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  • Ruffling Feathers Around the World
  • Edward Rubin (bio)
Tania Bruguera, On the Political Imaginary, an exhibition at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York, January 28–April 11, 2010.

Performance artists have been enjoying a major resurgence in popularity around the world. Spearheading this renaissance are museums and biennales. And why not! Such one-of-a-kind theatrical events where anything can happen, and usually does, are primo entertainment. Recently in New York City and environs, five major art museums played host to a tsunami of performance artists. The Kiss and This Progress, two of Tino Sehgal's live "constructed situations" with nary a painting in sight, occupied the Guggenheim's lobby and all of the museum's exhibition ramps. Another Sehgal work, part of Jeff Koons's curated Skin Fruit exhibition, played itself out at the New Museum where a roaming performer, singing snippets of songs, periodically announced to startled viewers that what they were watching was a 2002 Sehgal performance piece titled This is Propaganda. Holding court at the Museum of Modern Art was Marina Abramović's retrospective The Artist Is Present. Visitors eager to see both the "Queen of Performance" and the highly advertised nude performers were treated to a cacophonous display of four decades of Abramović's sound, video, and photographic work, as well as many of her live performance pieces, all except one being recreated by other performers. Meanwhile, at the Whitney Museum of American Art's 2010 Biennial, some ten performance artists—one live, the rest on screen—were seen doing their thing.

Keeping up with the "big boys," the small but choice Neuberger Museum of Art, an hour outside of New York City, celebrated the career of Cuban-born, Chicago-based performance and installation artist Tania Bruguera by mounting a twenty-year retrospective of her work titled On The Political Imaginary. Trained at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Bruguera began her rise to prominence during the mid-eighties by re-performing the "earthbody" works of Cuban born artist Ana Mendieta (1948–1985). Interested in the body as landscape on which history is writ, Bruguera started to perform her [End Page 78]

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Tania Bruguera, The Burden of Guilt, 1997–1999. Re-enactment of a historical event. Decapitated lamb, rope, water, salt, Cuban soil.

Photo: Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela.

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Tania Bruguera, Displacement, 1998–1999, Cuban earth, glue, wood, nails/textile.

Photo: Manuel Pina and Jose A. Figueroa. Courtesy the artist.

[End Page 79]

political works in the nude. In The Body of Silence (1997–1998) a naked Bruguera sat in a box lined with raw lamb meat making corrections in an official Cuban history primer for elementary school children. In an attempt at self-censorship, licking her revisions and failing to erase them, she tore the pages up into little pieces and swallowed them. In Burden of Guilt (1997), arguably Bruguera's most powerful and widely known work, again standing naked, this time with a slaughtered lamb hanging from her neck, she spent forty-five minutes eating soil mixed with water and salt. Imitating the suicide-ritual that many of the island's natives practiced when faced with the threat of the Spanish conquistadores, the artist harrowingly reminded her Havana audience, where this work was first performed, that freedom, liberty, and self-determination are not abstract ideals but achievements that write their effects on our physical forms.

Bruguera, currently an Assistant Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, has been working with the body as a social landscape and a political blackboard through performance, installation, drawings, and video since 1986. As Bruguera states on her Website,

My recent work uses behavior as its principal source to study emotional perception. I look for devices such as memory and rumor to act in the delivery and archiving of information. For me, making art is a way of acquiring and processing knowledge; trying different points of view on a subject, whether artistic, social or political … My work is ephemeral not only because of the use of live...


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