JAGGED METAL ON THE STEPS Stills from Non-Anesthetized Climb, a performance by Gina Pane in 1971.
  • JAGGED METAL ON THE STEPS Stills from Non-Anesthetized Climb, a performance by Gina Pane in 1971.

Those are the actual steps she climbed, at the Henry.
  • Photographer: Francoise Masson | Collection Musee National d'Art Moderne/Centre Pompidou, Paris
  • Those are the actual steps she climbed, at the Henry.
Gina Pane was a queer performance artist who made audiences gasp at the very beginning of body art. She didn't get famous like Marina Abramovic or Chris Burden; she died young, in 1990. But all the way through the 1970s, Pane (PAH-nay) put her body through a series of trials—masking personality by wearing sunglasses and a plain-clothes uniform—that transformed pain inflicted on a lesbian body into new experiences and images.

Take Non-Anesthetized Climb. On a custom-made steel ladder, Pane trudged up and down until she was exhausted. Metal thorns on the steps dug at her hands and feet. It happened in a time and place—Paris, 1971—swirling with anti-war protests and the seeds of feminism and queer civil rights. Pane said she wanted to wake people from anesthetized states.

What remains of Non-Anesthetized Climb are grids—the steel ladder and the huge photographic contact sheet—that are aggressive and steely in themselves. They hang on the gallery wall, systems of boxes and bars that continue to symbolize the entrapment of the artist as she accumulates pain and accomplishment. In an interview quoted in Glasstire, Pane said,

I wanted to emphasize the fact that the artist’s—as well as man’s—relationships are perverted in their rush to achieve a goal, in the frenzy to get ahead….people’s sensibilities are automatically anaesthetized: they’re no longer aware of the effects of their actions.

You can see the work of Gina Pane and Joan Jonas at the Henry Art Gallery.