TANIA BRUGUERA: Descent to Performance

with Maurice Echevarria

From: Echevarría, Maurice.”Tania Bruguera: descenso del performance,” El Periódico, Guatemala, abril 23, 1999 (illust.) p. 17.

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TANIA BRUGUERA: Descent to Performance

with Maurice Echevarría

Tania Bruguera, a Cuban, has come to Guatemala invited by Colloquia because of several reasons: an exhibition, a workshop and a performance, her true métier. The workshop, actually, is on this present and organic language, not too frequently practiced in Guatemala, and therefore not exempt of interest. (Those interested, please call Colloquia, at the Modern Art Museum.) The workshop will be held on April 24 and 25. The opening of the exhibition and the performance itself will be held at the MuNAM on April 24 at 11:30 am.

Well, what is the proposal, what are you bringing us?

It will be a personal exhibition with stills and documentation of a performance I have done before. There will also be a video, an artistic video I edited. Drawings too. And, well, I will make a performance at the opening.

Talk to me a little about performances.

Performance is a means of expression visual artists have used since the early years of the century, but that had its heyday in the fifties and sixties, especially in the United States. For visual artists, it is an alternative to talk about certain things, to use their body as a support – instead of the canvas or other things. The body not only as a place where painting is placed – as in Yves Klein‘s case – but also as a space for actions with some artistic connotations. It emerged to expand somehow the language of art, which was very much into painting, sculpture… It was another way of saying things, somewhat more openly.

In the nineties we are witnessing a revival of performance. Is it a recycling of what was being done in the seventies or is there really something new?

No way of doing art grows old, becomes archaic. Besides, I believe performances have been done during all this time, although they did not receive much attention. Installations were more in vogue, they were seen as more novel. Today performances are once more taking the place befitting them. One thing that happened was that the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art held a retrospective of performances from their earliest moments to the seventies. That proved conclusive, since from then on everyone began to legitimate performance as a valid thing.

You have taken part in the Havana Biennial, in the Sao Paulo Biennial. What should artists look for, let’s say, what is the most convenient circuit today?

There are two things: events are on one side and the organizers (curators, all that) are on the other… As an event, I believe the Havana Biennial is still a veryvery important space, as to topics. But this changes. The Sao Paulo Biennial, for example, may be important one year and insignificant the following one, because perhaps the curator then in charge did not make a good selection. I believe that more than places, right now there is a trend as to curators and institutions organizing these events.

We are rather living in an era in which curators have become monopolistic, up to a point in which artists themselves have been marginalized.

Much has been said about this in art reviews. There was a moment in which the exhibition became something by the curator. As if the star in the exhibition were the curators. This has created conflicts. Art events are important not because of the events themselves, but because of the person organizing them.

And there is the market.

On what you were saying about performances becoming banal, there is an important thing: in the eighties there was a very large worldwide boom in painting. Then installations began to struggle for commercialization. Installations are things you can buy, but you need to have a different view on how to collect them. People had to adjust to a different way of buying.

Has it already turned into a commodity?

Yes, it already is a commodity. And there is another thing: I believe there was an international market crisis in the nineties. Many collectors who had bought trans-vanguard works at very high prices began to sell them very cheaply. Then performance emerged as an alternative to this situation.

And what was this devaluation due to?

Art, unfortunately, depends on very many things – social, political or economic – that have nothing to do with the human being making the work.  Perhaps a guy was making fantabulous pictures twenty years ago and nobody looked at them. And then he entered the market just because a museum bought his work.

Another language that is beginning to gain strength is video.

Yes, it is gaining much strength, especially with computers, Internet and all that. They are even offering grants to make works in Internet. This is very interesting, because it is a scientific discovery artists have appropriated.

Performances are ephemeral art and in this sense they are not an art subject to capitalization.

I have noticed that languages like that of performance emerge in moments of transition. Since it is so volatile, so open – you can sing, talk, shout, run, whatever – it lends itself very much for crises of style or social crises. It is a language for people to express themselves more immediately, more abruptly, more brutally, more directly.

What new language can we discern for the future?

Hey, I wish I knew… (laughter) I think that when these crises emerge, art tries to bind to life. Today we are immersed in computation, in communication. When faxes first came up, there were people who used faxes to do their works. Then it was over, exhausted. We are searching…

Why don’t you tell me what you have done, what you have worked in?

I began my work as a testimony of the process Cuba is going through. An interesting thing is that, unlike what is the case in these countries, everyone has the same education, everyone has the same experiences. The parameter of experience is very similar for everyone. I wanted to bear witness to all this. I worked the topic of migration for a while and this was because, well, my friends, all the people around me started to leave the country in the eighties. This vacuum – an individual and intimate vacuum it was – moved me to work on the topic. Then I began to look more inside me, inside me and inside Cuba. All the work I am doing now has to do with submission, the idea of how at times you give up your own things to achieve a purpose, submitting to the power others have. With me, it is like an obsession. From there I go to topics like silence, guilt, sacrifice. It has much to do with the way the focus of life has been shown to us: the thing about the hero, social sacrifice, individual sacrifice as a social benefit. We have been brought up with the idea that we are not ourselves: we are just one part and have to help the whole.

Translated for the website by Jimena Codina