A good friend of mine, Cassandre Greenberg, sent me a quote by Trinh T Minh-Ha from her book Cinema Interval, where she discusses employing strategic submissiveness from a marginalised lens. It describes the space I’m trying to occupy with my work (‘Beware of Dog’ and ‘My porcelain hat’ are good examples) with respect to power dynamics well, and it’s an eloquent passage:
There is always a danger, in assuming a tone and a position of indirection, that one may simply fall back into the habit of understating and of muting one’s voice as expected from women: We are, after all, supposed to abide by the rules of proper feminine speech and manner, never going at something too aggressively and too directly, often taking the back door, the discrete path to arrive at certain locations or to make certain points. But such an attitude can be assumed submissively, strategically or creatively. To see through it is to grasp the situation of marginalised peoples caught in power relationships. One can never go to the ruler in a direct way: in order to voice one’s opinion, one has to take an indirect way. Indirection is likely to disturb viewers, including feminists, who expect a film to make a categorical statement, to deliver a positive political message, or to build around a clear story line. But for me, in a context of late capitalism where externalised directness is ultimately made to serve reductive and consumerist ends, it is important to work with indirection and understatement, if meaning is to grow with each viewer, and if the interstices of active re-inscription are to be kept alive. One can render the troubling complexities of a situation and still be very specific in one’s fight without being totalising.
HC: Do you relate to the term ‘feminism’?
CB: Yes, but I feel like the naming of feminism led to its unavoidable co-option by capitalism and patriarchy. It was taken from and later sold back to us in a way that was palatable to the status quo, thus, control can be maintained as feminism exists under the all-encompassing umbrella of patriarchy. As a result of the tricky simulation currently and perhaps perpetually at play, I think that changes need to happen uncivilly to truly shift the paradigm. I dream of successful feminist non-white coups.
HC: What fuels your art and your writing practice?
CB: To be felt is to be human as is the articulation of experience. It’s beautiful. I want to master communication, be heard and seen. But not in a self-absorbed way, more like ‘this happened, it was real, and it hurt’ or ‘I am not invisible and here is the proof.’
HC: Your work is notable for the way that you play with slogans. What is your view on how you use slogans and the importance of manipulating dominant slogans that we are habituated towards?
CB: The intention is to play off one’s expectations but to also use that space to give the non-universal (non-white) more visibility. Adopting such templates are attention grabbing to us because we’ve been trained to read them that way so it feels like the optimal location for non-white experiences to occupy. The media landscape is so white and that greatly affects and abuses the world’s collective unconsciousness. To be able to change the mainstream media landscape is to stop racism, classism, and gender inequality. I think ultimately we mirror what we see.
HC: How does poetry fit into your wider artistic practice (and your life)?
CB: Sometimes I make artwork for poems I have written so it’s fairly intertwined. In life, poetry functions in a similar way that a photograph does except not visually, but linguistically; I can read older poems and remember a specific feeling I had at a particular moment in my life, like looking at a photograph from my past.
HC: When considering your interdisciplinary practice, does poetry come more easily or harder in comparison to other forms?
CB: It’s hard to say, it really does depend. In some cases I’ve relentlessly edited the shortest of poems numerous times over the course of many years. Art is easier to make in the sense that it’s progressional, there are steps that lead to a final product I’ve already envisioned to exist, as opposed to poetry. I don’t know where I’ll begin or end with a poem.
Though the steps are clear with art, it takes me a long time to think about what I want to make and why, and in this sense I think it’s similar to my typically slow yet not exclusively slow process when writing poems.
HC: Who are your influences / heroes?
CB: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Electronic Diaries (1986-94), Jean Grey’s Phoenix Saga from the 1992 cartoon adaptation of the Uncanny X-Men comics, the Vanilla Fields perfume, all of Ken Lum’s work, Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss, Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001), Henry Taylor, Milton Avery, Trinh T Minh-Ha, Munch’s The Storm (1893), my mother, my grandmother, my sister, Miami, but mainly my community: Brad Phillips, Jillian Mayer, Domingo Castillo, Steph Kretowicz, Tara Long, Patricia Margarita Hernandez, Jesselisa Moretti, Alvaro Barrington, Blair Hansen, Ulijona Odisarija, Gregory Kalliche, Cassandre Greenberg, Aurelia Guo and you, Holly.
HC: What is climate change for you?
CB: Being from Miami, it makes me very sad knowing that the whole city and its distinct Latin American diaspora will be erased due to sea level rise. For me, it is my culture disappearing.
HC: What are you working towards at the moment?
CB: My first full length book of poems, simply entitled Poems, is being co-published by Codette (New York) and Furrawn Press (Toronto) in September 2018. I’m also working on a two-person show about marriage with Brad Phillips (my husband) at Anat Egbi in Los Angeles, opening January 2019 which, is being organised by Blair and Eli Hansen. I’m also working on a feature length film script, and other art projects.