Exit Art, 475 Tenth Ave, New York, NY, USA

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Regina José Galindo review by Josephine Breese

Exit Art‘s retrospective of Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo conducts a relentless battery against the viewer. With a decade’s worth of Galindo’s performances charted in the exhibition, the show is heavily charged. Each video work teeters on a tense balance between empathy for the artist’s physical suffering at her own hands and attention to the political subtext of protest. The exhibition reflects Exit Art’s conception of art as anthropology, providing a truly democratic forum for international artists.

Galindo’s bleak performances consistently depict self-initiated violence against her body. Through her work Galindo directly responds to the struggle of life in Guatemala under repeatedly corrupt regimes. She boldly holds up political crimes, social hierarchies, segregation and the oppression of women for examination.

Galindo assumes total responsibility in her work and quietly executes disturbing acts. She is a resolute protagonist, fulfilling her task with measured determination. In El Peso de la Sangre (The Weight of Blood), a litre of blood is dripped over Galindo’s head in a busy public space while the artist sits still with her eyes shut, enduring the experience. Her blank expression recalls that of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, whose performances also used blood and her own naked body as a central theme. Galindo’s performance suggests a parallel with Tate’s ‘Untitled (Self-Portrait with Blood)’ of over thirty years earlier, showing Mendieta with blood coursing down her face.

As Mendieta, Galindo’s impassive demeanour heightens her provocative statements, giving her performances a selfless inevitability. At the 2005 Venice Biennale, Galindo whipped herself 279 times to represent the number of women murdered in Guatemala that year. She also carved perra (bitch) into her thigh with a knife at the same Biennale. Presenting herself as a spectacle on display in a gallery we cannot see her face in the video, but only Galindo’s exposed thigh. Beads of blood spring to the surface of her skin and her hand shakes, but the pain does not prevent the steady pace with which the artist proceeds. Similarly in Limpieza Social (Social Cleansing), Galindo’s naked body is brittle under a high-pressure jet of water targeted on her body by a fully clothed, burly white male. Her body starts to twitch into more violent convulsions, until the artist is crouching in a foetal position against the spray.

The projection of Galindo’s video works downwards onto tilted screens on the floor of the gallery at Exit Art further exploits the unusual perspectives in some of her performances, forcing us to share her view. In Lo voy a gritar al viento (I will shout it to the wind) Galindo is suspended from an arch of the post office in the capital of Guatemala. She reads out her poems, tearing them from her book and throwing them into the air where they flutter down to a gathering crowd below. In a flowing white robe Galindo seems messianic. We look down to the video and then over her shoulder to the gathering crowd.

The opportunity to study the reaction of witnesses of Galindo’s performances as with the bewildered or amused upturned faces in Lo voy a gritar al viento is unusual, however. Largely Galindo is shown to the exclusion of her audience, forcing the viewer into an uncomfortably voyeuristic engagement with her work. Galindo debuted her most recent performance ‘Crisis: Cloth’ to mark her retrospective at Exit Art, offering an unique opportunity to witness her work live. This was part of a trilogy of performances where Galindo invited the audience to buy pieces of herself or her clothing, until she was left defiantly naked.

The sofas set up for visitors to select and watch Galindo’s videos contribute to this feeling of unease. Cosily settling down in the darkness at Exit Art for a personalised tour of Galindo’s career grates with the severity of their contents. The works invoke a visceral reaction, provoking us into the concentrated audience that Galindo seeks. This works powerfully on our bodies and consciences, physically empathising with Galindo while regretting the lengths she must go to command our attention. The depressing truth is that as a culture increasingly immune to shocking images, Galindo’s extremes are certain to engage viewers more substantially with her protest for her ravaged country.

More Video documentation of Galindo’s performances

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