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Clark & Oiticica

Ricardo Basbaum

PRODUCING TRANSFORMATIONS: this formula permeated the work of the Brazilian artists Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. It meant, in one aspect, that they engaged themselves radically in their own lives, living a process of permanent actualization, through self construction, deconstruction, and experimentation. Unlike body-artists, however, their main support was not their own bodies, but those of the others: the pattern

YOU the spectator

ME the artist

was sensorially reversed by them into the conceptual flux


not through a simple mirror-like inversion, but in the sense of moving ‘YOU’ from the spectator’s passive position to the active and singular role of being the subject of your own experience.

Be it Oiticica’s concept of Creleisure or Clark’s Relational Objects, their propositions always invited YOU to activate them, to ‘plug in and be plugged in’. The term “participator-work”1 appeared as a new entity, formed at the same time by the addition body + art object, biological tissues + manufactured/industrialized materials. As if YOU had a tool in your hands, as an extension of your body, but in order to work on yourself. Clark’s and Oiticica’s pieces can be said to be sensorial extensions in two ways: first, in the sense of expanding one’s consciousness, generating an extra amount of sensorial income, which carry transformative effects into the body-mind. Lygia Clark writes about a process of “symbolic metabolization”2, meaning that the transformation is not a metaphorical one: the interface body/object (via sensorial dimension) operates an amalgam of organic-conceptual signs that create new functions in the body3. Second, in the sense of producing a different kind of space-time through the participator-work’s expressive activity, conceived of by Oiticica as “inter-corporeal”. Performing with the Parangolé is an “environmental” participatory act, part of the “creation of an environmental world”4. This body/object/world connection is expressed by Clark in her concepts of a “Collective Body” and “Living Biological Architecture”, both involving propositions that inter-link more than one participant and which, having “no a priori site to happen”, create the environment through “collective expression”5. All of these organic spaces mediated by objects/materials can be characterized as sensorial-conceptual spaces, once they are generated via a sensitization process that is metabolized into a newly codified environment. Here we are very close to the informational hyperspace.

The important discovery of Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica consists on how to operate the sensorial-conceptual flux as a double factor. Thus, they could escape from the limitations of, on the one hand, the muteness of the phenomenological approach and, on the other hand, the reductionist cognitive blindness. Their work can be defined as sensorial-thought technology - a means to induce transformative processes. Importantly, it would be impossible to design any proposition without the open notion of movement “as a whole structure”6 that permeates their works and concepts. Producing transformations, then, should be seen not as a quality but as a condition or property of movement.

With Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark we can face a strange convergence between the sensorial and the digital, which the new technologies are not yet able to operate. Even if the data are not digitalized, the experience of their work produces virtual information in a kind of unprocessed state, which is converted - progressively modified via transduction7 - into concepts that are incorporated by the participant. It means that via sensitizing it is possible to dissolve and process any material sign, in the same way that computers disintegrate reality into digits. Hybridizing with a computer today is still a poor sensorial interaction when compared to hybridizing with a Parangolé: there is a lack of organic resonance in the former’s information bytes, while the latter’s sensorial quanta proliferate through the body. It seems necessary to move computers beyond formal cognitive process in order to gain an expanded comprehension of sensorial-conceptual realities.

WHAT KIND OF TRANSFORMATION do we want to promote? Watch out, do not answer now, be careful not to be trapped by this tricky question: if a ‘metamorphosis project’ sounds like an oxymoron, it is because the transformational process is not submitted to a linear cause-effect relation. When Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica want to free and expand the body-mind, they are fighting against the social, cultural and political limitations of their times, establishing an efficacious strategy for a concrete combat. This enables them to permeate their propositions with a utopic breath, in the sense of a permanent engagement in the creation of an unrepressed wo/man. It is clear, then, that any project towards transformation has no neutral methodology for freeing movement: a (wide) political project always slides through the program. In terms of transformation, one should never try to predict the results. It is wiser to trust that movement and life always create conditions for life and movement to continue.

published in Blast 4: Bioinformatica, New York, X-Art Foundation, 1994.

Ricardo Basbaum is an artist, writer, critic, curator, and professor at Instituto de Artes da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro.

1 Hélio Oiticica, "Bases Fundamentais para uma Definição do Parangolé", "Anotações sobre o Parangolé”, “Crelazer”, in Hélio Oiticica (catalogue), Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, Projeto Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro, Witte de With, Roterdam, 1992, pp. 85-88, 93-96, 132-138. Crelazer/Creleisure = creation + leisure: “the world which is created in our leisure (...) as a summit of human desire.” p. 136 [my translation]

2 Lygia Clark, “The Relational Object”, 1975-1980, Flue (Franklin Furnace, New York), vol. 3, n. 2, Spring 1983, p. 26, “Memória do Corpo”, in Lygia Clark (monograph), Rio de Janeiro, Funarte, 1980, cited in Guy Brett, “Lygia Clark: The borderline between art and life”, Third Text, n. 1, (Autumn 1987), pp. 65-94. “The Relational Object does not have an identity of its own (...). It is defined by its relationship to the subject’s fantasy.”, p. 91. For further readings on Lygia Clark see Guy Brett, “Lygia Clark: In search of the body”, Art in America (July 1994): pp. 56-63, 108, and Lygia Clark, “Nostalgia of the Body”, October 69 (Summer 1994): 85-109.

3 Lula Wanderley, a Brazilian therapist living and working in Rio de Janeiro, practices Clark’s methodology in treating psychotics. Referring to one of his cases, he wrote that the Relational Objects “created ‘organs’ in Romilson’s body, a body that had been empty.” Lula Wanderley, “Isaura”, “Romilson”, “Maria Clara”, unpublished manuscripts.

4 Oiticica, p. 86.

5 Lygia Clark, “O Homem como Suporte Vivo de uma Arquitetura Biológica Imanente”, in Arte Brasileira Hoje, Ed. Ferreira Gullar, Rio de Janeiro, Paz e Terra, 1973, pp. 159-160. [my translation]

6 Guy Brett, Kinetic Art: The language of Movement, London, Studio Visa, 1968.

7 Gilbert Simondon, “The Genesis of the Individual”, in Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter, eds., Incorporations, New York: Zone Books, 1992, pp. 297-319. Transduction “denotes a process (...) in which an activity gradually sets itself in motion, propagating within a given area over which it operates. Each region (...) serves to constitute the next one to such an extent that at the very time this structuration is effected there is a progressive modification taking place in tandem with it. (...) The transductive process is thus an individuation in progress. (...) The ultimate terms at which the transductive process finally arrives do not preexist this process.”