Renata Lucas / KW

Circled Circumferences

2010:Dec // Kirsty Bell

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Renata Lucas’s exhibition consists of two site-specific interventions (titled “Kunst-Werke, 2010 (Cabeça e cauda de cavalo)”) in the urban fabric of Kunst-Werke and its busy Auguststrasse location. That the terms ‘site-specific’, ‘intervention’ and ‘urban fabric’ have all become ubiquitous in too many cases of environment/work overlap is admittedly something of a deterrent, but while the Brazilian Lucas’s work shares many characteristics with that of the pioneers of site-specificity such as Richard Serra or Gordon Matta-Clark, it possesses an underlying fictional nuance and sensitivity to the body in space that sets it apart from many other contemporary derivatives.

Lucas has made a practice of intervening in urban landscapes or architectural situations over the past several years, a memorable example being the simple and poignant piece she showed in last year’s Venice Biennial: a strip of asphalt with white road markings, revealed beneath the gravel pathway of the Giardini, as if it all – the Biennial, the Giardini location, the water-logged city itself – were an elaborate fiction built on top of the everyday reality of the street.

The first intervention here, on the sidewalk and entrance way in front of the KW building, is easy overlook, especially given the building site, road works, and assorted construction props that have almost continuously blocked the building’s entrance over the past several years. But there, on the ground, amidst the parked bikes and foot-traffic, is a large circle, several meters in diameter. The circle itself is not marked, but everything within its circumference – cobblestones, paving slabs, curbside, pathway – has been rotated anticlockwise, as if this round section were running seven minutes late. Its form, scale, and earth-bound location draw parallels with Serra’s first outdoor work – a circle of steel angle embedded in the surface of a dead-end street in the Bronx (“To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Angles Inverted”, 1970) – but Lucas’s rotation of the patchwork ground is more reminiscent of Matta-Clark’s cuttings and splittings, displacing a materiality that already exists.

Inside the Kunst-Werke, in the large main hall, was the second intervention: another large circle marked on the floor, or rather half of one, bisected by the back wall of the gallery. A small pie-slice segment of vividly green, shortly trimmed grass disturbed the otherwise seamless concrete floor: a clue to the collaborative effort expected of the audience. By pressing your hands against the back wall, and pushing the ground away with your feet, you could make the circular segment begin to slowly move, the concrete floor rotating out of sight and slowly replaced by the lush grass of the ground behind the wall. Like a revolving bookshelf in a 1950s film mystery, the floor moves to reveal what is hidden behind it; not a secret passageway or treasure chamber, but the grassy terrain of the little overgrown backyard, unspectacular in itself. More startling is the activity. As the circle slowly begins to gain traction, the wheels begin to grind on the track, groaning and heaving like the wheels of an ancient steam engine, until it slowly begins to pick up speed and gather momentum. The hard physical labor necessary to reveal the full circle bursts with allegorical potential: an individual straining against the built structures of a city; the effort to push back architecture and reveal living nature; or, perhaps, an artist straining to get the civic cogs turning to realize a difficult project. As an essay in the catalogue enumerates, several of Lucas’s more radical ideas – such as cutting a section of the wall between the Café Bravo and the neighbouring house – were unrealizable, and the effort involved in negotiating the permissions to revolve the section of pavement was itself something like the hard work involved in getting the floor to revolve.

Lucas’s exercise remains self-contained: nothing is broken, the walls are still standing, everything returns to its proper place. Its effect is more revelatory, and operates as much in the imagination of the viewer as in what is actually perceived. It is essentially a drawing made using the physical elements of the institution and its site to reveal its territorial boundaries. For Serra, such pictorialism lead him to dismiss his Bronx circle as a failure: he saw it as a deceptive aspect which took away from the actual experience of the work. But pictorialism is integral to Lucas’s work. A small diagram in the exhibition pamphlet shows the two circles marked on the sketch of the building’s floor plan which do indeed look like the ‘head and tail of the horse’ as the work’s title suggests.

Kirsty Bell

Renata Lucas, „Kunstpreis der Schering Stiftung“,
KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Auguststraße 69, 10117 Berlin, 12.09.–07.11.2010

Renata Lucas, 2010 (© KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Foto: Andreas Koch)
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