Pain was embedded in the most famous work of this distinguished French artist, who made her name as a performance artist in the seventies. Unlike theatre in which actions are often simulated, in performance art what was going on was actually happening. Cutting herself repeatedly with a razor blade, lying on a metal bed frame over an expanse of burning candles and putting out a succession of flames with her bare hands were just a few of the actions that she performed in the early seventies. The audience reacted with horror and there is a story about some of them crying out and begging her not to slice her face. But there was also a political dimension in these years after May 68 and she wrote that she saw them as her visceral response to the American escalation in Vietnam.
An action which always appealed to me was when she made herself vomit in the window of a smart gallery on the Left Bank. It was timed to coincide with the Parisians hurrying home clutching the expensive and beautifully packaged titbits which they had bought for supper.
What was a discovery for me in this exhibition were the accomplished paintings and the three dimensional works. I especially coveted Untitled n30. 1962-67, (image 2) because of its subtly dynamic quality and vibrancy of colour. I also liked Un apres-midi d’été, a 16h30-Partition pour quatre jouets, 1983(image 2). The juxtaposition of the broken glasses, interspersed with playful plastic objects and set beneath a frieze of repeated images of bleeding cuts is startling. In L’échelle du Martyre Saint-Laurent n3- Partition pour un corps irradié, 1986 (image 3) the vertical marks on the lowest register register the marks made on his body by the grid on which he was slowly roasted to death
Pain and suffering are at the heart of this work and yet the exhibition as you walk in seems bright and cheerful. It is an interesting if disturbing blend. See what you think.
Gina Pane is at Kamel Mennour, 51 Brook Street, London W1K 4HR until 30 May