Museums are typically closed Mondays. But in a rare event, all three museums in the Arts District joined in staging a public, participatory artwork during lunch today in front of the Nasher Sculpture Center. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports they were joining museums from Times Square to Los Angeles in solidarity with an arrested Cuban artist.
The artwork is called Tatlin’s Whisper – named for the early Russian avant-garde artist Vladimir Tatlin. It’s simple enough. Anyone can stand on a small platform and speak publicly into a mic for a minute about anything, really — politics, yes, but also hopes, complaints, poetry.
“Our nature is peaceful,” reads Amy Hofland, director of the Crow Collection of Asian Art. “Bamboo and blue and gray. And rain and permanent clouds move past.”
Tatlin’s Whisper was first performed in 2009 in Havana by the internationally known Cuban artist Tania Bruguera. She’s created provocative performance artworks and installations in London, Dublin, New York and LA. Perhaps most famously, at the Tate Modern in 2012, she had mounted police figures and staff herd attendees into lines and groups — reproducing a coercive immigrant experience.
But last December in Havana, when she tried to recreate her 2009 performance piece — this would have been Tatlin’s Whisper #5 — she was arrested – three times in three days. Bruegera has lived in the US for extended periods, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and taught at the University of Chicago. But she resides in Cuba and retains her Cuban citizenship. Bruguera was released in January, but her passport was taken and Cuban prosecutors have been weighing charges against her ranging from inciting public disorder to branding her a counterrevolutionary.
Tatlin’s Whisper “was never an overtly political statement” directed specifically at Raul Castro’s government, says Gavin Delahunty, curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum of Art. He’s worked with Bruguera twice. “In fact, her art orbits the sphere of politics but it’s not in itself political. And I think that’s the role of art. It’s not to confront but to stimulate.”
During a light rain, some 50 people listened or participated at the Nasher, extolling free speech as a human right. At roughly the same time, a crowd in New York’s Times Square, among other places, was also creating Tatlin’s Whisper #6. The idea for the simultaneous protest/performances was Anne Pasternak’s — head of the New York-based art group, Creative Time. Pasternak spent time in Dallas five years ago when Creative Time won the Meadows Prize from SMU, so she knew and contacted a number of museum directors here.
Bruguera’s arrests and the resulting international protests have come just when President Obama has pursued more open relations with Cuban leader Raul Castro. Delahunty hopes Tatlin’s Whisper might be part of the opening up of the Cuban government. He compared the two leaders’ meeting this weekend to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that helped end political violence in his native Ireland.
“Based on that experience, ” he says, “I will stand in the wind and the rain in Dallas on any day to nudge such peaceful progress.”