Pénétrable (Terre)

Nicola L.


Sculpture, 177.8 x 94 cm.
Materials: ink on cotton, wood

Collection: Collectie M HKA, Antwerpen / Collectie Vlaamse Gemeenschap (Inv. no. BK009177).

Since the late 1960s, Nicola L. has focused on a series of so-called 'pénétrables': rectangles of stretched canvas into which participants can put their arms, legs and heads in order to literally penetrate the painting and become one with the art. She uses the structural elements of traditional painting to explore the limitations of what she sees as a passive medium. The monochrome canvases are described with natural elements such as earth, cloud, flower, sky, forest.

"A Long Day's Journey to the End of the Skin

"Popular expressions draw a clear distinction between the container and the contents: 'I've got you under my skin', 'Beauty is only skin deep'... This is the ultimate way in which the human territory defines its borders. The skin represents the physical frontier of psychology, of feeling, of sensitivity: the ego is in the bag.

"Sometimes, the bag is a prison. Who has not wanted to get out of himself? By nature, certain mollusks are constantly in search of a protective shell: someone else's armour. Nicola actually offers us a second skin, smooth and impregnable. Plastic in every sense of the word, in appearance and in reality. Mouted on frames, extensions of the streched canvas, the panoply of mutts, leggings and bonnets invites us on a journey. A journey that's an organic ritual of penetration and osmosis. This synthetic skin, the skin of everybody and nobody, absorbs the warmth of flesh in its folds: after its withdrawal, for a moment, it keeps the imprint of the former occupant, the immediate impression of its absence. Penetration of the interior, return to the womb, penis and vulva, finger and glove: we go back instantly to the very source of life, into the organic universe of all rebirth.

"Nicola's imagery borrows nothing from the folklore of modern nature. She doesn't build up any imaginary structure. She cuts into the living flesh of our senses. She invites us to live, as she does, to the quick. We're touched by Nicola's work because it concerns us immediately. This woman who resembles no one, not even herself, restores the skin's sensuality before our very eyes. It's not true that appearances are deceiving: they are the skin of things, and they're there, period! You have to penetrate them to experience them, and life is no more than that.

"Nicola's work is like a lesson in the facts of live for sensitive and consenting adults. The experience is oddly enriching: the skin finds its tactile language, its supple gesturing, its overall expressiveness."

Text by Pierre Restany of 23 September 1968, published in the catalogue Nicola - Pénétrables, ICC, Antwerp, 28 February - 28 March 1976

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