Clemencia Labin and the Colorful Pulpa Chic

(This text was originally published at The International Museum of Women, June 2014)

Since 2001, artist Clemencia Labin (born Venezuela, 1947) has been producing a series of works called Pulpa Chic.

These objects share with pop art the flat color, artificiality, and re-contextualization of objects. The pop art Labin alludes to responds to the connection between these works and the popular culture of her native country Venezuela. In Spanish, the word “pulpa” describes the edible part of a fruit.
From her own description, Labin’s Pulpa are soft, fleshly, and padded works often covered by expandable lycra or other fabrics. They are usually built on wooden frames, filled with polyester fiber, and partly painted with acrylic paint.

With few exceptions – such as Pintamuros the flattest of her 21st century pieces – most of Labin’s pieces occupy space and are sculptural. All of her works display a plush array of shapes, fabrics, and textures filled with something enigmatically shapely but soft. Their construction has the rigor of the Bauhaus while simultaneously displaying a casualness that celebrates improvisation. They incarnate an aesthetic which demands a narrative, one that the artist is not shy to talk about.

In 2011, Labin represented Venezuela at the Venice Biennale, and she explained how after having lived in Hamburg, Germany for over 20 years why rediscovering her home city of Maracaibo changed her art practice. On a casual visit to the neighborhood of Santa Lucia, she discovered a new palette in the bright colors of the houses’ façade and interior décor.

Although that neighborhood was recognized as dangerous, she bought a house there and since 2011 has been hosting an annual art festival called Velada Santa Lucia. It is evident that the colors and patterns of her current neighborhood are reflected in her present work, albeit her worldly perspective.

Until 1968, Labin lived and attended school in Maracaibo. After, she moved to New York where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Arts in 1972 and later a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Columbia University before moving to Germany. Throughout her career, she studied under the tutelage of Kai Sudeck, Franz E. Walther, and Sigmar Polke.

Labin’s works invite interaction and she herself interacts with the viewer as a performer. Indeed, Pulpa Nueva Mega Lucrecia (2009) puts the viewer at odds as to whether one should find shapes, or simply squeeze it or lie down on it.


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