Lygia began by asking questions in her painting about the relation between figure and background, and that aesthetic investigation ended up transforming itself into the ethical question par excellence: what is the nature of the distance between my body and the world? Why can't the body - not only the body of the subject, but the very social body - free itself of pain?
Without divorcing itself from aesthetic preoccupations, Clark's project clearly attempts to escape from the limits of art. It remains a singular phenomenon in that through one and the same movement, it pretends to leave behind both representative language and the institution of art, which seems to be so close to the market in the modern episteme.
Nevertheless, the same characteristics of the investigation which led her to the development of these relational objects, the fact that these are nothing more than a series of artistic manipulations, suspend that escape which appears interminable and anchor Clark's therapy firmly in the world of art, the only context in which her project acquires the fullness of its power. The healing, here, is nothing if not an interminable process of emancipation which is permanently begun again. And the illness - that malaise which affects the institution of art - is the knot that binds the object of art, pure absence, to the market that transforms it into the mere representation of a certain content, a carrier of an appreciable value, and therefore a commodified good. Clark did not tire of saying that the relational objects only acquired their specificity once they came into contact with the fantasies of her "patients." They were, therefore, nothing but the tentative and changing corporealizations of the patients' projections. When the object loses its specificity as a good and acquires it in relation to the psychological structure of the subject, then there is art, that is, there exists the possibility of a healing. Lygia's work - the word appears almost insufficient to comprehend that last stage of work with "patients" - constitutes itself therefore as radical critique of the notion of presence.
If we understand the problem of healing in Clark's work to be posited in terms of the psychology of the subject, without divorcing itself from the problems implicit in the social function of the artist, one understands that her diagnosis affects the individual and the institution of art in equal parts. And if we agree with Lacan in thinking that the nature of the cure demostrates the nature of the disease, one would have to come to the conclusion that, according to the logic implicit in the aesthetic-existential path taken by Clark, the illness consists in assigning a specific value to experience, in alienating it in discourse, in sum, in making it representable and, therefore, commercializable. Using this perspective, her formulation for a cure consists in the possibility of a tentative access to a non-representable dimension of experience - aesthetic and existential, which in Clark are nothing more than two sides of the same Moebius strip - which, on the other hand, may only manifest itself outside the realm of both the institution of art and psychoanalysis. In the last stage of Clark's work, which she chose to call therapy in order to differentiate it from her artistic production, the ethical and aesthetic dimensions overlap: the cure would have become the daily exercise of utopia.
If we follow strictly the terms of Clark's work we may expect a cure from art. But illness is the ingredient that makes it art in the first place - that is to say, that which enables us to recognize the object as art - and the cure is achieved only by trespassing the world of aesthetics, and perhaps, the density of the world itself. With this perspective, the cure is no longer a state to which it is possible to arrive through the rigors of a specific practice. The cure is barely that moment in which illness reveals itself fully, and healing is nothing but dreaming of forgetting the illness.
Memory, dream, illness. It so happens that the body eventually forgets the marks that illness leaves on the flesh, and that magical process is usually called getting better, recovery, or the cure. The lover forgets his love sickness and falls in love again, delivering himself into the arms of repetition. Or perhaps he never forgets, and the pain becomes heavier and heavier in the mind until that endless memory finally occupies all and organic life ceases, and then, to put it in ordinary language, one dies. Because forgetting is a dream, a utopia, the trick of third rate magician. Like art.
(1) For a detailed discussion of the last stage of the work of Lygia Clark, see "A State Of Art," by Suely Rolnik