“If I open my ‘body’ so that you can see your blood therein, it is for the love of you: the Other.”
– Gina PANE, 1973
Gina Pane was instrumental to the development of the international Body Art movement, establishing a unique and corporeal language marked by ritual, symbolism and catharsis. The body, most often the artist’s own physical form, remained at the heart of her artistic practice as a tool of expression and communication until her death in 1990. Coming from the archives of the Galerie Rodolphe Stadler, the Parisian gallery of Pane who were themselves revolutionary in their presentation of avant-garde performance art, her exhibition at Richard Saltoun Gallery celebrates the artist’s pioneering career with a focus on the actions for which she is best known. It provides the most comprehensive display of the artist’s work in London since the Tate’s presentation in 2002.
Exploring universal themes such as love, pain, death, spirituality and the metaphorical power of art, Pane sought to reveal and transform the way we have been taught to experience our body in relation to the self and others. She defined the body as “a place of the pain and suffering, of cunning and hope, of despair and illusion.” Her actions strived to reconnect the forces of the subconscious with the collective memory of the human psyche, and the sacred or spiritual. In these highly choreographed events, Pane subjected herself to intense physical and mental trials, which ranged from desperately seeking to drink from a glass of milk whilst tied, breaking the glass and lapping at the shards with her mouth (Action Transfert, 1973); piercing her arm with a neat line of rose thorns (Action Sentimentale, 1973); to methodically cutting her eyelids and stomach with razor blades (Action Psyché, 1974);and boxing with herself in front of a mirror (Action Il Caso no. 2 sul ring, 1976) – all performed silently in front of gathered audiences. She interpreted the sacrifice and aestheticised risk of such actions as an expression of love for the ‘other’.
Actions were photographed by Francoise Masson, to whom Pane provided detailed diagrams and sketches to indicate the intense moments she wished to be captured on camera. By creating such pre-determined scenarios, which she referred to as constat d’action [event proof], Pane elevated the status of the photographic object beyond mere documentation. With the resulting constat, one can examine the undulating rhythm of images and the subtle shifts in narrative but also Pane’s long-lasting desire to ignite within us a curiosity as to the meaning of our existence.
At the heart of the exhibition is Pane’s 1974 work, Action Psyché, perhaps the most visionary and intense of all of her actions. The consant presented here is considered to be the most definitive manifestation of the work in terms of both its size and scale, incorporating 25 unique colour photographs, preparatory drawings and ephemera preserved in a metal case. Further highlights include Pane’s landscape actions, which reference her earlier career as a painter of colourful, hard-edge abstractions that eventually morphed into outdoor sculptures. From the late 1960s Pane began documenting her activities in natural settings, which generally involved gestures to mark and imprint the land with her body, stones or blocks of wood. Pane combined the images into storyboard-like montages that charted temporal progress but also more importantly implied the presence (and absence) of the human hand. Whilst formally quite simple, the works incorporate sophisticated elements of scale, space and repetition.