Tania Bruguera, El susurro de Tatlin #6 (Versión La Habana) (Tatlin’s Whisper #6 [Havana Version]), 2009. Performance view.
Artist Tania Bruguera was detained in Havana on December 30, 2014, after announcing her intent to restage her 2009 work Tatlin’s Whisper (#6)—in which individuals are able to talk about freedom of speech at a public podium—in the city’s Plaza de la Revolución without being granted official approval. Here, Bruguera speaks from Cuba, her homeland, about the evolution of the project, which has now become, she says, an “endurance performance.” Bruguera cannot leave Cuba until her passport is released by Cuban authorities, which will not occur until after she stands trial for inciting public disorder and is proven not guilty. The prosecution on the case has just extended discovery from ten days to sixty and is capable, under Cuban law, to extend it up to six months.
I AM A PANGAEA-IST. I have never agreed with the categories of “expat,” “Cuban-American,” or “authentic Cuban” art; they were decided upon by politicians to create a false sense of superiority and by gallerists to profit from politics.
Cuba is an island. It is also a utopia—a place people have consistently looked to political inspiration. With the apparently imminent arrival of American tourists and capitalists, Cuba is now once again susceptible to change. This is a moment that strongly challenges the image we Cubans have had of our country for more than half a century. It could be an opportunity to transform Cuba into a global nation, with a government inclusive of people from many different countries—to become a beacon for global citizenship. But given the current situation, it appears that this reestablishment of Cuban-US relations will instead just be another exercise in formalism based in economic gain. I don’t want to see Jeff Koons in Cuba; I want to see the Guerrilla Girls, Hans Haacke, and Gulf Labor, as well as art that is not a product but that offers a space to generate justice.
#YoTambiénExijo (I Also Demand) is a collective effort that proposed restaging a previous artwork of mine—Tatlin’s Whisper #6—under new political circumstances. The work is part of a series, also called “Tatlin’s Whisper,” wherein I take a recurrent image or incident in the press and I bring it alive for an audience that has no direct relationship with the reported original event. I create a firsthand experience that can replace the anesthetization created by the media with a sense of responsibility, to call forth an emotional reaction to something that has not happened to you (solidarity) or that could happen to you one day (rehearsal). The work aims to transform audience members into active citizens.
#YoTambiénExijo has two simultaneous public spaces: For Cubans outside the country, the public space is online, on the Internet platforms I’ve used to promote the project; for Cubans in the country, it is the city streets. Both now share an inverted image of the Plaza de la Revolución, a site where Cubans have heard talks from government officials since 1959 and where they can now, through this performance, imagine themselves speaking while government officials listen.
There are various ways to approach politics in art. Most frequently, artists denounce or visualize problems, make art a tool to build small-scale prototypes of a different society, or directly challenge the status quo by generating a political situation. From my perspective, it is a misrepresentation when the mere use of an image of a politician or of a political event is automatically deemed “political art.” Political art is uncomfortable knowledge. It is not art of the past or of the present but of the future. I often appropriate power’s tools: a newspaper (information), a school (education), and now I’m working with political desire.
Power’s response to this proposed iteration of Tatlin’s Whisper #6 served as a way to show the world how the Cuban government operates against dissents and critiques it can’t control. The Cuban government has taken over the work, and the battle has now become about the government wanting to become the sole author of the work, while I try for it to have collective authorship. I call a piece that is conceived to be completed by its audience Arte de Conducta (Behavior Art). #YoTambiénExijo has now turned into an endurance performance. It is all about resistance.
— As told to Frank Expósito