Tania Bruguera on The Francis Effect

4:30 | Published on August 15, 2014 | 2,219 Views

Artist Tania Bruguera describes The Francis Effect, a work informed by the legacies of Conceptualism and performance art that frames art as a manifestation of political activism and social practice. The Francis Effect involves petitioning the Pope to grant citizenship of Vatican City to immigrants and refugees. Bruguera also describes public reactions to the project, outlines its educational and political components, and ponders the ways in which art might influence quotidian reality.

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I’m very happy about The Francis Effect, because now, art in the social sphere has to take into consideration all the energies and all the aesthetics that the social sphere has on its own, beyond the arts. And one of those is the culture of petition, and the culture of people believing that through petition, we can make social change. So, The Francis Effect took that aesthetic into its form—that’s the form I appropriated. Here it is.

So basically what we’re doing is, outside the museum and in other places as well, collecting signatures, asking Pope Francis to give Vatican citizenship to all the undocumented immigrants in the world, and refugees.

It has been interesting seeing people’s reactions. Because some people react to the form of the work, which is a petition. Some people have ideas of “They want money, they want . . . We don’t want to deal with that.” But some other people say, “Yes, okay, let me listen, what do you want to do?” I have to deal with two different, very strong areas—one is religion, and the other one is immigration—both of them are extremely intense. And everybody has an opinion.

The other thing I like is the fact that it gives me not only the opportunity to talk about religious views and immigration to people, and try to, let’s say, educate people on the subject sometimes, but also, the third element that people react to is the politics. You know, is art able to change something? So, I think it’s an extremely difficult piece.

I’ve been, for three years, setting up an institution, which is a lot of work, and not very creative most of the time. So, I wanted to do an action that also worked with the political imaginary of people. So what I like the most when I’m doing these pieces is when you talk to people and people understand what you’re saying. Like, they almost do like, “Oh, I understand what you mean!” Then it’s like, “I agree, or not.” But this moment of, “Oh, what if?” You know? And I think political art should be the “what if,” by setting an example, and giving you the experience on the ground.

Something I thought the other day is that I’m exhibiting my piece by showing it to people. It’s almost like this idea that I’m creating a different relationship of the audience toward the work, because I’m there not to be admired as an artist, but to bring them difficult knowledge to deal with. And that’s interesting.

So, I think the other side of the project is bringing accountability to a public figure. And also to push reform, or the commitment of the church, that claims to help those in need, to change their strategy from charity—which is what they have done for centuries—to public policy.

I traveled a lot to different places in the world where immigrants were in detention centers, and so on. And especially in Latin America, the Church has taken over the role of the social institutions and public institutions. When you go to Casa del Migrante, Mexico, they take all these people who are having horrible experiences, and it’s amazing. They arrive, they have food, they can sleep. They have a break in their life, some rest. But then they have to leave 48 hours later. That is non-negotiable. So, that’s what charity means.

What I want is to call, not for charity, but for implementing long-term changes, and protection. We want him [Pope Francis] to actually protect the immigrants. So, we’ll see. He will have to talk about it, in a different way, not just as a good guy, but as a guy who is in charge of all these people. 

So, October 1st is the last day. Hopefully by then, we can have maybe some communication with the Pope.