Original Creators: Brazilian Constructivist Artist Lygia Clark

Original Creators: Brazilian Constructivist Artist Lygia Clark

Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator” – an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Lygia Clark.

“The instant of acting is the only living reality in ourselves. When you become aware, then it has passed already.” –Lygia Clark

Breaking paradigms, questioning the norm, and coming up with new ideas have made Lygia Clark (1920—1988) a trailblazer of the Brazilian art scene. First she broke the mold with her paintings, later deciding that the canvas should not be considered the only plane option. Soon she would free her art from the canvas, moving on to sculptures and ever-changing sensorial objects which foster the viewers’ interaction. “Art is not a bourgeois mystification. Now you’re the one giving expression to my thoughts and taking the vital experience you want from it,” she wrote. That’s why Clark was a key artist in the transition from modern to contemporary art.

Painting on multiple planes

Clark begins her 1960 book The Death of the Plane by saying, “The plane is a concept created by man for a practical purpose: to satisfy their need for balance… By eliminating the plane as a support of expression, we become aware of the unit as a living, organic whole. We are a whole and now it’s time to put together all those fragments from the kaleidoscope where the idea of man was broken into pieces.” And it was from that concept that her Modulated Surfaces (1955-57) and Planes in Modulated Surfaces (1957-58) series came about. They displaced painting, freeing it from the confines of a frame, in compositions created with juxtaposed wooden panels covered in industrial spray paint. Every geometric shape is projected beyond the support’s boundaries, expanding their area.

Espaço Modulado (1957)

Espaço Modulado (1958)

Espaço Modulado (1957)

Ever-Changing, Sensorial Sculptures

Exploring the possibilities of planes led Clark to create shapes that would literally come off the screen. In 1959 she created the Cocoons series, made of metal pieces attached to the wall and folded in a way that created an internal space. “A shape is only meaningful for its close relationship with its own internal space (its full-emptiness),” she defines. This was the precursor to her most famous series, Bichos (Creatures), hinged geometric metal pieces that folded and unfolded, calling for the viewers’ participation. (below)

Bicho de Bolso (Pocket Creature), (1966)

Bicho Contrário II (Opposite Creature) 1961

“The arrangement of the metal pieces set the Creature’s position, which at first sight could seem limited. When people ask me how many moves the “Creature” can make, I say: ‘I don’t know, you don’t know, but it knows…’ Its parts have a functional relationship, like in a real living organism, and their movements are mutually dependent."

Clark continued to explore the relationship between artwork and the public in the following years, with interactive pieces such as Sensorial Gloves (1968), playing with the sense of touch through object surfaces of different sizes, weight, and textures. And also with The I and The You: Clothing-Body-Clothing series (1967), in which a couple wears clothes with holes that allow for mutual exploration. As the possibilities of sensorial perception increase in her works, they integrate the body into the art, whether individual or collective.

Abyss Mask (1968) anticipates the artist’s interest that would later manifest itself in psychoanalysis. The piece is a bag of synthetic net that wraps a plastic bag full of air, where one of its ends is projected over the chest like an animal’s snout.

Clark wearing the Abyss Mask (1986)

In 1976, Clark started to study the therapeutic possibilities of sensorial art and of what she defined as Relational Objects—they could be plastic bags full of seeds, air, or water, or even stockings full of stones and shells. These objects were used with patients in therapy to recreate senses they had experienced in the past and which were engraved in the body’s memories through texture, weight, size, temperature, sound, and movement. Those exercises convinced Clark that her work was closer to psychoanalysis than art.

A retrospective of Lygia Clark’s work, including 125 pieces is on at Itaú Cultural in São Paulo until November 11. There’s also an exhibition scheduled for 2014 at MoMA, in New York.