Monday, April 2, 2018

Tania Bruguera. Untitled (Havana, 2000)

After waited almost three hours, I finally got the chance to experience Tania Bruguera's Untitled (Havana, 2000). The work is profound and impressive. It is a big contrast to walk from a crowded line in MoMa into a dark, immersive space. As my eyes adjusted, I started to see a different environment. The different materials — the concrete wall, nude human bodies, sugarcane on the ground, and the video hanging on the ceiling —all have strong symbolic meanings. The whole work combined space- and time-based art. In the darkness, the most strong and clear information source was the monitor that constantly played video of Castro's speeches.  It is also the only light source; all the performers move slowly under Castro's “image."
Fidel Castro banned this work 18 years ago. Castro interrupted the exhibition. On the other hand, the ban became a part of Bruguera’s work. At first, the artist expressed her political view through this work, then the work provoked the concern of the Cuban government and was shut down. It was a characteristic of the Cuba government to shut down the work, but the ban proved there is something that a totalitarian regime is afraid of. The whole censorship process became a new work that built on Bruguera's original work, thus giving people a different way to interpret and see the work.

Unlike its exhibition in Cuba, the work’s appearance in the United States is a relatively safe proposition, since the work is unlikely to be  disturbed by government. I think most viewers who come to MoMA to see the work will not have experienced life under a totalitarian regime as in Cuba. The work became more like an experience or "an artwork" than it does in Cuba.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate that you highlighted how the context of how we experience this work might in some way change our reception of it. But I might argue that when you enter the tunnel, there is a moment of thrill due to some kind of perceived danger. It’s very dark and the smell of the place is very strong so my initial instinctual reaction wasn’t one of an artwork. Obviously it’s not the same as living under a totalitarian government but the work is so involved in overpowering all our sense, I wonder if the comparison to it being shown here versus Cuba might benefit from a little more time dedicated to how consuming it is as a work.