Slumming in Corona

Tania Bruguera #2

Tania Bruguera at work; courtesy James Estrin and The New York Times

* * *

Standing at the art department photocopier the other morning, reeling off the latest assignment for my students, I discovered a copy of this article in the print-out tray. Wish I hadn’t. The last thing we need is a reminder of the extent to which art is pimped in the pursuit of self-aggrandizement, political posturing and rank hypocrisy.

But, well, there she is:  Performance artist and Guggenheim fellow Tania Bruguera living amongst the working poor, ensconced with eleven other people in a tiny apartment  in Corona, Queens. What’s she doing there? Bruguera is out to improve the image of illegal immigrants. That, and she wants to feel their pain.

“I don’t want to hear things in the office–I want to live them. I want to have the anxiety. Those are things I have to feel on my skin.”

How much anxiety one can truly experience on a stipend of $85,000.00 is a good question. That’s the amount awarded to the “high concept” provocateur by Creative Time, a non profit arts group, and The Queens Museum of Art. Both institutions are funding Bruguera’s performance piece, Immigrant Movement International. They’re doing it in the cause of “defy[ing] typical art rules.”

Bruguera’s stint with the down-trodden is a one-year venture. After she’s finished “addressing the disparity of engagement between informed audiences and the general public,” it’s out of Corona (phew!) and back to the Pompidou Center, the Venice Bienniale and P.S. 1–the only Queens locale Bruguera had visited prior to the Immigrant project. Makes you wonder where Bruguera’s current set of roommates will jet off to at the end of their one-year tenure. Oh, wait . . .

In the meantime, the artist is flummoxed by the puzzlement she’s engendered within her adopted community. “I explained to them four times what I’m doing already. They don’t get it. They’re not very excited.” Bruguera goes on to say that:

“They don’t want any art at all . . . [they want] very concrete and mundane things.”

Concluding, she opines:  “This is what their life is.” Condescension that doesn’t know its name is an ugly thing.

Sam Dolnick’s article has enough between-the-lines snark to give you an idea of what he thinks of Berguera’s pandering. Thank the Lord the usual suspects at the Times–hey, Roberta; what’s up, Holland?didn’t put in their oh-so-equanimous two cents on Immigrant Movement International. Then again, maybe they did.

If so, I don’t want to know about it.

© 2011 Mario Naves

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