Regina José Galindo – the second exhibition in Exit Art’s SOLO series and the first in the Performance in Crisis program – is a ten-year survey of performance and installation work by the Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo. The opening includes the New York premiere of a new work, Crisis: Cloth, to be performed only once: on the opening night of this exhibition. Crisis: Cloth is part of a performance trilogy titled Crisis, for which Regina José Galindo will enact a series of transactions that reference and critique our current moment of economic instability. For this performance, the artist will sell each article of clothing she will be wearing for $5 a piece to any audience member willing to pay and remove it from her body.
For the past decade, Galindo’s work has addressed social and political relations in the Americas. She draws attention to these issues by inflicting or mimicking direct, physical violence on her body – as in Himenoplastia (Hymenoplasty) or Perra, during which the artist carved the Spanish word for ‘bitch’ into her leg. Galindo often places herself and the viewer into difficult psychological situations – as in El Dolor en un Panuelo (The Pain in a Handkerchief), during which newspaper articles about victimized women were projected on her naked body.
Recalling the political and poetic gestures of Ana Mendieta, the endurance feats of Tehching Hsieh, and the extreme actions of Chris Burden, Regina José Galindo creates powerful visual metaphors by establishing her body as a site of conflict. Indeed her compelling – and sometimes disturbing – body of work shows Galindo chained, trapped, drowned, brutalized, and anguished. Her body becomes a specimen, a potent representation of brutality and agitation.
Regina José Galindo received the Golden Lion award for Best Young Artist at the 2005 Venice Biennale for her work titled Himenoplastia (Hymenoplasty). Other solo exhibitions include those at prometeogallery by Ida Pisani, Milan, Italy; Galerie du Jour Agnes B., Paris, France; Artpace, San Antonio, Texas; Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem, Arnhem, The Netherlands; and Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, UK. She has been included in more than 85 group exhibitions on five continents. As a poet, she has published in several international anthologies. This is her first solo exhibition in New York.
Regina José Galindo curated by Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo.
Performances at Exit Art as part of PERFORMANCE IN CRISIS
Opening night, Friday, October 2 / 8:30pm
PERFORMANCE IN CRISIS, 1:
New York Premiere of Crisis: Cloth (2009), a performance by Regina José Galindo.
For this performance, Regina José Galindo will sell each article of clothing she will be wearing for $5 a piece to any audience member willing to pay and remove it from her body.
Saturday, October 3 / 7pm
PERFORMANCE IN CRISIS, 2:
Tumulos/Burial Mounds, a performance piece by David Pérez Karmadavis.
Ten people will lie flat on the ground, side to side, with a distance of approximately one meter between them. A carpet or piece of fabric will be placed over their bodies so that they are completely covered, with only their heads revealed.
PERFORMANCES every Friday evening at 7pm through December 18.
Scheduled performances include:
Friday, October 9 / 7pm: Anya Liftig
Friday, October 23 / 7pm: Rosamond S. King / Diana Beato
Friday, November 6 / 7pm: Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow / Vanessa Hernandez Gracia
Saturday, November 7 / 12-8pm: Mark Stafford
Friday, November 20 / 7pm: Boryana Rossa and Oleg Mavromatti / Mayumi Ishino
Friday, December 4 / 7pm: Jolie Pichardo
Friday, December 11 / 7pm: Rafael Sanchez
Friday, December 11, 12am – Monday, December 14, 12am / Rafa Vargas
Saturday, December 12, 7pm / Annamarie Ho
Friday, December 18 / 7pm: Rob Andrews / Peter Dobill
Please check this webpage for updates on the schedule.
LECTURES and PANELS:
Tuesday, September 29 / 7pm
Experiences/Experiencias: A Lecture by Regina José Galindo
Location: Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, at New York University, 20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor Conference Room
Saturday, October 3 / 2 – 5pm
SYMPOSIUM: Performance and the Politics of Human Rights in Guatemala
Location: Parsons School of Art, Kellen Auditorium, Sheila Johnson Design Center, 66 5th Ave. at 13th St.
A symposium featuring Regina José Galindo and visiting artists Anibal Lopez and David Pérez Karmadavis, who will discuss their art and its effects on their homeland and abroad. In addition, panelists Johanna Burton (Whitney Independent Study Program), Kate Doyle (Guatemala Research Project), Jill Lane (New York University), and Silvia Vega-Llona (The New School) will reflect on how cutting-edge art practices intersect with social and political issues in a global context.
Regina José Galindo follows Exit Art’s tradition of presenting mid-career solo retrospectives. This exhibition is the second in Exit Art’s newly initiated SOLO program, aimed at providing public visibility for under-represented, mid-career artists through annual solo exhibitions at Exit Art. The first exhibition in the series, Charles Juhasz-Alvarado: Complicated Stories, presented a ten-year retrospective of the Puerto Rican artist’s large-scale sculptures and installations. In the past this program has brought public attention to now firmly established artists such as Jimmie Durham, Adrian Piper, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Willie Birch, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Tehching Hsieh, Martin Wong, and David Hammons.
REGINA JOSÉ GALINDO AND US
ARTISTS are entities that perceive the reality of the country they are from and manifest its view in their own way. Every action that we humans do is an historical achievement. That is why art is a political statement, because it is anthropology.
R.J.G. is an extraordinary example of this statement. She possesses history with her body that contains concepts, showing us the story of a country that becomes a continent and transforms it into a universal metaphor of the struggles of the human spirit.
I am not taking the route of “art history” because it is fiction, but there are precedents in this kind of art: Performance Art, Body Art, and Actions. What began in Europe in the beginning of the XX century as poetic bodily gestures, in the works of Futurism, Dada and Surrealism, was a way for poets and visual artists to perform their thoughts, in a playful subversion of traditional values. Today this kind of work is a social illustration of the magical body, the aesthetics of political vocabulary, and the urgency of the endurance of the will.
A lot of artists practice this approach and more will. It is easy and difficult, and like poetry every one can do it but few can make it happen. This kind of art demonstrates the ability of artists to perform something dramatic and significant without the artifice and rehearsal of theater. It is an instant idea that becomes movable memory growing from person to person, as its image is interpreted in a different way every time it is told or seen.
Performance art is the story telling of a premeditated action to create a reaction. It is the antithesis of the market because the substance is painful and cannot be controlled. We at Exit Art have a tradition of presenting this kind of artist, the ones that are “political,” strange, foreign, outlandish or awkward. As in our historical performance exhibitions such as Endurance (1995) and Renegades (2007) and our experiments in our own Trickster Performance Theater in the last two decades, R.J.G.’s work is up our alley, a unique body of performance work full of immense beauty, of history and actual references to her reality. She is from Guatemala, a country in the center of our Americas, which makes her an American artist. The most guarded secret in this country is that we are a bilingual cultural empire. We are Elizabethan theater and theater of the Golden Age of Spain in a mix of English witch hunting Protestantism and Spanish Inquisition. The conflict between the “invincible” Spanish armada and the English fleet in 1588 is still defining the power struggle of the Americas; it will converge or self destroy.
History is catching its tail. The past defines the present and forecasts the future. Performance Art tells truths with images that the artist articulates with a supernatural force of survival, transforming this art from its common origins into a sophisticated ritual of post-colonial aesthetic. R.J.G. is a messenger of this thought and documents it with her actions: performances that put her life in danger. She does not live in a liberal democratic territory but in a repressive and dangerous authoritarian state that is defined by acts of institutionalized violence and sectarian criminal gangs. R.J.G. is a valiant soul of critical extraction. She is redefining risk and showing us in this comfortable metropolis that the purpose of the artist is not only to please the powerful with beautiful objects and intellectual meditations but to practice the poetry of one’s circumstances even if your life is in the line of fire.
— Papo Colo
Manhattan / 2009
REGINA JOSÉ GALINDO: VULTURISM AND VOYEURISM
by Nick Stillman
A country ravaged by almost a half-century of civil war, a military dictatorship, the brutal persecution of its indigenous population, and habitual violence toward women raises the stakes of being an artist in Guatemala. The mute object of contemplation is useless at best, insulting at worst for a populace in constant crisis. As Lucy Lippard wrote in the essay “Long-Term Planning: Notes Toward an Activist Performance Art,” “commodities don’t talk back.” While the urgency of Guatemalan reality essentializes the need for countering a history of oppression with action, dysfunctions so profound can make protest feel useless. Guatemalan writer and diplomat Miguel Ángel Asturias described the plight with brooding humor: “In this country one can only live well drunk or unconscious.”
In 2000, probably with Asturias’ invective ringing in her ears, Regina José Galindo contributed to a gallery exhibition on the “meaning of being Guatemalan” by injecting herself with Valium and passing out. This bluntness is typical of her work. Since 1999, her performances have concisely reframed Guatemala’s oppression of women and the poor by activating her own body as a collective site. Several of these were extreme exercises in the deprivation of dignity: she has been publicly stunned with an electro-shock gun and “cleansed” with a power hose; she commissioned a plastic surgeon to locate the imperfections on her naked body in public with a marker; she has stripped herself naked and plucked all the feathers from a dead vulture, which her title Zopilote, Ave Nacional ironically cites as Guatemala’s national bird. In Guatemala, these actions aren’t readily dismissible as belonging to the symbolic realm. In a BOMB interview from 2005 Galindo said, “As Guatemalans, we know how to decipher any image of pain, because we have seen it all up close.” Galindo’s body seems to transcend from personal to public in these performances where she embodies the will of a critical mass motivated by intolerance of the abuse of power.
In order to understand how Galindo arrived at something as grim as El Peso de la Sangre (The Weight of Blood), where she publicly endured a liter of blood falling onto her head — drip by everlasting drip — it is important to understand the extent of violence and disaster in Guatemala since 1960. This Central American country on the southern border of Mexico is an intensely classist society where a disproportionate amount of political power is centralized among the ladinos, a Caucasian minority. Mayans and rural indigenous populations compose most of the rural poor. A civil war wracked the country from 1960 to 1996, beginning more than a generation’s worth of oppression and destitution for the majority. The US supported Guatemala’s ruling army from the 1950s to the 1990s with training, weapons, and funding in an effort to thwart Soviet influence and the spread of communism, to which Americans thought Guatemala’s rural campesinos were susceptible. Government hostility toward the campesinos accelerated in the 1970 and 1980s, and to make an untenable situation catastrophic, a 1976 earthquake killed approximately 25,000. In 1982, the general and Christian Fundamentalist Efraín Ríos Montt became president of the military junta and a political friend of the Reagan Administration. Montt’s military government tortured and murdered the rural poor, vanished key rebels, and embraced scorched earth tactics that left Mayans homeless and hopelessly decentralized. Conservative tallies regarding Montt’s “scorched earth” mayhem estimate that 10,000 were killed, 100,000 were displaced, and 600 villages were destroyed.
In an environment of normalized atrocity, Galindo has become more insurgent than artist, talking back with positive militancy. It was because of Montt’s reemergence in 2003 that she produced her iconic performance ¿Quién Puede Borrar las Huellas? (Who Can Erase the Traces?). After serving as a congressman throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Montt shocked the country by attempting to run for president in 2003. More shockingly, a national court ignored a constitutional ban against former dictators running for the office and approved his candidacy. Though Montt eventually lost (though not before a violent armed riot of his supporters swept through Guatemala City), the threat of another military dictatorship led Galindo to one of her most elegiac works. In 2003, during a break in her workday, she transported a bowl of human blood to the Constitutional Court building in Guatemala City — the same court that had recently upheld Montt’s candidacy. Silently, stoically, she dipped her feet into it and trod a trail of bloody steps on the pavement, stopping intermittently to re-coat her feet. With a phalanx of cops guarding the court, Galindo concluded the performance by planting a defiant pair of bloody footprints at the base of the stairs before washing her feet at a public fountain and returning to work.
The political significance of Who Can Erase the Traces? was obvious, locally. To many, Galindo’s ephemeral trail of footprints also evoked the women who are raped, murdered, and simply vanished in cases that rarely stir much investigation from the police, reportage in the press, or public interest. The numbingly common violence toward Guatemalan women is an epidemic; it’s ordinary to hear of beheadings, of corpses with slogans like DEATH TO BITCHES carved into their skin. Brutality is the absolute crux of Galindo’s art, and her confrontational negotiation of it can force witnesses into the awkwardly passive position of watching. Mutilation and suffering may be common in Guatemala, but the impulse to do something about it necessitates a rebelliousness — a resistance to socialization — something Galindo challengingly incites. Galindo has persistently mutilated her own body to invoke women’s issues in her native country. At the 2005 Venice Biennial, she whipped herself 279 times, one for each woman that had been murdered in Guatemala that year. The same year, she used a knife to carve the word perra — “bitch” — into her thigh while sitting in a chair, “on display” in a gallery. A year earlier, she responded to a plastic surgeon’s classified ad about reconstructing hymens to restore virginity. After interviewing the doctor Galindo learned the surgery was usually received in anticipation of a wedding night; some patients, Galindo reported in the BOMB interview, were adolescent victims of sex trafficking who could command higher prices as coveted virgins. Galindo filmed the operation — which the doctor botched, leaving her bleeding and requiring an emergency trip to a gynecologist — and with Asturias’ black humor showed it in an exhibition titled Cynicism. In one of her most frightening performances, No Perdemos Nada Con Nacer (We Do Not Lose With Being Born), her naked body, stuffed into a transparent bodybag, is dumped in a landfill; uninvolved people watch … and do nothing.
In a 1976 performance called Do You Believe in Television? Chris Burden set fire to a trail of hay ascending several floors from the bottom of a stairwell at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, Canada. At each upper platform of the stairwell, television monitors showed Burden and the original site of action, although he remained out of sight the entire time. The path of flames burned up the stairs and onto the first floor before being stomped out by the audience. Burden — who along with Marina Abramovic is probably Galindo’s most relevant predecessor — was making a work about belief, but also about a social contract between viewer and actor. When is it no longer acceptable just to watch? How much incitement is required before a situation of ostensible mutual trust is revealed as dangerous and unacceptable?
This was the complex situation Galindo unfolded for an art audience in Oslo in 2008, when she sat naked on a bench in a freezing room within a gallery, her clothes neatly laid out in front of her. The viewers eventually dressed her, and it will be fascinating to potentially witness the opposite situation when she debuts her latest performance Crisis: Cloth for her ten-year retrospective and first significant New York exhibition at Exit Art. Crisis: Cloth belongs to a kind of trilogy on devaluation that includes Crisis: Hair and Crisis: Blood, in which Galindo sold these parts of herself to audiences willing to publically buy them from her. For Crisis: Cloth, she will sell every item she is wearing for $5 until she is naked. Both Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, in which the audience used scissors to strip her, and Valie Export’s Touch and Tap Cinema, where pedestrians on a Vienna street groped her breasts through holes cut into a box Export absurdly wore, are apt precedents to Crisis: Cloth. Without question, Galindo’s performance pushes the buttons of voyeuristic and predatory male fantasy — of “getting into her pants.” But Crisis: Cloth moves in two dimensions, touching equally on sexual politics and material lack, so common to Galindo’s country and so foreign to this generation of Americans before the previous two years. Will New York viewers open their wallets to seemingly leave Galindo’s dignity on an auction block? The moral decision is whether to comply with the “rules” of the performance as Galindo has constructed them or to spare her the humiliating outcome of her own game. Most likely she’ll end up defiantly naked, her feathers plucked, in front of a politely discomfited audience left thinking through the blurred lines between voyeurism and vulturism, which, like much of our recent history, may be more than we bargained for.
Nick Stillman is an artist and writer and the Managing Editor of BOMB. In 2007, he performed The Best Art Today at Exit Art.