Jana Astanov interviews Elisa Garcia de la Huerta.
Featured photo Elisa Garcia de la Huerta, Salt Poetry, Atacama Desert, Chile 2009
CREATRIX Magazine: How did it all start? What made you a performance artist?
Elisa Garcia de la Huerta: As a child, what I valued the most from my school was that we had ‘Expression’ class taught by our ballet teacher. She was my first mentor. When I was around 10 she encouraged me to freely express myself and dance. She was out of the norm for my cultural upbringing and loudly embodied self love. Then I traveled to Mexico in 2003 and started reading Frida Kahlo’s writings which shook me. I was 20 when I got introduced to latin feminism.
As for becoming a performance artist I think it happened slowly. In grad school in New York City at the School of Visual Arts I started a transnational, queer feminist art collective with Katie Cercone and Anna Souvorov. In 2010 we did our first performance in Chelsea one day very organically after a conversation in the SVA lounge the day before. From there, as Go! Push Pops collective we consistently did project after project non-stop for about 7 years; slowly people started to relate and understand what we were doing. Performance opportunities and residencies gave us a platform to explain our deepest motivation for making performance art. Before that, after I graduated from Fine Arts in 2007, I slowly started taking self-portrait photography. Something was seeding there. I was searching and expressing something I needed to do but I was not sure what it was. In some ways it was making art sprout from the need to materialize and process buried emotions, essentially, to understand the psyche. All that coincided with being absolutely terrified to come out of the closet and my ongoing internal conflicts around gender and sexuality.
CXM: Were there any people who influenced you in the choice of performance art? Do you have any mentors and or artists you look up to?
EGH: When I was living in London in 2007 I discovered the work of Cindy Sherman, and then in NY I got closer to the art of Marina Abramovic. I recently realized how much “The Artist is Present” show at MoMA impacted me, as it coincided with the year I started becoming aware that I was doing performance art. It was through a long process of exploration through photography and video that I began to realize that the experience and process itself was the art.
Performance felt healing, cathartic, gratifying, and engaging – having come from a traditional background doing painting, printmaking, and textile; it always felt a bit limited to what my instinct needed to do – this was like a calling of the soul.
CXM: I am familiar with your work in the context of performance art. However, these days you seem to transition towards photography. What was the turning point for you?
EGH: I have been doing photography nonstop since I was 13, but I only started doing performance in 2010 when we formed Go! Push Pops collective, which in a short time received a lot of visibility. During that time I was still doing textile, video, and photography.
In 2017 Go! Push Pops came full circle. At the time I was transitioning back to taking more 35mm, studying Ayurveda, and it was then that I started a new performance project, “Auzit”, which is more sound oriented, less loudly about feminism, and more about movement and experimental sound art. Yet I definitely would not be making this work now if it wasn’t for all that wild exploration; it’s been an evolution. The turning point for me was this slowly sinking feeling, drained and self exploited, performing too much; I was doing something that was not true to me anymore. I slowly took time to recalibrate and started experimenting with what really inspired me at the time. I was depressed, and I found that nature and electronic music were the only things that could bring me joy. These set a new frame, although my art practice has always been an organic reciprocal flow between media.
Now the photography also has a big collaborative component. The motivation has a similar, more intimate relational value. On the other hand, I perform once every couple of months or so, which is what I need to cultivate the right energy and mindset to do something that feels worthwhile as it communicates to people.
CXM: I would like to ask you about the Go! Push Pops collective. Your creative relationship with Katie Cercone seemed synergetic. What were the main areas of explorations for you back then? And of course, I cannot help myself but ask if there is any chance of seeing you perform together again?
EGH: It all happened ‘organically’ to all people close to Go! Push Pops. I guess that could be our last name. We were meant to meet at SVA, as we had studios next to each other and did work with similar materials such as textile and video installations back then. As we slowly grew into a soul sister friendship and art partners, our work weaved and enhanced each other. The collective was a real spiritual journey, so much support and self empowerment, it still gives me goosebumps when I think of it.
Our initial performances in 2010 were a collaboration with our friend Anna Souvorov. We were from the USA, Russia and Chile. We started performing in a spontaneous anarchy against the model we saw each other trapped in: isolated artists in their studios. We were thirsty to be loud and embody a radical feminist agenda; this wasn’t really a trendy pop thing at the time, as we were bridging feminism and pop culture together in a way that was playful, sexy and inclusive. It grew beautifully into a holding container for mutual support and creativity among queer artists and musicians that wanted to collaborate and expand their creative horizons.
And hah, we have left that always open, dreaming about uniting somewhere when the time is right. Time will tell if we see our interests and timing cross again. Although, we keep exhibiting documentation of all the work we did, for example, the videos were always edited to be artworks within themselves as well as the posters.
CXM: In 2015 during Art Basel Miami I attended the screening of “The F Word” by Robert Adanto, which Go! Push Pops were a part of, although you were absent at the screening, weren’t you in India back then? The documentary featured feminists artists, alongside curators and scholars who talked about the 4th wave of feminism, branded “selfie feminism”, as part of the artistic exploration of feminine identity in the works of the featured performance artist. Don’t you think ecofeminism is a more relevant concept in the context of contemporary radical art than selfie feminism? I asked this question during the panel. I know your work is close to the ecofeminist perspective, so I am glad I can ask this again. Some questions are worth asking over and over again…
EGH: During the time when the “F Word” film was launched I was starting to feel deeply uncomfortable at being labeled, branded and seen as a “4th wave feminist”, “selfie feminism”, or “sex positive feminist”, although I can appreciate the power of all the voices together, the sense of virtual community and visibility.
It felt dogmatic and commodified to be boxed in labels, which paradoxically contradict the very essence of intersectional feminism. It was counteractive to advocating for an inclusive humanizing gaze, if my broader interest was consciousness that was definitely interdependent with the whole. I slowly saw how my own daily choices, self-care, connection and reciprocity with my environment and nature was more crucial than any directly activist performance. I was learning Ayurveda and wanted to see the root of ancient wisdom. Spending a lot of time in India and Asia gave me insight into how living in harmony with the earth, on a day to day basis, gives deeper meaning and contentment aside from any social hierarchy, in which one has limited choice/voice as a woman/human. Trying to ‘smash the patriarchy’, I found myself being emotionally exhausted and dissociated from participating in a fast paced urban city life at the expense of mind, body, soul, that made me feel like I was naive or inconsequential. It forced me to learn to keep slowing down and remember to not measure my self worth on social constructs. This was my own experience. I understand and respect that each has its own and that what I say is not to be taken literally. Of course there are great sustainable ways to thrive in an urban locale, and that doesn’t make me a bad or not enough of a feminist. I just keep it more underground.
I honor how in ancient eastern philosophy; mysticism, culture and religion are all cohesive; sexual energy is venerated, understood and respected as the source of all life and spiritual transcendence, and these are in close communion with the whole; god, goddess, universe, multidimensionality or quantum physics…however you want to call it: similar to indigenous wisdom across the globe. Our instinctual right to eroticm and death is something inherent to our human experience, not separate, punished, erased, or buried. It goes without saying that neither the earth nor minorities are fair territory when it comes to fashioning a commodity within this illusion of capitalistic progress.
The performance art world involves a wide range of subjects. A lot focuses on relationships to the body, spirit and it’s limits, while a smaller fraction extend to our connection with nature, queer culture, and ecofeminism, which it relates, for example, to what Vandana Shiva writes about. And yet feminist theory is not my expertise.
I think the legacies of Ana Mendieta, Kalho, and Abramovic are in line with embracing and embodying ecofeminist concepts. I would include even Rebecca Horn or Louis Bourgeois, who started these dialogues around those issues back in the 1970s. Some contemporary artists that I would highlight are Cecilia Vicuña, Melanie Bonajo and Genevieve Belleveau.
I also think the film intended to primarily portray artists that were doing work more about feminist pop culture in the digital age, which definitely doesn’t overlap with artists interested in deep ecology. I guess we were the only artists talking about the resurgence of the mythology of the Great Goddess. Those last artists I mentioned are actively making an impact on virtual reality – while their work is still rooted in current radical ecofeminism – which I consider creative constructive activism. Music can be even more universal and effective, in my opinion, electro pop or ambient music align much more with these philosophical ideas. For example: Bjork, Grouper, Brian Eno, FourTeT or Recondite.
CXM: Right now, in the middle of the COVID19 pandemic, we are living in a singular time in modern history, an event that is causing collective cross societal suffering on a grand scale, but is, furthermore, also hijacking our psyches. As an artist how are you dealing with it, what is your coping mechanism, and are you able to continue with your practice?
EGH: Yes it is heartbreaking and thus also invites a lot of real reflection which I think we all needed in one way or the other. The positive impact of these drastic system collapses that are taking place in the environment are also something that invites us to deeper questioning on how we live our lives, urban lifestyle rhythms, and our alienation between our bodies and nature. I am super fortunate to be able to be in nature right now, but it was difficult to let go of all the plans, as I was embarking on an Artist Residency Program at Glogauair in Berlin, and for now I am adapting to that being online, which is definitely not my preference, as it makes me see and work with my stubbornness and resistance to a highly technological age. As much as I understand and appreciate the opportunity to maintain community with social media, for example, or endless resources online, like most people, I personally debate and thrive more with personal connections and physical interactions. If that is not possible I go more for self care and creative process, which is what I am fortunate to be doing now gracefully, to be healthy and safe. To stay positive I am meditating more consistently, cooking more, and have come back to textile work, as well as reading and writing more. Of course I miss real live human connections though.
In some ways, although this was something so many of us were yelling for to happen, it is unfortunate that a powerful biological phenomenon like Covid-19 was the only real threat to slow the matrix. I hope that somehow, in the midst of this suffering, there can be a real benefit for humanity and the environment.
CXM: Which of your performance art projects do you consider to be the most iconic representations of your aesthetic and philosophy?
EGH: I generally feel more connected to my most recent work; my last performance in Chile in January felt rewarding. I was pleased with the overall reaction, and it was reassuring and important to perform in the place I grew up after living abroad for 12 years.
With the “social outburst” and political contingency here, I did a collage remix with fragments from FKA Twigs, Grimes, Arca, techno and field recordings from the ocean to which I performed and danced with Cochayuyo at night for the opening. That is a unique seaweed that has multiple health benefits, plus it is super elastic. The work abstractly references vulnerability and love with an ancient yet futuristic shamanic sensitivity.
Although for older work I have my favorites, when we teamed up with Doorways LeSphinxx and Monchy Indie for Goddess Party, organized by Rebecca Richards, we did something I was really inspired to keep exploring, I recall what I felt on stage, what was created among the audience. It was truly magical. It was an elaborate sound set and live performance ritual honoring Mother Earth and the Womb. That piece was in 2016 at the Secret Project Robot Art Experiment with video projections by Morgan Mann.
And lastly Yoni Puja at Grace Space Exhibition. I value the exchange among the artists that participated, we had the good fortune to build friendships and collaborations over the years. (Laura Kimmel, Mantra Marie, Madelena Mak among others). Those two, keep resonating with me until now…
CXM: I have been listening to your soundcloud enchanted by your otherworldly arrangements. What’s your background in music?
EGH: It is all improv based, I don’t have any formal music education. All what’s on the soundcloud is from performance project Auzit, which has moved towards experimental sound. Last year I did a sound art course in Dharamsala India with Michael Northam. I loved it, and aside from him being an amazing and inspiring mentor, we had listening salons in a sound studio for 3 hrs long, did a lot of field recordings and learned basic software to make tracks. After that I did a Residency in Berlin with Backsteinboot (ex Modular + Space) where I shared a studio living space with electronic music and sound artists. They had proper technical knowledge and a well equipped sound recording studio. It gave me the time and space to keep experimenting. I collage a lot of sounds from nature and industrial field recordings. Improvisation I do with synthesizer, vocal processor, and acoustic instruments, such as Tibetan bowls among others.
In Berlin I also joined a non binary producers group called Eclat Crew that is very encouraging and supportive. If you are interested in making electronic music and not sure where to start, you can do it from home on your computer.
CXM: What’s your current reading list?
EGH: I am happily re-reading Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarrisa Pinkola Estes, just read The 5 wounds of the Soul by Lise Bourbeau and would love to read Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, a book by Adrienne Maree Brown. My friend was just talking to me about it, saying that I should read it.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is a best seller book that I recommend to anyone in relationship to creative living. And In search of the Medicine Buddha by David Crow is a really amazing book if you are into medicinal plants and ancient spirituality! There is also Eastern Body Western Mind, by Anodea Judith, and lastly, Red Moon, by Miranda Gray!
CXM: As a character in art history, what impact do you think you’ve had? How have you changed the ways in which people look at art?
EGH: I think time, perspective, and context is what writes history. It is difficult to say, but I enormously value how people respond to my work, especially when someone approaches and expresses more intimate feelings with what I do or how it has inspired or motivated someone in some way, metaphorically, like being a bridge, or giving them a hand to jump into something new. For example when I started doing meditation, someone wrote to me at some point and said that my post had really helped them to start their practice, and that makes sharing worthwhile.
The work I do is intertwined with who I am, and how I can grow and evolve in my relationships on all levels. I work towards finding and expressing a certain appealing aesthetic that encourages female and queer empowerment, opening door for anyone towards healing, self expression, freedom and love. My practice is an invitation to respect and relate to nature.
CXM: What’s next for Elisa Garcia de la Huerta?
EGdlH: I am a current artist in Residency at Glogauair as I mentioned, which is online for now. I am challenging myself to create new work in this current pandemic context, which creates a lot of questions for me because my original proposal touched on how technology erodes our capacity for intimacy with each other and nature, but is now making me take a leap, so I am working on how I can see and experience that from other angles, and hopefully turn it upside down. Considering all the accessibility and need for connection that isolation imposes, all will be material for this new body of work.
I will be taking over their virtual gallery and their Instagram account at some point, plus we have an open studio in June. Stay tuned. All the rest is unknown and up in the air for now.
Elisa Garcia de la Huerta was born 1983 in Santiago, Chile and is an interdisciplinary artist. She received her BFA at Universidad Finis Terrae, Chile in 2006 and her MFA Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2011. She was co-leader of Go! Push Pops a queer, transnational feminist performance art collective until 2017.
Elisa has shown her art/performance at the Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum, Whitney Museum, Untitled Space, C24 Gallery, Momenta Art and Soho20 Gallery in New York, USA and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Museo Historico Militar, Galeria Artespacio in Santiago, Chile as well as Select Art Fair for Miami Basel and Busan, Korea among others. She was nominated for the Rema Hort Mann Visual Arts Grant, obtained a Brooklyn Arts Council Grant and the Culture Push Fellowship with Go! Push Pops. Her work has been featured in ID Vice UK, Dazed and Confused, Bowery + Bedford, ART 21 Magazine, Cultura Colectiva, Frontrunner, Nakid Magazine, SHE/FOLK, Huffington Post, Japan Times, BUSTLE, ArtSlant, Slutist, Hyperallergic, The Wild Magazine, NY Observer, Paper Magazine, Interview Magazine, Milk Media, Art Fag City, Art Net TV, Bushwick Daily, BOMBlog, CatchFire, BronxNet TV, Abiola TV, El Mercurio, Mas Deco, Artishock and Arte al Limite Magazine.
She performed in Tokyo Japan as part of US/Japan exchange fellowship in 2015 has been an Artist-in-Residence at Backsteinboot Ex (Modular + Space) in Berlin 2019, Alexandra Arts in Manchester, UK, 2015, Soho20 Chelsea in NYC, 2012, The Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, 2013 as well as in London, UK 2007 and Havana, Cuba 2003.
She did a course in Sonic Arts at HAMT in Dharamsala, India with Michael Northam in 2019 and is a current artist in Residence at Glogauair. She focuses on analog photography and sound performance.