“I have learned to swim on dry land. It turns out to be better than doing it in the water. There is no fear of sinking because you are already at the bottom, and by the same logic, you are already drowned beforehand.”
These are the opening lines of Y entonces el mar te hablará (And the Sea Will Talk to You), the film interdisciplinary artist and writer Coco Fusco first presented in 2012 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and that we are proud to be showing in London for the first time. Born in New York to Cuban parents, a prevailing focus of Fusco’s work has been geared towards the political conditions in Cuba and the population’s means of coping with them. In this film, Fusco’s concerns with the mechanisms of power and control in the political, economic as well as social spheres shed a light on the personal experiences within the broader and longstanding emigration problems between Cuba and the United States.
A very politically aware artist, Coco Fusco does not evade from the issues around her. Compelled to take action in the way she can, her practice contributes to what philosopher Jacques Rancière describes as art partly filling the space left by the passivity of politics itself. As she puts it, “I am interested in politics as sculptural material.” And if no system of representation is ever adequate, then in each project Fusco tries to identify the most effective way to activate her viewers. Departing from her original focus on film and video, the artist increasingly leaned towards more involving formats such as performance in a search for effectiveness. She is looking for “a kind of physiological response that sets people off. It’s what happens to the psyche in that actual encounter that interests me.” The mechanisms devised by the artist are what make her works so moving and powerful.
And the Sea Will Talk to You is a film set in a dark space where the audience is invited to sit on inner tubes to have the experience of being in the rafts used by Cubans in their attempt to emigrate to the United States. In the film, Coco Fusco weaves sombre yet hopeful accounts of journeys, intermittently juxtaposed with a woman’s description of her attempt to bring her mother’s ashes back to Cuba from the United States. The mise en scène, the vertiginous images of the Caribbean Sea and sky, and the pace and tension of the accounts in the film provide a metonymic experience for the viewers who are unexpectedly transposed to the journeys themselves.
Politically, the subject of the film is particularly relevant in the United Kingdom as the country deals with the growing numbers of illegal immigration in Calais and the escalation of the European emigration crisis in the South of the continent, as well as the domestic debate on potential restrictions to free movement within the European Union. From a much more personal perspective, And the Sea Will Talk to You presents the viewer with as close an experience as is possible of both the motivations behind the decision to leave one’s own country as well as the actual life-threatening ordeal of emigration.
Coco Fusco has too often been described as an activist, and indeed a provocateur, by friends and foes alike. Recognising her interest on sensitive subjects, the artist, however, dismisses the label and explains that she does not want to simply shock people; rather, she delves deeply in her subjects and gives the viewer the upper hand in the contemplation of her works. Product of the 2013 Absolut Art Award for Art Writing, her most recent book Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba is being published by Tate Publications and will be launched at Tate Modern in October 2015.
Born in 1960 in New York, where she lives and work, Coco Fusco is an inter- disciplinary artist and writer who has performed, lectured, exhibited, and curated around the world. She received a B.A. in Semiotics from Brown University in 1982, an M.A. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University in 1985, and a Ph.D. in Art and Visual Culture from Middlesex University in 2007. Fusco’s main interests relate to the politics of gender, race, war, and identity.
The artist has exhibited and performed in important international galleries and museums, such as MoMA, the Walker Art Center, Tate Liverpool, the Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, and the Palais de Tokyo. She has also featured in highly esteemed art exhibitions and fairs around the world, which include the 2015 56th Venice Biennale, the Whitney Biennial and the Shanghai Biennial, Sydney Biennale, the Transmediale Festival, Berlin, the Mercosul Biennial, Porto Alegre.
Fusco is the author of English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas (1995), The Bodies that Were Not Ours and Other Writings (2001), and A Field Guide for Female Interrogators (2008). She is the editor of Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas (1999) and Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self (2003).
Throughout her career, the artist has won numerous other awards, including the 2003 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, the 2012 USA Berman Bloch Fellow, the 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, and the 2014–2015 CINTA Foundation Visual Arts Fellowship. From 2014-2015, Coco Fusco has been MIT’s MLK Visiting Scholar.