Gina Pane - Biography and Legacy
French Performance and Land Artist
Biography of Gina Pane
Gina Pane was born in Biarritz, France in 1939 to an Italian father and an Austrian mother. She spent most of her youth in Italy and grew up speaking both Italian and French. Her father was a piano maker, and Pane explained that her use of felt in her art derived from her father's profession: "It's the first material I came into contact with, when I was a child, cutting discs for the pianos to be repaired."
Beyond these biographical details, very little is known about her childhood and early life.
Early Training and Work
In 1961 Pane moved to Paris to attend the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. She also spent time working at Atelier d'Art sacré, an organization that paired artists to execute projects for civic and religious buildings. It was a key training ground for female artists in particular.
Though she would be most famous for her performance art pieces, Pane explored painting, sculpture, and land-based art.
Pane's paintings were mostly geometric, hard-edged abstractions although she admitted being deeply moved by the work of Vincent van Gogh. Describing her paintings, the MART (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trente and Rovererto) noted her "predilection for color and minimalist forms." According to Pane, her training as a painter marked the starting point for her own profound research of the physical dimension. She wrote, "I use color not as a simulacrum of space or depth but to render it real, as it is. (...) it renders a sensation material in the most direct way possible. It contacts, exists."
As for Pane's early three-dimensional works, they were, as Dean Daderko describes, "a series of welded metal sculptures that were uniformly coated with sprayed-on layers of vibrantly colored enamel paint. The palette for these works included primary red, white, vibrant greens, and oceanic blues."
While sculptural elements remained a part of her oeuvre to an extent, Pane's interest in painting was relatively short-lived; in 1969 she threw four pieces into the Chisone river in Perosa Argentina, Italy so they'd eventually reach the sea, stating that this ritual abandonment of the medium was "a reasonable, boring, self-critical act."
In the late 1960s Pane was deeply troubled by the conservatism of the French government and the increasing violence and trauma of the Vietnam War. During May 1968, a volatile period of unrest unfurled itself in France punctuated by demonstrations and major general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across the country. At its height, it brought the economy of France almost to a halt. Instead of explicit political or social activism, Pane sought to convey her disillusionment and frustration through her art. From the years 1969-1979 she began turning to her own body as a way to express her concerns. She is best known for her azioni, or "actions," in which she used her body as material in order to comment on politics, gender, love, and the role of art.
In one of her few artist's statements, "Before May 1968" (most of her writing consists not of statements but of the notes and documentation for her performances), she explained that "the confrontation of mine with the post-1968 public benefitted from a relationship I could describe as 'Active' and my work was not only looked at, but lived." She also stated in a letter, "my language is that of the body since 1968."
Pane was openly homosexual and a feminist, and was open about the various ways in which a patriarchal and hetero-normative culture and discourse circumscribed the bodies and minds of those outside its rigid structure. She was in a relationship with Anne Marchand, who worked closely with her on preparing and documenting her performances. She was also keen on surrounding herself with women, whether it was the photographer Francoise Masson, her photographer and collaborator; the writer Anne Tronche; or the women-only audience in her major work, Azione Sentimentale (1973). In terms of Masson, Pane saw her as utterly crucial to every project she worked on. Pane expounded, "During the action, [Masson] occupied the same place as I in regard to the media of the action, uniquely constructing it according to a precise scenario I handed over to her in advance."
Pane began teaching at the École des Beaux-Arts in Le Mans and established an experimental performance workshop at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1978. Of teaching, she stated, "Each person's originality is of crucial importance, and one person's experience can never be reduced to somebody else's...A reciprocal exchange of views between teacher and student prevents their relationship from becoming exclusive or oppressive. Students must realize that the 'master' does not provide the rules; he is an instrument helping them to construct their own rules." Jean-Louis Raymond, a ceramics professor at Le Mans, remembered her fondly: "She was exceptionally good at listening to people. Most students in Le Mans come from a rural or working-class background. Gina Pane was genuinely attentive to her students' words or allusions that, in her view, revealed desires taking shape. She thought that their imaginative power stemmed from their social environment... She succeeded in finding a common language even with those who were most incapable of verbal formulation. This is a clear indication of the trust she placed in others, of her expectations." Jean-Francois Lecourt, an artist and student in her class, also remembered her as "possessed by the singularity of her story," as a strict but fantastic instructor, and as the vehicle through which the students became aware of contemporary art movements and ideas.
In 1980 Pane abandoned performing after sustaining injuries and due to her conviction that it had become "spectacularized." Until her death her work would be mixed media, combing aspects of painting, sculpture, and photography. In the last years of Pane's life she suffered from cancer, and died in 1990.
The Legacy of Gina Pane
Gina Pane's performances, which included aspects of physical suffering, were directly inspiring to Feminist and Performance artists such as Marina Abramovic, Catherine Opie, Valie Export, and Giuseppe Penone. Abramovic even performed Pane's The Conditioning as part of her Seven Easy Pieces (2005), a series at the Guggenheim where Abramovic performed seven works of her peers. Artist Pascal Lievre adapted Pane's work Death Control (1974) (in which children sang "Happy Birthday" while live maggots crawled over Pane's face). Lievre covered her body with cake and had the audience eat it off of her. Her subversion of the image of the female body as mere consumption for the male gaze can be seen in the work of Carolee Schneemann, Ana Mendieta, and Orlan, and her explorations of the body's threshold of pain are recognizable in the work of Abramovic and Ulay, Chris Burden, and Hermann Nitsch.