Intense, unpredictable, controversial, diverse… these were some of the key words used to describe the last biennale week that blended elements of political activism, avant-guarde theater traditions, subtle music engineering and fairy tales.
In their work No soy tan joven como para saberlo todo, the art collective Mondongo considers a possible future for the famous Italian character “Pinocchio”: what he would have become in an adult life had he ever grown up. Behind a windowpane, the artists built a surreal fantasy world where the wooden boy, donning in a golden mask (featuring the puppet’s characteristic long nose) lived his weird routine life preparing himself for Saturday night out or reading Shakespeare.
Another project taking place in the basement of the same building seemed to continue the Pinocchio theme in more grotesque and absurd direction. Papelón by Roberto Jacoby and Alejandro Ros represents a tiny neon blue room full of lumps of paper. There a visitor could take an imaginary paper bath and relax…until the very moment they discovered a creepy golden mask watching them from the chink in the wall. Maybe Pinocchio had a part time gig as a paper thrower prior to his solo debut for Mondongo. Go with it.
Existential wandering accompanied by experimental music, the Twilight project by Jorge Macchi, was slightly reminiscent of John Cage’s practices; whereas a savage performance by Emilio García Wehbi and Gabo Ferro is sure to be homage to one of the most eccentric and controversial figures in the history of avant-guard theatre -Antonin Artaud. The artists use the conception of Artaurd’s ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ that is in theory a method that allows participants and members of the audience experience an “immediate violent action,” that “inspires us with the fiery magnetism of its images and acts upon us like a spiritual therapeutics whose touch can never be forgotten.”
Performance ARTAUD 1: LENGUA ? MADRE is a chronicle from a ward where two lunatics argue the over the concept of language in a rather unconventional way. There is a dead goat (possibly two), blood and a nurse that appears to be plucked right out from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. The language is melting, altering, transforming, freeing from its own dogma under the pressure of absurdist acting. Because the words that come from the mouth of a dead man cannot be never really be considered alive: to “free” the language we should experiment with repeating the process with people first.
However, the prison motif is not limited to the work of Wehbi and Ferro. News has reached the community that infamous Cuban artist, Tania Bruguera was not able to make it to Buenos Aires to participate in Biennale because her passport is still under the possession of governmental officials in Cuba.
Nobody knows how long she will be prevented from legally traveling abroad by the Cuban government, but at least we can try to figure why she fell out of political favor. Initially, political activism wasn’t the main motive behind her work however, her collection began to reflect her country and its political situation. This played a large part in the staggering effect that Bruegera`s work provoke, as has the genre she has chosen for expressing herself – “behavioral art” (arte de conducta). She wants her art to be ‘an experienced emotion’. The artist says, ‘I want people not to look at it but to be in it, sometimes even without knowing it is art’.
It’s tempting to write this kind of discourse off as lacking real grounding but critics and haters should recall the performance she made in Bogota in 2009. During an academic conference in the National University of Colombia, Tania’s assistant was walking between the rows with a tray in her hand inviting everyone to sniff a line. The coke was offered while talking about the war between the country’s elected policy makers and the drug-dealers that cause the deaths of thousands of innocent Colombians every year.
One of the Brueguera’s famous works titled The Burden of Guilt (El peso de la culpa) materialized in Cuba in 1997. For 45 minutes, the artist stood, naked, with a lamb carcass hanging from her neck, eating soil mixing it salt and water that symbolized tears. What she did was a ‘weapon of resistance’ that referred to a legend about native Cubans who ate soil to die while resisting Spanish conquistadores. In addition, there is a Cuban expression ‘comer tierra’ (to eat dirt) that means to suffer strong hardship. The performance took place several years after the country’s patron, the Soviet Union, collapsed, left the island without support. As a result, Cubans had to ‘eat dirt’ not to resist but to survive.
The performance Tatlin’s Whisper #6 that took place in the Havana Biennial in 2009 also gave rise to a huge scandal. Tania invited people from the audience to take the stage and speak about whatever they wanted for a minute. If it took more than the stated time, the participants were violently dragged from the podium by two actors in military uniforms. As another symbolic reference, they put a white dove on each speaker’s shoulder referencing the bird that landed on Fidel Castro during his first speech in Havana after the triumph of the 1959 revolution. Unexpectedly (especially for Biennale organizers) the performance turned into a heated political debate culminated by words of a woman who said that ‘she wished that one day freedom of speech in Cuba would not have to be a performance’.
However, the repetition of Tatlin’s Whisper #6 scheduled on December 30, 2014 finally exasperated Cuban officials and cost Bruguera her passport. As she explained, “The aim is that Cubans peacefully express what ideas they have about their nation and its future, after the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.” The event was supposed to run under hashtag #YoTambiénExijo — “I Also Demand. But the performance wasn’t destined to happen: the artist was arrested right before the arriving to the site. Even though she was released at the evening of the same day she is not free to travel. For the Biennale of Performance Bruguera recorded a video-interview and documentation of her new performance, 100-hour uninterrupted reading of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, that started on May 20, 2015 at 10 a.m. Together with Tania, also read some parts of the book to express solidarity to those who have to eat dirt on the island of freedom.
The curtains look as though they’ve closen but the Biennale will end (officially) with Marta Minujín’s performance taking place on June 27th at 5pm on the bridge Puente de la Mujer.