The Sacrifice (Gina Pane à Le Mans)

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video & sound
duration: 23 min

starring: Gina Pane

exhibited: Deptford Conversations, London, 2015

© acknowledgements:
Discours Mou et Mat (1975)
Le Mans (1971)

from European Journal of Arts Education Volume 3, Issue 1 (2000)

‘The main representative of body art in France, Gina Pane was very influential in the 1960s and 1970s. Her works questioned the role of ethics in aesthetics. Starting from the experience of her body and its vulnerability, she created a precise and rigorous language expressing both compassion for others and the social contradictions of the times.

Nowadays, as major exhibitions are once again highlighting conceptual practice together with various forms of attitude-based art, Gina Pane’s work is being reappraised. Although her work has closed in on itself since her untimely death in 1990, young artists who are at present reconsidering body art are able to probe its intransigent singularity. She taught at Le Mans art school (in the west of France) from 1976 to 1989; her former students remember her as a fine and committed teacher.

Gina Pane’s work is made up of split episodes exploring different categories of expression. There are Action Reports, consisting of photos taken during performances, preliminary sketches revealing how the rhythm of the Action was built up, assemblages that, under the generic title Partitions (Scores), bring the Wounds cycle to a close, and murals exploring a territory that belongs both to painting and sculpture.

From 1980 on, Gina Pane conceived and created mural installations where she evoked purely metaphorically the physical wounds, which were emblematic of the actions. In developing them visually, the artist was led to translate the language of the body into the certainty of materials. Wood, iron, copper and glass generated works that were visually powerful and rigorous. To give an example, The Golden Legend, inspired by the ‘sacred flesh’ of the early Christian philosopher Tertullian, combines at different levels a large number of graphic, chromatic, volumetric and plastic elements revealing the scope of the artist’s inner world.

Interview with Jean-Louis Raymond

In 1979 Jean-Louis Raymond was appointed professor of ceramics, a title redolent of craftsmanship and the virtues of tradition. However, in his classes Jean-Louis Raymond bore witness to the evolution of contemporary creation developing in proximity to a vast system of associations and references, and he referred to modern times as well as to the origins of some forms of expression. The positions he adopted as a teacher harmonised with and complemented those of Gina Pane, despite the generation gap and their respective – non-overlapping – areas of commitment. For two decades he has closely studied the role assigned to art schools; he explains Gina Pane’s contribution to teaching as an artist in terms of defining the artist’s symbolic role within an educational framework that wishes to preserve in art a complete image of the world. Jean-Louis Raymond evokes Gina Pane with no regard for himself or his own work, which he pursues in deliberate solitude. His modesty reveals the deep authenticity of his sensitivity and of his testimony.

Jean-Louis Raymond: I want to say straight away how pleased I am to have the opportunity to discuss Gina Pane’s lesser known side, that of teacher. When I myself started teaching as a young man, in 1979, and discovered there was a famous artist among his colleagues, I knew that working with her would be of immense significance to me. She taught the painting class. She placed the concept of painting at the centre of reflection and theory building. She encouraged most of the students to paint. This is not the case today.

Anne Tronche: Did you know that she was originally a painter? Her first works, exhibited in the 1960s at the Simone Heller Gallery, expressed the dogma of concrete art and geometry. This explains why her actions were so controlled by reasoning and intelligence.

J.L.R: She was seen as an artist very much in the classical tradition of painting. In her classes she asserted the mystery of what has been thought in order to restore a depth of view worthy of human dignity. At the same time she wanted her students to learn a symbolic order articulating formal intentions with emotional content. She went far beyond strictly educational assignments in an attempt to express the necessity of creativity. I would say that with her it was a question of inspiration.

AT: You use the term ‘inspiration’, which addresses physical as well as psychological issues, both of which were present in Gina Pane’s body actions. Could you explain further?

JLR: I am using this term as a contrast to the present situation among first year students. Mystery is a word they do not know. In their minds, events and facts are governed by principles of reality, which makes them simple.

AT: How was she able to explain her ambitions at a time when students entered art schools much younger and at a lower academic level?

JLR: She was exceptionally good at listening to people. Most students in Le Mans come from a rural or working-class background. Gina Pane was genuinely attentive to her students’ words or allusions that, in her view, revealed desires taking shape. She thought that their imaginative power stemmed from their social environment. Strangely enough, the distance she kept between herself and other people was in inverse proportion to her ability to focus on a developing mind unfamiliar with the dialectic of art. She succeeded in finding a common language even with those who were most incapable of verbal formulation. This is a clear indication of the trust she placed in others, of her expectations. She hoped the school would offer some of them the possibility of being reborn, whatever their background, whatever their intellectual capacities.

AT: Some students told me she could be very tough, up to the point where she demanded that those who had disappointed her leave the school.

JLR: Actually, she established an insurmountable distance in her relationships with people but she provoked in order to stimulate. She was provocative. Students who had been put to the test either passed or failed definitively. The weakest, the least motivated could choose to quit. Yet these confrontations were extenuated by other teachers who might decide to stand up for these students or to protect them. She used to interact with students in a very personal way. She used to make appointments to meet them on a one-to-one basis but very formally. And she always addressed them in a formal way. From an ethical point of view her attitude set an example. Everybody knew everybody’s role. This mutual relationship rooted in a set of codes and rules created a ‘place for possibility’. I am certain she was highly emotional, that was the reason why she did not want things to be uncontrolled. Very soon I came to appreciate this attitude. To me it seemed to be protecting something in her innermost being that should not be reached too easily.

AT: Do you think that teaching represented for her a dynamics necessary for the elaboration of her own language?
JLR: Definitely. The idea that drove her on was that you also teach what you don’t know. It seems paradoxical at first, yet it encompasses doubt and curiosity regarding change. It gave her teaching an essential depth, but it also introduced into her work energies that could not be satisfied with the results. The way she opposed conventional ideas and deeply anchored habits in the end brought about a real dynamism. Her often-demonstrated capacity to resist became legendary. One day Alexandre Bonnier, Art Education Inspector, asked us ‘Have you ever heard Gina Pane say “yes”?’ What teaching represented in her deepest being, I couldn’t say, I was never close enough to her to exchange ideas on this point. We held each other in high esteem and the most remarkable discussions we had focused on the sacred. These conversations relied on texts we had read, publications such as the review Change, or works we had discovered and then closely studied.

AT: She exhibited together with other teachers at the Church of Saint-Pierre la Cour. Did you take this opportunity to discuss her artistic production?

JLR: Her work was not a topic for conversation, and I could accept that. We did go and visit her exhibitions in Paris, but they were not discussed. When this group exhibition was set up in Le Mans we did not comment on each other’s work. Each work embodies one individual. To question further would have amounted to an attempt to understand the whole of someone’s mind. To abstain from commenting was to acknowledge that any work requires a little bit of silence. We did however have debates on the nature of each other’s positioning in the world. One issue of the review Le Débat (The Debate) focused on Heidegger. One of the authors violently attacked the philosopher for the ideological stance he had taken and his attitude toward Nazism. That led us to focus on individual commitment in troubled historical periods. I remember we talked about some figures in recent history, like Drieu La Rochelle. Unexpectedly, Gina Pane was interested in this kind of ambiguous behaviour because it revealed the complexity of human feelings; it was an example of the paradoxes to be found in action. Trying to understand was not for her an empty slogan, so she created an active model for the practice of art that is in fact a universal model. I think that the school in Le Mans played a key role thanks to Gina Pane.

AT: Which word would describe her best?

JLR: Just one word would be too limited. I would say her inspiring personality.’