Coco Fusco

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Article

Borderline values

Coco Fusco from Cuba is one of today´s best-known performance-artists and is often concerned with gender-specific conflicts, migration, cultural colonisation and death. In many projects planned with the Mexican performance artist Guillermo Gómez- Peña up to 1995, she reacted especially against the moulding of ethnic minorities by the dominant national culture. She teaches at the School of the Arts at Columbia University, has made a name for herself not only as a performance-artist but also as an author and curator of exhibitions and lives in New York.
Coco Fusco became known to a wider public through performances including ´Two undiscovered Amerindians visit Spain´ performed with Guillermo Gómez-Peña. This marked the 500th centenary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and consisted in spending three days in a golden cage on Columbia Plaza in Madrid. The artists appeared as sophisticated natives endowed by the western world with sport-shoes, televisions, plastic table-cloths and a Mickey-Mouse rug, and voyeurs could ask them to pose for a photo, to fondle their hair or to tell them a tale from their fictive homeland Guatinaui, or could toss them coins.

This performance about presentation of the alien referred to displays of natives, especially popular in Europe from 1870 to 1910. In a video version of this ´Guatinaui World Tour´, images from the performance were cut together with images drawn partly from ethnographical documentary films of the 1930s.

The performance ´Stuff´, created with Nao Bustamante, is about the tourist industry as regards Latin women, food and sex, its role in the global economy and its effects on separate cultures. Eating was shown as the ingestion of alien culture: ´If food here serves as a metaphor for sex, then eating represents consumption in its crudest form. Cultural consumption involves the trafficking of that which is most dear to us all – our identities, our myths and our bodies.´

A main theme of Coco Fusco´s performances is death. Thus her performance-installation ´Better yet when dead´ is about the intriguing deaths of famous women and about public reactions to the news. The deaths included those of Selena – a Tex-Mex pop-singer who was shot, of Eva Peron - whose body was then kept hidden for years by her country´s military leaders, of the Cuban film-maker Sara Gomez and of the Cuban artist Aria Mendieta.

In this performance, Coco Fusco transformed a gallery into a room for displaying corpses and simulated Catholic death-watches. Texts, music, quotations from the deceased, prayers and memorial speeches augmented the performance-installation, and viewers were called on to write their names in the books of condolences.

In "El ultimo deseo" (The last wish) Coco Fusco herself lay in state in Havana .For ´El Evento Suspendido´ (The postponed Event) she went into a garden outside a gallery in Havana and dug herself for three hours into the ground, till she was visible from only the breast up. ´During these three hours,´ she writes, ´I kept on writing the same letter again and again and handing out copies to viewers. In the letter stood: My Darlings, I am writing you this letter to say that I am still alive. For years I was afraid that, if the truth were known, the folk who had buried another woman in my stead would have you suffer. I can no longer stand not saying that I exist. Not a day passed without my dreaming of you. Thankfully I can say that I have recovered from the ordeal which reached its climax on my going away. I shall soon be sending you more news. Love, C´ (cited from: www.universes-in-universe.de/car/habana/bien7/expo-alt/d-fusco.htm)

Bad social conditions in Mexico, under which women in particular suffer, are the theme of her video-work ´Dolores from 10 to 10´. ´On a research expedition to Tijuana in the summer of 1998,´ she explains, ´I met the factory-worker Delfina Rodriguez. Her boss had accused her of wanting to create a works committee in the factory and had then locked her up in a room for 12 hours – without drink, food, toilet or phone. Under his coercion she finally handed her resignation in then brought a court case against him for breaching her civil rights. He suggested to the court that she was mentally disturbed, and her former colleagues were unwilling to corroborate her statements for fear of being victimised themselves. I was sure that events in the factory had been recorded by the surveillance camera, and ´Dolores from 10 to 10´ is my reconstruction of the images.´ Through a small screen, viewers see narrow passages in a milieu unchanged since the birth of exploitative capitalism.

Coco Fusco is equally interested in writing as a means of getting ideas across. Her dramas and essays continue her efforts at communication through other media. ´The incredible disappearing women´ is a one-act play in memory of 220 female factory workers who, between 1993 and 1999, vanished from Juarez without a trace. In her collection of essays ´The bodies that were not ours and other writings´ she is again concerned with the vanishing of bodies, but the reflections are not abstract. They are mostly about real and mysterious disappearances – about that of the above-mentioned women from Juarez, about hundreds of Cuban boat-refugees who perished in 1994, about the growing number of unidentified bodies in Mexico City´s dead-houses and so on.

In her book ´English is broken here´, Coco Fusco investigates in essays and interviews the various meanings ascribed to the Mexican-American border. The growth of a border-culture has laid a minefield of misunderstandings.
Author: Stefan Zednik

Bio

Born on Cuba in 1960 Coco Fusco took a masters´ degree in ´Modern Thought and Literature´ at Stanford University and a bachelors´ degree in ´Literature and Society and Semiotics´ at Brown University. From 1991 to 1995 she worked on performances with Guillermo Gómez-Peña, from 1995 with Nao Bustamante and later with Ricardo Dominguez. She is also active as an author, curator and teacher and lives in New York.

Works

Whitney Biennial

Production / Performance,
2008
Whitney Museum, New York , NY, USA

The Furious Gaze

Production / Performance,
2008
Centro Cultural Montehermoso, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

The Incredible Disappearing Woman

Production / Performance,
2008
ICA, London, UK

Killing Time

Production / Performance,
2007
Exit Art, New York, NY, USA

My Country

Production / Performance,
2006
The Hungarian Cultural Center, New York, NY, USA

A Room of One´s Own: Women and Power in the New America

Production / Performance,
2006
Performance Space 122, New York, NY, USA

Collection Remixed: Learning to Read

Production / Performance,
2005
Bronx Museum, New York,NY. USA

Black Panther

Production / Performance,
2005
Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY, USA

Shanghai Biennial

Production / Performance,
2004
Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China

Transmediale Berlin

Production / Performance,
2003
House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany

In Transit 03

Production / Performance,
2003
House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany

Dolores From 10 to 10

Production / Performance,
2002
A 12-hour net-performance devised with Ricardo Dominguez about surveillance and control of the female body in the global economy and shown in 2002 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. A video-installation based on this performance was premiered at the Contemporary Arts Center in Dundee in 2002

Els Segadors (The Reapers)

Film / TV,
2001

The Bodies that Were Not Ours and Other Writings

Published Written,
2001
Routledge/INIVA.

Els Segadors

Exhibition / Installation,
2001
A video-installation about the integration of immigrant groups in European national cultures and commissioned by the European cultural capital Rotterdam for the exhibition ´Unpacking Europe´

The Incredible Disappearing Woman

Production / Performance,
2001
A multi-media performance given by three actresses about women, sex and death in the border-region between Mexico and the USA and commissioned by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, USA

El Evento Suspendido (The Postponed Event)

Production / Performance,
2000
A site-specific performance about the symbolic presence and absence of exiled Cubans, Havana, Cuba

Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas

Published Written,
1999
editor, Routledge.

Votos

Production / Performance,
1999
A performance inspired by Catholic mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries and premiered in Odense, Denmark

Access Denied

Exhibition / Installation,
1998
A video-installation about Latins, globalisation and the digital revolution, Caracas, Venezuela

Rights of Passage

Production / Performance,
1997
A performance about the state control of internal and external migration, Johannesburg Biennale, South Africa

El Ultimo Deseo/The Last Wish

Production / Performance,
1997
A performance about the deaths and re-integration of exiled Cubans, Havana, Cuba

Stuff

Production / Performance,
1996
A performance with Nao Bustamante, shown all over the world

Better Yet When Dead

Production / Performance,
1996
A performance/installation shown for instance at the YYZ Artists Outlet in Toronto and at the Arts Bienal of Medellin, Columbia

Pochonovela

Film / TV,
1995
A 30-minute video-parody of a TV soap-opera

English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas

Published Written,
1995
The New Press

Mexarcane International

Exhibition / Installation,
1995
A performance/installation with Guillermo Gómez-Peña for the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow and shown for instance at the London International Theatre Festival

The Couple in the Cage

Film / TV,
1993
A 30-minute video recording of the performance with Gómez-Peña, as part of the video-visions program of the New York film festival

The Year of the White Bear

Production / Performance,
1992
(co-author) An interdisciplinary project consisting of a multimedia installation, an experimental radio-soundtrack and various performances devised with Guillermo Gómez-Peña and shown for instance at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Chicago, 1993

Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West

Production / Performance,
1992
(co-author) A performance-project with Guillermo Gómez-Peña, shown for instance at the University of California – Irvine, the Edge Arts Festival, London and Madrid, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the Smithsonian Institution, the Sydney Biennale, the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, the Whitney Biennial and the Fundacion Banco Patricios, Buenos Aires

La Chavela Realty Company

Production / Performance,
1991
Performance in connection with Guillermo Gómez-Peña´s ´A Performance Chronicle´, Brooklyn Academy of Music

Norte: Sur

Production / Performance,
1990
(co-author / director / actress) An interdisciplinary project with Guillermo Gómez-Peña and René Yánez

Havana Postmodern: The Cuban Art

Production / Performance,
1987
(co-producer) A video-documentation for public television, made with Robert Knafo and Andras Mesz

Merits

1989
New York State Council on the Arts, Critical Writing on Media

1991
New York State Council on the Arts, Media Program

National Endowment for the Arts, Interarts

New York Foundation for the Arts, Non-Fiction Fellowship

1994
Arts International Travel Grant

1995
Critics´ Choice Award from the American Educational Studies Association for English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas.

ATHE Research Award for Outstanding Journal Article from the Association of Theatre in Higher Education. For the essay, The Other History of Intercultural Performance, published in The Drama Review, Spring, 1994.

Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Artist´s Fellowship

1997
Arts International Travel Grant

New York Foundation for the Arts, Non-Fiction Fellowship

1998
Multi-Arts Production Fund, Rockefeller Foundation

Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art

1999
Temple University Summer Research Fellowship

2000
Tyler School of Art Merit Award for Outstanding Research

2000-2001
Temple University Junior Research Leave

2002
Arts International Grant for The Incredible Disappearing Woman

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

IN TRANSIT 2003

Customs – Nothing to declare

(30 May 03 - 14 June 03)

Www

The artist´s homepage