One of the first things I was tasked with when I started my job as curator here at Kettle’s Yard was working with the Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo on realising two performances in Cambridge. Over the course of working on Hide and Seek and Monument to the Invisibles I began to see her work in an expanded way; engaging with the personal and the social, with both private safety and public voice as well as with actual bodies and symbolic representations.
Both works were site specific. Hide and Seek took place in the House at Kettle’s Yard, while Monument to the Invisibles was located on the Front Court of King’s College.
In Hide and Seek, Galindo occupied an attic space for three hours. The room is small in scale and incredibly intimate. In the performance, Galindo concealed her body behind a false ceiling, only revealing her presence by allowing a shaft of hair to fall down into the space.
Monument to the Invisibles took place on the neat lawn of the Front Court at King’s College, which is surrounded on four sides by the Gibbs Building, the ornate Gate House, the Wilkins Building and the famous King’s College Chapel, and punctuated with a fountain in the centre, which celebrates the college’s founder King Henry VI. Galindo and six participants, drawn from the university student body, stood elevated on the lawn, draped in neutral fabric. These roughly-human figures became temporary monuments, occupying a space usually off-limits to all but King’s College fellows and their guests who are permitted to walk across the grass.
In her contribution to the panel discussion at Kettle’s Yard, on the evening between the performances, Galindo talked about her origins as a poet. Galindo compared the careful construction of her performances to writing a poem. Galindo’s performances are like poetic lyricism. The space, the participants and even the date and time in Galindo’s actions can all have particular connotations. Sometimes memorialising particular events, sometimes creating connections between different histories. Like a poem read aloud, Galindo’s performances are acts of public speech, often questioning race, gender, and nationality, as well as asking us to think about whose voices are heard, whose stories are told, and how to speak of violence. Galindo often leaves her performances open to audience interpretation. For me Hide and Seek and Monument to the Invisibles both expressed something about the politics of space in Cambridge.
In both Hide and Seek and Monument to the Invisibles Galindo accelerated our awareness of the physical and symbolic limits of the spaces. As the door closed behind visitors to Hide and Seek, they were held in a small empty space, confronted by the wispy hair and the broken relation with the artist. Galindo’s hidden presence, unsettled their procession through the house, a space conceived to be the meeting point of art and life by Kettle’s Yard creator Jim Ede. In Hide and Seek, Ede’s modernist balance, met Galindo’s body art.
Monument to the Invisibles similarly drew attention to the limits and restrictions of Front Court. For this performance, the lawn was not accessible to anybody, but a site for the monuments. Likewise the long, roundabout paths that trace the grass were littered with viewers, congregating to watch for the duration. Galindo said that one of the effects of this performance was to combat a sense of ‘feeling small’ in the participants by literally allowing them to stand tall. Galindo’s performance spoke to me of recent campaigns to challenge the histories told in existing monuments and memorials. In Monument to the Invisibles Galindo remade the monument as plural, and neutral, as well as creating, because of its limited duration, an occasion to gather and be together. So just as many people have argued that historic monuments are often symbols of racial superiority and patriarchal power, for me Galindo’s Monuments are unfixed, temporary, participatory, and even ghostly – symbols of histories that are lost and un-memorialised.
Galindo described how the concept of feeling small can relate to both personal history and national identity. She spoke about the necessity of knowing about the world beyond Guatemala, while also remaining attentive and knowledgeable about the country and its histories. This double attentiveness, suggests what others have described as the experience of being on the margin. Galindo’s work does not resolve this inequality, but points to, even exposes, it. So whether it is Hide and Seek that makes us aware of someone lurking in the marginal spaces of a house-museum; or Monument to the Invisibles that gives form to bodies otherwise un-memorialised, Galindo’s Cambridge performances prompted the viewer to think again about the political currents that flow through some of the city’s most celebrated sites.