– Autumn/Winter 2016

How to Make Art with a Jackhammer: A Conversation with Tania Bruguera

W.J.T. Mitchell

Tania Bruguera, El susurro de Tatlin #6 (versión para La Habana) (Tatlin’s Whisper #6 (Havana version)), 2009, stage, podium, microphones, one loudspeaker inside and one outside of the building, two persons on a military outfit, one white dove, one minute free of censorship per speaker, 200 disposable cameras with flash. Stills from the video documentation of the performance at the 10th Havana Biennale, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wilfredo Lam, Havana, 29 March 2009. Courtesy Studio Bruguera

I first met Tania Bruguera when she joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 2004. We immediately hit it off. Her energy, originality and passion for her work was obvious, but right alongside that was a refreshing candour about uncertainties and doubts, and a refreshing modesty about what art and artists are capable of. As our friendship matured, she invited me to come to Cuba for a week to give lectures on ‘art and activism’ to her Cátedra Arte de Conducta (Behaviour Art School, 2002–09) in Havana. I hesitated over this because I regard myself primarily as a scholar, not an activist, and most of my attention to the role of art and visual culture in politics has been focussed on the US and Israel/ Palestine. So I asked Tania if it would be okay for me to bring