Studio Visit: SMS | Cristina Tufiño - Red Bull Arts Detroit

Studio Visit: SMS | Cristina Tufiño

This conversation was originally conducted over text message in April 2020. 

RBA: Hi Cristina, are you free to talk now?

CT: Hi sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier, a cat gave birth on my patio

OMG! 

How did you first become interested in the cave networks in Puerto Rico? 

I think it’s a special space for Puerto Rican’s because it isn’t the beach with its cruise ships and spring breakers It’s hard to get to, it’s hidden, there isn’t surveillance necessarily at all. It’s hard to police a cave. It’s off the grid

Do you know about the Allora and Calzadilla piece where they installed Dan Flavin’s Puerto Rican light in a cave?

Yes! I’ve been to this cave, it’s called El Convento, it’s actually incredible and the energy is very curious there. After all the artworld hoopla with Allora and Calzadilla the Flavin piece was abandoned and some friends saw it after a storm, it looked torn up, I think someone eventually cleaned it

Wow, I always wondered what happened to it. I love the recontextualization of Flavin’s piece because it’s usually so sterile

True. That kind of minimalism turns me off because it seems puritanical and negates the mother figure. It’s very protestant work. 

A lot of your work is ceramic, what drew u to that medium? 

I like the democracy and populism of ceramics, my grandfather was a renowned muralist and printmaker Rafael Tufiño, maybe It’s in my DNA to like things that are accessible.

It’s funny when I lived in the US it seemed like craft was this special space  But ceramics to me is of the people, especially during difficult times collectivity is important to our community and ceramics has that. 

Can you tell me a bit about the influences of your exhibit ‘Dancing At the End of the World’, the title feels quite related to this moment. 

I dedicated the show to my grandmother who raised me as her child and died in Hurricane Maria, in its aftermath. The show was also about excess…

Stripper shoes, noses, women fellating cats, putting a bunch of things on your cart but not being able to afford all of it

I like the french word ‘jouissance’ because it describes the culture I came of age in, an excess of pleasure. 

Somehow I tried to tie that into it all, life is so complex, and growing up in Puerto Rico and being back here makes you remember, THIS IS YOUR FUTURE MY FRIEND, and $7.50 isn’t enough to live.

Where does your interest in Red light districts come from?

When I was a teenager I was a hostess in Roppongi, Tokyo and I met people working in the sex industry from Australia and Eastern Europe. 

How did you end up in Tokyo?

I met a Japanese girl in PR who did it and she who told me I was pretty could get hired and would just talk to business people and politicians and pour drinks. I was bored out of my mind and I left Japan. I think that trip really influenced me politically emotionally and aesthetically

What do you feel like the service industry taught you about art? 

All feelings are valid in the service of capitalism. It’s part of the grand narrative, our ideology is hollow. I did a show in NYC titled MILLENIUM MAMBO in part about the boredom of contemporary women’s lives in big cities. Coming home dissatisfied to your boyfriend is real, working long hours to make others happy. 

I love all the shapeshifting women in your work, can you tell me a bit about Medusa’s influence? 

Medusa yes. Lesbian icon!

She’s punished for not following a patriarchal narrative. TBH the myth of Medusa just reminds me how feminism isn’t really political, liberals wanna think it is but anyone can take on the myth: now republican women are slowly becoming atheist and pro-choice, our ideology is whatever we want it to be.

I’ve always felt that Medusa is a sculptor because she can turn anything to stone

Medusa was also a photographer. Her gaze Freezes

Did you get into myths through your grandmother?

My grandmother was a medieval scholar and professor and she was kind of asexual angelic demonic being, but more than myth, I am interested in ghosts, the remnants. Ghosts are big for me, I  believe in them. Truly. 

That makes sense, I like sculptures that look like they’ve learned something from ghosts, but am also terrified of ghosts.

Don’t be afraid! Be afraid of people who are alive!!!

This is a papaya from my yard Lol. Spending the end of the world in Puerto Rico! 

Do you think of your works as relics?

I like the idea of someone finding my work buried 2000 years from now and sometimes when I make that’s where I part from 

Ooooo totally. I guess when something is buried it begins to transform. Have you ever tried to put your work in the ground?

Ahhh that’s beautiful . Right now, I’m so interested in burials. We shouldn’t be scared of earth or nature or death. Some pieces are part of the ground and I think being back in PR is part of that process.

Interesting, I was discussing the Westernization of death/ mourning with a friend recently

You should look up El Velorio. It’s a very complex work about Caribbean mourning by Francisco Oller. What’s so interesting and problematic about the work is that the child has died and there’s a party. In Afro-Caribbean culture, a baquine is the dwelling of a child who has died but it is also a feast, because the child in Christian belief system will not go to purgatory but straight to heaven.

Wow I thought the child was a bouquet at first! 

Yes, there’s mourning and celebration

When do you think an artwork is finished?

hmmm…. it depends on the work. Whenever it looks like the idea and image in my head. Some artists are able to absorb culture ahead of its time, like prophets. 

What was the worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?

this is a difficult question…. Don’t become an artist because it’s a hard life lol

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www.cristinatufino.com