AGUSTINA WOODGATE, INTERDISCIPLINARY ARTIST AND IRRESISTIBLE ARGENTINE DARLING, HAS BEEN GARNERING MUCH ATTENTION WITH HER PERFORMATIVE AND SITUATIONIST WORKS. BORN 1981 IN BUENOS AIRES, WOODGATE ESTABLISHED HERSELF IN THE MIAMI SCENE AND HAS SINCE EXHIBITED NATIONALLY AND ABROAD. AS PART OF THE CITY’S FIRST O, MIAMI POETRY FESTIVAL, SHE COINED THE TERM “POETRY BOMBING” BY COVERTLY SEWING LABELS INSCRIBED WITH POEMS ONTO THRIFT SHOPS’ CLOTHING AS SEEN IN THE MIAMI NEW TIMES VIDEO DOCUMENTARY THAT HAS SINCE GONE VIRAL. HER WORK RANGES FROM A COLLECTION OF LABORIOUS HANDCRAFTED STUFFED ANIMAL SKIN RUGS, PERFORMANCE-FAIRY TALES, SITE-SPECIFIC PUBLIC INSTALLATIONS, AS WELL AS HUMAN HAIR SCULPTURES. SHE RECENTLY COMPLETED A RESIDENCY AT ELSEWHERE MUSEUM IN NORTH CAROLINA WHERE SHE DEBUTED AND LAUNCHED RADIO ESPACIO ESTACION, A TRAVELING ONLINE BILINGUAL RADIO PROJECT CO-HOSTED WITH HER BROTHER. DIRTY WAS ABLE TO SECURE A CONVERSATION WITH WOODGATE VIA CYBERSPACE CONDUCTED BY PARISIAN UP-AND-COMER ART CRITIC/CURATOR, MEHDI BRIT.
TEXT Mehdi Brit
PHOTOGRAPHY Anthony Spinello
MEHDI BRIT: AGUSTINA, ORIGINALLY FROM BUENOS AIRES, YOU ARE NOW BASED IN MIAMI. WHY DID YOU MOVE TO THE UNITED STATES?
AGUSTINA WOODGATE: In my life I move. I will always move. Moving to another country was always in my plans. Travel around—all over. Look. Explore. Sebastian, now my husband, had a design job offer in Miami and I joined him once I finished schooling at my university in Buenos Aires.
And then the trip begins….
MB: WHEN EXACTLY DID YOU START TO EXPLORE PERFORMANCE? WHY?
AW: The very very first time I did a performance was in front of a video camera by myself. I was covering my face with my hair in different styles. As a bear, mustaches, my eyes—That was more of an experiment I think.
Then in 2005 I started giving haircuts on the streets. I built a mobile salon on wheels, with a wall and a mirror and I gave free hair cuts to people.
It was amazing. I did this for 4 years. Although I did not consider this a performance at all, it was definitely my first interaction with an audience and I remember the anxiety I felt throughout my body the first time I rolled out my mobil salon. It was the direct interaction and full conversations with people I was interested in. It was the idea of offering a service, too. And through that, the service collected a waste material (hair in this case) to produce future artwork. At the time I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it either, but it wasn’t important. All I wanted was to start collecting it.
Then in 2008 I travelled to Vermont Studios for a residency. I brought with me only one book—The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim. Have you heard of it? You must get it if not! It’s super good!!
MB: No, I have not. It must have influenced your Fairy Tale series?
AW: YES! That book had a great impact on me and it was quite a discovery. It opened a giant door with many directions. And one of these directions was performance.I was initially intending to activate some photography in my work but the energy of the action being photographed just became much stronger.
MB: AFTER CONVERSATIONS, ESSAYS, LECTURES AND STUDIES, MANY HISTORIANS QUESTIONED THE MEDIUM PERFORMANCE AND ITS DEFINITION FOR THE LAST FEW DECADES. CAN YOU TELL ME YOUR OWN DEFINITION?
AW: Ayy Mehdi, I am still trying to understand “performance” myself. Sometimes I just feel I perform all day long. I guess that performance is action. But actions can be performance too. What is your definition for it?
MB: As a curator, I try to understand the different possibilities, forms and ideas involving the performance’s conception. Performance is a medium, reinventing itself in different contexts and different periods. It contributes to emerging new works and experimental proposals, rich and varied involving the body and the audience. These forms constituted as a genre, open on a field that encompasses a set of expressions still not identified. The performance can be understanding as a mode of representation that continues to change in order to identify new views and perceptions in art. I suppose that it is interesting for an artist to explore notions of multidisciplinary exchange expanding new interactions.
MB: WE BOTH KNOW THAT IN LATIN AMERICA, PERFORMANCE HISTORY IS VERY PARTICULAR AS MANY PERFORMANCE ARTISTS DEAL WITH IDENTITY AND CONFLICT. HAS YOUR WORK BEEN AFFECTED OR INFLUENCED BY THESE THEMES?
AW: I guess so. I am not sure if I would attribute that to being Latin American. No sé… Maybe yes? My performance pieces are addressing human behavior. Understanding and processing our global patterns. Those stories we all share and can all relate too, like fairy tales. The entire world, all the countries, the same stories, they just change the name of it—but ultimately we are all listening to the same tales over and over and over again, for hundreds of years.
That said… they are dealing with identity, but not a personal one… a global one.
MB: YOU’VE WORKED ON SEVERAL FAIRY TALES. YOU SEEM TO BE INTERESTED BY THE IDEA OF RITUAL IN “THE CORE OF EVERY FAIRY TALE”. I BELIEVE YOU DEVELOP YOUR PERFORMANCES AS WORKS “IN PROCESS”. CAN YOU SAY SOME WORDS ABOUT IT?
AW: Yes, I’ve done Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Jack and the Bean Stalk, and Rapunzel, I feel I must show you one… it’s going to be much easier to explain…
And yes—Totally! My performances are a work in progress. Mainly because they are totally improvised.
I always perform with musicians, but I never know what they’re going to play or what instruments they’re going to bring. We all know what the fairy tale is and the central core that we will be inhabiting and moving on… but no one knows what direction it will take and what will occur.
As I explore human behavior, rituals are very much of my interest. The idea that we have all read the same stories and keep reading them fascinates me. And the fact that the stories are straight forward and representative of us all captures my attention in a very curious way. Especially because of the magic and fantasy that surrounds them producing “enchantment”—that attracts me the most.
MB: I AM CURRENTLY WORKING ON FAIRY TALES FOR AN ART PROJECT. MY FAVORITE FAIRYTALE IS LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. SO I AM REALLY INTERESTED AND VERY CURIOUS TO KNOW WHICH FAIRY TALE IS YOUR FAVORITE?
AW: My favorite fairy tales are Jack & The Beanstalk and The Princess and the Pea. Remember that one? The princess would feel a pea underneath the pile of hundreds of mattresses!
MB: WHEN I MET YOU IN PARIS, YOU WERE READING A FREUD PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORIES BOOK. DID YOU THINK THAT FREUD WAS INTERESTED IN FAIRY TALES? WHICH FAIRY TALE COULD BE HIS FAVORITE?
AW: Absolutely. Freud, Young and many other psychoanalysts studied the impact of fairy tales and their relationship to understanding symbology and learning, as well as imagination and the mind itself.
Fairy tales are often associated with dreams. Psychologists and philosophers find many similitude among them and often analyze them as one.
Dreams have been captivating my mind since I was so young. Eight years ago I began drawing them. Each morning I remember my dream, I draw it. I have a few books of them…
MB: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE WRITERS?
So many. Ben Marcus, Borges, Garcia Marquez, Houellebecq, Levi Strauss, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and so many more…
— and yours?
MB: I like so many as well. Of course Garcia Marquez, it is so beautiful! And Roberto Bolano, William S. Burroughs, Albert Camus, Gilles Deleuze, Murakami Ryu, Orson Welles… and Guillaume Appolinaire, Antonin Artaud, Georges Bataille…
MB: DO YOU DRAW INSPIRATION FROM SOME HISTORIC PERFORMERS OR PERFORMANCES?
AW: Music has been a great inspiration. I spent all my teen years and 20’s going to concerts, some of them really small and local Buenos Aires bands. Some of them became very big now… Music has been really important for me.
Then, when I was in university Ana Mendieta was stunning to me. Such a new territory… Full of explorations… and then came Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Fluxus, The Situationists, and Rikrit Tiravanija.
And I can’t forget… Bjork, Kraftwerk, The Knife, David Bowie, Michael Jackson…
MB: NOW THAT WE’VE COVERED WRITERS AND PERFORMERS… LET’S GO TO SPACES AND PLACES. I HAVE BEEN IN NYC A FEW TIMES AND WAS IMPRESSED BY THE DIVERSITY OF ART INVESTIGATIONS IN PUBLIC SPACES. YOU ARE WORKING ON A PROJECT IN SPREEPARK, AN ABANDONED AMUSEMENT PARK IN EAST BERLIN FOR SUMMER 2012, TITLED KULTURBAHN. WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
AW: I’m interested in the state of “available” and in finding those points where a global culture meets. This abandoned amusement park tells a very layered story of a specific place in different periods of time: politics, economics, society, etc. But it’s also tells a story that is common to us all.
Who doesn’t have a memory from an amusement park? And what are the impacts of those memories? What are the possibilities of a different type of amusement? Is amusement purely entertainment? What is the definition of amusement? Just like “enchantment” or “abandonment”, how do we define these terms? Based on what? They are so ambiguous. The idea is to create a culture park and find future possibilities for amusement.
Space and our relationship with surroundings is part of the bigger observation on how we relate. I believe we are in relation to others. Everything is in relationship to something else. How the peripheries of stories of what we do are integrated, involved, inclusive, and always in-process. This investigation is the unique character of our human species. Our humanness is already a division. This separation becomes our starting point, what we have in common. Everything is already in-relation to everything else. In this, we are all a part of this group, apt to form many conversations, formed from many groupings, grouping together across times, discovering the nature of our relations through relations between one and another. This nature is in our behaviors, objects, and stories. This nature is mysterious as it is logical, structural as it is imaginary, illustrative as it is fictional, fictive as it is functional, useful as it is playful, unconscious as it is intentional. Public space is incredibly appealing to me. The utilization of it is crucial. I had a very different experience in the USA. I find public space here totally underused. People just don’t enjoy being outside, they don’t use their parks (NYC is the only place I have seen it happen). There are vast lands of amassing grass and super controlled nature with no one steeping on it. There is so much control and order.
In Buenos Aires, just like in Europe, people take baths in the fountains, they lay down in any area of grass they find and they enjoy being outside. They bring their instruments, picnics, and they talk for hours and hours… To us it’s so different. And Berlin is an extreme. It is so refreshing to see the public taking over the available space and utilizing it in such a functional way. It just makes so much sense.
I can go on for hours about spaces and places, but for more specifics on this very exciting monumental abandoned amusement park project in Berlin, visit the KULTURBAHN website: www.kulturbahn.org
MB: YOU’VE ALREADY PRODUCED SEVERAL PERFORMANCES AND EXHIBITIONS IN MIAMI. DO YOU THINK THAT THE SPACE, PLACE OR SITE, INSIDE AND OUTSIDE, HAS AN ESSENTIAL ROLE IN THE PERFORMANCE PROCESS?
And not only in performances. In every single thing I do, the context is crucial. Understanding its surrounding and the implications of it is essential. The last performance I did, Jack and the Bean Stalk, was in the Miami Main Public Library. I wanted to use the library not only as a place to perform, but really integrate the library. I found a collection of 200 music boxes in their storage. They’ve been shown only once and behind glass cabinets. So I asked for permission to use them all. In exchange, I worked at the library for two weeks helping archive them properly and learning how each one worked, their mechanics…The night of the performance I played them all. They were displayed on all sorts of pedestals that I found. It was a concert. There was also a piano in the library, so I invited my friend and collaborator Federico Nessi to play… it was a duel between him and me. A music box orchestra that would get interrupted by the sound of this dramatic piano. It was magical!
MB: HOW DO YOU INVOLVE THE AUDIENCE IN YOUR PERFORMANCES?
AW: Well… The audience is involved in different ways. I am more interested in their interaction now. In the first ones, there was more distance between the audience and the performers although the audience was totally integrated because there was no story being told, but they were telling the story to themselves. It demands their interpretation… and they all know the stories. That’s why I utilize fairy tales. It’s also a statement on this global behavior that I was telling you before. We all hear the same stories. And I am the one in action but all the rest are seated, looking… so I might be crazy for eating for 40 minutes, but they are just as crazy for watching me eat for 40 minutes. In the end… we are all in the same boat. You know what I mean?
But then pieces like Hopscotch where I painted the nostalgic street game with 768 numbered boxes throughout the Wynwood Art District has everything to do with an audience as well as with the use of public space. The same goes for a recent piece I did for O, Miami (which has surprisingly received a lot of attention online) where I sewed hundreds of labels with poems inside thrift store clothes.
That also has to do with audience and the necessity of including a broader audience… not necessarily an art one…. but a popular one.
I don’t perceive these as a performance at all but about audience and situation. It is about engaging with them in different ways. Experimenting with different ways of relating. Relating to space and to others.Ways that are known to all of us, however by displacing them they seem to become more effective.
The poems in vintage clothes are a great example of this. Sewing poems in clothes is a way of bringing poetry to everyday life just by displacing it, by removing it from a paper to integrate and fuse it with our lives. Sometimes little details are stronger when they are separated from where they are expected to be.
MB: YOU DESIGNED RUGS MADE FROM STUFFED ANIMAL SKINS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE PROJECT’S PROCESS?
The longest process I have been involved in.
I started my Rug Collection two years ago and it has now become a life long project. The process involves many stages and collaborations. Collecting materials is typically how all my processes begin. Then the organization or reorganization of them. And then… the work just comes on its own. It all started with the observation of the relationship with objects. Myself and Pepe (my first and only teddy bear)
From there the present of the archetype was obvious. The idea of utilizing all used and left behind stuffed animals was an action to rescue them, not only as waste material but to recycle their meaning.
They all carry loving stories.
I’m attracted to:
- Breaking through the idea of an art piece and creating a fully functional object: a rug.
- Animal skin rugs and a solution to replace the real rugs by these ones.
- An observation on our relationships with the animal world.
The process has various intensive stages: First, unstitch all the animals. Every single piece comes apart. Each bear is formed by 10 to 16 pieces. I do not cut the pieces. I use them just as they come… so the design stage is like a giant puzzle or a painting. Finding out which piece will fit where. No cutting, so that the soul of the objects is still there. Each bear can be built back again… I am only reorganizing the parts.
In the last months I have been working with a women’s shelter, teaching them how to sew. I brought the idea of the rug to them and they are now learning how to sew and create their own rug. This will be sold at their annual auction and the profits will benefit their organization.This had a great impact on the structure of the process and I am now thinking and working on how this collaboration between needed communities can become part of the process in a more stable way.
MB: TO CONCLUDE, YOU’VE RECENTLY STARTED AN INTERNET RADIO STATION PROJECT, RADIO ESPACIO ESTACION. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?
AW: Again with the idea of utilizing available space—the air is just there….. Radio is such a popular and accessible way of communicating and creating connections.
I was the recipient of a NALAC Foundation grant to start a nomadic and experimental bilingual radio station: RADIO ESPACIO ESTACION. It’s a traveling radio show broadcast from different cities, with programming bridging global investigations with local interests. The goal is to explore a new form for language learning that replaces translation with integration. RADIO ESPACIO is a platform for experimentation through interviews, music and sounds.
RADIO ESPACIO introduces the research process and a series of lectures, debates, readings, auditions, and cultural experimentation for the exploration of our relationship with sound and its communicative value. Each show is broadcast live and archived online.
This is a time and site specific project. The first installment happened during the month of August in Elsewhere Museum, North Carolina.
My brother from Buenos Aires broadcasted with me. We met with so many people and the feedback has been so wonderful. The community in North Carolina received the radio in such a great way. They all wanted to participate!