PRINT May 2019


IT IS NOT ENOUGH anymore to make art as an a posteriori reaction or comment. It is time to make art for the not yet and the yet to come. Art should intervene at the moment when politics and policies are taking shape.

I arrived at the notion of political-timing-specific art in 2009, after years of having to explain the importance of the political context in which most of my work exists and acquires meaning. The notion of site-specific art failed to highlight the importance of the unique and dynamic political landscapes that have always been my primary interest. (My work addresses both politicians and a general audience.) Critics schooled in formalist criteria focused on universalist cultural dimensions. Moving beyond the notion of site, I made political timing—the medium in which politicians operate—the material of my work. I realized that if I wanted my art to be political—if I wanted it to generate political situations—it should not only be contextually and culturally specific in its references but also work in accordance with political timing and its consequences.

Form is defined in political-timing-specific art by the political sensibility of the time and place for which it is made. Thus, political consequences become the artwork’s meaning and content. Form and content are interdependent, linked to the specificity of a political moment. Any political change requires a reevaluation of the form used to produce political art. 

Political-timing-specific art doesn’t simply address the news cycle. It’s also about understanding how, under certain circumstances, politics can define the aesthetic. This kind of art practice embraces the fact that the work will not have a stable meaning, because this is how politics operates—tackling perceptions as they unfold in real time and mobilizing the emotional landscape these perceptions generate.

Political-timing-specific art arose as a way for me to test the Cuban government’s propaganda by taking it at its word. If the government announced it was open to dissent, what were the limits of the dissent it would sanction? The artwork becomes an index of the distance between propaganda and reality. 

Political-timing-specific art not only confronts power with its own tools but creates a temporary juncture where those in power do not know how to respond to others’ defining what is political. It redeploys the emotional capital generated by current political affairs. The window opens and closes very quickly: You have to enter with precision, during a brief moment when political decisions are not yet fixed, implemented, or culturally accepted. Political-timing-specific artworks happen in the space between the imaginary of a new political reality and politicians’ existing control of that imaginary. Political-timing-specific art exists within the time it takes for those in power to react. 

Tania Bruguera is an artist based in New York and Havana. She is currently at work with Claire Bishop on a book addressing political-timing-specific art, to be published this year by Coleccion Cisneros.