CORPORAL TRACES, UTOPIAN INVENTIONS

IN THE WORK OF KARIN LAMBRECHT



ANA LÚCIA MANDELLI DE MARSILLAC

Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil




In this essay, I seek to reflect on the body and its mythologies in the 21st century, by focusing on the work of Brazilian artist Karin Lambrecht. I highlight her paintings, in which she used a pigment made of blood extracted from sheep, that are sacrificed for domestic consumption of meat, in fabrics, sweaters and towels that belonged to her family.

The artist plays with tradition both in terms of the material she used, and in the pigment that is extracted from an ancient ritual of lamb bleeding.[1] Her works demarcate a counterpoint to the role that, in currant dominant discourses, has been attributed to the body, as a supposed bearer of the power and complete image which is typical of scopic societies. [2] The body, exposed in the images, refers to incompleteness: death, cycles, tradition, fragments, lack of definition between me and the other, impossibles; however, paradoxically, it presents the strength of creation from its own precarious condition. The traces of blood inscribe iconoclastic utopian inventions [3] that counterpoint the established forms, without presenting full ideals.

ME AND YOU Karin Lambrecht is a Brazilian artist (Porto Alegre, 1957) who has participated in important individual and collective exhibitions, throughout her career. Both the individual showroom she had at the 25th Bienal de São Paulo (2002), entitled: “Eu e você” [Me and you], [4] and the individual exhibition, held at MARGS (2002), [5] presented this artistic project, in which she used the blood extracted from sheep that are sacrificed for domestic consumption of meat as a pigment for her canvases. Her paintings expand the traditional limits of the painting, by working with cloths and immaculate white dresses. (Fig. 1, 2, 4) In one of her works entitled: “Morte: eu sou teu” [Death: I am yours] she used a white towel that belonged to her grandmother from Russia and sheets of canson paper. (Fig. 3, 5, 6)

In her work process she places each canvas on top of another, on the floor, below the head of the lamb that is to be sacrificed. One canvas serves as a filter to the next, thus leaving differentiated records in each canvas. In addition, the papers used to protect the canvases, already marked by blood, were used as resources for her artistic works.


Suddenly, I noticed that specific element. I started to think about the amount of blood that flows per day, outside the veins ... I started to think about death. And I started to think about our own blood, which circulates in our body ... our life and our immense fragility. And then I was quite surprised: how was it that I hadn't noticed this material before? [6]



Fig.1— Karin Lambrecht, "Untitled", 2002. Lamb blood on linen and white fabric, 150x300x60cm. Photo Juan Guerra.



Fig.2 Karin Lambrecht, "Untitled", 2002. Lamb blood on linen and white fabric, 150x300x60cm. Photo by Juan Guerra.

Fig.3 Karin Lambrecht, "Untitled", 2002. Lamb blood on towels and drawings, 170x170x15cm. Photo by Juan Guerra.

Fig.4 Karin Lambrecht, "Morte Eu Sou Teu", 1997. Installation detail with lamb blood on white dresses. Photo by Fabio Del Re.




Fig.5 / 6 Karin Lambrecht, "Morte Eu Sou Teu", 1997. Installation detail with ram's viscera prints on photographic paper.

Photos by Fabio Del Re.


All images © Karin Lambrecht. Courtesy of the artist.




STAIN

To the unsuspecting observer, who does not know about the material used by Lambrecht, her paintings are already proving to be quite interesting, as the stains reveal the work of a sense of indeterminacy that takes shape from time. Her works make us think of the beyond-the-image, referring to what this particular form made possible. Such aspect of her work already “shakes” us before our alienation from images, because what she shows is not completely clear to us, thus leading us to different associations and to the impossibility of fully covering the artwork with words.

However, Karin Lambrecht goes further, bringing an intense dramatic charge to the public, since the elements in her work: towels belonging to her family, white dresses, the animal and its blood; resize the scene. She questions death, the negative and transmission, pointing out the fragility that leaves scars in the body. Lambrecht stresses [7] that her work is of domestic nature, aiming to expose these small wounds from everyday life. Through the blood of a small cut or the blood that refers to the death of the sheep, it is life and its incompleteness that appears on the scene.

Not even the dress that, at first, covers the nakedness of the body, stops revealing what is most intimate to us. The blood, which marks the women's clothing, also informs about her sexuality, about the living cycles. The stain, unlike the veil it hides, "is a shield that unveils [...] denotes the presence of the look object." [8] The stain makes apparent that the subject is not the one who looks, but the one who is looked at. Unlike the present spectacularization of contemporary times, and its supposed completeness, the stain unveils the secret of the image and makes us look beyond it, thus placing us as the one observed and questioned by the image.

We are looked at by this “uncanny” [Das Unheimliche] (Freud, 1919) who, paradoxically, points out the beauty and the horrible, because, insofar as it refers to our inability to shut our senses, we are faced with the incompleteness of being, with the “insufficiency of the symbolic in covering the real.”[9]

The stain is a developing form, declassified, like an open wound with abyssal edges. It also approaches the concept of dissemblance [informe], approached by the critic Georges Didi-Huberman (2015), based on the work of Georges Bataille. In the work of Karin Lambrecht, the imprecision of both images and written words constitute a contour, albeit an enigmatic one, opening new possibilities for interpretation. "Morte eu sou teu” [Death I am yours], "Solvteo perfecta", "dissolution of the body", "der fester leib und aufgelöst," [10] "matrix," ... The dissemblance [informe] of the work encompasses blood records, the blending of languages and times, the blurring of the limits and borders between body and soul, life and death, me and you.


... the dissemblance ..., precedes movement — horrors or desires — and not obtained stasis. It is not, it will never be, absolute ... It always tends towards an impossible ... it is just a "setting in motion" — but this is its positivity par excellence, its high value of 'affirmation'. [11]


In this regard, the work breaks down anthropomorphism, the stains in it are the result of a game with the family cloths, with the body of the lamb, the pawn, with tradition and the present. This is a main point of the utopian dimension of the work, as it breaks with the idealism and the intellectual voracity of knowing everything and exposes, at the same time, a desire to shape, to recreate forms. As rightly analysed by critic Fredric Jameson (1997), the persistence on the same discredits change, since the historical appearance of homogeneity, heterogeneity starts to mean subversion.


NEGOTIATION

Karin Lambrecht's work leads to a political language that breaks with dichotomous visions and opens up the potential of imagination. Its hybrid forms manage to combine sacrifice, tradition and transience. Considering the remarks of cultural critic Homi Bhabha (2007), we could say that the artist situates criticism as a place for negotiation, without denying the past in the construction of the present and of tomorrow. Hybrid space of encounter between antagonistic groups, without pretensions for redemption.

The borderline work of culture demands an encounter with “newness” that is not part of the continuum of past and present. ... new as an insurgent act of cultural translation. Such art ... renews the past, reconfiguring it as a contingent ‘in-between’ space, that innovates and interrupts the performance of the present. The ‘past-present’ becomes part of the necessity, not the nostalgia, of living. [12]


The artist's borderline work calls into question ideals that are already ingrained in our daily lives, such as health and cleanliness. The blood that animates life may also contaminate; when leaving the body, it usually becomes a residue to be excluded. What would be wasted is recovered and becomes an essential material for the construction of the artwork, leading us to think of the divide: garbage and death. The ghost that haunts and that we want to keep our distance from due to the risk of contamination, identification of what has already lost the necessary brightness to belong to the scopic society, but above all because of the excess that implicates death and the body.

In his book “Um olhar a mais: ver e ser visto na psicanálise” [A second gaze: to see and be seen in psychoanalysis] (2002), Psychoanalyst Antônio Quinet calls our society as scopic, “for being commanded by the gaze that conjugates the society of spectacle described by Guy Debord and the disciplinary society described by Michel Foucault.” [13] In the society of spectacle, existing is directly linked to being seen by the Other. [14] The inevitable Other is constantly watching the subject, as in the image of Bentham's panopticon, the model of Foucault’s disciplinary society. The scopic society, according to Quinet, is beyond transparent to the Other, of being seen without shields, insofar as the subject has sought to be transparent to himself, internalising surveillance, control.

The conception of body that we have today is the result of a social construction that is closely linked to the individuality of being. In his book “O corpo na História” [The Body in History] (1999), Anthropologist José Rodrigues provides a reflection on the different conceptions of the body throughout history. He elaborates a comparative study between the Middle Ages and Modernity, indicating the social construction that accompanies the dominant ways of signifying the act of living. The conception of death itself did not exist as something opposite to life but as a necessary phase of it, enabling renewal and rejuvenation. The dead were among the living in the cities, beside the churches, in open pits. He stresses that the gradual disconnection between body and soul fed the dream of soul’s eternal life but, above all, the eternal life of the body. Thus, a refusal to everything that implies decomposition and finitude is superimposed. A malaise falls before the horror of transience.

The catastrophe of modernity ... dashes traditional structures and life-ways to pieces, sweeps away the sacred, undermines immemorial habits and inherited languages, and leaves the world as a set of raw materials to be reconstructed rationally … [15]


UTOPIAN INVENTIONS

Karin Lambrecht breaks with dichotomous logics that keeps reiterating contemporary individualism. The blood impression from the sacrifice of the lamb which, later on, will serve as a meal for men, leads us to a death ritual sustained by the nature-culture divide and by the dimension of the sacred as that which surpasses our understanding.

The millennial act of bleeding the lamb involves the sacrifice of a son in the name of the friary, enabling them to continue living and remitting their sins. When meat is eaten, a trace of the one who “lets himself be sacrificed” is also eaten, just like a totemic ritual in which mourning and feast are present. “Mourning [...] brings with it the radicalism of a loss without substitution. It is in this place that the need for rituals is constituted, insofar as something of an incommunicable experience is conveyed to the collective.” [16] In this perspective, death is not thought of as the opposite of life, but rather as what enables the making of an inscription on the body of the one who “stays”.

She invented a poietic based on the marks that were inscribed on her body, bringing her grandmother’s towels and cloths as a continent for her work, as vestiges of the feminine and of transmission. From the rituals, the body and the death of the lamb remains the blood that composes the artwork. Lambrecht writes: “The field is the body. The lamb is the soul and the spirit.” (Fig.5) Phrases that broaden conceptions and indicate the field, as a space/territory that welcomes, demarcates temporalities and marks lives, inscribes traditions and can also be thought of as a body. Therefore, the sacrifice of the soul (lamb) makes it possible to maintain the body (field), sustains the social pact, tradition and space. This enigma proposed by the artist shuffles and contradicts the usual conceptions of death, body and soul.

Thus, we can affirm that the work is a symbolic act. "Basic analytical principle (...) the individual narrative (…) is to be grasped as the imaginary resolution of a real contradiction." [17] The body presented to us by Karin Lambrecht, is beyond the complete image of the self, beyond materiality, unity, it is made and dissolved by remains, traditions, ideals, always involves an impossibility of meaning. It is through the traces, the ruins of the body that “another story can come to the fore.” [18]

From the blood, utopian marks are inscribed and make a counterpoint to the established ways of perceiving the body. The work’s political and ideological dimensions are supported by the exposure of our beliefs, habits of thought, forms of domination, allowing us to reflect on “transpersonal realities such as the social structure or the collective logic of History.” [19] Karin Lambrecht's blood records show us her formal solution, her confronting poietic for insoluble contradictions.

"The utopia of the body must not be imposed on nature, yet it must work within the complicity of our possibilities." [20] In this sense, we are able to envision a possibility for resisting the ideals that we know as models for living, for feeling. The creative act, as a utopian act, breaks, punctures, precisely with the supposed contemporary cultural homogeneity, pointing out the multiplicity and, paradoxically, the emptiness that constitutes us. In this way, Lambrecht’s artwork includes a reflection on death, through an affirmation of life and transmission.

Karin Lambrecht prompt us to think about an ethics, as for the manipulation of the body, and an aesthetics, as for the opening of the creative space that frees the subject from the certainties of the self, so often associated with the complete image of the body. It opens our eyes to the density of time and to the space for negotiation between subjects. It thus calls for an indispensable collective dialectic to embrace the differences between bodies, temporalities and cultures.

[1] Lamb is the offspring of the ram and the sheep.

[2] QUINET, Antônio. (2002) Um olhar a mais: ver e ser visto na psicanálise. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar.

[3] Iconoclastic utopianism refuses “to map out the future; it was utopian in its commitment to a very different future of harmony and happiness. The iconoclastic utopians inclined toward the future, but unlike the blueprint utopians, they abstained from depicting it.” JACOBY, Russel. (2005) Picture Imperfect: Utopian thought for an anti-utopian age. Columbia University Press. p.85.

[4] “This action, Eu e você, was attended by ten people: the author, four artists, the keeper, the owner of the farm and three local guests” ARAÚJO, Viviane G. (2010) Corpo e sangue nos trabalhos de Karin Lambrecht. In: Cultura Visual, n. 13, maio/2010. Salvador: EDUFBA, p. 86. Free translation.

[5] Rio Grande do Sul Art Museum, Brasil.

[6] Lambrecht, “Aplauso”, 2002, p.12. In: Magazine: “Aplauso: Cultura em revista”. (2002). Porto Alegre, vol. 5, nº 38.

[7] Interview with the artist, In: Marsillac, 2005. See: MARSILLAC, Ana. (2005) Dissertação de mestrado: Fronteiras do corpo: paradoxos na construção da singularidade. Porto Alegre: UFRGS. Disponível em: https://lume.ufrgs.br/bitstream/handle/10183/6592/000487050.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[8] Quinet, 2002, p.136

[9] FRANÇA, Maria Inês. (1997) Psicanálise, Estética e Ética do desejo, São Paulo: Perspectiva. p.133.

[10] The body both solid and dissolved.

[11] DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. (2015) A semelhança informe: ou o gaio saber visual segundo Georges Bataille. Rio de Janeiro: Contraponto. p.199.

[12] BHABHA, Homi. (1994) The location of culture. New York: Routledge, p.7.

[13] Quinet, 2002, p.280

[14] Concept that was proposed throughout the work of Jacques Lacan to designate the subjective abstraction of the social, the laws, the culture.

[15] JAMESON, Fredric. (1994) The seed of time. Columbia University Press. p.84.

[16] COSTA, Ana. (2003) Tatuagens e marcas corporais: atualizações do sagrado, São Paulo: casa do Psicólogo. p.85.

[17] JAMESON, Fredric.(1981) The Political Unconscious – Narrative as a socially symbolic act. Cornell University Press. p.62.

[18] GAGNEBIN, Jeane Marie. (1994) História e Narração em Walter Benjamin, São Paulo: Ed.: Perspectiva. p.113.

[19] Jameson, 1981, p.15

[20] BAVCAR, Evgen. (2003) Memórias do Brasil. Org. Elida Tessler e João Bandeira. São Paulo: Cosac&Naif. p.190.

REFERENCES

ARAÚJO, Viviane G. (2010) Corpo e sangue nos trabalhos de Karin Lambrecht. In: Cultura Visual, n. 13, maio/2010. Salvador: EDUFBA, pp. 85-99.

BHABHA, Homi. (1994) The location of culture. New York: Routledge.

BAVCAR, Evgen. (2003) Memórias do Brasil. Org. Elida Tessler e João Bandeira. São Paulo: Cosac&Naif.

COSTA, Ana. (2003) Tatuagens e marcas corporais: atualizações do sagrado, São Paulo: casa do Psicólogo.

DIDI-HUBERMAN, Georges. (2015) A semelhança informe: ou o gaio saber visual segundo Georges Bataille. Rio de Janeiro: Contraponto.

FRANÇA, Maria Inês. (1997) Psicanálise, Estética e Ética do desejo, São Paulo: Perspectiva.

FREUD, Sigmund. (1919/1996) O Estranho, in: “Obras Completas vol. XVII”, Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 1996.

GAGNEBIN, Jeane Marie. (1994) História e Narração em Walter Benjamin, São Paulo: Ed.: Perspectiva.

JACOBY, Russel. (2005) Picture Imperfect: Utopian thought for an anti-utopian age. Columbia University Press.

JAMESON, Fredric. (1994) The seed of time. Columbia University Press.

— , (1981) The Political Unconscious – Narrative as a socially symbolic act. Cornell University Press.

LAMBRECHT, Karin. (2002) Catálogo de Exposição – 26 de Julho a 25 de Agosto de 2002, MARGS.

MARSILLAC, Ana. (2005) Dissertação de mestrado: Fronteiras do corpo: paradoxos na construção da singularidade. Porto Alegre: UFRGS. Disponível em: https://lume.ufrgs.br/bitstream/handle/10183/6592/000487050.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

QUINET, Antônio. (2002) Um olhar a mais: ver e ser visto na psicanálise. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar.

Magazine: “Aplauso: Cultura em revista”. (2002). Porto Alegre, vol. 5, nº 38.

RODRIGUES, José Carlos. (1999) O corpo na História, Rio de Janeiro: Editora Fiocruz.

SEVERO, André e Bernardes, Mª Helena (orgs.). (2001) Eu e Você: Karin Lambrecht. Textos de Karin Stempel et al. Santa Cruz do Sul: EDUNISC.



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