Interview with Artemisa Clark

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Interview with Artemisa Clark

By Angella d’Avignon March 13, 2018

In-depth, critical perspectives exploring art and visual culture on the West Coast.


Artemisa Clark doesn’t have a studio. She lives in Riverside and weaves her way through Los Angeles, where she’s been performing at places such as the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena and Human Resources in Chinatown. A Los Angeles native and Xicanx visual artist and performance studies scholar, Artemisa holds a BFA in photography from NYU, an MFA from UCSD, and an MA in Performance Studies from Northwestern University. In 2017, she re-performed Anna Maria Maiolino’s Entrevidas (Between Lives, 1981/2017) at MOCA Grand as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative. She often re-performs Ana Mendieta’s work, including Untitled (Rape Scene, 1973/2014/2017) and Body Tracks (1974/1982/2017).

Most recently, she performed On Record at Other Places Art Fair, an art fair of alternative spaces held at Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro. During the performance, she stood just outside the fair’s perimeter and read, for six hours, news articles and official documents regarding the now defunct INS/ICE San Pedro Processing Center on Terminal Island, a site less than five miles behind her on the horizon.

We met in the rotating lounge at the top floor of the Westin Bonaventure overlooking downtown Los Angeles. Maybe it’s cliché, but it’s equally our favorite place. From the thirty-fifth floor you can see all the way southwest to Long Beach, where I live, and all the way southeast to Riverside, where Artemisa lives. We talked about the physicality of performance art, audience, and embodiment.

Artemisa Clark. On Record, 2018; performance at Other Places Art Fair. Angels Gate Park, San Pedro, CA; 6 hours. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: ELEVATOR MONDAYS.

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Angella d’Avignon: Can you talk a little bit about your relationship to Los Angeles and how you came to performance art?

Artemisa Clark: I went to NYU for photography and started to do performance there. After I graduated in 2008, I had to go back home because I had zero jobs after having four and I didn't know how to make work. The first piece I made in Los Angeles was after I became really obsessed with the Hillside Stranglers. I was living with my mom in Mount Washington, and I was around the age that my mom was when she was living in Glendale while these murders were happening, which was also the age of the women who were being murdered. They basically terrorized northeast Los Angeles and were prosecuted as terrorists. When the Hillside Stranglers were caught, the jury was brought out to some area in LA where they would drop off the bodies. So I made a video piece where I would drive to sites with a camcorder on my dashboard and go from where they used to torture women to one of the lesser known drop-off sites. After, I did a Vito Acconci–style following piece, but with my car.

So because I haven't had a studio, site specificity and a lot of research have come into my work, and it’s why my relationship to Los Angeles is so important to me. LA is my home and it’s the place that makes sense for me to do work in. Now my work is different because I’m being asked to engage with sites rather than choosing the sites myself. I'm trying to do a project in March because it's the only month I'm not doing a performance, and I want to try and do it somewhere but I don’t know where...not having a place already set up for me is something I'm struggling with.

Artemisa Clark. Untitled (Rape Scene), 1973/2014/2017 (video still); reperformance of Ana Mendieta's Untitled (Rape Scene), 1973 at Angels Gate Cultural Center, San Pedro, CA; 39 min.

AD: What marks the difference between a clean space, like a museum or institution and being asked to perform there as part of programming, versus one that you choose yourself?

AC: When working with institutions you have to account for your audience, but also, if you do a performance art in public, it's different—if a stranger in public encounters you, will they understand what you’re doing as you’re performing? The context is so different that I think the people who would come to see it are probably art people. I do think there is something a little more democratizing about choosing a site myself, but also we’re still “performance arting." [laughter] You’re still doing a fucking weird thing!

AD: Can you tell me more about re-performing Ana Mendieta’s work? You’ve re-performed (Untitled) Rape Scene twice, and Body Tracks at Human Resources last year, among others.

AC: For Human Resources, I gathered a few artists who were performers, and it was important to me that they were women of color and mostly my friends, but we all dealt with the same issues that Mendieta dealt with. I did Body Tracks all around the room, making the white space, uh, covered in blood [laughter] surrounding the audience. A lot of people came and it was a good piece, I was happy with it, but it hurt. Things always hurt more than I expect them to.

AD: When you’re re-creating performances by Ana Mendieta, what kind of communication do you feel is happening between yours and her work?

AC: For me, the idea of re-performance started as a pedagogy, as in, how do you show work in performance? I read Diana Taylor’s The Archive and the Repertoire, about how “performances become embodied acts of transfer”; the idea that you learn a type of knowledge by watching someone do it and then doing it yourself. So it’s pedagogical for the audience and it’s pedagogical for me. And I’ve learned really practical things. Like if you’re naked and tied up for your performance, you should make sure you have someone to check in on you. You should also probably stretch!

I’m also on some Angel of History shit...you know?

AD: Tell me everything.

AC: Walter Benjamin wrote a book, Theses on the Philosophy of History, about historical materialism. In one of the theses, he posits the Angel of History is being pushed forward by the wings of progress but looking backwards in time, trying to get to the past to help people. It’s one of his later essays, and it’s really sad but also really amazing.

AD: Like a warning, but already knowing how it’s going to end.

AC: Yeah! I think about this a lot in re-performance, because we can perform a piece from the ’70s, almost exactly recreating it, and it’s still effective, though I always try to make it a little bit different, to go back to Diana Taylor. What can we do with performance when it’s over? For example, in the last time I did Untitled (Rape Scene), I had a camera watching the audience, so I kept the installation up and then projected the video of the audience onto the wall in the space once the performance was done. I have footage of the audience reacting without my being there. I'm also interested in making the audience aware of themselves. I make situations where the audience can’t really intervene and don’t feel like they should, but the camera, in a way…

AD: There’s definitely a layer of stress that wasn’t there before.

AC: It's also about being aware of your own body the way some people just aren't, especially in public space, for example. All of my pieces are actively thinking about performance art and theorizing performance art itself. I think whatever medium you use is always theorizing itself, but I just have the words for it because I read Diana Taylor when I was in college. [laughter]

Did I ever tell you how I learned about Ana Mendieta?

AD: Tell me!

AC: I was an 18-year-old little freshman at Tisch and took a course called “Writing the Essay.” And it was teaching art kids how to write. This was right when I started to do performances, and the course was taught through a very queer, very multicultural lens, which made a lot of people angry. I thought it was funny, because I come from LA, which is a multicultural utopia, right? He wanted to mess with the rich kids at NYU.

Anyway, where Mendieta died was next door to Tisch, so I learned about her work in the same moment I learned about her death, and that was really important to me. The same with Rape Scene, it has always had a personal element because it's also part of my research. I am part of my research. Even with the piece I did most recently at Angels Gate Cultural Center, it is very monotonous and it’s just reading paperwork, but it's about a lot of Latin Americans; it’s about people in the community I'm part of; it’s about a time period—my grandmother used to be scared of being picked up by INS, for example. I think a lot about how you carry trauma and culture. How do we embody it and how do we learn it? How do we expand performance, because it’s not just through learning a dance but through hearing stories, because immediately you go into your body, listening. So I didn’t do any performances about Mendieta until years later, but it always stayed with me, her work always stayed with me.

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