On the Borderline

Article excerpt

Borderline: between art and therapy Spacex Gallery

Exeter, United Kingdom

March 4, 2000

There is a complex connection between art and therapy. For an artist's work to be deemed "therapeutic" is a damning indictment yet to sever the artist from the artwork requires a certain sleight of hand because in the Western capitalistic art market, the value of the object as "art" requires the signature of the artist as "genius" or, more recently, the artist as celebrity. The anxious division between art and therapy relies on a narrow perception of their constituents that denies the broad reach of both cultural practices. Examined more fully, the distinctive features of each field become blurred as they expand to encompass a wider range of processes until a point is reached when it is no longer tenable to keep them apart. The word "therapy'" comes from the Greek word for "attend to" and whether working alone or with others, the process of making art involves the kind of attention that dissolves subjectively and can allow for the translation of inchoate emotional material into symbolic form.

Spacex Gallery acknowledged this dynamic in the symposium "Borderline: between art and therapy" that was organized to accompany the group exhibition "Homing: Projects for Kosovo." [1] The event was part of the "Free Association Series," a year-long program of exhibitions, site-specific projects and symposiums marking the centenary of the publication of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). The series is intended as an exploration of contemporary art, psychoanalysis and common conceptions of the mind and is produced as a collaboration between Spacex Gallery, the Freud Museum, Camden Arts Centre and the Austrian Cultural Institute. Other events include an exhibition at Spacex by German artist Bettina Semmer entitled "Painting Factory" which consists of 25 gallery-based workshops for pre-school children and their caregivers that evolved from the artist's creation of large-scale paintings in collaboration with her three-year-old daughter. Austrian artist Lois Weinberger will create an installation in the garden of the Freud Museum in May to coincide with his exhibitions at Camden Arts Centre and at Spacex, and another symposium is planned, entitled "Object Relations: painting & the 'unthought known."

The three-hour symposium began with writer Guy Brett's introduction of a video entitled The Relational Objects of Lygia Clark (1982) about what Brazilian artist Clark (who died in 1987) referred to as "body therapy," a technique involving the use of "relational objects" characterized by qualities intimately associated with early, pre-verbal body memories. The first half of the video depicts Clark, dressed in white and sitting cross-legged on the floor, explaining the function of various objects made from ordinary household materials such as plastic bags, loofahs and vacuum cleaner hoses. Also present are various crudely stitched "pillows" half-filled with sand, plastic bags containing water or air and a pair of tights with balls in the gusset, all of which evoke a palpable impression of weight despite being experienced as images on film. In one instance, Clark holds a clear plastic bag filled with air that has a heavy stone laid across the top. In an inexplicably beautiful moment, she squeezes the bag gently causing the stone to rise and fall as if mimicking the action of breathing.

The artist puts her objects into practice on an unidentified man, wearing only his underwear, who lies on his back on a double bed that is covered with a bright pink bedspread. Clark rubs and smoothes the objects over his body then gradually piles them on top of him, covering his eyes and placing conch shells over his ears until he appears as a bizarre still life. Clark then drips honey (warmed by the beam of a flashlight) from an eyedropper onto his lips. She then blows air through a tube across his body before covering the entire arrangement with a piece of white muslin. …