- October 10, 2021
This essay is part of a broader research that addresses the relationship between body and space, art and architecture through the analysis of Archizoom’s manifest work that involves artistic experiments with a wearable character during the 60s and 70s. We seek to draw a parallel with the Brazilian art scene of the same period, more specifically with the work of Hélio Oiticica, emphasizing the “Parangolés”. By interweaving the two contexts, we can think how the the act of dressing lead to the extinction of the public’s position as a mere spectator, since, for them, the experience/purpose is only fully contemplated when incorporated, in its most literal sense, exalting the idea of movement intrinsic to the body and this as a radical critique of architectural space and its means of production. Originally of an experimental nature, the research resulted in the production of 21 pieces, wearable prototypes inspired by the two axes of analysis; a photographic editorial of these products; a general report and the present text.
Clothes inside the body1
In 1959, Lygia Pape, Amilcar de Castro, Ferreira Gullar, Franz Weissmann, Lygia Clark, Reynaldo Jardim and Theon Spanudis signed the Neoconcrete manifesto in Brazil. For a better understanding of the Neoconcrete movement, it is necessary to recover what preceded it, the Brazilian concretism, which began in the 1950s. Marked by the belief in the industry and technological development, concretism had as one of its engines the exhibition of architect Max Bill at MASP, in 1951. His work, loaded with influences from the foundations of Soviet Constructivism, De Stijl and Bauhaus – which would later culminate in the foundation of the school of Ulm – expressed a rational art of clear geometric non-figurative abstraction based on the foundations of Gestalt. Concretism valued industrial art, objective processes and easy reproduction; it criticized the fetish of the unique and authorial artistic object that depicts the world instead of building it.
The two concrete movement groups in Brazil - Ruptura in São Paulo and Frente in Rio de Janeiro - lived a short union. Through a critical review, condemning the dogmatic character of the concrete movement, Frente proclaimed itself neo-concrete. The signatories of the Neoconcrete manifesto countered contemplative art; they unsettled the traditional passivity towards the art object by making the public a constituent part of it and allowing it to conquer new spaces, plans and dimensions. Neoconcretism marked the height and exhaustion of the Brazilian construction project. With the 1964 coup, the constructive perspective lost its meaning. Seen in works such as “Parangolé” by Hélio Oiticica, “Divisor” by Lygia Pape, the sensory garments (masks, overalls and gloves) by Lygia Clark, and “Poesia Viva” by the group Poema Processo, non-constructive elements of Brazilian culture are absorbed and applied to the universe of wearables, making it even more malleable. According to Ferreira Gullar, these works fit in the notion of a non-object, which “is not an anti-object but a special object in which the synthesis of sensory and mental experiences is intended: a body transparent to phenomenological knowledge, fully perceptible, which gives itself to perception without leaving a remainder.”2
When analyzing Hélio Oiticica’s trajectory, one can see the Parangolés as the converging point of a movement to radicalize form and color. At this moment, his work evokes an extension of the body itself, with the intention of reprogramming its normative flow. The Parangolés may have various forms as flags, banners, tents and mainly covers / wearable structures. Such works invite the participant/spectator to embody, incarnate and incorporate, in the most literal sense of the word, color and dance. According to Mário Pedrosa, they “aimed at creating an environmental world” and are the converging point of a movement to radicalize form and color, making them an extension of the body itself with the intention of reprogramming the modus operandi of one’s body movements, and exploring new ways of understanding and using it.
The wearable pieces are made from joining/folding straight and orthogonal pieces of fabric, - cotton, plastic, tulle, jute, canvas - distancing themselves from any bodily or organic shapes, and they are often dyed and painted, sometimes with political, cultural and poetic words and phrases. In general, they are built with several layers which generate volume, a very important aspect of the pieces, both for its tactile aspect and the body “deformation” it causes in the participant since the parts that make up the garment do not respect the design of specific parts of the body, enabling different ways to incorporate/dress the work, allowing the participant to assume new skins, weights, and silhouettes. Several of them have pockets, mostly internal, some with objects inside, such as plastic balls and foam. Apart from the overlapping of fabrics, another structural feature seen in the making and conception of the pieces are the minimal folds and seams, many Parangolés are built from a single piece of fabric, structured similarly to an origami. The twisting and sewing of fabrics is another recurrent strategy, which creates volume and also contributes to the idea of movement, as it breaks with the fabric’s two-dimensionality. Tania Rivera states that this process is also similar to a Möebius’ tape, according to her, the Parangolé provides the “decentering of the self, declining the subversion between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’” - something totally plausible, given the context and concrete roots of Hélio.
So, by instigating the participant with an active and “supersensory” body, this non-object breaks with limited categorizations of the art object, it takes on environmental and rhythmic dimensions and propositions, as it incorporates the participant’s body, making it become the work.
Thus it is safe to say that, the experiments produced within the neoconcrete scope, flood the art field, invading and conversing with other fields, such as fashion/clothing. They have a more ephemeral character, linked to experience, imbued with critical and behavioral objectives. The act of dressing leads to the extinction of the position of the passive public to the art object, since, the experience and purpose of the work are only fully contemplated when it incorporates, provoking the deed of changing skin, acting without a script, exalting the idea of intrinsic movement to the body and the instinct to devour and be devoured.