Hugely influential, Lygia Clark (1920–1988, Brazil), alongside Hélio Oiticica and others, produced in mid-twentieth century Brazilian Modernism a radical and singular territory between poetics and politics, distinct from the dominant Western European and North American models. Clark devoted herself to painting and sculpture throughout the first sixteen years of her artistic career. From 1963 until the end of her life, her work ceased to be limited to the creation of objects and rather realised itself in the relation between those experiencing the proposal and the world: the work becomes event. These various proposals implicated a specific sensible capacity of the body, namely, the way in which it is affected by the otherness of the world. Thus, it is impossible to present such works by only exhibiting the objects employed in these actions, or by exhibiting documentation of the processes, as these would be apprehended only in their exteriority, reified and emptied of their critical vitality.
Faced with this challenge, Suely Rolnik conceived a memory-building project in which the sensations experienced in Lygia Clark’s proposals might be activated, by shooting 65 interviews in Brazil, France and the US. The resulting concert of dissonant and heterogeneous voices sketches an outline of the unique sphere in which Lygia Clark’s research took place – as well as the cultural context of Brazil and France in which the artist’s concerns found their origin. The intention is that, by means of this living archive, the legacy of Lygia Clark and the issues that her unequalled work poses, might continue to feed critical dialogue and today’s artistic explorations.
I accept nothing from those who want to put a label on me. I only accept criticism from those who are willing to live with me through the sensibility and experience that led me to a painting or an attitude.
In 1968, following the retrospective of her work at the 34th Venice Biennale, Lygia Clark moved to Paris, where she found an environment suitable for her artistic explorations, far from the military dictatorship then in power in Brazil. There she was frequently invited to carry out her proposals at meetings with friends from the local art circuit (artists, critics, curators, gallery owners and collectors). In this milieu, Clark developed a new phase in her work, turning now to group experiences. These were proposals that came to involve the sensible relationship with the other, mediated by objects created for this purpose. Positioned between the bodies on whose encounter its expressivity will depend, the object conjures up the vulnerability of each participant to the living presence of the other, without whom the work cannot happen.
In 1972, Clark was invited to give classes at the Sorbonne, at UFR d’Arts Plastiques et Sciences de l’Art de l’Université de Paris 1 (known as Saint Charles). Launched after May 1968 and embodying the ideas of the political and socio-cultural movement which emerged that year, the school was founded as an alternative to the conservative model of training that characterised Fine Arts schools, making it a space for freedom of artistic experimentation. Clark’s participation in this adventure broadened the influence that she already exerted over the artistic scene in Paris.
Clark began to create Structuring the Self (Estruturação do Self), in 1976, when she returned to Brazil for good. From her work with the Sorbonne students during her last years in Paris, the artist observed that the experience her objects summoned up in the encounter, collided with subjective barriers on the part of participants. She then felt the need to create a proposal that enabled this barrier to be crossed. The new focus of research intended to explore objects not only in their capacity to summon up the experience, but also in their capacity to bring its impossibilities to the fore – no longer here as a side effect of the work but as a core element. Dealing with these impossibilities became the aim of the new proposal, which took on an openly therapeutic dimension.
The work ceased to be collective and returned to a focus on individual experience as with her earlier experimental work, though now set in the context of a long-term, protected, lived relation with the artist. It took place in one-hour sessions, once to three times a week, for months or even years. Clark’s participants, ’clients‘, as she called them, came from the Rio de Janeiro cultural world of the day, except – and not coincidentally – visual arts and psychoanalysis. The objects that Clark used in her sessions, she referred to as ‘Objeto Relacional’ (‘Relational Object’). Many came from previous phases of her work, others were especially made. Some of her ‘Relational Objects’ received a specific title, such as Grandecolchão (Large Mattress), or Almofadas leve, pesada and leve-pesada (Light, Heavy and Light-Heavy Cushions). Others had no name or their name changed according to their use.
Lygia Clark practised Structuring the Self unflaggingly until 1981. She gradually reduced the number of ‘sessions’, partially abandoning the work from 1984 and then definitively in 1988. She died two months later. The high degree of refinement that this proposal represented within her overall project – placing the opening up of sensible capacities at its centre – was also what enabled its appropriation in the clinical field, especially for psychosis treatment: her ‘Relational Objects’ were successfully incorporated into therapeutic practice, especially in public mental health.
However, Structuring the Self should not be mistaken for its clinical applications, on pain of missing the rich and subtle complexity of this proposal, as well as the evolution of Clark’s unique artistic trajectory. The artist broke new ground with this work. Disregarding the boundaries of both art and clinical practice – independently of style, school or category – Clark created an unprecedented territory, driven by her restless investigative spirit.
Raven Row commissioned the translation and subtitling in English of 25 of the total 65 interviews that Suely Rolnik conducted, each of which last about one hour. These will be donated to Tate. The 25 interviews are with: Caetano Veloso, Yve-Alain Bois, Guy Brett, Suely Rolnik, David Medalla, Jards Macalé, Thierry Davila, Suzana de Moraes, Gaëlle Bosser and Claude Lothier, Rubens Gerchman, Hubert Godard, Ferreira Gullar, Lula Wanderley, Ivanilda Santos Leme, Julien Blaine, Anne-Marie Duguet, Paulo Venâncio, Paulo Herkenhoff, Lia Rodrigues, Dedé Veloso, Arnaud Pierre, Berndt Deprez, Christinne Ishkinazi, Jean-Luc Moulène, and Pierre Baqué.