Full of Lygia Clark”, in Rina Carvajal and Alma Ruiz, eds., The Experimental Exercise of Freedom: Lygia Clark, Gego, Mathias Goeritz, Hélio Oiticica, Mira Schendel (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1999, 55–108). Bilingual edition (English/Spanish).
  • 12. An example of the fetishization of an object that was part of a proposition, for which such a fate was never imagined, is a large, rectangular piece of plastic with nylon or jute bags stitched at the ends, of the series Arquiteturas Biológicas, created by Lygia Clark in 1968 and practiced with variations until 1970. The object was used by a group of people, who inserted either their feet or hands into the bags and went on to improvise movements, each one involving the other person in the plastic. The work was realized through the exploration of approaches between the bodies, different from everyday experiences. This work has been reduced to the plastic with the bags sewn at their edges, resting on a pedestal in the exhibition "Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s", which intended to show forms of conceptual art outside of the North American axis.
  • 13. In one of the letters, Hélio Oiticica writes to his friend (20 June 1969): “For you the most important thing is the discovery of the [body] [...] and not of the 'participation in a given object', because this relationship with the object (subject-object) is overcome [...], while in general the problem of participation keeps this relation.” In Luciano Figueiredo org., Lygia Clark. Hélio Oiticica. Cartas 1964–1974 (Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ, 1996, 115). Cf. Suely Rolnik, “Afinal, o que há por trás da coisa corporal?”, in Lygia Clark, da obra ao acontecimento, Op. Cit., 9.
  • 14. See especially Nicolas Bourriaud, Esthétique relationnelle (Dijon: Presses du Réel, 2002). English translation: Relational Aesthetics (New York: Random House, 2009). The ideas put forth by this author have been widely disseminated in Latin America, generally isolated from the vast and varied international production of thought in this field. This mode of dissemination characterizes the colonial tradition that is still present in the region, and that consists on the idealized and a-critical consumption of foreign theories, especially those of European and North American provenance.
  • 15. UFR d’Arts Plastiques et Science de l’Art de l’Université de Paris I, Sorbonne.
  • 16. Lygia Clark lived in Paris during three periods of her lifetime. The first was in the beginning of her artistic trajectory, from 1950 to 1952, when she studied with Árpád Szènes, Isaac Dobrinsky and Fernand Léger. The second was in 1964, when she frequented the group of Latin American artists of kinetic art, mostly Venezuelans, such as Soto and Cruz-Diez, and the circle of artists at Galerie Denise René in Paris, and Signals, in London. This text focuses on her third and final period, from 1968 to 1976.
  • 17. Lygia Clark’s students whose interviews were filmed for the Archive for a work-event are Christinne Ishkinazi, Gaëlle Bosser, Claude Lothier, Berndt Deprez, Marie-José Pillet and Didier Vignon.
  • 18. She exceptionally worked with a couple.
  • 19. The clients kept their undergarments on.
  • 20. Grande Colchão (Large Mattress) is the name that Lygia gave to a Relational Object that consisted of a "large pillow of transparent plastic filled with polystyrene beads and covered with a loose sheet on which the client was lying during the whole session. Lygia Clark also used it for other purposes, for example, by pressing against this mattress the client's body, demarcating her or his contour in order to 'mould it'—an expression that the artist proposed specially to describe this operation." Cf: Suely Rolnik, "Breve descrição dos Objetos Relacionais”, in Lygia Clark, da obra ao acontecimento, Op.Cit., 15.
  • 21. Lygia Clark engaged in analysis for a large part of her life, in different periods and with different psychoanalysts, among them Pierre Fédida, during her last period in Paris. I filmed an interview with Fédida for this archive in 2002, before the project received support, because there was a risk of losing the opportunity to record his precious testimony, as the analyst was seriously ill. This was the last interview given by Fédida, who died three months later. The interview is part of the complete archive of fifty three films and can also be entirely read in in Lygia Clark, da obra ao acontecimento, Op.Cit., 69–71.
  • 22. The magazine Robho played an important role in the opening of France to contemporary art. The discovery of Lygia Clark's work by its editors, Jean Clay and Julian Blaine, triggered the shift of the magazine, so far focused on kinetic art (being the main vehicle in Paris of its divulgation), towards installations, performances, public interventions, and the like. An interview with Julian Blaine is included in the archive. As for Jean Clay, we were unable to interview him, as he has refused to talk about Lygia Clark for many years.
  • 23. Exhibition organized by Fundació Antoni Tàpies (Barcelona, 1997), in partnership with MAC de Marseille (Marseille, 1998), Fundação Serralves (Porto, 1998), Palais des Beaux-Arts (Brussels, 1998) and Paço Imperial (Rio de Janeiro, 1998–1999). The publication of the catalogue of this exhibition, conceived by Manuel J. Borja-Villel, then director of the institution, and Nuria Enguita Mayo, co-curator of the exhibition, is a prime source for researchers of the work of Lygia Clark, thanks to the attentive work of investigation, which incorporated the artist's manuscripts hitherto unpublished and inaccessible to the public, and whose reading is essential to the understanding her work.
  • 24. Two small aluminum sculptures of the series Bichos from the 1960s were sold in October 2010 for about 700 000 euros each at the 37th International Fair of Contemporary Art (FIAC) in Paris to a French collector. In May that year, in the Art Auction BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), held in London, an aluminum sculpture of the same series doubled the estimated, reaching half a million dollars. More recently, another work of the same series was sold at the Art Basel art fair for around 1.5 million euros, and the work Abrigo Poético 3, from 1964, was sold at the same fair for around 1.8 million euros.
  • 25. See Brian Holmes, “L'extradisciplinaire. Vers une nouvelle critique Institutionnelle”, and Suely Rolnik, “La mémoire du corps contamine le musée”, in Multitude, n° 28 (Paris, 2007). An issue produced in collaboration with the mutilingual Austrian magazine Transform.