Create Change Alumni Interview: Hector Canonge

April 24, 2013

We got in touch with Hector Canonge, 2011 Create Change Public Artist-in-Residence, to find out what he’s been up to lately, including his recent trip to South America. Read on to find out more!

 

How was South America? What were you doing while you were there?

My trip to South America was an incredible journey. Personally, I learned a lot about my own origins: I visited the place where I was born in Argentina, stayed in my grandparents house where I lived as a child in Bolivia, and retraced my family’s journey as they moved during the dictatorial regimes that afflicted the region. Professionally, I had the opportunity to create and exhibit a new body of work. I worked with incredible people from museums, art galleries and cultural spaces that were very welcoming to my art work and my ideas. If before I had no actual connection with Latin America—I lived most of my adult life in the US—after my trip, I understood what for many people is living with “one foot here and the other one over there.” It was a little hard to say goodbye and come back. I wanted to come back home to NYC, but at the same time I wanted to remain with the new friends and incredible people that I met there. I see my immediate future living part of the year here and a greater part over there. What can I say? I’m not the same person that left 9 months ago.

 

What projects have you been working on lately?

Since my return in early February, I’ve been working on new performance pieces and presenting them all over the city, especially in Brooklyn where most of the scene in Performance Art is now happening. In particular, I returned to work on my big project LAB.ORAL which was awarded the Franklin Furnace Award for 2013. As soon as the weather gets a little warmer, I will start engaging in it.

 

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What made you apply for The LP Residency, and what did you gain from it? How did the residency impact your work as an artist?

The first time I encountered an LP project was in Queens. I was passing by and there were this small booth where the artist was talking to people. It intrigued me and fascinated me. At that time my work was pretty much in New Media Arts—lots of gadgets, programming, digital environments—so to encounter this new idea for art called my attention. Years later, I started to incorporate more and more the notion of Social Practice in my work, so my projects shifted to focus on communities and themes relevant to immigration and identity. When I received the email about the open call for the LP, I knew I wanted to be involved. So I came up with the idea of a pseudo-institute to teach English: “The Inwood Laundromat Language Institute.” A project that pretty much addressed various issues I was interested in, including the notion of “art as school / school as art.” The impact that the project had on my work was such that from one to the other I was in all the news, and press information. I didn’t expect it, and at moments I thought that the nature of the project was going to change because of the media frenzy, but I think I was able to handle it very well in the sense that participants in the project were treated with much respect and care. I didn’t want it to become a media circus, it almost did, but at one point I had to shut down all that and focus on the implementation of what I believe was important—the people who believed in me and in their ability to get a better life by learning a new language.

 

What are you doing next? We heard about the LABORAL project, can you tell us a little more about that?

As I mentioned, as soon as the weather gets better, people will hear more about the project. For now I can only say that I look forward to working with people again—this time non-Hispanic migrants that live in the boroughs. The projects demands my full immersion in the communities, that much I can tell you.

 

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You’re also organizing ITINERANT 2013, an annual performance art festival taking place later this year. Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired you to create the festival, and what you have planned for this year?

ITINERANT was initiated in 2011 in a small gallery in Flushing, Queens. Since then the project has become a city-wide event that takes place in the five boroughs. My motto and modus operandi is “If the opportunities doesn’t exist, I create one.” So in that fashion, I started many of my initiatives: CINEMAROSA, FRAMING AIDS, A-LAB FORUM, ITINERANT and my latest ARTERIAL PERFORMANCE LAB in South America.

 

But going back to ITINERANT, I started it in Queens because there was nothing focusing on Performance Art and the artists that were involved in it. I was doing the A-LAB FORUM, and one of the forums was dedicated to this practice. I met local artists and they expressed their feelings about not having a program dedicated to that, so I created the festival. The first year [we had] 15 local artists, and last year 41 artists coming from the city, other states and other countries. Five boroughs, five venues, 41 artists—it was a crazy undertaking, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

 

What’s your neighborhood? Why there?

At the moment, I am a resident of New York City. I am an “itinerante” (an itinerant person) looking for a new place and staying with wonderful friends who are helping me while I get back on my feet. When I left I gave everything up: apartment, jobs, the cat, my bed, etc, etc. I wanted to get rid off all things and start fresh upon my return. I am doing just that. No baggage, no trolls in the closets…

 

What’s your favorite thing about it?

New York City as a whole is my favorite thing. I always say, jokingly, that I’m between boroughs. Working in Queens, exhibiting in Manhattan, living in Brooklyn, sleeping in the Bronx, going over Staten Island. I’m a commuter and I love that.

 

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What is one thing you would change about your neighborhood?

Like any other big city, NY has its positive and negative things. When I returned, I saw the city more abandoned and dirty. People tell me it is because of Hurricane Sandy, but I am not sure. The city looks a little old and tired to me. On the other hand, I just returned from Montreal, and I was glad to be back in the Big Apple because of all the energy that I find here.

 

Who are your neighbors? How have they influenced your work?

I’m too new where I am staying now, so I can’t say.

 

Where do you do your laundry?

Right now I’m very posh, so I do it at the apartment where I am staying. I used to go to the laundromat, like many other New Yorkers, and I used to like that, but now it’s different.

 

What are you reading now?

I’m an avid reader and I usually juggle between three or more books, not to mention the magazines and journals. Theory, I’m reading “The Politics of Aesthetics” by Jacques Ranciere; fiction, “85A” by Kyle Thomas Smith; and art-related, this incredible cultural magazine I got in Montreal called “Nouveau Project.”

 

What song gets you going when work is hard?

I don’t particularly listen to music when I am involved in work. I like silence. It helps me concentrate more. I listen to music when I am socially engaged.

 

What’s your favorite NYC-themed movie, song, poem, book?

I like movies that somehow feature Central Park. The song that reminds me of my past life in NYC—when I had the car, the cat, the apartment, my own bed, etc. Song is…sorry I know the tune, but not the name. I guess I have to hum it for you next time.

 

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What’s your favorite word, sound, color?

C’mon I love words! My favorite sound is a child’s laughter. My favorite color is the color of the sky. I once knew someone who had those eyes, I loved that person or maybe it was just the colors of the eyes. I think about that often.

 

Your dream last meal?

A juicy burger, golden french fries with large strawberry milk shake. Hey, that is the US for me and I love it. No diet, gluten free or organic crap that is a fad invented to sell more processed food.

 

What most inspires you?

Life. My inspiration comes from all sorts of life experiences; my own and of others.

 

Tell us about an artist who has influenced your work.

That wouldn’t be fair. I’ve been influenced by many great artists in my life, from Derek Jarman to Fassbinder, from Beuys to Abramovic, from Lewit to Caves and from Kafka to Alcides Arguedas.

 

What does “socially-engaged art” mean to you?

Art that is not about the OBJECT itself, but about and for SUBJECT(S) framed by a socio-politico-economic condition.

 

What advice would you offer other artists interested in socially-engaged work?

Know who you are and where your work most identifies with.

 

What will you be working on next?

I have many projects coming up, among them LAB.ORAL, performances in Berlin, Denmark and solo shows in Latin America in July and August. Then heading to Paris and Estonia.

 

Hector Canonge is an artist based in New York City. In his work he explores and treats issues related to construction of identity, gender roles, and the politics of migration. To read more about Hector’s laundromat-based residency project, The Inwood Language Laundromat Institute, click here.