The Opening Response: Coco Fusco
The Opening Response titles a special series of interviews with artists, curators, writers, composers, mediators, and space-makers around the world. Dialoguing within and around the thematics which have rapidly emerged as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, we offer within this frame a differentiated, honest, and beautiful bid at understanding. Weekly, distinct doors are opened into the lives of the contributors; into their experiences dawning on pleasure, productivity, metaphysics, and paradigmatic shifts. Hopefully, these conversations can act as way-posts and lead to furthered empathy, unison, and co-creation. The Opening Response meets the need for weaving the autonomy of a web of conscious communications in times of extreme perplexity.
Coco Fusco is an interdisciplinary artist and writer based in New York. She is a recipient of a 2018 Rabkin Prize for Art Criticism, a 2016 Greenfield Prize, a 2014 Cintas Fellowship, a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2013 Absolut Art Writing Award, a 2013 Fulbright Fellowship, a 2012 US Artists Fellowship and a 2003 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.
Fusco’s performances and videos have been presented in the 56th Venice Biennale, Basel Unlimited, Frieze Special Projects, two Whitney Biennials (2008 and 1993), BAM’s Next Wave Festival, The Liverpool Biennial, the Sydney Biennale, The Johannesburg Biennial, The Kwangju Biennale, The Shanghai Biennale, Mercosul, VideoBrasil and Performa05. Her works have also been shown at the The Museum of Modern Art, The Walker Art Center, KW Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. She is represented by Alexander Gray Associates in New York.
Fusco is the author of English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas (1995) and The Bodies that Were Not Ours and Other Writings (2001), and A Field Guide for Female Interrogators (2008). She is also the editor of Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas (1999) and Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self (2003). Her latest book Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba was issued by Tate Publications in 2015, and a Spanish translation was published by Turner Libros in 2017.
Fusco received her B.A. in Semiotics from Brown University (1982), her M.A. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University (1985) and her Ph.D. in Art and Visual Culture from Middlesex University (2007).
Josseline Black – Reflecting on this recent period of forced isolation, how are you articulating your response in a public discourse? What is your role in this larger conversation?
Coco Fusco – I was only isolated at home in the spring. I was teaching from home and busy writing. I did spend a lot of time writing and watching films. I also did a bit of archival research about the visualization of epidemics and infectious disease throughout history, which was really interesting. We have not changed much in the way that we respond to fears about mortality and death.
JB – Has your artistic practice changed through isolation?
CF – Not really, although some activities are on hold. I can’t perform in front of an audience unless it’s through a computer, obviously.
JB – How has your practical capacity to produce work been affected by the pandemic?
CF – Well, in the early months I could not work with other people in person. I have been able to work with a few others since the summer.
JB – What is your approach to collaboration at the moment?
CF – I can’t do large scale collaborations since big groups are not permitted. But I have done a couple of smaller video shoots and have edited with others, being careful of course, masks and such.
JB – How would you define the present moment, metaphysically/literally/symbolically?
CF – The beginning of the pandemic was the scariest part for me as a New Yorker because the city was hit hard and the lock down was total. I only left the house to buy food for weeks. The number of deaths was terrifying and the sense that one might be infected anywhere by anyone was also very unsettling. That initial stage was over though by June. We all learned to manage better and the warm weather allowed us to be outdoors much more. Restrictions loosened making some socializing possible. I even travelled to Mexico in August, which was wonderful, even though museums were closed there. The change of atmosphere helped me to clear my head. I did spend weeks thinking about how overwhelmed the city was managing the crisis and the sheer abundance of dead bodies. But I wasn’t so worried for myself, as I have the privilege of being able to hold onto a job, work from home and converse daily with my son. I wasn’t in danger, nor was I facing eviction or job loss.
JB – Do you see the potential for renewed support for cultural production in spite of macro and micro economies which are currently rapidly restructuring?
CF – Well I know that many people in the art world lost work and are really struggling. I’m fortunate in that I am still teaching. It’s hard to say what kind of a blow this has been to art commerce – foot traffic is down and fairs were cancelled but online sales continued and some galleries followed the rich to their resorts and opened galleries in the Hamptons and the Catskills. I think it is too early to say how much economic damage has been done in the visual arts or how long we will feel the fallout. I think the performing arts are more affected than the visual arts.
JB – How is this time influencing your perception of alterity in general?
CF – I don’t know if I have considered alterity. That’s too abstract an idea for me to wrap my mind around. I have thought about mortality. I have thought how we respond to death. I have thought about the history of infectious disease. I have thought about the failure of the federal government of the US to manage the pandemic efficiently and with compassion. I have thought about the economic repercussions of this and how long it will take to rebuild and revive the economy.
JB – What is your position on the relationship between catastrophe and solidarity?
CF – Which catastrophe? Solidarity about what and among who? Where? When? Clearly, different countries have death the pandemic quite differently. Some more successfully than others. But we are not in a global moment of international cooperation with regard to the pandemic or anything else. The Trump Administration has not wanted to cooperate with any country.
JB – What is your utopia now?
CF – I do not have a utopia.