Tania Bruguera is a Cuban installation and performance artist. Bruguera studied at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana and then earned an M.F.A. in performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


For the opening on Jan. 28 of “Tania Bruguera: On the Political Imaginary,” the normally sedate galleries of the Neuberger Museum were transformed by light, sound, smell and live performance. The atmosphere was carnivalesque—the strong aroma of sugarcane mingled with a milder one of tea, while the faint sounds of men marching and guns being cocked drifted forward from a distant room. A performer personifying an African Nkisi Nkonde figure, wearing a mud-covered costume studded with nails, moved slowly around the entryway as crowds poured into the show through two paths.�?�You could wind through a warren of installation and performance areas that alternated between bright, even blinding, light and unsettling darkness, or pass through a central corridor lined with teabags (whence the smell) to a large room at the back. Here actors wearing little or no clothing appeared between two staging areas with open mikes, from which audience members could address the assembled visitors.

Going back the next day was a quieter but no less intense experience. Now a visitor could linger alone or nearly so in the installation rooms and experience their intended psychological impact. A surprising number of the performers from the night before were there, some enacting repetitive gestures as integral parts of larger environments and others appearing for scheduled reenactments of stand-alone events. Several questions posed by the show became clear: How does one restage and re-present site-specific performance and installation works—the most ephemeral of genres—in the framework of a larger monographic survey? What happens to the meanings of works tied to particular sets of circumstances when venues and contexts change? Is it possible for them to be anything other than pale substitutes for the originals? As performance art becomes historicized, these questions grow increasingly urgent, arising as well in connection with reenactments in recent years of classic works like Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy, Hermann Nitsch’s Orgy Mystery Theaterand Marina Abramovic´’s re-creation of others’ performances as well as her own (including those presented in her current MoMA retrospective).

© Ruth Zoe Andreas, all rights reserved