Lygia Pape: Magnetized Space

by Sue Hubbard

Book_of_Time‘All truths,’ the philosopher Alain Badiou writes, as quoted by the psychoanalyst, Adam Philips in his Five Short Talks on Excess, ‘are woven from extreme consequences’ [1]. Philips then goes on to quote the dramatist Mark Ravenhill: “art that isn’t driven by this basic impulse to create an unbalanced view of the world is probably bad or weak.”[2].‘Extreme consequences’ then, in an artistic context, might be considered to be both a drive and a passion; the very qualities that stimulate artists to make new and iconoclastic work.

Breaking moulds, disturbing structures of thought and established relationships between North and South, the New World and the Old in order to create an ‘unbalanced view of the world’ and discover who we are and what we think are the hallmarks that were brought to the burgeoning Brazilian art scene in the nineteen-fifties and sixties by the Brazilian artist, Lygia Pape (1927-2004). Through their re-reading of, and reaction to European abstraction, a group of young Brazilian artists pushed aside the boundaries of the Old World and colonial art to create an indigenous, pluralistic and democratic body of work. Neo- Concretism (as it was dubbed) is often seen as the beginning of contemporary art in Brazil and Lygia Pape’s oeuvre, with its rich mix of aesthetic, ethical and political ideas helped to form Brazil’s nascent artistic identity. This expansion from Old to New World was not only geographical. The territories that were now being explored and exploited were no longer simply the exotic terrains and lands described by the great nineteenth century travellers and writers but also those closer to home, as the relatively new ‘art’of psychoanalysis was showing. The area of exploration had become not only a physical terrain but the geography of our own psyches and internal worlds. Art was mapping a new relationship between body and mind.

Writing of the Latin American avant-garde novel, the scholar, Vicky Unruh, has suggested that a frequent characteristic has been “the artist’s lament, calling to mind once again the stresses between cosmic aspirations and the pulls of a contingent world.” This dichotomy, this switching between states is also a characteristic of Lygia Pape’s practice and “is linked with her insistence on the freedom to experiment, driven by her rebellious spirit.” [3]

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Anslem Kiefer: Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen – White Cube, Hoxton, London

By Sue Hubbard

In 1969 the German artist Anslem Kiefer compiled a book, Unfruchtbare Landschaften that brought together two disparate elements: landscapes and the pages of a medical textbook dealing with contraception. Placing the IUDs out of context on top of the landscapes seemed to imply sterility. Wrenched from their purpose and context these now alien objects brought with them not only traces of their own history but took on new metaphorical meanings. The beauty of the gesture of these juxtapositions lay in the attempt to say something beyond language.Anselm_Kiefer_Des_Meeres_und_der_Liebe_Wellen_2011_a4_1[1]

Kiefer is one of the most significant and serious artists of the post war generation. Born in Donaueschinger in South Germany in 1945, in 1966 he left his law studies at the University of Freiburg to study art. A student of Joseph Beuys in the early 1970s he began to explore the fraught territory of German history and identity in a muscular visual language. His paintings, oversized books and performance art draw from literature, art and music, philosophy and folklore. Borrowing from Teutonic myth he has conducted investigations into the recent past, particularly the era of the Third Reich, exploring a post Nietzschian desire to establish meaning in a brutal Godless world. His painted landscapes of the ploughed and rutted German countryside, incorporating straw, ash, clay, lead and shellac, have become metaphors for the tragedy of recent European history. Engaged in an endless interrogation of the devastation and horror that his country wrought, he implies that the tragedy was a product of Germany’s intellectual and cultural heritage, a view endorsed in Michael Haneke's superb yet disturbing film, The White Ribbon, based on life in pre-first world war Germany.

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