Since 1965, Daniel Buren’s painting has consisted of a series of vertical white and colored bands, each 3 ½ inches wide. The artist considers these alternating stripes “a visual tool.” “The stripe,” he says, “is not my invention, nor does it belong to me. I just use it.” His adoption of this neutral and impersonal sign stands in open contradiction with traditional art history, to the point that Buren polemically declares that he “is not a painter.” Further developing his critical intention, the artist delves into the relationship between each work and the institutional or cultural setting in which it is viewed. The format for his works thus has undergone profound transformations and, in addition to canvas, the supports he uses include printed fabrics, paper, glass, mirror, wood, and flags and banners. Buren’s works from the 1980s sometimes move beyond two-dimensionality, becoming three-dimensional installations. Working in a way that analyzes the history, functions, significances, and peculiarities of each context he encounters, the artist develops both works for museum spaces and installations that are able to establish a dialogue with the complexity of public spaces, such as streets, squares, parking lots, and subway stations. During the 1960s and 1970s, Buren devoted considerable attention to the dissemination of his theories through manifestos. Since that time, he has continued to publish and his writings as a whole represent an integral part of his work.
In 1984 he began articulating the relationship between the work and the space through a major series he calls Cabanes éclatées (“exploded cabins”). Starting with a defined panel, which can be related to the idea of the pictorial canvas mounted on a wooden stretcher, each Cabane is created from the juxtaposition of different panels, assembled to form three-dimensional spaces that recall habitable rooms, with the dimensions and colors related to the exhibition context. Moreover, by conceptually extending the relationship between painting and its capacity to “break through” the space, almost as if it were a window, each Cabane not only has points of access similar to doors, but also a considerable number of openings analogous to windows. Like the aftermath of an explosion but one that is controlled by the measure of the intellect, each door or window corresponds to a “square” of the same size, installed on the walls at a corresponding height. La Cabane éclatée n. 3, travail situé (Exploded Cabin # 3, situated work), 1984, in the Castello’s collection, is one of the earliest works in this series. The installation, created using panels painted with white and yellow stripes, is organized around the relationship between the square and its possible subdivisions into triangles, based on a geometry that can be identified as part of the Castello’s decorative layout. Even the double height of the installation has been established in conformity with the building’s courtly spaces. In addition, the work’s response to the grandeur of the Castello’s baroque rooms is the vertical repetition of similar sequences of “doors” and “windows,” almost as if there were two superimposed rooms. As in the other works in the series, each opening corresponds dynamically to additional elements installed on the wall. Developing an unusual dialogue, the work thus emphasizes the museum’s dual function, as a historic environment and as a place dedicated to contemporary art. Buren created this work for the inaugural exhibition at the Castello di Rivoli in 1984. Initially shown in the “Chinese Room” designed by architect Carlo Randoni in 1792, the work can also be installed in other rooms of the Castello. According to the artist’s definition, the Rivoli Cabane belongs to the category of work Buren calls “travaux situés” (situated works). Unlike the “travaux in situ” (works in situ), the “travaux situés” are not tied irrevocably to the place for which they have initially been created, but can be installed in different spaces. According to the artist, the elements that make up the work remain identical, but depending on the place encountered, they are repositioned in different compositions. As Buren has written: “Unlike works of classical, modern, and even contemporary art, which affirm their autonomy in relationship to the space where they are presented, works that can be defined as ‘travaux situés’ are thus designated in order to insist on the absolute interdependence between the object and the place in which it is observed.”