We are honed to tolerate boring work. The hundred letter words emerging like alphabet soup, like faces in a funhouse mirror, feeling more and more distorted in my body. Everything around, appearing quite tiny, as if seen through a keyhole. We sat rigid, except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production. We sat in this way, pointed to reassemble people. Lights flickering across our eyes. And propped up in attitudes, counterfeiting life,” a female voice rhythmically recites in Sandra Lahire’s Terminals (1986).

we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production is an exhibition that convenes the work of the late British experimental filmmaker Sandra Lahire and the Italian artist and designer Celeste Burlina. Coming from two distinct eras of feminist practice, their piercing meditations on the porosity of the body, labor, and environmental trouble enter into joint fabulation. 

we sat rigid… is host to six films by Lahire, of which five are newly digitized. Her galvanizing handling of the celluloid moving image addresses the ways in which capital and patriarchy mold and deplete vital faculties of the body, the earth, and ultimately the moving image itself. Her first two films, Arrows (1984) and Edge (1986), are firmly rooted in her persistent struggle with anorexia and the idealization of the female body. Together, they render a confronting account of the cultural causes of her drive towards thinness while she simultaneously seizes control over the production of her own image. Terminals (1986) broadens these autobiographical reflections and introduces another cycle of works—Plutonium Blonde (1987), Uranium Hex (1987), and Serpent River (1989)—, which probes into radiation, the mining of uranium, and the social and environmental destruction that comes with it. Against the backdrop of a looming nuclear war and the disintegration of miners’ communities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the 1980s, she examines this atomic reality in a fractured, sensitizing fashion. Approximately 35 years later, her concerns gain traction again and put the urgent need for the political recognition of corporeal vulnerability to the fore once more.

Celeste Burlina responds by way of an architectural intervention, carrier (2022), which echoes Lahire’s cinematic exploration of mining, industrial production, and female labor. Attentive to the ways infrastructure enables or obstructs the gathering of bodies and their circulation, Burlina’s proposition cuts through the three galleries of the Kunstverein. Starting off as a deceptive proposition reminiscent of minimalist sculpture, the work transforms and develops in function and meaning as it carries along. Oscillating between the functional and ornamental, carrier both serves as a support structure for Lahire’s moving image and interrogates the body of the Kunstverein as such. Burlina, who is trained as a structural engineer, rewires the function and purposefulness of raw, technical materials—H-beams, chains, rods, bits, and methyl methacrylate sheets—and thwarts her longstanding relationship with such supplies often associated with brute, subjugating forces. As Lahire’s films are brimming with these elements as well, Burlina performs a dialogical act and seeks to undo the rigidity these materials propose while insisting on their potential for powerful transformation.

What is called into being is a sensuous dialogue beyond the limitations of linear time—a resonant space sustained by two voices in fervent inclination.

On the occasion of the exhibition, Grazer Kunstverein will publish we sat rigid…, the first in a series of small volumes of correspondence, responses, and conversations. It includes contributions by Celeste Burlina, Tom Engels, Laura Guy, Calla Henkel, Charlotte Procter, Kerstin Schroedinger, and Miriam Stoney.

The exhibition is developed with the support of LUX, London.

Sandra Lahire (1950-2001, United Kingdom) was a feminist experimental filmmaker. Her artistic legacy includes ten 16 mm films in which she explores the body’s vulnerability. Lahire’s oeuvre investigates the representation of the (female) body and how it comes to bear traces of socio-political and ecological collapse. Lahire was a central member of London’s experimental filmmaking community in the 1980s and 1990s and was involved with the London Film-Makers’ Co-op and the London-based feminist film and video distributors Circles and Cinenova. Her essay “Lesbians in Media Education” was published in Visibly Female in 1987. In 1993, she composed a musical score for Just About Now by the British artist and filmmaker Lis Rhodes. Lahire studied Philosophy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Fine Art Film at St Martins School of Art, and Film & Environmental Media at the Royal College of Art in London. She passed away after an enduring struggle with anorexia.

Celeste Burlina (b. 1988, Italy; lives in Berlin) works as an artist, designer, and writer. Her exhibition designs and scenographies articulate the relationship between people and infrastructure and focus on the dramaturgy of attention and attending. She developed made-to-measure installations and spatial interventions for “trust & confusion” at Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong (2021), “30 Years of KW: Anniversary Weekend” (2021) at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2021), Creamcake’s 3hd Festival “Power Play” at Park Center Treptow, Berlin (2021), and “im garten der blicke” at Kunsthaus NRW Kornelimünster, Aachen (2020). Previously, Burlina worked for the design and architecture studio Sub, with whom she completed projects for exhibitions by Anne Imhof at Castello di Rivoli (Turin), Tate Modern (London), and Palais de Tokyo (Paris), as well as for Schinkel Pavillon (Berlin) and Balenciaga. Burlina is a Doctor of Engineering.

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Exhibition view of Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com
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Exhibition view of Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com
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Exhibition view of Sandra Lahire, Terminals, 1986, Plutonium Blonde, 1987, and Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com
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Exhibition view of Sandra Lahire, Terminals, 1986, and Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com
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Exhibition view of Sandra Lahire, Plutonium Blonde, 1987, Uranium Hex, 1987, and Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com
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Exhibition view of Sandra Lahire, Arrows, 1984, and Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com
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Exhibition view of Sandra Lahire, Serpent River, 1989, Arrows, 1984, and Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com
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Exhibition view of Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com
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Exhibition view of Sandra Lahire, Serpent River, 1989, and Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com
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Exhibition view of Sandra Lahire, Arrows, 1984, and Celeste Burlina, carrier, 2022, as part of we sat rigid except for the parts of our bodies that were needed for production, 2022, Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-documentation.com