For a state of art: the actuality of Lygia Clark
Sâo Paulo, Sunday, May 15, 1994.1 I am lying on the ground, blindfolded; a commotion of anonymous bodies moving around me. I don't know what will happen. A complete loss of reference points: apprehension, disquiet. I surrender. Pieces of bodies, without image, gain autonomy and begin to act on me: anonymous mouths shelter bobbins for sewing machines, the threads coated with saliva are noisily unwound by equally anonymous hands, to then be placed on my body. Covered, little by little, from my feet up to my hands by an entanglement of threads, a composition improvised by the mouths and hands that surround me. I slowly lose my fear of seeing the image of my body dissolve-my face, my form, myself: I begin to be this entangled-drool. The sound of bobbins turning in mouths has stopped. Hands now become entangled in the damp, hot mold that enwraps me in order to extricate me from it; some, more nervous, tear off tufts, others lift threads with fingertips as if they were intent on fraying and so it continues until nothing is left. The blindfold is taken off. Return to the visible world. In the flux of entangled- drool a new body, a new face, a new self was molded.
I am stunned. What has happened to me? I feel called upon to confront this enigma.
I look for clues in Lygia Clark's own texts, which always seemed to me more precise in saying the unsayable of her work. Although at this moment I don't have access to her journals I can still count on her publications and some of her unpublished texts, interviews, and correspondence.2 I focused especially in the phase that begins right after Trepante [Climber] (1964),3 the last of her famous Bichos [Beasts]-the one that according to Lygia, Mario Pedrosa kicked when he first saw it, an act he followed with the enthusiastic remark: "Finally an artwork you can kick."4 From the moment this kick is possible, a shift in Lygia's work that could already be discerned takes concrete form. The new phase is inaugurated with Caminhando [Walking] (1964) and ends with the sessions of the Objetos relacionais [Relational objects], an oeuvre that she produced from 1976 to 1981, and more sporadically in 1984. This is the period that I am interest in researching, for there is where Lygia created the "work" that happened to me-the one she called Baba antropofžgica [Anthropophagic drool] (1973). Together those works comprise the last 24 years of her production when (deliberately); it was no longer viable to display her isolated objects in museums, galleries, living rooms or salons. What point would there be in exhibition bobbins, for example, divorced from the experience I described?
I am drawn to the insistent repetition of some words and expressions, real ritornellos. I decided to take them as my line of investigation. I begin with one that mentions the body, as it was there that something disquieting happened to me: "memory of the body." Of what body and what memory is Lygia speaking?
I appeal to the memory of the sensations that I experienced during Baba antropofžgica. I discover that the body into which I was launched and that Lygia spoke of so often is neither the organic body, nor the image of the body, nor the envelope for a supposed imaginary interiority that would constitute the unity of myself. And moreover, it is these very bodies that were unraveled in me, dissolved in the mixture of drool. The lived body in this experience is beyond all those other bodies, though paradoxically it includes them: it is the body of the entangled-fluxes/drool where I unmade and remade my self.
I think of the "body without organs," an expression of Antonin Artaud taken up and expanded by Gilles Deleuze and Fëlix Guattari at the same time that Lygia was making her Baba antropofžgica. The body without organs is that aformal material of fluxes/drool that I experienced on a totally different plane from the one where my form, both objective and subjective, was delineated. I said "aformal" material not "unformed" because what I experienced there was not simply an absence or lack of definition of my form, but also "beyond form." A plane inhabited by a burning agitation of the flux of saliva, threads, mouths, hands, in movements of attraction and repulsion producing constellations-a plethora of life in which a bundle of unknown sensations germinated, incapable of being expressed in the form in which I recognized myself. That was when I seemed strange to myself: something in me ceased to make sense. I was only pacified when I began to feel a new body, a new "me" gaining consistency; the incarnation of those sensations produced by the mixture of fluxes/drool.
I then had a glimpse that the body without organs of the fluxes/drool is a sort of spring of worlds·modes of existence, "I"s, "bodies, like events as what is always about to appear, to be produced."5 It is an outside of me, but one that curiously inhabits me and also makes me differ from myself·as Lygia says: "the inside is the outside." This paradox brings me to a new question: If it isnËt inside me, where is it that the outside inhabits me?
I remember a comment Lygia made about a work from the period I am researching: "When man puts on those masks he turns into an authentic bicho [beast].6 Since the mask is his appendix."7 I find a lead: the outside is the body without organs of the authentic bicho·a beyond me as a given form, with its contours, its inside, its structure, its psychology. The outside is the nonhuman alive that inhabits me: a material made from drool that is mixed ad infinitum, producing folds and more folds, whose contours circumscribe insides. And the insides are swallowed in the entanglement of drool·an anthropophagic bicho that devours them, rendering them contingent and finite. Each inside is an outside fold, a fold of the authentic bicho.
The association with Bichos in their multiple folds is immediate. But also with Caminhando which immediately follows them, inaugurating this last phase of LygiaËs work: the initiation of the spectator to the fold of the outside, forming ephemeral insides that are unfolded only to be diluted once again in the outside. In LygiaËs own words: "Caminhando allows for the transformation of a virtuality into a concrete undertaking."8 Virtuality produced in the outside that will be actualized in the creation of a new form.
I go back to Baba antropofágica: it is from this outside that a new inside of me was produced. It is easy to imagine that if this experience would be repeated in other contexts·composed of other fluxes, other mixtures·it would produce other insides of me.
If this is the body that I inhabited in Baba, what does the memory of this body consist of? What type of memory did this experience activate in me?
It is obvious that what was trigged in me was not a chronological memory, nor a storage/file of a biographic sequence that my conscience would have accessed, or a hiding place for the repressed representations of the past.
Once again Lygia is the one who answers. What Baba activated was the memory of the "archaic," another one of her ritornellos: the bicho·the nonhuman in man and its affects·that is, paradoxically, always contemporary. The memory of the entangled-drool body, the field of experimentation in a chronogenesis: the engenderment of threads of time spacializing in new worlds. The prospective memory accessed by reactivation (of the bicho) and not by regression (to the human past and its repressed contents).
At this juncture another question imposed itself to me, the last one I have to confront in order to have some understanding of what happened to me on that Sunday: what is Lygia after in inventing objects whose aim is to access the memory of the body?
1. The experience described here is one I made of Lygia Clark's work Baba antropofžgica, in the context of the sessions with a group dedicated to her work, initially aimed at the preparation of its retrospective for the XXII Bienal Internacional de Sâo Paulo.
2. Lygia Clark wrote two journals: a clinical journal (notes on the "sessions" with the Objetos relacionais her last work) and a personal diary (three volumes of text that date from 1955 to 1973). I researched this material on two occasions: the first time in 1978, in response to a request from Lygia to choose her last work as the topic of my thesis (Mëmoire du corps, defended at the University of Paris VII), as well as to help her in composing her text "Objeto relacional" for the book that Funarte dedicated to her work. I returned to work on her diaries for a project we developed together in 1987, aimed at publishing her texts. This project was interrupted by her death, which also meant the end of my access to her journals.
3. Mario Pedrosa is one of the most important landmarks in the history of art criticism in Brazil. He was a privileged interpreter of Lygia Clark's work.
4. Extract from the text of the personal diary of Lygia Clark that comprises the book jacket of Artes by Sonia Lins, her sister (Nova Fronteira: 1995).
5. An extract from a talk given by Carlos Basualdo at a round table during the XXII Bienal Internacional de São Paulo on October 14, 1994.
6. We have chosen not to translate whenever the author uses the word bicho in her text, even in those cases where she is not referring to the title of LygiaËs famous works. Our intention is not only to underline the connection between the two usages of the word in this essay, but also to suggest our uneasiness with the English beast as the translation for bicho. E.N.
7. Letter to Hélio Oiticica dated November 14, 1968, Lygia Clark e Hélio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 1987).
8. "1964: caminhando," Lygia Clark, col. Arte Brasileira Contemporânea, Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 1980, p.25.