Tania Bruguera

Tania Bruguera is both a Cuban and New York artist who works with performance and installation. Much of her artwork is site-specific and often based on the experience of being at that place, at that time. Bruguera was born and grew up in Havana, Cuba, and this has influenced much of her performative work now. Her works are politically motivated and explores the relationship between art, activism and the social change in works that examine the social effects of political and economic power (as explained in these documentaries). The power and control elements of her political work are inspired by her Cuban past.

Her own definition of political art is ‘the art of uncomfortable knowledge’. As ‘in the end, art that stems from knowing that we actually don’t have all the answers, art that refuses to serve as a moral compass, art that doesn’t ‘make nice’, may be our best hope.’Good Intentions.

‘Artistic expression is a space to challenge meanings, to defy what is imaginable. This is what, as time goes by, is recognized as culture.’ – Marvellous Monstrosity

Short term projects allowed her to explore the prospect of more time-based projects within several countries. This included ‘General Strike’ which began with indications to paint on the walls and images of the revolutionary iconographic tradition of several leftist political cultures. “The purpose of this work was to create a space to invite the participation of the audience by enticing people to paint and create its propaganda proposals on predetermined images. The intention of this work was to generate new images to do with the topic of political expression.”
Another project, lasting fifteen weeks, was The Francis Effect, where Bruguera stood outside of the Guggenheim Museum in New York asking passersby to sign a petition. This petition was to try and request that Pope Francis gives the power to Vatican City to allow citizenship for undocumented immigrants. These people, and Bruguera, knew that it would be impossible to achieve this due to the laws of the Vatican, however “the impossible is only impossible until somebody makes it possible.”
Bruguera defines herself as an initiator rather than an author, due to the nature of her work. She creates proposals and aesthetic models for others to use and adapt. She does that through performances by herself and collaborations with multiple institutions and individuals. Her works are often staged participatory events and interactions that build on her own observations, experiences and interpretations of politics. These are namely influenced by Cuba’s political background and the promise and failures of the Cuban Revolution. This provokes viewers to consider the political realities masked by government propaganda and the mass-media production.
One of her most talked about works comes from these inspirations – a series named Tatlin’s Whisper. This is a series of works in which images that are familiar on the news become real and an experience to those in the audience of the performance. This particular series references the Soviet modernist artist Vladimir Tatlin and his works ‘Monument to the Third International’. Within this series she champions free speech through performance and even went through eight months of physical torture in Cuba, where one of her performances was disagreed with. This piece connects to Cuba’s lack of free speech and the performance is where Bruguera invites people to speak freely for one minute, before they were taken off the stage by police. These police were part of the performance, although many audiences did not know this. The mounted police were also asked to do a staged crowd control in several manoeuvres, whish changes the way in which the performance is interpreted. The mounted police were not used in all performances within the series, however they were used in the The Tate performance, London. These performances are normally politically charged, however the one in Cuba was more so as it was two weeks after the US Government re-established relations with Cuba. Bruguera did not know that the government was scared at this time, which made them more dangerous than usual. Although she met with Ruben del Valle, the president of the National Council of Arts, who denied her a permit to go ahead with the piece in Plaza de la Revolución, the huge square in Havana where Fidel Castro held rallies, she was not dissuaded to continue with the performance. However, in December 2014, she was put in a Havanan holding cell and was subjected to 26 hours of interrogation over the piece. During this time, she refused to eat and explained that “behaviour is your best communication tool”. In the months following, she was incarcerated three more times and had twice weekly visits from secret police, which made it twenty interrogations in total. Bruguera was released, although no specific details were released related to this. Later, she gave a statement, explaining that through this time she has grown as a person and an artist:

““When you do this kind of work,” she says, “you can never forget that you are an artist, but it’s hard because you have to be an artist, an activist, a citizen, everything simultaneously.”As an artist, she says, “I am very happy … even if it’s cost me quite a lot. It was beautiful to learn how solidarity feels – we use a lot of important words, without knowing their real meanings – ‘solidarity’ is one, ‘love’ is another, so is ‘friendship’, ‘support’. This year, I actually learned what these words mean.”” – The Guardian.

Above: Page excerpts from Out of time, Out of Place
Further long term projects include that of Tribute to Ana Mendieta, who is also discussed in Liv Wynter and Performance Workshop. This is another site specific piece where she recreates and redoes objects and performances created by Ana, who migrated to the US, and where she carried out her artistic career. This is the project where Bruguera begins to attempt to both deliver and develop political-timing specific concepts. She uses tools such as appropriation, reconstruction, and re-exhibition of Ana Mendieta’s pieces, but in a Cuban context. This stems from her original inspirations of her home country, Cuba, and the idea of art as a cultural and sociological gesture. This work is intended to be the relocation figure of the artist in the history of Cuban culture and as a representative of collective imaginary. What urged her to do more is that the policy of migration in Cuba at the time was silenced by the media and the culture of because of the political impact that it was having.
Throughout her work, Bruguera also uses the concept of arte útil. The literal meaning of this is useful art and art as a benefit and a tool. She uses this to propose solutions to socio-political problems through the implementation of art. This therefore develops long term projects including a community care centre, a political party for immigrants, a school for behaviour art, and invites prominent international artists to workshops every year at the ISA and the Immigrant Movement International (IMI). This links in closely with the political and artistic panels that Bruguera sits on and is invited to every year.
Tania Bruguera’s full CV can be found here and her website can be found here. The home of her artworks is The Tate, however she also has permanent collections of works at many institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana.

To resist is not enough. Use chants as if they were drums to spread the waves of commitment and slogans to highlight all the things that are wrong. But the streets are not enough. Be an active individual: it shows them you are not afraid. Learn the language of power, use the verbs they are scared of, publicly unveil their worst nightmares – act for them, not for us. Behave on a one-to-one scale with those you consider to be responsible. Laugh intelligently but never before you begin. Laugh after your goal is achieved, after your opposition is tricked, conflicted and incoherent because you took their power away with a simple human gesture. Don’t laugh about what they do, laugh about what you were able to do to them. What we know is not enough. Be persistent without tiring others. Use forms and actions that are legible for the resistance but new to the repressors. The time you have is the time they are using to figure out how to respond. Feeling good is not enough: create a political moment. – Frieze

Samson Kambalu

Samson Kambalu is an artist who works in a variety of mediums including site-specific installation, video, performance and literature. He shares much of this online on websites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. The processes and inspirations of these works are also very public, and can be found commonly on his website. He has previously studied at the University of Malawi, Nottingham Trent University and the Chelsea College of Art.
Much of his inspiration comes from his home country in Africa, and more specifically, the gift-giving society of Malawi. There has been a noticeable difference, however, in the way that the gift giving in society now runs. Nowadays, charities go into Africa and give the African people, without letting the African people return the favour. This is “leading to resentfulness not gratefulness which can quickly lead to cynicism.”
Often in festivals, the people of Malawi would wear masks. This is to get people to start giving indifferently and to start taking indifferently too. This also ensures that no one feels in debt or obliged when wearing the masks, and when these masks are left, the generosity is also left with them.
To give through play can be a way of giving without any debt. Now, these masks live in museums, when before they would be at the height of infrastructure in society.
Situationism is another inspiration for Kambalu, which is defined as ‘the theory that human behaviour is determined by surrounding circumstances rather than by personal qualities’ and it is also ‘a revolutionary political theory which regards modern industrial society as being inevitably oppressive and exploitative’. This movement began with the Situationist International and the May 1968 student and worker revolts in France.
The protestant tradition of inquiry, criticism and dissent is also a common inspiration found throughout his work including that of Ghost Dance’, red Barn Farm (Two Chairs)’ and ‘Exercise & Exorcise’.
Another inspiration of Samson Kambalu is the cinema. In his TED Talk, he talks about how in Africa, they had to entertain themselves as everything was second hand in Africa. This meant that things always broke down in the Nyau cinemas and was always linear. This is the aesthetic of the broken down film.
The films that Kambalu also makes and shows are playful works and installations in which play is welcomed. These works are often spontaneous including ‘pickpocket’- a film in London, where he and another gentleman were wearing the same coat and Kambalu followed him down the road, imitating him. This was shown, along with many other videos, in Detail Is All, Germany, 2016, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, 2016
In August 2013, he published the rules that he uses to create his Nyau cinema inspired films. From these rules, he created a series of spontaneous site-specific performances ‘Psychogeographical Nyau Cinema’ (2013), seen in Frieze Film 2016, Day and Night, London.

Samson Kambalu 26.8.13
Nyau Cinema
Nyau cinema approaches film as a sovereign activity. Making film becomes a way of escaping the limitations and conventions of everyday life, where the self is playfully re-conceived as part a larger scheme of things. Nyau is a Chewa word for ‘excess’.
Nyau Cinema: The Rules
1. Nyau film must be conceived as a clip no longer than a minute.
2. Performance should be spontaneous and site/specific to found architecture, landscape, or object.
3. There must always be a conversation between performance and the medium of film.
5. Costume must be from everyday life.
6. Acting must be subtle but otherworldly, transgressive, and playful.
7. Editing must be limited to the aesthetics of primitive film and silent cinema.
8. Audio must be used sparingly, otherwise it must be performed live at film screenings.
9. Screening of a Nyau film must be in specially designed cinema booths or improvised cinema installations that compliment the spirit of the film.
10. Nyau cinema must encourage active participation from audience.

The series of films that transpired from these rules can be found below:

The films that are shown are often projected onto gallery walls, and in ‘Ghost dance’, they were projected from stacked Kinetescopic plinths that were each engraved with different US postal codes ‘to invoke unstable western systems for dividing and allocating land’. Kambalu often explains his works once they have been released and has explained before that the ‘seemingly random encounters recorded in his films as a way of ‘extracting poetry out of nothing – a continued exploration of how we might find meaning in what appears to be meaningless.’
Below is The culture of gift-giving in Malawi Ted Talk by Samson Kambalu in which he talks more about these inspirations:

Novels are a medium that Samson Kambalu has experimented with in the past with his first novel released in 2008 – The Jive Talker: Or, How to get a British Passport. This as a portrait of the artist growing up in Africa, published by Jonathan Cape and Simon and Schuster and as awarded Winner of the National Book Token ‘Global Reads’ Prize (2010). This book can be found on the Amazon website. This book since then has been translated into German and has been the subject to several performative reading tours which combine his art and literature.
Kambalu’s most talked about sculpture and installation was his 200 work Holy Ball’. This work is footballs wrapped in bible pages, and people are invited to ‘exercise or exorcise’ with them at local and international venues including the Venice Biennale. Since this exhibition, Kambalu has evoked a philosophy of life and art based on play and critical transgression. Through his latest works he uses different mediums such as literature and performance in order to playfully employ excess, transgression, humour and wit. This is to test the boundaries of received ideas regarding history, art, identity, religion and individual freedom, while keeping all his original inspirations.  Through the most recent works that evoke play, Kambalu wants the mix of interpretations; for some to find the action wrong, some to watch, some to go right ahead and some to encourage. These works are open to this interpretation, however this art is about creating relations and connecting people who otherwise wouldn’t be connected.
Other site-specific performances include the films Early Film (2013) and The Last Man in Paris (2013). These took public places as their arena. ‘With Duchampian mischief, Kambalu’s brief ‘rants’ – short, Chaplin-eqsue gestural sequences – showed the artist acting up in public, part of a wider reserach inquiry into ranting and dandyism as styles that enact a form of dissent.’ – Dak’Art 2014

‘Art comes from the gift economy, Nowadays everything is commercialised. When you do something now, you have to explain what you are doing in terms of its practicality. Art is one area where it’s not very clear what you get out of it; it’s almost intangible. What you get from art can’t be calculated and it makes it a special profession because most professions now are utilitarian. Therefore art is a single place in contemporary society where its significance lies elsewhere.’ – griotmag

Samson Kambalus’ full CV can be found here and his website can be found here. The home of his artworks, and the centre of his exhibitions are at the Kate MacGarry gallery in London.

United in Play.

Summer Project 2017

The topic for the summer project between Years 1 and 2 is ‘Be Influenced’.
We have been asked to research ten artists including;
Dayanita Singh,          Tania Bruguera,          Caroline Achintre,          Wolfgang Tillmans,          Pipilotti Rist,          Samson Kambalu,          Isa Genzken,          R. H. Quaytman,          Arturo Herrera,          Ming Wong.
These artists were chosen for us on the basis that their works reflect, respond to, expresses or illustrate the contemporary world. They also invent and create material processes to shed a new or different light on a chosen subject matter.
‘The aim of the project is to reflect upon the important role influence plays in the making of artwork.’ By looking closely at one of the artists material processes, e have been asked to use elements of their visual language to create a new work, considering; the processes of how the artist begins their work, how they gather their source material, how they manipulate this and the different processes used to develop the works.
We are able to develop our work from the influence, also considering how the context we live in informs and gives a different perspective to the ideas taken from the chosen artist. One idea given to us is to experiment with different mediums in order to translate the work of the artist, another is to keep a notebook to jot down ideas and sketches.

Your chosen influence acts more as a guide pointing you in a direction, they are not the end point for your work.
Make work over the summer that imaginatively responds to the question of what makes an influence a creative input into your work.


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