SL: I was introduced to your work when we were participants together at Skowhegan in 2002. You did a pair of performances that were very difficult on the viewers and very hard, physically and emotionally on you. I had never really experienced that level of commitment in a performance and I was quite terrified and thrilled at the same time. It's stays with me to this day and it really was a profound part of my education as an artist to see that level of commitment and fearlessness, especially knowing afterward how terrified you were to do the performances.
I also love on your website that you talk about the audience ("The work I make isn’t exactly for everyone. Or maybe it is. Maybe it’s just the idea that the “everyone” that I’m talking about is not the “everyone” that is counted as important. Maybe its because I’ve made work about the folks we don’t see… ")
HUSH is a work that resonates with me for the same reasons your Skowhegan performances did. There is a radical vulnerability in the work, even by what I like to call "post-Marina" and "post-Andrea Fraser" standards. I struggle with seeing a Latina in a bed, there for other people's "use" and yet, it can be a very tender and amazing interaction. There is also this internal journey that you go on that produces this kind of automatic writing that is unfiltered and becomes almost ornamental. I have to say, watching you do the writing is powerful. You talk to yourself, yell, scream, laugh as you are doing it. The authenticity of your immersion in those moments removes any theatrical distance and complicates the role of the viewer. I am a witness to this external manifestation of your internal experience. Which leads me to my question:
Do you see radical vulnerability and the internal journeys it can produce as a model for understanding how we exist in contested space(s)?
WRO: Could you just clarify the phrase Contested spaces?
SL: I think of contested spaces as areas we have to work together to navigate. As a black man, that can be Barneys.
WRO: In the spirit of Radical vulnerability, I open my response with admitting that I have been terrified to answer this question. Sat and read it ten times. Twenty times. Labored over each consonant and vowel. Gasped in awe over the brilliance in your writing, and wondered: could I even begin to posture my actions as something radically vulnerable? Do I have the authority to talk about my crazy ass processes for expressing that which a painting or drawing, from my hands, cannot harness, and claim that it can be considered a model for understanding our existence in contested spaces? Commence Panic Attack in 5- 4- 3- 2- 1....
The answer, to me, lies in understanding that vulnerability is the greatest test of strength. Anyone is brave when armed with heavy artillery and a healthy knowledge of their opposition. Its what makes the David vs Goliath formula so fascinating to us. Armed with only a slingshot and strong convictions, David takes down Goliath. Martin Luther King, Jr. mobilized a nation with little more than his words and his faith.
Just before I took my place in bed for the HUSH performances, I spent some time praying for clarity and wisdom. Reminded myself of why I was doing what I was doing. That I was placing myself in the bed because I wanted to heal. I wanted to heal myself from a deep loneliness that was consuming me. I knew that if I was feeling this, surely others were as well. I wanted to heal. I wanted to stop hurting. I remembered hearing somewhere that Love is the one thing that keeps growing the more of it you give away. I prayed to be clear in my heart, and wise in my approach. That my time with folks be sincere and pure. That I not stray from my directive to serve openly and lovingly. The thought of me being viewed as a Latina in bed, sexualized and utilized briefly concerned me, but, as i tell my students (and remind myself) Intention is Everything, I knew that my intention was not to be a Latina in Bed to be Utilized and Sexualized, this would simply not be where I focused my energies. I readied myself for whatever was to come and slipped into the bed carefully, extending a gentle, silent invitation to lay with me. What happened over the next 4 hours was beautiful in so many ways. I left the bed covered in hives and utterly exhausted, but I felt sated and healed.
I went on to do it again in Korea at the Gyeongnam Art Museum. Tremendous experience, since I didn't even speak the language. Trust was everything.
So what does this have to do with your question? Nothing. everything. I recommend that everyone practice being vulnerable. speaking their minds clearly. serving lovingly. especially in contested spaces. I think it is a great equalizer.
Do I think radical vulnerability and the internal journeys it can produce [can be viewed as] a model for understanding how we exist in contested space(s)?
I hope so! If for nothing else, it serves as a big ol' bra snappin', back o' ya neck slappin' reality check for those that need one and are willing to recognize it.
(and.... release breath... I've been holding my breath the whole time I was writing, Steve. things frighten me. there are so many things that I don't know...and i'm okay with that).
-Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz January 22nd 2014 2:47pm written at my desk at home in Orlando, Fl.
Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz holds an MFA from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Her awards include Awards include: 2009 Bronx River Alliance Cultural Preservation awardee, 2008 El Diario/La Prensa Mujeres Destacada Honoree, Ralph Bunche Fellow (2008), BRIO Award (2002, 2006), Artist In the Marketplace fellow (2004), Longwood Cyber resident (2004), FIT Outstanding Alumni (2001). Her performances are included inI See You: The Politics of Being, which opens 26 January at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture in Charlotte, NC. On 6 February, she will participate in the panel discussion (with Freddy Rodriguez and Maria Magdalena Compos-Pons ) at the Smithsonian that is part of the exhibition, Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art. She is Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts and Design at the University of Central Florida and will be a visiting artist at the University of Utah in 2014.