Daniel Buren. Photo-souvenir: Voile/Toile-Toile/Voile, work in situ, Lake of Grasmere, Grasmere (UK), 1975-2005.
Daniel Buren. Photo-souvenir: Couleurs superposées, work in situ, Musée Laforêt, Tokyo, 1982.
Daniel Buren. Photo-souvenir: Le banderuole colorate, work in situ, Trivero, 2007.
Daniel Buren. Photo-souvenir: Le banderuole colorate, work in situ, Trivero, 2007.

A Cultural Reader: Daniel Buren: Textile Works

by Martine Syms

Daniel Buren works in situ. 

In 2007 he was commissioned by the Fondazione Zegna to launch the All’Aperto project, a series of site-specific permanent artworks in the town of Trivero. The small company town is bordered by alps of Norwegian spruce and anchored by a castlelike wool mill in the city center. Buren placed 126 colored flags—“weather vanes”—on that building’s terrace. The flags rise and fall in concert with the wind. Ranging from Pantone 325 to Pantone Blue, the color fields are interrupted by a triangle of white stripes. Buren calls the stripes the “visual tool.” 

This tool allows Buren to draw a clean line between the paintings, textile works, and performance that have characterized his long career. His stripes have become a sign that allow for contradictions to be held together. His works are to be understood cumulatively. In Textile Works, a svelte new monograph cataloging Buren’s creative output since 1965, curator Vincent Honoré asks Buren about an old idea, “repetition of differences with a view to sameness.” Each piece is a singular moment, but there isn’t one work. There’s only the sign.    

Perhaps the inverse is also true: repetition of sameness with a view to differences. I don’t believe anything can ever be repeated. The circumstances are always changing. Buren agrees: “There has never been a single repetition, but rather a series of events, each one unique in its own way.” Buren’s objects are completed by the viewer. They are utterly contingent, relying on audience, architecture, movement, and accrual to be fully realized. 

In this way all of Buren’s work is theater. From 1974’s Chez Georges, which went undercover as a restaurant awning, to Une enveloppe peut en cacher une autre, his large-scale 1989 intervention on the façade of the Musée Rath, to A Colored Square in the Sky, a 2007 installation of striped red and yellow flags in my hometown of Pasadena, California, Buren seeks transformation. He uses repetition to create a ritual space that moves the viewer beyond the everyday toward the symbolic.  

Martine Syms is a conceptual entrepreneur based in Los Angeles, California.

Images: Courtesy of Mousse Publishing.