Having a field trip last week at the Guggenheim, I remember one of the performance arts displayed in the museum. The title is Tatlin’s Whisper created by Tania Bruguera, a politically motivated performance artist from Cuba.
Tatlin’s Whisper (2009), was created for the 10th Havana Biennial. I quote the information she provided for the audience and can be found on her website as well:
“Bruguera constructed a raised podium in the central courtyard of the Wifredo Lam Center, distributed 200 disposable cameras, and invited audience members to step up to the microphone to exercise freedom of speech for one minute each. This call tapped into deep emotions in a country that has repressed free speech for over fifty years and where the consequences of self-expression can be grave. During the performance, each speaker was flanked by two individuals dressed in military fatigues who placed a white dove on his or her shoulder, evoking the moment in 1959 when a dove alighted on Fidel Castro during a famous speech. A variety of anti- and some pro-revolutionary voices were heard, a woman wept, and a young man said he never felt so free. Nearly forty people spoke in all. Their calls for freedom echoed for an hour, after which time the artist ended the performance by stepping up to the podium and thanking the Cuban people.”
I found her work compelling since it has an element of public engagement. There’s an involvement by the public using art. In Tatlin’s Whisper, the artist provided a public platform for the audience to speak out against censorship. For audiences who live in a place where a totalitarian regime is in power, public engagement in art can be a useful forum socially and politically.
Some of Bruguera’s works have illustrated the participation of audience, such as General Strike (2010) and Behaviour Art School (conception year: 1998, implementation years: 2002 to 2009).
I remember Jessica Kaire’s performance art – that’s also has an element of public participation – using fruits and humor about how to make homemade weapons for self-defense in Guatemala in Such is Life in the Tropics. It is a performance recorded in a video and looks like a normal instruction video but it contains a deeper meaning and political message: a protest of exploitative neocolonialism that has been done by an American corporation (United Fruit Company, or Chiquita). Jessica also held some workshops involving people to make the homemade weapons themselves (at the Guggenheim, there’s the Del Monte banana – with the same message of exploitative neocolonialism – displayed in the exhibition but without the element of public engagement).
I like the term that Bruguera coined, “useful art” to call a medium that proposes solutions to social and political problems through the direct implementation of art in people’s lives. Seeing how the public engagements in art turn out in the lives of the society is always interesting and that is why I am interested to delve more on the engagement of public in art especially in the case of Guatemala, a country that has been repressed for 36 years. I would like to know if it is commonplace or even a priority to consider for Guatemalan artists particularly for the purpose of artistic awakening as well as for the healing of the society itself. What drives these performances the most to convey a message? Is it the mobility, the intensity, the humor, the interaction or the combination of all?
When reading Anabella Acevedo’s Art and the Postwar Generation, I also found how the postwar generation in Guatemala is familiar with the art that involves public engagements using public space. Javier del Cid did this in 2000 on Day of the Martyrs. Blue October, a month-long street festival in October 2000, gave a chance for emerging artistic work to participate. The youth arts collective, Caja Ludica organizes art workshops and carnival parades in villages affected by the war. The artistic awakening has spread and it can be useful as a medium of expression for the younger generation. Although their art is considered as a kind of art that only seeks attention and instant fame without clear ideological stance, what they have done is effective in triggering the public dialog. The dialog is an obvious and important step towards the healing of the repressed society. This, again, is one more interesting point to investigate the practice of contemporary art in Guatemala that uses the element of public engagement.***