Mana Performance Residencies: Camila Cañeque
Camila Cañeque holding "White Pillow on a Couch"
This spring, artist Camila Cañeque participated in the Mana Contemporary x Secret Project Robot residency, a performance-focused program that gives nominated artists from partner institutions the space to develop new work.
While at Mana, Camila went on what she conceived as a “RETREAT,” combining the production of architectural sketches and installations with “gymnastics of stillness.” Cañeque’s practice is a cocktail of writing, sculpture, performance, and “still environments” that make up a body of work which fluctuates between the tragic and the comic or absurd. Cañeque told Mana’s Programming Director, Molly Feingold, a little more about her process.
YOU SPENT TWO MONTHS IN RESIDENCY AT MANA WORKING IN AN OPEN STUDIO FORMAT, WHAT DID YOU GET UP TO?
I called my stay a “RETREAT,” as opposed to a residency, and I’ve tried to think of what this might signify, manifest, or imply. A retreat is a building, or the idea of a place, and it requires a certain amount of isolation to attain a desired level of rest. It’s a space for recovery. Maybe you go away on a retreat in order to go back to where you were.
I am not a studio-based artist so I instead use a desk as my platform for operations. At Mana, I’ve been working in an unwalled studio, perpetually visible, making this retreat one of public seclusion. Also, it was a contradictory aim to make a constant exhibition of what is supposed to be a private hideaway.
I decided to approach my researched theme in phases, in different consecutive channels. I first defined the word, the retreat, the continent and its content. I made sculptures of puddles, holes on the ground filled with stagnant water, with stillness. I think of a puddle as the negative of an island. Then I tried to figure out what elements could be there or, in other words, the answer to the question of what you would bring to a desert island. There was furniture for rest—divans and beds—but the must-have items were resting too. They too needed a break. That was the birth of The Sleeping Theatre. Horizontal positions for all.
Camila Cañeque with "Small Lying Down Chair"
Then came the inhabitant; it was not me, but the idea of somebody entering the situation. I added a couple of recumbent ceramic figures, a bigger one in wood, and myself, flesh. After this it was time for choreography (though of course, we were all lying down). I undertook the 99 x lying-down postures which became a stop-motion tutorial on how to lie down, an instruction manual on paper. What else could be done? A visitor? Yes, but one that did not disturb. A masseur has been coming to my studio to massage me in the middle of Mana’s busy setting. And the last thing was just a perimeter marked with blue tape on the floor, framing the imagined different rooms of my imaginary retreat.
I sometimes like to think of my work as a hotel. I make the different rooms in which I’d like to stay. Some call it home, but there’s an element of escape. It’s a refuge in case of an emergency, or evacuated because of the emergency.
YOU OFTEN REFERENCE FATIGUE AND EXHAUSTION WHEN DISCUSSING YOUR WORK. WHERE DOES THIS ORIGINATE?
I think of fatigue as one of the diverse symptoms of a comorbid context, an overloaded present, and I fantasize about emptying it. On one hand, yes, I think we are located in a society that is exhausted—thematically, environmentally, spiritually—and maybe this burnout is to a degree an unquestionable fact. There are too many layers of everything, an unstoppable accumulation, faster and louder.
I’m interested in a tempo that is far away from current efficiency, a “stuck” dimension that’s trapped, fading, melting, going somewhere else. I look for accidents that avoid the spectacular tour de force of these bigorexic times. Maybe that’s what art can offer, a space freed from utilitarian purposes, detached from efficacious demands. The problem is that today, the hyper-qualified multitasking entrepreneur is also the artist. It’s an expansive virus and, if we don’t stop it, we will all be very strong and powerful and useful.
Anyway, I like dysfunctional rhythms, their flavor, because they are unpredictable.
My research tends to take the form of tired-looking territories, undergoing a detox, a vacuum process that allows a little reset. Rather than deconstruction, I would call it cleansing. And freezing memory may be the method. Perhaps there are some human beings, or not, but I’m looking forward to finding out. There’s for sure some dust, maybe ants, or just stars. There is no belonging to an imposed flow and there is chaos. Fur warmth. Basics. A fetish for an inert city, silent, hibernating. There’s the drive in space, but the pause of time.
So, my work could be an exploration of where the overdose leads. It can look tired or rested, in repose or other forms of losing the power of voluntary action.
HOW AND WHY HAVE YOUR IDEAS AROUND PERFORMANCE, OR WHATEVER YOU TERM IT, SHIFTED OVER THE PAST DECADE?
In the beginning, I did projects consisting of infiltrating myself into the real world as somebody else. That was my performance work. Nobody noticed me while I was pursuing my goal. I’m not a fan of ‘programmed’ performance because I look for inactive things, unanticipated instances, so when working in an art space, I used to set the performance hiding, and when it happened on stage, I preferred to not perform but simply to be there, passive. Here’s where the dysfunctional characters appear—the dancer that faints, the mute singer, the absent-minded individual. If my work is an investigation of a so-called inactive side —shrinking, withdrawing, or unsatisfying— active action never made sense for me.
Therefore, I’m more interested in the absence than the presence.
I would say I’m not going to “perform” anymore, but every time I say that, I end up doing a performance the next day. My latest slip was a few months ago, with a piece called I’ll wait in the car, but the present body was just there, displaced, to indicate a negation. It consisted of waiting in a car, at the parking lot, not going inside any events at Miami Art Week, including my own opening. Also, to end my RETREAT program, I got a full-day massage during Mana’s Open House, after two months of rehearsal. Massage is the performance of extra-long-durational physical therapy.
WHEN DID YOU START MAKING OBJECT-BASED WORK AND HOW HAS THIS INFORMED YOUR PRACTICE?
I was always a bit antagonistic toward (the images of) action, and I consider my work to be an antonym of performance. In the beginning, there was a still body, elusive, passive, hidden, or unable. More than performances, there were bodies in a process of avoidance, the antithesis of what they were meant to be. Slowly, I’ve been transforming the negation of movement through the body into the affirmation of stillness through objects or non-human actors. From the annihilation of the animated aspect to the creation of inanimate things, all in search of a sphere of quietness. Now I try to understand the architecture of time while playing with space. I want to continue creating paralyzed spaces or entities. Spatial presentations that could allow access to different temporalities. An evacuated party with music, lights, and effects still on, a hotel room service continental breakfast for two, half-consumed, but with nobody there. I guess my work has a phantasmagorical dimension. It’s the moment after the moment.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GREATEST CHALLENGES FOR YOU IN YOUR CAREER/LIFE AS AN ARTIST WORKING IN A PERFORMANCE-BASED MEDIUM?
I’d like to think of the performance path in my practice as not performative. A sedate place, with or without people. In terms of the near-to-far future, there’s a lot more of experience that will happen passively, with connections and disconnections made through brain accessories while the body remains immobile. Maybe, it may become very easy to enter the emptied spaces I imagine, a somewhat virtual reality used for lazy traveling, for treating traumas, for anything. The option of redirecting the subconscious through machines.
It’s a challenging moment for all of us, and what I see in my work as an impossible necessity, which is to slow down and have a great break, may become a natural landscape through cheap plugins.
We’ll see. Or maybe not.
*Mana Contemporary x Secret Project Robot Performance Residency was curated by Kathleen Dycaico.