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Regina José Galindo

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Sep 01, 2012
Location: USA
Topic: Interview with Regina José Galindo
Interviewer: Idurre Alonso

LatinArt:  Could you tell me a little about how you started out in the performance field? How did you start getting interested in this art medium when Guatemala had no major performance tradition other than the work of Margarita Azurdia, which was rather an isolated case?

Regina José Galindo:  I was interested in creative processes; I needed creation for my own catharsis. I was interested in literature and poetry but there came a time when I felt words were not enough. At that time in Guatemala there was a strong rock music movement, a movement involving justified rebellion. We young people used to get together in emblematic places downtown such as Casa Bizarra to read our texts, to perform in some way. When some information on contemporary art reached me, when I started discovering artists who work in the field of performance or action art I was not only impressed, I also realized it was a medium I could access. I had no academic studies, no technical skills, I couldn’t draw or paint, but a world of ideas, fears, rage and frustration was dying to come out. When I discovered the potential my body held, I discovered a new side of me and was so comfortable with it that I decided that was what I wanted to do.

And as a matter of fact, other artists were already working in that medium. Francisco Auyón, for instance, who did a wonderful performance at the end of the nineties called "let whomsoever is free of blame cast the first stone", or Sandra Monterroso, who I met after reading a review of her first pieces, in which she had already started exploring the medium of performance.

LatinArt:  The nineties are considered a great time for performance in Central America, with Guatemala taking the lead as the country where the most significant pieces, yours among them, were being created – how did you experience that period? Was there any opposition on the part of the Guatemalan art world?

Regina José Galindo:  I lived it passionately. Just imagine, I was in my youth, with all that pent-up energy. There was rejection and opposition, just as there is now. In this country everyone, or the large majority of people, criticize, oppose, and deny themselves the right to think differently. Things haven’t changed much today. People still think what we do isn’t art. But we keep working and now there’s a strong movement that isn’t limited to any particular medium. In Guatemala artists are multiplying like bread, and we express ourselves and work in spite of everything. When people come to visit, they’re always impressed not just by the strong contemporary-art movement but by the formal quality of the work and the depth and commitment of the approaches.

LatinArt:  Your first artistic ventures dealt more with literature or poetry and in fact your first performance, "Le voy a gritar al viento" (I’m Going to Shout to the Wind) had that component, since you read poetry while hanging from the Post Office building. Have you taken an interest in continuing to explore the possibilities of your literary work in your performances? Or are they separate fields in your production?

Regina José Galindo:  I work with both. Words still accompany me. Poetry continues to sweeten my ears and stir ideas around, depending on how you look at it. Words sustain my ideas: images come to me first in the form of letters.

LatinArt:  There are obvious links between your work and that of artists who did body art and performances in the sixties, like Chris Burden or Marina Abramovic, but do you have other Latin American references other than Ana Mendieta?

Regina José Galindo:  Absolutely, they are the references that are closest to me. Rosemberg Sandoval, Maria Teresa Hincapié, Teresa Margolles. Without leaving aside my connection to Latin American literature, which continues to enrich my work. Luis de Lion, Roberto Obregón, Galeano, Pizarnik, it’s a long list.

LatinArt:  What methodology do you follow in transforming political and social situations into a performance using your body? How has the socio-political situation of your context affected your work?

Regina José Galindo:  My methodology centers on research, on empathy with reality, but above all on my intuition. I deal with topics that spark something in me, things that to me don’t have any reason or justification. How does this affect my context? To be honest, my work doesn’t affect my context, but my context does affect my work. In a country with such major issues as Guatemala, it’s utopian to think that an artistic expression can affect the political-social situation. Art doesn’t change things in a country that is so wounded, so hurt, so sick, but at least it confronts the situation, it talks about what nobody wants to talk about, shows the truth from different angles: it helps to confront people’s fears.

LatinArt:  Generally, there seem to be three sides to your work; first a contextual component dealing with specific situations to do with the region you live in, then a commentary that has more to do with the general and the global, and thirdly there always seems to be an autobiographical component that has to do with your own emotional responses.

Regina José Galindo:  I guess those three components form part of all creative work. The medium doesn’t matter. All artists have to base their work on themselves, their background, their context. I comment on what interests me and I think it has the potential to be discussed beyond myself. I don’t want to narrate my private life; the fact that my body can be viewed in an anonymous, universal way is one of my main formal quests.

LatinArt:  How important are the physical and psychological hazards that you subject yourself to in your production?

Regina José Galindo:  I don’t think hazard adds value to a piece. Some performances involve greater hazards than others but it’s important as far as possible to minimize them so as not to detract from the meaning of the action. Tension, on the other hand, is very useful. It helps to create a deeper emotional response in the audience. It provokes, and provocation is definitely a good way to elicit responses. In the end that’s what artists want: to provoke. Provoke a critical response, an emotion beyond mere indulgence. They want to make people uneasy, to question themselves, to start a discussion.

LatinArt:  Nevertheless there’s always a measure of risk that the audience perceives and that generates unease and concern, even if you more or less control that "hazard". Isn’t that response you create an important part of your performances?

Regina José Galindo:  The most interesting part of sparking a kind of concern in the audience is to see that, despite these chaotic times in which the economic system promotes individualism, empathy is still possible.

LatinArt:  Vulnerability to different power relations seems to be a recurrent theme in your work. How do you manage to make your body personify that vulnerability?

Regina José Galindo:  My body is that of a Guatemalan woman, of mixed race, small and fragile-looking. I know the characteristics of my body, it’s my canvas, the cornerstone of my work. I know how other people are going to react to it, so I work with it.

LatinArt:  Some of your pieces show the use of power from opposing perspectives: in "Juegos de poder" (Power Games) the hypnotizer abuses his power to the point of humiliating you, whereas in "Breaking the Ice" the audience cover your body to protect you from the cold, helping you when you’re defenseless. Do you see that same dichotomy in society?

Regina José Galindo:  I think so. Everything’s split, divided in two. Two perspectives on every event are needed to make a proper assessment of the issue. Everything is divided into two, but I think both sides can be related, they’re not altogether separate.

LatinArt:  On the other hand, "No perdemos nada con nacer" (We lose nothing by being born) shows society’s often indifferent attitude to atrocious acts – are you interested in making viewers react to injustice?

Regina José Galindo:  "No perdemos nada con nacer" is a passive image. I wasn’t trying to get a reaction or an active response from the audience. It’s a look at reality. Apart from setting up an image, the point of this performance, just like any other piece was to spark people’s capacity to analyze, to provide a critical way of looking at things, and lead viewers into a discussion, make them think.

LatinArt:  An exhibition of your work was recently held at the Museum of Latin American Art together with a performance, "Tercer Mundo" (Third World) in which you stood on a platform while a carpenter sawed the floor around you until you fell into a vacuum. Can you talk a little about this performance?

Regina José Galindo:  "Tercer Mundo" worked to perfection. It provoked in me an absolute fear of falling into a vacuum. I overcame my fear of falling. The idea that any human being can fall and get up again was very clear. It doesn’t matter how much someone hurts you, it doesn’t matter how deeply another makes you fall, a stronger body is more capable of getting up again. A country that’s sunk is also capable of rising again.

LatinArt:  Wasn’t it rather ironic to do a performance on the inequalities between the "first" and "third" worlds and the dependence and vulnerability artists face in the art systems of a museum (which often establishes those very systems) like MOLAA, which in fact works with "third-world" artists but forms part of the "first" world?

Regina José Galindo:  Everything in life is tainted with irony. "Tercer Mundo" is anecdotal of life itself taken to the extreme; it’s the construction of an absurdity -- the universal sensation of the fear of falling treated with irony and sarcasm. It’s a performance that shows the tragic relations of power that control an individual’s existence, but with a touch of humor that makes no attempt to provide answers, solutions or an instructive message. But the irony masks a message, let’s just hope it comes to the surface. To quote Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, "Search for the depth in things; irony can never descend to those depths".

LatinArt:  Do you think that when your works are viewed outside their context, outside Latin America or Guatemala for instance, they take on another meaning?

Regina José Galindo:  Yes, I like to think so. Each outlook provides a different point of view, although the fundamental pillars on which some of the pieces are based are read and understood the same way anywhere. Fear is fear, whichever way you look at it. Oppression, repression and other atrocities happen as much over there as over here. Death kills everywhere. It’s important to realize that in the end everything is a reflection of the other.

LatinArt:  You’re an artist with an international reputation, but you nevertheless live in a country that one way or another is considered "peripheral" – do you view this as paradoxical?

Regina José Galindo:  I don’t see the paradox. I live where I happened to be born, in a country that isn’t the periphery, but the center. Located right in the middle of the map, in the center of America, Guatemala is my grounding cable. Either way, let’s face it, leaving here to go live in a first world country could end up being a major uphill struggle. Do you know how difficult it is to get a legal permit to live in the United States or anywhere in Europe for more than three months? I don’t know if I want to go through all that.

LatinArt:  How did it affect your career to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennial in 2005?

Regina José Galindo:  It didn’t affect me, it improved my life. It opened doors. It gave me opportunities, which are really difficult to come across in this part of the world. Seizing an opportunity can change your life. Or at least that’s what I’d like to believe.

LatinArt:  Objects have gradually taken on greater importance in your work, in fact in recent years you’ve done artworks that you view solely as objects without forming part of a performance, and at the same time the objects you’ve used in your performances have become an important part of the pieces. How important are objects in your work?

Regina José Galindo:  Objects are functional things that are given value because they fulfill a purpose in a performance, but they don’t stand up on their own. They are and always will be just the objects used in the performance.

The sculptures I’ve done are specific pieces, perhaps following the nature of a performance, because the idea of the body is always there -- the body or the absence thereof. Working with other media is very important, the idea of not ceasing your formal research as an artist is fundamental.

LatinArt:  Where do you feel you’re at now? Where do you think your interests are going to lead you in terms of production?

Regina José Galindo:  I’m interested in broadening my discourse, my possibilities. I’m still obsessed with the same issues but the older you get, the more brain cells you kill, the more you worry about what you’ll still be able to do, to create. I don’t have a clear idea of where my work is going, but I hope it doesn’t lose its spark and become innocuous or accommodating.

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