Interviews

Xandra Ibarra

Xandra Ibarra, Molting in Pool, 2014, archival pigment print, 20 x 30". From the series “Spic in Ecdysis,” 2014.

Kill your darlings: This perennial piece of writerly advice—as dramatic and violent in its associative logic as it is lazy in its deployment by workaday writing instructors and superstar seminar leaders—points to the challenges of revision and, by implication, the supposed hazards of attachment. The idiom implies that you wouldn’t have to kill your darlings (a certain haughtiness creeps in here) if you hadn’t let them wheedle their way into your emotional core in the first place. So: Don’t get attached.

The work of Xandra Ibarra (AKA La Chica Boom) suggests that our darlings and s/heroes might avoid this common fate if their monstrosity were to be acknowledged and supported as much as their preciousness. We might, then, find new value in them. Attachment yields attachment right on down the line. In performances, videos, photographs, and (with increasing frequency) sculptures, Ibarra enacts this kind of janky repair, putting her forebearers on critical blast, testing their cruelties, tendernesses, and limits.

Do they survive? We’ll see. . .

Here the artist, whose forthcoming show will be on view at the Knockdown Center in New York from August 29 to October 27, 2019, offers an open and aleatory glossary keyed to past and present work, as well as a précis of the thorny politics involved in a long-dormant, incendiary potential performance-sculpture.  

Kill your darlings? Pfah! Bring them closer.

I.

Sidepiece: An object at the sidelines of history, off to the side of the bar, and on the other side of the tracks. Although the object is used and discarded, the sidepiece is fully aware of her condition. Urbandictionary.com defines sidepiece as “that girl you call up at 2AM and she knows what’s up, no attachments just fuckin’ and she’s gonna be ready to fuck and then leave.”

THE NAME OF MY UPCOMING SHOW is “Forever Sidepiece.” Of course, I wanted to reference sex, but also the marginal and what it means to be on the sidelines of social and performance movements. I am the sidepiece in the bar and within my own life as an organizer and artist. But rather than advocate to not be seen as a sidepiece of history, politics, or aesthetics, I want to emphasize the word’s relevance, not just to me, but to many of us. We know what’s up; we know what’s going on.

In the summer of 2018, I made a video titled Turn Around Sidepiece, in which I sit nude atop a spinning marble bed in the Vermont woods. As I spin around, I reference the gestures and positions of those truly canonized as sidepieces throughout the history of art: the subjects of nude paintings by, you know, those assholes—Gauguin, Manet, Bouguereau. These nudes, some of them women of color, were discarded objects, but it’s not like they were necessarily begging to be something other than a sidepiece. Like I said, we are fully aware; saviors need not apply.

Fucked Life or Fuck My Life: An ontology structured with and through the impossible conditions of racism. Unlike the proverbial use of the acronym FML, this is a response, not to a singular failure (like when you’ve been walking around for hours and realize your black eyeliner was smeared all over your face), but to a life of unrealizable demands that can’t be reworked or even disidentified with. You’re stuck—it’s interpolation and repetition without redemption. It’s a phrase that strives to understand the complex modes of survival staged within the performative and the affective given an always already knowable failure.

Spictacle: A closed compound, a play on the words spic and spectacle. Making oneself a spic masterfully before a spictator. The spictacle violently and satirically exploits Mexican iconography and pairs it with contradictory behavior to parody artificial images of Mexicans, Chicanxs, or Mexican Americans. A subversive comedy of superiority based on another person’s Mexiphobia. I learned from years of being a spictacle that the performance neither empowers the performer nor teaches the audience. See Fuck My Life. 

Cucarachicx: A racialized species that emerges from spichood. The cucarachicx is in a constant state of fatigue and does not have the luxuries of refusal or, especially, liberation. This species being is fucked (see above), molts, mutates, and breeds.

It’s a Thing: A phrase to describe works, art and non, that are purposefully created or come to be used as market-friendly racial content. It’s a well-funded, sanitized, feel-good, nonprofit-y product that lacks ingenuity. Work that isn’t changing shit. It’s not even able to rally the troops to give a shit. Oftentimes this product functions as a form of social management because it’s paired with “community engagement.” This phrase can also describe the intent of an artist/producer or their reception. For example, I might try to make an object a thing, or I can be made into a thing.

II.

Beyond my upcoming solo show, I’m working on a project that builds on the above lexicon and has preoccupied me for over ten years, but I’ve never had the balls to go through with it. I want to burn books.

I don’t think people who know me as an artist are familiar with my background in anticarceral and antirape activism. Community organizing has been part of my life since I was a teenager because, you know, rape, and I grew up on the US-Mexico border. Although the ideologies from these movements make their way into my work, I am not interested in having my artwork respond directly to my politics. I try to actively separate them, because social movements are goal-oriented, as they should be, and my work is not trying to actively change things. I’m interested in researching (in messy ways) what the aesthetic can do and does.

So I’m invested in the act of burning books not as a political critique, but more so as an aesthetic enactment. It’s also not a parody of conservative censorship; I am interested in what book burning does to highlight the ontological conditions of forever sidepiece or fuck my life. What will arise from burning the texts that I am indebted to and that have deeply informed and shaped my ideas, practice, and ethics: those of women of color feminisms?

Ten years ago, I wanted to burn Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s 1981 feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s article “Mapping the Margins,” which in 1991 popularly introduced the concept of intersectionality. I was at the height of my frustration with these texts because they were being made into a thing. (See It’s a Thing.) Jennifer Nash’s Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality, from 2018, helped me realize how these writings came to be flattened in my intellectual and political life. Sure, we can expose well-meaning students to these authors, but doing so often means simplifying and depoliticizing their work. In other words, women of color feminisms are made into “a thing,” even though they were never intended to be that and have meant so much to me beyond that condition. Fuck my life! Fuck their lives!

So I will be burning a selection of books based on their ubiquitous citation—not in disagreement with the authors, whom I deeply respect, but as an aesthetic act to reconsider the larger conditions around their circulation. I want to burn these texts to question how they are used to help the university facilitate a performance of “consciousness” without any real critique of power, structural or otherwise. And, yes, these frames inform and undergird the supposedly inclusive sections of the art-market and museum world, as well as the way liberal nonprofit funding streams function. When you research curatorial and philanthropic mission statements, or grants awarded in the past ten years, you’ll find lots of WOC theoretical frames and terminology that assist this performance of “consciousness.” It really has all become a thing.

Burning is not meant to erase this body of knowledge. Créeme cuando te digo que the texts will continue to be taught on that one week or that one day dedicated to “intersectionality” when professors think they should look antiracist. These writings, of course, continue to live through thousands of citations and through conversations; they won’t cease to exist nor do I want them to disappear. I am going to preserve the books’ ashes and catalogue them in ways that resemble a mausoleum. To revere and remember them in their carbon form—as ashes.

ALL IMAGES