Although the origins of performance art can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century, this particular form of expression developed to full extent during the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the leading practitioners of (body) performance was French artist Gina Pane who experimented with different media spanning from painting, sculpture and photography. Yet, each work she made was embedded in performativity; the radicalism of her practice indeed reflected the use of Pane’s own body, but also the use of specific materials such as earth, sand, wood, aluminum, etc.
The current exhibition called Gina Pane: Terre protégée at Parisian gallery kamel mennour offers an exciting insight into the first period of her production made in the late 1960s.
Gina Pane’s early production was largely driven by the politically charged environmentalist discourse, which was in accordance with the ideological struggle of the times culminating with the student protests in France in 1968.
The exhibition title, Terre protégée (Protected land) is borrowed from one of the works which embodies Pane’s engaged practice. Along with the metaphysical, philosophical and social implications of nature, her agenda had a lot to do with feminism as well as the context of the matriarchal cults based on the power to produce life.
However, Pane was interested in emphasizing the fragility of our natural environment, and the devastating effects of industrial development, urban sprawl, militarization, and intensive agriculture. The artist underlined the importance of the preservation of the land and of the earth by critically exploring the issues such as air pollution, lack of green space, rising water levels and contamination, natural catastrophes, etc.
The installment in Paris features Gina Pane's drawings, paintings, installations, sculptures, photographs, poems, and archival documents. The aforementioned Terre protégée produced in 1968 is also on display; it was an action performed in the Italian countryside when the artist positioned one hundred and twenty wooden structures tied together by ropes in accordance with the points of the compass. Underneath each wooden block, Pane placed a small packet of seeds in order to protect the richness of the earth.
The audience is able to see the photograph Situation Idéale: terre – artiste – ciel (Ideal situation: earth–artist–sky) produced one year later. It is practically an extension of the explorations started with previous work, so we see Pane in an act of contemplation, staring straight before her; according to her the artist must always be an intermediary, a passer, a catalyst towards concrete realization.
In 1970, Pane released the sequel of Terre protégée. It was a performance - Pane laying down on the ground, her back to the earth and arms crossed, in order to connect with the natural environment. For Terre protégée III, she made a circle of stones to protect the eponymous inscription sculpted in the ground.
It is also important to mention her first major work focused on ecological issues called Acqua alta/ Pali/Venezia produced between 1968 and 1970. It was a sculptural and environmental installation. The Venetian expression for high tide Acqua alta spreads throughout the entire floor, while the word pali is present across the walls and the word Venezia is repeated on the ceiling like a litany.
On display are also the works influenced by the vocabulary of Suprematism produced by Gina Pane around 1968; these works are based on simple and complex geometrical forms: round, triangular, polygonal forms painted in primary colors, aimed to blend with the interior of the surface of the paper or the canvas. The series called Structures affirmées [Affirmed structures] functions in a similar fashion, encompassing large metallic prisms reaching towards the sky which is reconstructed for the exhibition.
Yet another highlight is 1969 work titled Stripe Rake which is an homage to Malevich’s iconic painting Black square from 1915. For this piece, the visitors are invited to inscribe traces with the rake made by the artist in order to mix together the desert sand (dead matter) and earth (the living matter).
It is important to point out that all of these works are predecessors of Gina Pane's ritualized actions centered around wounding that she made in public between 1971 and 1979, as well as later sculptural productions, inspired by the lives of the martyrs, the Partitions of 1980-1989.
Although the early production seems rather poetic, it emerged from the artist’s escapist desire to disappear, which she perceived as an only reasonable, though radical reaction to the rapid human undoing of the natural resources. Pane saw this strategy as a way to get closer to the spectator, to establish a dialog and to raise awareness. This part of Pane’s practice is especially relevant in the context of the contemporary status of climate changes, plant and animal extinction etc., and it tells much about the complexity of her socially and politically engaged agenda.
Gina Pane: Terre protégée will be on display at Kamel Mennour gallery in Paris until 12 January 2019.
Featured images: Gina Pane - Untitled, 1967 - 1968. Black pencil on paper, 65 x 50 cm. Installation view of the exhibition Terre protégée © ADAGP Gina Pane. Photo. archives kamel mennour. Courtesy Anne Marchand and kamel mennour, Paris/London; Souvenir enroulé d'un matin bleu, 1969. Blue felt, wood and aluminum, 8 x 90 x 30 cm © photo. archives kamel mennour; Enfoncement d'un rayon de soleil, 1969. 4 color photographs (detail). 110 x 163 cm © Gina Pane, Adagp. Photo. Ville de Nantes, Musée des beaux-arts, Cécile Clos. Courtesy Anne Marchand and kamel mennour, Paris/London