Materials: Public lecture, table, chairs, brick wall with rusty metal beams, platform (9 inches), mike, sound system, 38 /9 mm firearm, 9 mm bullets
NOTE: This piece is only shown as an installation, with no living component
Self-sabotage is a lecture-performance held at the Jeu de Paume in Paris as part of the series “Culture as a Strategy to Survive” on March 6, 2009 and again, that same year, at the Emergency Pavilion in the 53rd Venice Biennial. The piece is a lecture where artist Tania Bruguera sits at a table reading her reflections on political art and the function of artists in the context of art, institutions and society. To her right there is a box with a 38 caliber pistol and 9 mm bullets. During the first pause in her reading, the artist takes the gun, puts a bullet in it, makes the drum turn as in the Russian roulette, points at her temple and presses the trigger. She repeats this action twice, at each pause of her reading of the text. When the lecture is over, questions from the audience are answered.
The relationship between art and reality is an important concern in the development of Tania Bruguera’s work. The spine-chilling gesture illustrating the function of artists in society and the truthfulness of their actions as transformers of reality. It is also the experience of total sacrifice, the sacrifice of oneself, as the possibility of maintaining a commitment with the ethical values established by artists with their work and context. This is an exercise in Behavior Art through self-aggression as a sort of call for a political art taken to its utmost consequences.
Ailer, one of the friends that was arrested on the 30th of December commented to me that during one of her detentions two “segurosos” (undercover Intelligence agents) asked her about the artistic character of SelfSabotage and showed great interest in knowing more about this work. She asked me if the bullet in my performance of the Russian roulette was real. Listening to her I think not about that work of art but in how the
State Security agents are thinking of using that information that they are inquiring about. In this “game” that I’m involved in now, personal information is being used with political ends and political information is being transformed into part of your personal life, everything is useful at some moment or in some way. Lately another friend is calling me “kamikaze”, meanwhile one of the cultural functionary (who was present in that first meeting on the 27th of December) told me that my art-action was a suicide act (I interpreted this symbolically in relation to my career as an artist after trying to enact Tatlin’s Whisper in the Plaza, rather than my own
psychological state). I have created a type of instinct these last two months, so when a theme is too recurrent and very different people are bringing it up, it makes me think that it’s something that’s not only of interest to these
people, but also to those that are in the shadows seeking information. Since there is so much interest in whether I was capable of putting a real bullet in a gun to play Russian roulette; Since so many people have recently spoken
to me of death and suicide; Since all information that reaches the Security of State is distorted and since today I don’t doubt when I think of the real consequences that can happen in Cuba when you expose a direct critique to
power and demand change, I want to make a public declaration: I don’t have suicidal intentions. I have never played with death in any of my future scenarios in any stage of my life, I have always seen what has happened to me as a challenge and I have enjoyed the difficult moments because they have made me grow. I like to look back at the path I have taken to elaborate self-critique, which is different than being self-destructive.
Today I am playing with a Russian roulette daily, not with a gun or with bullets, but with the consequences of my work. Today I am not reading a text about art and politics related to the work Self-Sabotage, I am practicing.
Today I am not at a conference saying that the political artist should assume all consequences that are postulated in their work, I am living it. Now, I also declare that I wouldn’t trade anything for being able to stand and look straight into the eyes of the power that attempts to make me kneel, that is my Russian roulette today.
March 4, 2015