DEALING WITH FORCES
A CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST PAULA GARCIA
Photographs by Victor Nomoto
Monday, March 16 - 2015
Three junkyards near SESC provide tons of heavy metal for performance artist Paula Garcia to use in Noise Body during Terra Comunal - MAI. From this debris, she does more than merely carve out or build an installation. Through her presence, the artist seeks to bring visibility to the oppressive forces of a system. It is impossible to deny the tension that arises when visitors first encounter the "In Between" area at SESC, where a mass of raw materials signals an inevitable challenge to the artist's body. The sheer volume of the material is real and imposing; it usurps the space.
“Imposing” and “real” are two words that also serve to define the artist’s speech. Garcia lives and works in New York and holds a Masters in Visual Arts FASM-Brazil and Bachelor of Arts FAAP-Brazil. She has collaborated with Marina Abramovic since 2011. Garcia is curator, along with Lynsey Peisinger and Marina Abramovic, of the MAI Presents section of Terra Comual, which includes eight Brazilian artists and one performance collective. Here, she discusses her work with writer and curator Ulisses Carrilho:
Marina Abramovic has repeatedly affirmed that music has a bigger impact as an art form because of its immateriality. She said that it has an immaterial quality even more relevant than performance itself. In the series Noise Body, you approach sound as a bodily experience. What is the role of the body and the role of material – iron – in the production of this work?
The research with magnets resulted from a process wherein I would put my body in claustrophobic situations. The idea was to cover my head with a cap, hold the magnets and throw iron over it. This was a filmed experiment where I performed for the camera. From this process emerged several elements: the weight, the iron, the sound of it beating on me, and also the sound that reverberated inside my head. I understood this idea as work.
The magnets and those pieces of iron are a way for me to discuss power issues. Visible and invisible forces. I always imagine that when I finish this series of performances, when I'm revealing a body covered with iron and nails, I'm about to reveal a system of power. A system that is present, commanding everything we see, everything we feel. Because we do feel that pressure.
When I first did this performance at Luciana Brito (Luciana Britto Gallery, São Paulo, 2011), it was the best sound experience ever. I was on top of a car, the noise was iron hitting iron, loud. There was a platform next to the gallery and people watched what was happening in the parking lot. I came to understand that people felt what I was feeling through sound. The sound creates intensity waves.
The first visible element of this work is iron, but you stress the magnet, an invisible force. When you talk of sound, there is stress on the reverberation, the waves. How important is the public in your work?
In the series where the public actively engages, there is a point where they can play the nails on me. It is interesting to analyze how some part of the public apparently really likes to do this, while another part becomes horrified. But more interesting is to think that the work is made of several layers - iron, magnet, my body that holds it all - various ratio layers. There is a layer about me, Paula, because in my private life i'm also a claustrophobic person. I generally can not go all the way in the rehearsals. There are times I do not even let them place the clothes [made for the performance] on me, because it’s screwed onto my body, like armor. There are many force relations. Many people focus on questions about the enormous amount of weight I carry in the performance, but there are other relationships that are more important.
Despite claustrophobia being a personal matter, in the performance it is treated as something bigger. It doesn’t speak only about your feelings, but about a larger force acting on all of us. Should it be taken on a generalized sense?
Yes, I made that performance in Italy and women came to me at the end of it and said that they understood only a woman could have done that. They saw a female force.
There is a fundamental difference in the performance in which people throw the nails on me and the performance I do here at SESC: the body. There is a still body, which receives a force, a rain of nails, holding up until the limits of endurance take over. Here, I'm in charge. I deal with the forces. I choose the way I deal with the forces. That's why this work is so dangerous. The objects with which I deal are very sharp. But this is also the beautiful part of this performance. My choices, me. I am present. I am completely present. Every minute, every distraction can cause an accident. I do not want that to happen because I want the work to be completed.
The human body and its fragility - and its resistance - are tested in your performances. How important it is to cause reactions in the audience? In which ways do the reactions affect your work?
This research has changed me. It gave me a stronger body. And when I say that I don’t mean muscular strength, but a body that puts more at risk, facing the clashes. Put yourself at risk to exceed the limit. It is a heroic body, there is something heroic in that body. When I presented a similar work in 2011, I had no technical skills or budget to do the project, so I made a draft. But I wouldn't have the same body I have today in order to address this performance had I not done the earlier one.
The body that puts itself in danger is a bold body. A body that has to be present. That is something crucial in all the performances that make up this exhibition you curated. Can you discuss the idea of presence linking the performance works presented by the other artists?
Shortly after the end of the "Cleaning the House" workshop, Marina said that the most beautiful thing we do is not doing the work for the public. The public and their energy are key, but you're not doing it for them. You’re doing it because you need to. Because it is vital. Nowadays we are living a moment of art where it’s clearly noticeable who is making art because of vital issues and who is doing it for other reasons. And it is not a judgement but an observation. In the field of performance, things can’t be different. Our curatorial choices were made because each of these artists had the idea of presence in mind. It shows strongly in their work. Each one of them with their tone, with their materials. The work of Rubiane, for example, it is almost crazy, so simple and slow, which I assume is something I would never be able to do.
If we look only formally, that performance is opposed to your work. But if we look from the presence, it is right next to it, right?
The big problem of the world is we think that we will only achieve in life after a long path, never in the present, in the now. At this point, for me, I'm sitting in front of you and we are looking into each others’ eyes during this interview. And that's what interests me. The whole issue in the workshop comes down to this: there is no past or future, no last minute or next minute. But now. And now. And now. And now. This changes the way we love, to deal with our lovers. Because otherwise we deal with projections. This is a system trap. We will break the system when we can subtly change our presence, living more fully and truly.
Your materials are industrial, heavy, dense. You said that the discovery of this material was almost by chance, but now they exist and are constant in your work. Would you say your art has a strong political bias?
I want to change the world. If I think of iron, I think of the machine. The machine is analogous to the system. Iron is also an analogy of the system and the strength of the apparatus. Unlike in 2011, where I used recognizable parts such as pieces of cars and refrigerators, in this work I use pieces of iron that people do not recognize. I bring more abstraction. The force is in action, in my presence.
Terra Comunal - MAI is free and open to the public until May 10, 2015 @SESC Pompeia, São Paulo - Brazil.