A Revolution is not a bed of Roses

A Revolution is not a bed of Roses is the title of my recent research study centered on the reflection of the social dimension of participation in art and the political implications of practices that depend on situation and locality to elaborate critique. For that matter, I was mainly using Tania Bruguera’s work “El susurro de Tatlin 6” (2009) as a case study. By installing a podium, which connected two microphones with loudspeakers inside and outside the exhibition space, and by hanging a giant orange-golden curtain in the background, Bruguera bravely dedicated her piece entitled El Susurro de Tatlin #6 (Tatlin’s whisper #6 in English) in the Havana Biennal 2009 to give all Cubans the opportunity to freely speak their minds for the length of one minute each. However, far from simulating a Cuban `Tribuna Abierta´, Bruguera consciously replicated the scenario of Fidel Castro’s 1959 post-revolutionary speech, creating a direct visual echo of the vivid, yet iconic, popular image. Furthermore, if participants exceeded the one-minute format, they were violently taken away by a couple dressed in `military´ attire to directly emphasize the roles of power.  Thus, El Susurro de Tatlin #6 considered the audience as an active part of a political, social and collective constructed memory, which for Bruguera is highly affected by the anaesthetization of mass media images. By working politically with Cuban’s social reality, Bruguera created a situation capable of counteracting the political system, making visible the tension produced by a state of invisibility (Lambert-Beatty 2009, p. 39).

Not surprisingly, the Biennial’s Organizing Committee published an official statement to absolutely distance themselves from the results of the performance the day after the presentation of El Susurro de Tatlin #6, immediately removing the scenario after the opening event on the 19 March 2009. It is arguable, nevertheless, that without this negative declaration about what happened at the Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Centre, El Susurro de Tatlin #6 would have been totally incomplete. The one-minute free format created by Bruguera had to be necessarily punished by the Cuban authorities. Hence, without this punishment, the action would have signalled that the intolerance of the authoritarian force in Cuba has been redeemed. It is remarkable how Bruguera’s implication in reassessing the relationship between the artwork and the political implications of its site opened up an intertwined process of creation-interaction capable of using “the permissiveness granted by the aura of art to posit radical messages and actions” (Mosquera 2012, § 8). Through the creation of a momentary space for free speech in the capital of Cuba, El Susurro de Tatlin #6 was capable to exist between the interaction of the real and the invocation of possible utopias. Indeed, it is arguable that the specificity of El Susurro de Tatlin #6 potentiated its political efficacy. And yet, can the momentary counter-site that El Susurro de Tatlin #6 created at the Havana Biennial in 2009 be recreated somewhere else?

Since 2009, El Susurro de Tatlin #6 has been presented in several museums as an art installation or as a video documentation. In 2010, for example, the Fine Arts Palace in Mexico presented El Susurro de Tatlin #6 as a video documentation in a collective exhibition. The Neuberger Museum of Art in New York restaged, also in 2010, the physical scenario outside of Cuba, although incorporating a video camera in front of the podium in which the spectator could watch the original performance in its viewfinder and listen to the original audio. However, what are the consequences of integrating El Susurro de Tatlin #6 outside its original time and place in other exhibitions? Is it possible for the post-mediated pieces of El Susurro de Tatlin #6 to be anything other than substitutes of the original? Noticing that participation in art has acquired a politicized working process (Bishop 2012, p. 6), this research study problematizes the intense ephemeral temporality of El Susurro de Tatlin #6, and furthermore explores the effects of its mediation, focusing on its documentation and restaging. By concentrating on the analyses of El Susurro de Tatlin #6, this research study is conceived as an opportunity to participate in a dynamic and polemic debate to be able to contribute in a small part to the study of the complex relationship between artists, institutions and spectators that these kinds of practices have inaugurated.

Some of the results extracted from this research study are going to be published in an upcoming book edited by Sven Lütticken untitled Art and Autonomy Reader.  The reader is to be published by Afterall and it is part of the Autonomy Project, which is a long term collaboration between various art schools, universities and the Van Abbemuseum.