Janet Toro | “Las performances y el arte transforman la sociedad, aunque sea por un segundo”

The Chilean artist will presents a series of performance between October 8 and November 12. It will deepen on various issues that affect the world today. Those issues called her attention to return to Chile, after 14 years of living and projecting her career abroad.

By Lía Alvear / Chile

Images courtesy by the artist.

Janet Toro (1963) is an artist with extensive experience in performance. After 13 years of career in Germany in 2014, she returned to settle in Chile, where she studied and performed important works such as La Sangre, el Río y el Cuerpo (1990) and El Cuerpo de la Memoria (1999).

Last Thursday the artist began the performance cycle called In Situ that every Thursday until 12 November at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, it will explore various topics related to the absence of the Mapuche culture, the immigrant otherness, funeral rites, the space we inhabit, and the credit debt.

Although her work encompasses various contemporary issues, the artist recognizes special sensitivity for Human Rights resulted by the detention and disappearance of her uncle, and political self-imposed exile from her father in times of military dictatorship, at which time she studied art and began her career as an artist.

How performance is addressed when you were a student of Art?

I studied Bachelor of Arts at the University of Chile, but at that time the performance and installation had no space nor in the academic world or institutions. Maybe there were some very rare examples, like the CADA group (Collective of Art Actions), but generally it didn’t exist. Until today the presence of the performance in the academic world is lacking, is not considered another branch of the arts.

Then, how did you know the performance?

I have heard things. I was part of the Agrupación de Plásticos Jóvenes (APJ) and there was a couple of artist and intellectuals who talked about works made by someone, for example Elías Adasme, when he hung up of a subway cartel, or Diamela Eltit who could have read poems at a brothel and she could have cut her arms. That were just things that I heard, until 1987 or so, Francisco Brugnoli showed me a book of Joseph Beuys. That was the first time in my life I saw a book of performance, and this German became one of my main referent. I was shocked seeing the work of this man, his broad concept of art and that is wonderful, anthropological, ecological, political, social… it overwhelmed me. I think he is one of my teachers.

How many years have you been practicing performance?

I’ve been doing visual work for 30 years. My first performance is called Dos Preguntas and I made that in APJ time frame in 1986 at Paseo Ahumada. That’s why I invited Claudia Winter to join me, an art student at the Catholic University. The action consists of two questions; I carried a sign that said “why are you sad?” And she was carrying another sign that said “why are you smiling?” This caused an impressive commotion, even the police arrived.

How is the Chilean society answer in comparison to German society?

I think that German society is much more diplomatic, closed, and fearful about their reactions. Chileans are more expressive and emotional about their reactions. And it happened for example with the entire series of El Cuerpo de la Memoria at the Museum and in the street that people expressed what they were thinking, they approached me, and they hugged me, and applauded me. I think that the public here is much more open.

El Cuerpo de la Memoria, Performance 20.
El Cuerpo de la Memoria, Performance 20.

How contributes the art to changes in a society?

I think that performances and the art transform the society, although it is by a for a second. I also believe that art creates reality, poetry, redeems and transform us. There is a great contribution that sometimes is not understood at first but, over the years, you begin to understand that influence of art in the transformation of a society.

According to your experience, where lies the strength of the performance to convey its ideas?

I think that lies largely in the unconscious. The performance works in most cases with archetypes, with forces and images, with archaic information that is in the collective unconscious, and that leads to promote a great reflection on public or spectators.

What elements in common characterize your work?

I work with minimal elements and very clean spaces, with a global space notion and silence. But at the same time, with elements which make very controversial. The work of La Sangre, el Río, and el Cuerpo for example: a white canvas with animal blood from the slaughterhouse which exist from in the Mapocho river islet. That canvas was fragmented until disappear in El Cuerpo de la Memoria.

There you will be seeing how small elements have a great strength when you know how to put them in the place and in the right moment. I’ve never repeated an action. It could be actions that have something similar, but all are different.

Are all your performance searching the extreme?

Yes, whether that is a corporal or temporary extreme, it is always a search for the extreme. However, I must say it is a refined way, not brutal, what separates me from some performers of Vienés Actionism, Marina Abramovic, or things of Regina José Galindo, whom I know and love very much. One thing is transgress in explicit or literal way, and other way is doing it subtly. My work is something like that.

El cuerpo de la Memoria, Performance 87
El cuerpo de la Memoria, Performance 87

How has it affected the search of the extreme in your personal life?

The search of the extreme has changed how I see things, about myself, and reality. I think in that sense for me it has been a kind of spiritual journey. I get too close to the rituals of the native, where you have to transgress certain inherent limits to access another level of consciousness and that’s what happened in my performance. Because in reality, for my rather introverted nature, I think I would have ever dared, but I felt a calling, an urgency, a desperation, the politic circumstances given, going out and express myself that way.

In Situ includes five completely different themes. How did this project begin?

It emerged at the release of compilation book El Cuerpo de la Memoria at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights presented in March last year. The book was presented by Ricardo Loebell, who also is the curator of this cycle of performance. This time the director of the museum and several people liked my work because I also did a performance called Exhumar la Memoria, which relates to my disappeared uncle. They were very impacted and I was invited to work on a project with them. I was preparing several performances, but finally I decided on these five, because I think are fundamental issues that matter to me at this time.

What do you want to cause with those works?

Fundamentally I wish to produce a reflection in the public. I would like a lot to produce lighting in people’s minds, maybe a little trembling in the retinas and hopefully a breeze in the heart. Poetically speaking.



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