To provoke is not a strategy

with Javier Díaz Guardiola

From: Díaz Guardiola, Javier “Tania Bruguera: to provoke is not a strategy,”  March, 2010. ABC Magazine, Cultural Section (illust.) pag. 26 – 27.

To provoke is not a strategy

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To provoke is not a strategy
with Javier Díaz Guardiola 

Cuban Tania Bruguera, one of the main artists in the so-called action art, turns Juana de Aizpuru Gallery in Madrid into a space to redefine discipline and reflect on its limits and requirements.

Depending on the day the visitor drops by the Juana de Aizpuru Gallery, he or she may find it more or less empty. The projects by Tania Bruguera, the invited artist this time, are not shown there, but take place outside. Bruguera holds a performance abroad three times a week and it is its documentation what she finally sends to the gallery. Thus, the space in Juana de Aizpuru is just documentation, a place where art “does not happen.” This is what the author points out on the artistic structure based on her idea on the meaning of a discipline, that of performances, which has catapulted her to fame.

“Phronesis” turns the gallery into an archive, a place where art is merely documented. Is this a criticism to the institution?

It is much more complex. On the one side, the piece is a call against the institutionalization of performances. I had been waiting for years for artistic institutions to undertake their exhibition and selling naturally, understanding performances not as a mere show, but as something more serious. But, at the same time, perhaps because I am also a teacher, I can understand that people think in performances as something already established. My work tries to go to the early times of the discipline. That is why I like actions to take place in museum spaces without first asking for permission from them. This way they merge with the spectators’ daily life. I intend to perform an action three times a week. For many artists this is inconceivable: the action takes place today and it is never again repeated. Therefore, this is also a criticism to the trend of not “exhibiting oneself” too much.

Does the institutionalization of performances means that it is a model in crisis?

Not at all. It still has much to offer. It is just going through a difficult moment, since it has to be accepted by the institutions and must balance between being well received by them or pushing its limits. Artists must always go beyond what museums say they will allow.

Has having performances stop being a genuinely visual experience been your contribution to the genre?

I have always tried to put into crisis the visibility of what I do. That is why in my actions there is much light, or none, or you are not present in the moment actions take place. I find very nice the challenge in this project, because it has meant to withdraw into the most genuine sense of discipline, to its daily dimension of an intimate act of small gestures… With each piece I try to review the ways of making performances.

It that what they share?

First, they clarify that performances are a discipline and, although there is much spontaneity in them, they must be made with some rigor. Strategies for performances are many and the way of documenting them also are. In every case, there is a lag whether in time, space and, especially, experience, because you cannot feel the same you do directly.

But actual “spectators” are not aware of participating in a project. The action filters into their day by day.

This is something that interests me very much. I like to repeat that I intend to turn the audience into a citizen. To work with unaware people turns what is artistic in a common act not subject to rules. It is the volatility of artistic essence itself. I am interested in the temporality of art work: art is not something static or final, but temporal and transient. It is activated or not activated.

When “Provisional Revolution” opened in Madrid, it turned reading material into physical experiences.

I asked a tattoo artist to make tattoos with no ink to those attending. He turned humanistic and political slogans into a sensory experience which hurt. The discomfort was temporary, however, and there was no mark left after some days. The piece is a criticism to present society where everything can become fashionable and make us suffer to no avail and commitment is almost inexistent. It is unbelievable how many revolutionary concepts have become slogans.

“Surplus Value” is the only piece, strictly speaking, included in the section. How is this piece activated?

The piece is activated when a person works with it with an electric sander. It is a potent work that formally teaches and offers a process. And then it freezes. It is in the same context as Phronesis because they are both philosophical categories having to do with power, one with economic power and the other with political power. Both productions refer to the idea of political caution, with saying whatever is more convenient.

Is provocation an unavoidable ingredient of your works?

No. Provocation is not an a priori strategy. The problem is I deal with social spaces that are not defined or healed. Actually, many reactions surprise me, perhaps because I already know the piece or because stronger things happening in the world come to my mind. There is much hypocrisy.

Is fear a good raw material with which to build?

That’s right. Fear is something you resort to, never and end, to make the spectator tense. This makes him stop being passive and find more means to receive information. It also places us in a state we can call “animal,” that is, it makes us forget for a moment that we are social beings, because our very survival can be at stake.

Changing the subject, what is the Behavioral Art Chair?

The Chair is a piece in itself implying all those who took part in it. It had two stages. The first was a training one that ended on April 2009. The second is one of promotion that is starting now and will develop at the Pontevedra and Liverpool Biennials, to which I am inviting young artists who underwent this experience to make their works be seen. The Chair has been a good political art school and it is a pioneering initiative in Latin America. The project intended to show whether political art is possible and how it should be made.

I have to ask you about the pact with Jota Castro: do you intend to die first?

That is a question that cannot be answered. It is true that I agreed with Jota that the first who died would give his or her body to the other for a work of art and, in fact, there is a notarial deed bearing witness to it. I can only say that attitudes are very different, since Jota told me I could do whatever I wanted with his body, while if I am the one who dies, I intend to leave him loads of instructions. What I belive important in this work is that it is a statement on body-art and what the body is.