Linear Painting #5 – Saint Laurent du Maroni prison (Guiana)
Kapwani Kiwanga’s Linear Painting series (2017) reflect the artist’s research into disciplinary architecture, including schools, prisons, hospitals, and mental health facilities. When they were presented together, the paintings were arranged according to a black horizontal line placed at 160 centimeters from the floor, which traced the entire perimeter of the gallery. According to hygiene standards in Europe, this would mark the height below which walls should be washed in order to prevent the spread of illnesses. Consequently, hospital walls, much like society itself, have been divided into two zones: clean and infected, and thus two colors. Kiwanga’s choice of color reflects social hygiene movements and hospital reforms at the turn of the 20th century as well as the work of American author and consultant on color and color theory, Faber Birren. Birren’s works — an empiricist philosophy, which could be connected later to Behaviorism — explore the ways in which populations interact with colors and how institutions could manage human behavior with color. The color schemes and proportions used by Kiwanga are intended to reproduce those used on the walls of specific institutions. These arrangements of color were believed to be conducive to some desired behavior: Peach-terra-cotta and blue-green combinations, for instance, were developed by a dedicated color theorist for a Chicago factory to help bolster the efficiency of workers, while the light turquoise of a Canadian mental hospital is said to have a calming effect. In this light, productivity and calm both resonate as staying in line. With a formal approach, the painting achieves a strong crystallization of institutional ideologies. The paintings are made on drywall, as if the original walls had been cut out and transported into the gallery, as direct witnesses of these histories.