A process of rehearsing, the cube and random moments of destruction.

During their residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Sarie Nijboer and visual artist Chiara Bugatti actively discussed unexpected moments, disruption, and rehearsal in (performance) art. Starting from Bugatti’s work, this text examines the museum, the exhibition, and the artwork as performative sites that can be read as places for rehearsal, failure, change, or renewal.

Sarie Nijboer — Feb 25, 2021

We see a transparent cube filled with water. Inside is another cube consisting of green spirulina. Attached to this green emulsion are several small soft-pink freshwater snails. The cube floats, which was not the case when it first entered the water. The work is by visual artist and former Solitude fellow Chiara Bugatti, who after many tests was able to transform the green algae powder into a cube – which retained its form in the water and did not dissolve – and thus became a liveable space the snails inhabited.1 Not long after the snails were living in the acrylic cube, the cube of spirulina rotated in the water. It was a magical and unexpected moment that subsequently became part of Bugatti’s further experiments, which she documented in every detail.

The process just described is an introduction in Bugatti’s approach; it is a good example of the exercise of rehearsal that is so vivid in her practice. Over the course of our stay at Akademie Schloss Solitude, we began having conversations about our common interests, such as the practice of rehearsing in (performance) art, the interconnectedness of species and non-species, and our curiosity in the disrupted. This article is a continuation of our exchanges that developed during preparations for the exhibition Beyond Walls at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart and during a period of lockdown for both of us; Bugatti in Stockholm and me in Berlin.

I remember reading the book Putting Rehearsals to the Test by Sabeth Buchmann, Ilse Lafer, and Constanze Ruhm during my master’s programs in curatorial studies, which Bugatti and I also extensively discussed. In the book’s introduction, rehearsing is described as »a methodology, a modus operandi, a medium, a site of representation of reflection for artistic processes, and as an instrument of critique of institutional power relations.«2 Different from a final product – something that is fixed and aimed at perfection – rehearsal is about the practice of experimentation in which fragility, fragmentation, and incompleteness come to the fore.3 This constant renewal through repetition and difference is what makes this act of rehearsal so intriguing to me. Bugatti describes it as »a process of the unexpected in order for her to understand and coexist with the not-knowing.« We talked about the margin for improvisation within the language of sculpture, and Bugatti considered the margin as the moment at which something unpredicted occurs, this moment of renewal which is where the margin is met or crossed, and where her process starts.

This also happened with the snails. Their mere existence influenced the water quality. They fed from the spirulina, consuming and transforming its rigorous shape, and suddenly made it possible for the cube to flip and eventually float. This unexpectedness is visible in many of Bugatti’s works, whether accidentally or consciously intended as a form.

Carefully recorded as a series of random exercises, the recordings of the snails became a work in itself. The images, or Bugatti’s models – small-scale environments that she builds to stage her performances and artworks – are studies, imaginary spaces, and stages in between; recreations of phenomena that are usually impossible to observe or even perceive.

But there were four seasons and the hours run their cycle around midday and midnight is an attempt to escape the connotation of marble as something rigid and monumental. Bugatti laid 300 kg of crushed Alpine marble on the floor as a soft pattern, recalling a perfectly raked Japanese Zen garden. Mistaking it for a textile carpet, the visitors started to walk on the artwork, damaging its rigorous geometries. As a result Bugatti decided to return to the museum every day to restore the surface and prepare it to be repeatedly destroyed. »It was hilarious and terrible at the same time,« she tells me. »I started to think about the implications of becoming the witness of something changing or collapsing over time.«

I start to appreciate even more this idea of »life-long learning« and »research drive« described in the book Putting Rehearsals to the Test as something that predominantly appears during periods of artistic-aesthetic and sociocultural transformation.4 Leaving aside the idea of a finished product, both failure and success no longer exist. They are ways of going against machine-like art production. I learn from Bugatti’s work that when we cede control, a process of experimentation occurs; simultaneously, this concept of letting go is also something that Chiara plays with. In doing so, she goes against her own controlled environment, allowing her works to unfold, and to find ease in the not knowing.

»This constant renewal through repetition and difference is what makes this act of rehearsal so intriguing to me, that Bugatti describes as ›a process of the unexpected in order for her to understand and coexist with the not-knowing.‹«

Something that immediately triggered me in Bugatti’s work was the aesthetics and serenity it shows at first glance, but after getting to know her and her practice better, I also stumbled upon the minor destructions of this soft and minimal aesthetics. One of those destructions was the moment the snails turned the cube. Another was when the visitors entered the marble carpet. The work A Place of Fantastic Flora (Habitat Study) that is part of the exhibition Beyond Walls at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart also holds that particular moment of minor destruction.

As the title suggests, the work is a study on flora, which is represented through its absence. What is shown is instead another kind of organism interconnected to the surrounding world in which each element is affected by the existence of the other: architectural elements and manmade objects – such as unglazed clay vessels, ventilation pipes, insulating foams, a farming salt lick, and bottled water – occupy the space together with the visitors. They leave their mark on each other and breathe the same air.


In many of Bugatti’s works, the spectator is an equal player alongside the objects, materials, and architecture at play. I tell her that I don’t experience a hierarchy in her work, something I highly value. There is a different tactility of every subject, but each player is equally important for the functioning of the whole.

In the view of Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi, the museum is a place where craft and art coexist. It does not place art in the center of attention, but as a common object among other attributes. In my practice, I closely follow Bo Bardi’s approach, as she redefined the identity of a museum and explored it as a permanent transformation, challenging the hierarchical structures within the museum space. After founding the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia (MAMB) in 1960, she considered it a school rather than a museum.5 According to Bo Bardi, the museum must first go back to nature: it must observe nature in order to function as a school so that it can learn from itself.

I first got introduced to her work in a seminar I attended by Brazilian researcher, critic, and exhibition maker Marcelo Rezende. In the same seminar he spoke about audience awareness, and the role an exhibition or artwork can play in creating greater awareness. He said: »In a building, you are affected by space, but you don’t think about the fact that you are in a building. Only in distraction can a shock suddenly come. You start to see not the things as they are. You start to understand that reality is much more.«6 For Rezende, audience participation means that you are part of the work and at the same time you have the opportunity to be reflective. As soon as we challenge the expectations of the visitor, for instance the moment when we start to disrupt the exhibition, it can become something very powerful.

When working in rigid institutional structures, as exhibition designers, curators, and artists, we are confronted with a highly controlled, often hierarchical, environment. The quality of the air, the movements (and expectations) of the public as well as existing architecture are seen as something that can not be disturbed or even changed, let alone the financial budget, personnel, and other institutional structures. The conversations between Bugatti and me often revolved around these issues; on how to find ways to challenge conventional exhibition structures. In my own curatorial practice, I also like to see exhibitions as a product that is constantly evolving, something oriented toward a process.

»In a building, you are affected by space, but you don’t think about the fact that you are in a building. Only in distraction can a shock suddenly come. You start to see not the things as they are. You start to understand that reality is much more.«

When discussing an exhibition as an ongoing process, I cannot help but think about Bugatti’s performance Rehearsing Brutality, until it’s totally destroyed, which is initially planned to take place during Beyond Walls at the Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart but due to the pandemic it is yet unknown if it is possible for the performance to actually happen. The work developed out of a collaboration with dancer/choreographer Alessandro Giaquinto and the Stuttgarter Ballett. The performance already took place, albeit in a different form, during the Symposium Paradoxes of Progress that took place at Akademie Schloss Solitude in March 2020. The work itself is a continuation of Bugatti’s fascination with the cube and random moments of destruction. Random in the sense that it is accidental, although partially rehearsed, which created a framework of expectation. Although a work is disrupted, it is always carried out softly, almost like a gentle shock. During our conversations we also discussed how we approach materials, in Bugatti’s case; or people, which is more common in my work as a curator. Vulnerability plays an important role in both our approaches. Vulnerability means the quality or the state of being exposed; the possibility of being attacked or harmed. I see it more as something that is soft and humble, as an exposure to uncertainty. It leaves me in a state of openness, where I am able to listen to the other and let the experience come to me, in which I adapt and learn. I also see this in Bugatti’s practice, where her approach to materials, performers and space leave room for vulnerability, for uncertain encounters to take place.

The foundation of Bugatti’s performance work is a seemingly solid shape of a soft pink ancient powder called »rotten stone« that Bugatti found by randomly searching the internet. »The material was used to stabilize dynamite,« Bugatti says. »I find it fascinating to think that it is something to be exploded eventually.« a common thread in her work is a fascination for what role materials have in our world, especially if they are in contrast with how they are being displayed. In this specific work the performer moves in close proximity to the cube, adopting stereotypes of masculine poses – copied from military training and sports – that contrast strongly with the cube’s color but at the same time respond to the material and the monumentality that comes with it. We talk about the cube and I ask Bugatti what this form means to her, she responds and says, »It means much to me, but I’ve become particularly interested in the cube as a symbol that carries associations to minimalism and rational thinking.«

As the performer continues to strike his poses, he begins to repeat his movements, and through this repetition his poses lose the meaning of masculinity, in fact they transform into a sequence, a certain rhythm. The mirroring of the movements creates an ultimate cycle in which we are made to forget where the work begins and where it ends.


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Documentation from rehearsals at Schauwerk Sindefingen, after the performance. 2020. Camera: Tine Bek.

  1. Posthorn snails are a common species of air-breathing freshwater snails usually kept in aquariums to clean the water from unwanted algae formations. The artist, eager to observe and learn about ways in which matter is consumed, chose this specific breed to become part of her model.

  2. Sabeth Buchmann, Ilse Lafer, Constanze Ruhm: Putting Rehearsals to the Test – Practices of Rehearsal in Fine Arts, Film, Theater, Theory, and Politics. Berlin 2016, p. 11.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid, p. 14.

  5. C. Zollinger: »Lina Bo Bardi and the Bahian Modern Art Museum: museum-school, museum in progress.« Article available online at: https://linabobarditogether.com/2012/09/02/lina-bo-bardi-and-the-bahian-modern-art-museum-museum-school-museum-in-progress/ (accessed February 5, 2021).

  6. These quotes are selected from notes I took during the seminar with Marcelo Rezende, which took place on October 17, 2017.

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