by Manuel J. Borja-Villel

Excerpt from Lygia Clark

Lygia Clark - The I and  the You. 1967

Lygia Clark (1920-1988) is one of an extraordinary generation of Brazilian artists and intellectuals that includes, among others, Hélio Oiticica and Glauber Rocha. They all produced the bulk of their work in the sixties and seventies; through a totally idiosyncratic absorption of the international aesthetic trends of the time, they restated the traditional artistic categories and even the very anthropological foundations of the modern Western culture. They rethought the relation between the centre and the periphery, turning it on its head, and they questioned our notion of limits.

In a U-turn that was typical of Brazilian culture, Clark’s work passed from an architecture conceived as a body, that is, as a receptacle to be inhabited by man, to the body conceived as architecture, as the place of the unique experience, not to be standardized, and remaining open. She herself stated in 1973: “It was then that the political and social nature of my work became evident to me: Since it was done with the idea of liberating man, lifting repression, since the participant found a sensorial energy which had been deliberately put to sleep by our social habits, those experiences had a revolutionary impact and were, moreover, received as such”

Like other artists of her generation, Lygia was undoubtedly aware of the process of reification and fetishism that the contemporary world suffers. She felt the need to use her practice to resist the growing vampirisation of artists by a society which incorporates them into its own economy and keeps them a privileged place in the leisure industry. The tendency to use avant-garde art as a form of social regulation, and not of criticism and debate, is evident today, but it was already patent in the sixties and seventies. In the face of that situation, Lygia sought the immanence of the act and the non-separation of subject and object. She rejected the definition of the artist as a demiurge distanced from the spectator who, faced with the work as a representation of the poetical needs which he himself is incapable of communicating, remains completely passive. On the contrary, she delivered the authorship of the work to the spectator so that he would cease to behave like one, rediscover his own poetics and become the subject of his own experience. Her works relinquished their character as objects to become propositions. Her objects no longer had any value in themselves; they only had meaning insofar as they were “participated” by the subject, as transitional objects which make it possible to establish relations between the individual and others or the individual and himself.

At each stage of the creative process, Clark redefined and reconstituted her public. The visitor looking at a work in an art gallery approached the status of participant, who changes the object placed before him. Later on, the spectator was invited to create or use an object from written instructions, or the artist herself initiated group experiments, initially inside the museum, and then on the street or in other public spaces. The proposals of the seventies increased the amount of reciprocal stimulation and the spectator’s invention. In the end the spectator became a “patient” with a reciprocal commitment to Clark, a kind of experimental psychotherapy, open to anyone willing to take the risk and capable of experiencing “a form of interior knowledge” in the process of manipulation.

In the end, Clark’s work can be placed on the boundary between art and the clinic; the aim was for both to recover their critical potential against the dominant mode of subjectivity. She was convinced that by revitalizing the field of art through psychotherapeutic techniques, individuals could reinvent their own existence. With the Objetos relacionais, her last work, the artist came even closer to her goal. Little plastic or canvas bags full of air, water, sand or polystyrene; rubber tubes, rolls of cardboard, sheets, stockings, shells, honey and many other unexpected objects were scattered around the poetic space she created in a room in her house which she called “the consulting room”. They were the elements of an initiation ritual which the author set in motion in a series of regular “sessions” with each receiver.

For Lygia, art is, above all, ritual. That is the way to avoid its becoming a commodity, because it is a ritual without myth, a ritual which enables the participant to discover and remake his own physical and psychic reality.


[Lygia Clark (October 23, 1920, Minas Gerais, Brazil-April 26, 1988, Copacabana, Brazil) was an artist interested in pushing boundaries and closing the gap between object and subject. Her idea was to liberate and lift people from repression and habit in order to connect with their sensorial energies. She represented Brazil at the 1954 Venice Biennale and continued to win numerous prizes and have exhibitions of her work.]