From May 22nd to June 22nd, 2020
BODY ART. From Action to Narration
Osart Gallery presents Body Art. From Action to Narration, an online exhibition devoted to three great international artists: Vito Acconci, Dennis Oppenheim and Gina Pane. The show analyses a specific historic period, from 1970 to 1976, in which the human body was the fulcrum of much artistic research – for instance in the major ‘Body Art’ movement – along with the use of photography. The aim of the exhibition is to unite two artistic phases: the Action, in which the artist analyses his/her own body and hence human behaviour in general, and the Narration, in which the artist recounts and describes what has been done through photography, used not only as an element of registration and documentation but also as a rhythmic, compositional element that allows the spectator to read the work.
The aims of these works are different: recounting the relationship with one’s body, analysing one’s presence in a temporal and physical space, exploring psychological emotions and characteristics etc. Nevertheless, they share the distinctly descriptive and scenic aspect in which the work of art is no longer ephemeral and destined to the ‘here and now’ but lives on eternally as a result of the photographic element which, as with a painting, allows the observer to engage with it at any time.
In these works of Vito Acconci the body is a boundary to be overcome, a territory to be explored.
Openings is a work dating to 1970 taken from the video of the same name. We can immediately observe different phases in which we move from a situation that is ‘closed’ and ‘full’ to one that is ‘open’ and ‘empty’. Initially we see the artist’s belly covered in hairs, subsequently we watch as he pulls them out starting from the navel and moving outwards; in the last frame we see his belly completely hairless. These moments can be read thanks to the use of the camera, which has an important function: that of defining space. «This can be a way for exhaustion to be useful», explains the artist, «the hair is used up, I’ve deprived my body of hair – my deprived body can be used as a next body – so the exhaustion is reversible – the exhausted performer can pass, without serious resistance, to another pattern – my drive against my body results in a drift into another form». Therefore, for the artist, ‘displaying the body’ means «going through the body’s form – completing the body – finishing with it.»
This concept of move too far, move to exhaustion is also present in the 1970 triptych Hand and Mouth in which the artist masturbates his mouth with his fist accompanied by the words ‘TAKE/CHOICE/REPEAT/EXHAUST’ repeated like a sort of mantra. This was a very extreme action in which, at the beginning, the artist appears to exclude the public in order to achieve greater concentration, but in the end the instinct for survival brings him, exhausted, to break out of this isolation. Here too, Acconci challenges us to take our bodies beyond logic, beyond the permitted, to explore ourselves to the point where only our human nature – namely instinct – can stop us.
For Dennis Oppenheim the body is like a canvas of memories; it marks time and puts us in contact with the context that we live in.
Pressure Piece is a work that explores this theme. This photographic sequence, taken from the 1970 video, is part of the Aspen Projects that documented Oppenheim’s spectacular exhibitions between 1968 and 1974. What we first see is the imprint of a hand on a mirror; later the artist’s hand appears on the scene, progressively covering the imprint until it becomes invisible. In a certain sense, the pressure exerted on the mirror to leave a sign is the proof of the human presence. But it is the artist’s hand, covering the reflected image, that declares its existence.
In Two stage transfer drawing Oppenheim returns to the sites of his childhood. Initially unaltered, these places are then changed because he himself has changed, along with his relationship with them.
Two stage transfer drawing takes place in two modes. The first is a return to the past. The artist is shown from the rear as he makes a drawing on the back of his daughter, who in turn copies the drawing on a wall. As Oppenheim explains: «My activity stimulates a kinetic response from her sensory system. I am, therefore, Drawing Through Her. Sensory retardation or disorientation make up the discrepancy between the two drawings and could be seen as elements that are activated during this procedure. Because Chandra is my offspring and we share similar biological ingredients, her back (as surface) can be seen as an immature version of my own . . . in a sense, I make contact with a past state.»
The second mode is the passage to future state. In this case it is the daughter who does the drawing on the artist’s back while he replicates the same movement on the wall. As Oppenheim explains: «Her activity stimulates a kinetic response from my sensory system. She is, therefore, Drawing Through Me. Sensory retardation or disorientation make up the discrepancy between the two drawings, and could be seen as elements that are activated during this procedure. Because Chandra is my offspring, and we share similar biological ingredients, my back (as surface) can be seen as a mature version of her own... in a sense, she contacts her own future state.»
While for Acconci and Oppenheim the use of video in the realisation of their performances is an important element in the evolution of the work – in other words, the third eye through which these artists measure themselves against the public – in Gina Pane’s Actions, the ‘other’ element plays an active role within the work and is as much a part of it as a character in a play.
Here the role of the body is different; it becomes almost immaterial. The artist ‘sacrifices’ her body to give it to ‘others’ like a sacred idol.
In the Action Psyché (1974), she slits her eyelids as she declares ‘tears of blood, light of a double vision on the other’ describing the action as follows: «Four lines start from the centre of the body: the navel ‘I’ is the centre that extends outwards in four directions unifying the furthermost points in a synthesis of love». This work is a perfect illustration of the way that Gina Pane stages her Actions. Her approach to the performance is indeed quite different from the others in terms of the meticulous way in which each detail is planned and orchestrated before the performance itself.
In I mix everything: Cocaine Frà Angelico, dating to 1976, she explores the body-psyche relationship through a larger, almost theatrical, scenic action, and the intervention of the written word has the meaning of blasphemy or condemnation. This Action was performed on 30 October 1976, and was the first in a museum: the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art (GAM) in Bologna. Here again, the performance is not dictated by the instinct of the artist, who deliberately constructed the screenplay leaving nothing to chance, not only before and during the action but also in the narrative phase during which the images were manually cut out and grouped into four separate sequences.
There are also several symbolic elements to be found in the work: drugs (cocaine); the blue bulb; the two children in the background, their faces painted like clowns throwing a ping pong ball to each other, marking time like a metronome; the grid-like tiled floor... However the key element in the action are the shards of a piece of glass which, after having shattered it, the artist uses (sometimes instead of a razorblade) to draw on her arm the outline of some wooden building bricks lying on the floor. The shattering of the glass represents the rupture of the distance between the artist and the external world: as the artist put it, a way of getting free, of «going out into the street and into the world not as mannequins but as flesh and blood».
From Action to Narration
Where: online on artsy.com e osartgallery.com
Date: May 22nd, 2020 – June 22nd, 2020
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