General Strike with Tania Bruguera

Cuauhtémoc Medina

From: Medina, Cuauhtémoc. “Tania Bruguera: Devouring the public,” (illust.)

________________________. “Tania Bruguera: Devorando lo público.” Exhibition’s brochure, September, 2010.

________________________. “General Protest.” Arte al Dia International. Online published article, September 27, 2010.

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Tania Bruguera: Devouring the Public

by Cuauhtémoc Medina

Tania Bruguera describes “Huelga General”[General Strike] as a work “on creating community, on participation, on citizen intervention and on the frustrated utopia that art can represent a process as changing as politics and as volatile as public opinion in a fixed state (an image).”

In conflating two traditions of political production generally believed to be incompatible (contemporary participative art and the tradition of protest mural that co-opted the model of renaissance art to produce the most successful idea of “public art” in the 20th century), Bruguera wants to question the widespread social skepticism towards the public relevance of art by shifting the task of its making and activation to the actual public sphere itself.

In a space that will be presented in a state of process, Bruguera will proffer an overall vision of a design for murals for Sala Verónicas which will later be executed by professional painters and the general public. This shared task in the execution of the work is transference of the normally external process of the ironic Warholian model of “panting by numbers,” contemplating this work implies that the beholder must finish it. The piece will not be fully observable until it is about to be finished, when its significance is perhaps already entering into a process of obsolescence, and on the point of being intervened by another initiative moving in the completely opposite direction.

The connotation of the religious space in this historical weave is incorporated in the intervention. As Tania Bruguera says, “in Huelga General the work is being made as it is being represented; the sacred element is the participation of the public and the mystical dimension lies in the political action.”

Within the overarching conceit of Dominó Caníbal, Bruguera wants the general staging of this piece to absorb and devour the implications of the radical politics set in motion by the various artist who have already partaken in Proyecto de Arte Contemporáneo de Murcia. Her project focuses on two citations. In the centre of the church, as both relic and quotation, it sets in place a comparison between two parallel work: T.W. (Vitrine) made by Kendell Geers in 1993 and A Stone from Francois Villon’s House in Paris (1996/2009) by Jimmy Durham. In both, the temptation underlying artistic and political transgression is enacted in the image of a museum display case penetrated by a racing car. For Bruguera, these two appropiations not only include Dominó Caníbal’s genalogy, but also speak to contemporary artists’ complex negotiation in preserving and interpreting social violence and conflict, while at once maintaining a tense negotiation with the passiveness of observation in the notion of western art on its institutional limits.

Huelga General is otherwise an intervention bringing together the internal rules of art production and the specific circumstances of its execution in the present. Both the layout of the mural, as well as the successive phases which the artist wishes to introduce in the realization of the painting, are conceived to bookend a temporal circumstance: the announcement of a general strike in Spain for the month of September 2010 with which trade unions, citizens and activists will cross-examine the series of economic and public finance policies that the Spanish government is implementing in its bid to control the variables of the capitalist crisis.

To what extent is this mural, and its process, capable of inducing a rethinking on the current moment of conflict? Working with a given circumstance, its reflective and practical effect remains in open question.