Abraham Cruzvillegas builds a dance stage out of trash to inaugurate Art Basel Miami Beach’s Grand Ballroom

Philipp Kaiser

Presented by Art Basel and The Kitchen, the monumental installation will be activated by a dance performance at 3pm and 5pm

Philipp Kaiser: I am extremely excited that Art Basel is collaborating with The Kitchen and Abraham Cruzvillegas to stage this special project that will inaugurate the MBCC's new Grand Ballroom. Tim, could you tell us a little bit about the mission and history of The Kitchen and how the project came along?

Tim Griffin: In terms of the history, The Kitchen was created in 1971 as a center for video but within months expanded to feature electronic music, performance and art, becoming a home for artists ranging from Philip Glass to Laurie Anderson, Lawrence Weiner to Julius Eastman and Bill T. Jones, in addition to Joan Jonas, Charles Atlas and so many others. The Talking Heads had their first show here! But in a sense, The Kitchen’s history is all around us today, because the interdisciplinarity we see in the arts in many ways began here. It’s built into the place’s DNA. So when we heard about Abraham’s project, it seemed a natural fit both within the institution—and beyond our walls. In terms of mission, art here is always in dialogue with pressing issues of culture. The whole neighborhood of Chelsea, where we are located, is under construction, it seems. Abraham’s theme of construction and destruction, using materials from the neighborhood for performance and sculpture, was very resonant for anyone thinking through the idea of an art institution in this landscape.

PK: You and Abraham have worked together before on a variation of the Miami piece Autorreconstrucción: To Insist, to Insist, to Insist..., correct?

TG: Yes, but for Art Basel, we should have several performers and musicians. At The Kitchen we featured only one performer, whose movements were in dialogue with a single object. Very significantly, however, the musicians had to participate by Skype, because their visas were very hard to come by. This made the themes of the works all the more resonant in terms of our social landscape. And it made everyone at The Kitchen feel the work was all the more important to present.

PK: Abraham, your piece unfolds among you and multiple collaborators. Can you specify the nature of your collaborative practice?

Abraham Cruzvillegas: This is, I think, a good moment to specify the collaboration with Bárbara Foulkes, as it’s the very trigger of this work. She went looking for me as a choreographer, intending to create something together, based on what she knew about my practice. She emailed and said, 'Your work is directly related to the research I want to start now, something like a composition and deconstruction of two suspended weights, my body and a chair.’ We spent some time discussing ideas and common references, and finally we decided to improvise with some materials in the place where she was experimenting in Mexico City. We constructed a huge but unstable sculpture hanging from the ceiling with one of the straps she uses for her work, a kind of flying dance, using space and materials in a literally very light way. Then, when she needed, soon after, to leave the space, we just decided to destroy the sculpture as part of its process as an art piece. This happened with some friends and colleagues as witnesses during a warm and easygoing night, not really thinking of it as a ‘performance’.

I invited my dear friend Andrés García Nestitla, who’s a dancer and musician dealing with traditional customs related to ancient, native, cultures in Mexico, and more [specifically] with the music and dances from the region of the Huasteca, in the northeast part of Mexico. They met the night of the destruction; Andrés simply improvised with three instruments while looking at Bárbara suspended from the ceiling, creating a very unique atmosphere, almost unplanned and unchoreographed. I’ve been working with Andrés and some other music colleagues for more than five years, and we communicate very easily, in a smooth collaboration that is still full of learning for me. This work with them collides with my previous attempt of understanding the concept of improvisation in diverse fields, and creates unique experiences, even when a script is there, full of complicity and understanding.

TG: What have you found most intriguing about the piece, now that you’ve seen it in different context? How has your thinking about the work evolved, if at all?

AC: I think Bárbara, as co-author, is the real mystery in her understanding her body as a tool. It’s also an important part of her mind, so her practice, and my attempt to understand, or to ask proper questions about how vulnerable and at the same how powerful we humans are has been crucial during the process of this work; she is a woman creating by destroying. Beyond allegories or didactic explanations about emancipatory gestures, the very different ways of making the same activity, with the same set of objects, in the same space, made and remade by The Kitchen collaborators, means each performance is unique. 

PK: How do you anticipate the work unfolding and resonating in Miami?

AC: We’ll multiply the piece, creating a several versions, and this makes me think in terms of an overlap of circumstances and situations that—beyond any metaphor—will construct more elaborate meanings.

TG: Abraham’s work is truly amazing, and his use of this kind of ambiguity is incredibly timely, too. We’re all wondering about our respective positions within a larger field, and within history. 

Autorreconstrucción: To Insist, to Insist, to Insist... will be staged in the new Grand Ballroom in the Miami Beach Convention Center this week. The project is supported by MGM Resorts Art & Culture. Performances will take place from December 6–9, 2018 at 3pm and 5pm. The project is free and open to the public, and the doors open 30 minutes prior to the performance.