Poor Immigrant as Muse
The following is an article about the artist Tania Bruguera and and her year-long project of living with and “as” an immigrant in NYC. This raises the question of: How does this art address and/or effect poor immigrants’ lives? The most charitable reading is that the artist intends to use her position of power and access (she is being written about in the Times after all) to shine a light on the conditions of immigrants in NYC. But does anyone really not know about the poverty and living conditions of most immigrants? And…does knowledge really change anything anyway? But this position of “Artist as Truth Teller,” as Steve likes to call it, is a common fallacy; what disturbs me even more is the possibility that the artist is using the poor immigrants as mere subject matter, or worse: as a source for inspiration. As Walter Benjamin commented upon in an essay long ago (The Author as Producer) there is a big difference between art about poor people, and art that eradicates poverty.
An Artist’s Performance: A Year as a Poor Immigrant
New York Times, May 18 2011
Tania Bruguera has eaten dirt, hung a dead lamb from her neck and served trays of cocaine to a gallery audience, all in the name of art. She has shown her work at the Venice Biennale, been feted at the Pompidou Center in Paris and landed a Guggenheim fellowship.
But now she is sharing a tiny apartment in Corona, Queens, with five illegal immigrants and their six children, including a newborn, while scraping by on the minimum wage, without health insurance.
She has not fallen on hard times. Ms. Bruguera is performing a yearlong art piece meant to improve the image of immigrants and highlight their plight. And she is bringing her high-concept brand of provocation to a low-wattage precinct of taco stands and auto-body shops, where the neighbors have responded with varying degrees of curiosity, amusement and befuddlement.