New York - Interviews

“Art is an Exercise on Freedom”: an Interview with Tania Bruguera

5 days ago

Visitors attending the Armory show week in New York, are having the chance to visit the installation “Untitled (Havana, 2000)” at MoMA until March 11th.
On the occasion of her exhibition and the announcement of being the winner of Tate Modern commission for the Turbine Hall, we interviewed Tania Bruguera to learn more about her practice and involvement in the art and politics of Cuba, her country of birth.

Mara Sartore: In your early career you were mainly influenced by the work of Ana Mendieta within the practice of intimate performance. You later developed large-scale interactive situations, creating what you describe “productive moments”. How did you get to this shift?

Tania Bruguera: When I understood that Art could enter spaces where one could rehearse future realities.

MS: In your practice, you always focus on how to “activate” the public you interact with. In your participatory events you aim to provoke viewers to consider the political realities masked by government propaganda and mass-media interpretation. This is also linked to the “behavior art”— a practice aimed at “not representing the political but provoking the political”. Could you tell us about your practice? Which project or performance do you feel most attached to?

TB: Art is an exercise on freedom, whether by liberating yourself of your everyday burdens or by letting you define your surroundings. For far too long the first option became light fun or decoration and the audience has been trained to be entertained by the institutions which provide their comfort. Instead my work is using Art as a way to navigate the uncomfortable and works with institutions as political and civic spaces where one can discuss difficult ideas in a protected environment. I call “Arte de Conducta” (conduct or behavior art) precisely to the process where the audience completes the artwork with their reactions with their intervention on the situation that is presented, one they will encounter one day in real life. When I say not representing the political but to provoke the political is because I try to use art as a way to generate a political situation people have to define themselves in, because I’m trying art to go beyond art itself and be incorporated in our political life as an instrument of processing ideas and thinking differently when situations seems unescapable.

MS: Born and grown up in Cuba, you moved to Queens, New York. Here you initiated the “Immigrant Movement International” (2010–15), a five-year project about the living conditions of immigrants in Corona, Queens, New York. Could you tell us about this project? How did you get to it?

TB: The project is still running and doing a lot of amazing things for the community. In 2014 I proposed to the museum and the community that it was time for the project to be completely defined and ran by the members of the community. If you want to talk about empowering a community do not talk for them, give them your platform and go into the background making sure they have that platform and their agency for as long as possible. I think Immigrant Movement International is best explained when people come and join them.

MS: Raul Castro will step down as Cuba’s president on April 2018. You proposed yourself as a candidate in the upcoming Cuban Presidential Election in a video called “#YoMePropongo en Cuba”. Once again, your interest was to create a participatory event and disclose what your audience would do, if they were elected president. How this social experiment has been performing?

TB: We wanted to present the possibility for any citizen to propose themselves instead of the government candidates. I collaborated with two civic organizations “Candidates for change” and “Another 18” unfortunately the Cuban Government focused on all of these initiatives in such a disproportionate way that put in jail and created legal impediments (once you have an open legal case you cannot run) to most of the 100 plus candidates and boycotted the ones who they could not imprisoned because of their visibility (as it was my case). Even then we had two candidates who won, and the government claimed it was a mistake and went door to door to ‘explain’ to the voters why they should not vote for our candidates on the second round. Even with such pressing situation our candidates lose for less than 10 votes so everyone knows that they were rigged elections so they do not respect the elected ones. In any case this was an exercise we knew impossible because even if they were elected once you go into the municipal level the government decides who run on those elections. But the idea is to keep trying and trying and trying until people understand what democracy is and the government understand that they exist to serve the people, not the other way around.

MS: You have been just announced winner of the Tate Modern commission for the Turbine Hall. How do your feel about it? Could you give us a preview of what to expect from the project you’re conceiving?

TB: It is a great honor to join such list of artists. I can say… that it will be open this Fall and hope to see you there!

Mara Sartore

  • Tania Bruguera © Claudio Fuentes Tania Bruguera © Claudio Fuentes
  • Tania Bruguera, Untitled (Havana, 2000), installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, New York © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York Tania Bruguera, Untitled (Havana, 2000), installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, New York © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • Tania Bruguera, Untitled (Havana, 2000), installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, New York © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York Tania Bruguera, Untitled (Havana, 2000), installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, New York © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Related Art Spaces

MoMA New York

Related People