Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art

49th Venice Biennale
10 June - 4 November 2001

Venice / 2001 / Plateau / Arsenale


Tania Bruguera
From an interview with Pat Binder and Gerhard Haupt.

My work is a response to the poem »La Isla en Peso«, written by Virgilio Piñera in 1943.

Many visual artists in Cuba, such as Tonel, José Bedia and Sandra Ramos, as well as a number of writers, have already examined this poem. It has become a kind of icon. It refers to the idea of insularity and to how we Cubans are. I was fascinated when I read it, and I found it very relevant. It says something about difficult social conditions, about everything that there used to be in Cuba, about prostitution, the influence of the outsider, the relationship between Cubans and foreigners, etc.. It seemed to me as though it could have been written the morning on which I read it, and that impressed me. Then it occurred to me that maybe instead of moving forward, we're actually falling behind. However, my examination of this idea didn't go in the direction of creating an illustration for the poem, as many others have done. Instead, I strove for a response that stems from the present, one which would make clear how I myself regard all the things Piñera writes about.

I selected 8 verses because 8 is the symbol of eternity as well as the symbol of death. I also chose different times of day, because the poem runs the course of 24 hours in Cuba. I used the changing daylight in order to emphasize it, and designed different responses with simple but strong gestures. The images [on the monitors] are nearly motionless. I like this for different reasons: first of all, because it could be that people take them to be photos. Furthermore, it's possible that they believe they've seen the images already. This kind of thing often happens in Cuba. There are a lot of people who imagine that they've already seen everything, so they only take a quick look and then go on. Secondly, because the poem also talks about how time in Cuba goes by very slowly. And that's true. Life has a different rhythm in Cuba, and I wanted to bring this to Venice, too.

The sound in the installation is the noise of people that pass by and talk, which I manipulated on the computer. Many have told me that it sounds like a factory or a slaughterhouse for sheep. I selected it because I wanted to create a contrast to the more poetic images. I think that in a certain way, this sound insinuates what we are in Cuba - a little bit like the sheep ... we've internalized a subjugation, and let things take their course. That's why I believe that this poem has lost nothing of its validity ... because that's how we are ... and we've hardly changed.

I just showed the work in Havana. It's always good to try out the ideas ahead of time. And everyone knows me there, and as we all know, they're very critical. I showed it in the Casa de las Américas. I darkened the room, and it worked very well because on opening day, it was the people themselves that were the performance. They walked along like sheep, in groups, holding each others' hands because they couldn't see anything. They moved very slowly, exactly like my images. I'm interested in revising my idea of performance art, and in me not being the only one doing something, but that the audience gets more actively involved.

At this Biennale, in contrast to so many artists who want to exhibit their own ego and personal process, I decided to draw attention to another artist, in this case Virgilio Piñera. Whenever I discuss my work I talk about his poem, which many now want to read.

(Translated from the German version by Holly Austin)

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© Interview, translation, photos:
Gerhard Haupt & Pat Binder