‘Do you think one day women will be able to go around like men, without any shirts on?’ a schoolboy asks the feminist performance artist Hannah Wilke during the Parisian art fair FIAC in 1975. Lea Lublin filmed the scene as part of her long-term project Interrogations into Art (1974–95) for which she conducted conversations, loosely modelled on psychoanalytic dialogue, with both laypeople and (art) experts about art’s position in society. Wilke, as is well known, did not wait for permission to take off her shirt, interrogating in her work the representation of female sexuality. Lublin, an Argentinian-French artist (1929–99) versed in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, followed a different strategy, one that focused on the logic of representation itself, and on the social and medial constitution of its (sexual) codes.
This retrospective presents for the first time the wide gamut of Lublin’s intermedial practice. Curated by Stephanie Weber, the exhibition’s aim is to actualize rather than canonize. This can be seen clearly with the show’s lynchpin, an elaborate reconstruction of Fluvio Subtunal (1969/2015). Conceived in collaboration with the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella – a hub for conceptual and performative practices in Buenos Aires – the participatory environment was originally commissioned for the opening ceremony of the Túnel subfluvial Hernandarias in the Argentinian Santa Fe (at the time the world’s longest road tunnel). Like the 1969 version, the environment’s modified reconstruction consists of nine sections, including the ‘Sensorial Zone’, a black-light space showcasing regional products, and the ‘Technological Zone’, which amongst others features a film on the tunnel workers of Santa Fe. After traversing the different zones, visitors reach the actual Fluvio Subtunal, a 12-metre long, plastic tunnel. With this playful scheme Lublin shifted attention away from the prestigious tunnel to its broader context in Santa Fe and to the conditions of its production (for example, by making the tunnel workers visible).
Instead of rebuilding the historical Fluvio Subtunal as accurately as possible, this exhibition convincingly succeeds in actualizing the tunnel construction to Munich’s Kunstbau, a tunnel-like space that is notoriously difficult to exhibit in (and whose name actually translates as both ‘art building’ and ‘art construction’). What is emphasized here are precisely the particularities of the current setting: those of the exhibition space itself (the cylindrical arrangement of the tunnel, for instance, highlights the eccentric, circular space in the centre of the Kunstbau), and those of the larger geographic frame (for example, by exhibiting Bavarian products in the ‘Sensorial Zone’).
In May 1968, Lublin questioned the boundaries between those practices that are deemed ‘art’ and those deemed ‘labour’, those that are validated as productive and those naturalized as reproductive. While the first riots erupted, she exhibited the unpaid and invisible labour of caring for her seven-month-old son in the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (My Son, 1968). In the 1980s and 90s then she analysed and appropriated the narratives of modern art and its male protagonists. ‘The Painters’ Pee Pee’ is the title of the very first exhibition section. It assembles fragments of famous Renaissance paintings of Madonna with child and combines them with Suprematist colour surfaces à la Malevich into geometrical wall installations (for example, the monumental triptych R.S.I. – Dürer, del Sarto, Parmigianino, 1983). The sexualised infantile bodies, to be sure, do not necessarily resonate with the abstraction of the colour planes. Rather than cool, analytic objectivity, here the Suprematist repertoire of vibrant red, yellow, blue, and intense black radiates the persistence of sensuous desire. Lublin, as is apparent here, was not only concerned with images of the body, but with the (desiring) body of the image itself.
The female body – first and foremost, repressed – runs through her practice, converging ultimately in Le corps amer (à-mère), The Bitter Body (The Mother’s Body), from 1995. Her last work is part of a series that revolves around Marcel Duchamp’s sojourn in Buenos Aires (1918–19) and narrates different ‘histories of creation’ of his subjects and objects. Destroyed, it can be seen here in the form of a slide projection (which seems entirely consistent, given Lublin’s understanding of images as projection screens for desire). The object comprises a female glass torso that contains a porcelain urinal. While the urinal clearly alludes to Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), the work’s title refers also to Lacan’s moniker for the symbolic order of the law: ‘Name-of-the-Father’ (Le nom-du-père). And what is, time and again, invoked as the name of art’s law since modernism if not Duchamp? Lublin, in any case, subjected both – Duchamp as well as Lacan – to her own logic. When in Interrogations into Art children take on the role of analysts, we experience less an application of psychoanalysis than its appropriation.
Translated by Jenny Nachtigall