Elia Alba, a New York-based multidisciplinary artist, interviews fellow artist and educator Coco Fusco about her artistic production, her writing, and on “being a provocateur, Planet of the Apes, and the ‘wow’ factor of Cuban Art.” artist and writer. Fusco is a recipient of several awards, including the 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2013 Absolut Art Writing Award, a 2013 Fulbright Fellowship, a 2012 US Artists Fellowship, and a 2003 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. Here are excerpts of the interview (with a link to the full review below):
The complex structures of power and control have preoccupied performance artist, writer, and curator Coco Fusco for over 20 years. In A Room of One’s Own: Women and Power in the New America (2008), a performance lecture explores the expanding role of American women in the War on Terror. Bare Life Study (2006), a group performance which draws on her training in military interrogation with “Team Delta”, sheds light on the subjections in American military prisons. The video, The Empty Plaza (La Plaza Vacía), (2012), narrated by Yoani Sanchez, depicts an empty Plaza de La Revolución, a stark contrast to an arena that was the platform for all major political events in the past half century. Currently, the artist is at work on a project centered around contemporary Cuban performance art. Through her personal history Fusco walks us through Cuba’s past to tell us how the existing conditions on the island have led to a wave of performance and happenings. Moreover, by restaging and performing the character, Dr. Zira, a chimpanzee psychologist from the 1970s iconic movie series, Planet of the Apes, she illuminates the economic violence humans inflict on each other. [. . .]
Elia Alba: As you know everyone in The Supper Club will have a moniker as way to define each of you within the group. It’s also the word I will use to conceptualize a portrait of you. How do you feel about yours being “The Provocateur”? [. . .]
Coco Fusco: I believe there are plenty of people out there who see me as a provocateur because I talk back, and because I work on subjects that irritate some people. But provocateur can have a negative connotation, it can suggest that I am just an enfant terrible who wants to shock people rather than delve deeply into issues. It can be used as a slight. I don’t see myself as someone who is just trying to get attention. I am interested in politics as sculptural material. I look at relationships of force, of power and control. [. . .]
EA: You were given the prize to continue your research project on the evolution of Cuban performance. You’ve written other books on performance—can you elaborate on this project and why it is this important now?
CF: [. . .] In 1985, just after I finished graduate school, I met a group of Cuban artists who visited the US and exhibited their work here: José Bedia, Ricardo Brey, and Flavio Garciandia. They were friends of Ana Mendieta’s. I felt a real affinity with them: We were about the same age, we were interested in the same art and the same ideas, and we had read many of the same books. Temperamentally I felt really close to them and I wanted to see more and learn more so I started travelling to Cuba. This began a long relationship that I’ve had with the Cuban visual art scene. The vitality of the place, the energy in the art scene, even the intense politicization of every aspect of life is fascinating to me. Over time, I grew to understand the complexities of negotiating life there as an intellectual or artist and developed a somewhat more skeptical view of life in the land of tropical socialism.
EA: We did start to see a big influx of Cuban artists in the United States.
CF: That was the result of two things. The Havana Biennial, which started in the 1980s, and became a really major geographically peripheral biennial in the ’90s. Carlos Garaicoa, Kcho, Tania Bruguera, and Los Carpinteros, to name a few, all launched their careers there. Foreign visitors were “wowed” by Cuban art. The Cuban Revolution had established a pretty solid educational system for artists. The talented kids were spotted when they were young and put through rigorous training—not just in art but also in dance, music, theater, sports, and science. I think a lot of people from other parts of the world just didn’t expect a country in dire straits to have such a sophisticated group of young artists, who were very well informed, talented, and also very familiar with everything going on in the so-called West. [. . .]
For full interview, see http://bombmagazine.org/article/1000179/coco-fusco