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Daniel Buren: Activating Space

by Enrico Pedrini

Daniel Buren, Les Parallèles, installation view from Galleria Massimo Minini, Brescia, 2003.

Daniel Buren’s work is grounded in Conceptual Art, a movement favoring ideas rather than the realization of an art object. This movement, which had been anticipated in France by Yves Klein and Bernar Venet’s “monosemy,” finds in the B.M.P.T. group of 1967, formed by Buren, Mosset, Parmentier and Toroni, the reason to set art free from its traditional aura of original. This group pursues a radical criticism of the traditional methods of art by theorizing its new social and political function. Daniel Buren, from his first exhibition in 1966, distills his language of painting to a series of vertical stripes of 8.7 centimeters wide, alternating white and colored; a sort of uniform and neutral ‘grade zero’ suitable to infinite repetition. The artist can activate this system on an infinite variety of media, which he inserts in public places such as old walls, posters, squares, streets, and subway stations. The media he chooses (flags, banners, posters, and wooden structures) all suggest three-dimensional space. These media give the artist an opportunity to probe the peculiar nature of spatial perception. During the early 1980’s, Buren devoted himself to building more and more of such three-dimensional elements which he calls “cabanes.” These structures, made out of canvas and with rigid armatures, create a sculptural environment that, with presence and volume, suggest a new critical reading of the context in which they have been deliberately immersed. The works inform not only the inner space but also redefine the external environment with which they interact.

The audience is invited to observe and share through the openings created on the cabanes’ walls – not only through the sculptural environment, which the artist chose and produced, but on the surrounding context too. The project, which Daniel Buren activates, creates something that might favor a dialectic exchange between two differing time-space realities, to such a point that “one might necessarily involve the other one.” Buren’s exhibition at Galleria Massimo Minini in Brescia, titled Les Parallèles (Parallel Bars) intensely develops this theme, since the two cabanes, similar in shapes and dimensions, are placed at either end of the rectangular and very deep exhibition space of the gallery. The artist was put in front of a preexisting site, which he imagined as two parallel and contiguous spaces. 

The cabanes, with a square plan and all covered with a transparent material, have openings which let people in, allowing them to observe the gallery’s walls, which are covered with black and white squares, on the entry side and white and red squares on the opposite end. The cabanes’ dimensions, as well as those of the doors and panels, always correspond to multiples of Buren’s module, which is 8.7 centimeters. The multiplier is usually 9. This staged effect produces intense excitement and amazement, due to the repetition of shapes, which transform the gallery’s geometry. The element of color makes all the difference, by way of thesis and antithesis, in a forever-active dialectic.

These works always recall the presence of political values not only intervening in art, but especially in the dualism of the social and political environment.

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