Approaching the large, white tarp piled between two columns in the centre of aceartinc.’s main gallery, Alexandra begins her performance. With the efficiency and precision of a washerwoman on a warm summer day, she pulls the tarp out, drapes one corner over a ladder, fixes it in place with clothespins and rope. Stripping off her black slip dress, she begins to wash herself in azure sand from a large silver bucket in the centre of the tarp. She scrubs the sand into her face, across her body, into armpits and behind ears. This task complete, she sweeps up, then begins to put together an outfit from a small selection of items hanging from a wicker screen just outside the circle of the tarp: a lace dress, a string of pearls, a fur collar, a brown cap, heels. Satisfied by her appearance, she sets out items for tea and sits down to drink. Pouring the sand from tea pot to teacup, she takes her first tentative sip, then empties the cup — sand streaming down her face, onto her dress and into her lap. With a small brush and pan, she cleans up after herself and carries the tea things away. Next, she changes into blue yoga pants and a black cotton crop top. She pours out more sand, and begins to move around in it, tracing out swirls and patterns, lying down and reaching out. She steps outside the tarp once more and returns to the wicker screen to don headphones and an iPod shuffle. With movements reminiscent of a construction worker on a roadside jackhammer, she pours out heaps of sand onto the tarp from a large, black funnel. After discarding the funnel and headphones, she sits down and begins to pull the tarp in towards and around her. For a time the tarp becomes a boat, bearing her forward, then she’s in the waves, writhing, floundering, and ultimately, drowning within.
She lies still. The tarp rises and falls ever so slightly, as sound artist Joel Mierau slowly fades out the swelling breaths of an accordion.
The performance over, Alexandra emerges from the tarp, takes her bow with Joel and frees the audience to explore the rest of the space, filled the multidisciplinary works of a small group of female artists of Latin American descent. Alexandra’s work is part of a group show titled Mujer Artista: Speaking in Tongues. The show is dedicated to exploring “the weight of [the artists’] cultural histories, which are often brutal and tragic, and burdened with paradoxes.” The body of work is “extremely personal and it is also the product of complex toil.”
A week later, we sit down with Alexandra to discuss her performance.
FULL: When Cecilia Araneda invited you to participate, was this piece something you’d already had in the back of your mind for a time, or did you develop it specifically for this show?
Alexandra Garrido: I created the piece specifically for this project. The only thing I had in mind before knowing about the project was the tarp. I’d had it for maybe six years. I knew that I wanted to use it somehow, but I didn’t know how or in what context. It’s such a big piece of material, and it’s been sitting on my porch collecting dust for years. After getting in touch with the women from Mujer Artista, I realized this was the opportunity to use this piece of material. Things developed from there.
FULL: The blue sand — at the show, I talked to a few people who were wondering about the significance of the colour you chose. There was conversation about it representing water, or thinking about the intensity of the colour and connection to Mayan paintings.
AG: That was the thing I really enjoyed getting feedback on every time someone saw the piece. What I love about it is that everyone has their history and experience with that particular resource that is very specific to them.
It was really fascinating because you get complete stories that people are visualizing as they were watching the piece. So for me that’s as much a part of the meaning and the symbolism behind the work as it means for me personally while I perform. Other than yes, being very obviously representative of water, I felt very open to interpretation; the blue doesn’t specifically mean one thing and one thing only.
I chose sand before all the other elements came in. I knew I wanted to work with something weighted and natural. And the sand, this idea just came to me through everyday occurrences. I was visiting family and a young one had a meltdown over the sandbox, and for whatever reason that particular moment stuck in my head for a few weeks after. I guess because it was just a really emotional moment. And I always really enjoyed playing in the sand. I still do as an adult!
AG: Yes, so I decided to use sand and see where it went from there. The blue colour I wasn’t really sure about. I had a few other colours on hand — purple, green, pink. I sort of randomly picked blue, maybe it wasn’t so random. As I showed the work to other people, it became clear that using just one colour was visually stronger. At one point I questioned whether blue was too literal.
FULL: In terms of being connected to water?
AG: Yeah, but it seemed to work really well. It felt right.
FULL: For this project, the focus was on female artist of Latin American descent. Have you had opportunities to work with other women from Latin America before?
AG: This was the first time in Winnipeg. I worked on a project in Mexico before I began my professional training.
We all exist in our communities: community of artists, community of dancers, and so on. This type of community was new for me.
I don’t know if it's where we live and the weather, but you can feel very separate or isolated. I’m Canadian born, my Spanish language is minimal. I am different from the women who were born and raised into those cultures. I have that background, but because I have parents from different cultural backgrounds, there’s a split. My father lives in a different country, and I fly back and forth between countries. I grew up with two languages at home, but there are challenges finding understanding between generations because of language. I’m not an immigrant, I grew up mostly here, but I’ve felt different and struggled with identity.
FULL: Different cultural groups have specific values or ways of doing things, so I could see how that mix would be a challenge.
AG: There was a split between my parents. They had very different ideas and approaches to almost everything. I have nothing else to compare it to, it’s all I know. I try to make sense of how I was raised versus how other people were raised and what that means. I’m not the only one who has struggled with that concept, but then you add other languages, other cultures, other ideas of identity. It can feel confusing. So it was really nice to feel a part of the Mujer Artista community. Even though we have different experiences, there’s a similarity there, a relation. It’s also given me the ability to claim that identity. I used to feel unsure of what my identity was. I was born here, I’m Canadian. Am I Latin? I didn’t really feel that I was.
FULL: Did you feel that there were other people who had more claim to that identity than you?
AG: I think that’s sort of how I felt growing up. I had these roots but knew nothing about growing up in the country of one half of my origins.
It hasn’t happened often, but every now and then I meet a person with a similar experience of having one parent from one country and one parent from another country, and I have that moment where we’re both like, “Yeah, we know.” I don’t know what we know, but we know.
FULL: I’m curious about some of the other choices you made. Something I got from the piece was a contrast between primal and civilized elements, but also this sort of compulsive cleaning up.
AG: The cleaning was necessary to move on to the next thing. You clear the space. And part of what I wanted was for the performance to be transparent: for the audience to see all of the elements. The cleaning came out of necessity, and it highlights our relationship to our daily tasks, and work in general. These movements are all very relatable. They span across history and time. It’s about being, about sharing a human experience. It makes sense on a deeper level, as well as visual. The audience responds with recognition and feeling.