Caroline Garcia

The performance and video work of Caroline Garcia explores the shifting territory between intersectional feminism, diasporic politics and pop culture through a cinematic lens. Currently based in New York undertaking a Master of Fine Arts at The New School / Parsons School of Design, Garcia didn’t always plan to be an artist, yet the natural union between her passion for dance and photography has fostered a successful career thus far. Featured in ‘Primavera 2018: Young Australian Artists’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), Caroline took time to discuss creating artworks in the digital generation of feminism and the political-personal dimension of her practice.

Let’s start by discussing your video works Primitive Nostalgia (2014) and Imperial Reminiscence (2018) currently on show at the MCA.
For ‘Primavera’ I’m showing two works on oversized screens facing each other. The films are inspired by Hollywood and informed by Renato Rosaldo’s concept of ‘Imperial Nostalgia’, which discusses a process of whitewashing when people wish for a ‘simpler time’ that had a completely different implication for people of colour.

Primitive Nostalgia was created in my final year of Honours, so I wanted to revisit this as I’m addressing new politics. Imperial Reminiscence is informed by this work visually, but attempts to resolve some of the politico-cultural factors that, at the time, I didn’t have the language to discuss.

In the works, I let the political discourse come through whilst giving the audience the option to enjoy the aesthetics and the dancing. I use glitchy aesthetics to disrupt the mode of the viewer, leaving some residue or ‘sticky-ness’ to moblise critique of the Hollywood movie. The violence of placing my body over the top of the actresses and dancers is disrupted through the glitch.

In these works, the politics of being a racialised female body challenges the colonial male gaze.
The gaze has always been there for me, having to deal with it as a woman of colour and having an inherently political body.

While I’ve been in New York, I’ve been reading Jacques Lacan and his theory of interpellation. It goes back to how you see yourself, how people see you, and your call into being. How I’m represented is a recurring motif in my life and my work: the way in which gender and race is set onto my body and how the audience came to that conclusion. We sit within the hegemony of authority and heteropatriarchy to be read under certain conditions. So my work aims to play with those conditions – to take ownership of the way the gaze is directed and making the audience aware of it.

The male gaze comes through a lot in the work for ‘Primavera’, and I didn’t even realise until editing. In the original Hollywood movies, the white women are playing women of colour and representing them as idealised sexual fantasies. Then I placed myself on top of their bodies, with a glitchy aesthetic. I didn’t even realise it would become such a feminist work until putting the footage together. The male gaze bounces through each section, which is now sexualising my body as a woman of colour! The violence then comes through…

You can also see this violence in some of your other works such as The Vitrine of Dancing Culture (2018) for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art at Art Central Hong Kong.
The Vitrine of Dancing Culture was influenced by the performance art piece The Couple In The Cage (1992-93) by Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco.

I had looked at the traditional dress from ethnolinguistic groups through my travels in the Philippines and collected a few to be worn in my performance. The audience thought I was about to perform a cultural dance, but instead I played Nintendo Wii. This underlining humour is huge for me. It’s so full on addressing race and ethnicity; I don’t have the personality to really confront those things so humour and play makes them more accessible.

Your work for The Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarship, Queen of the Carabao (2018), felt much more personal.
This was the first time I’d ever made artwork for myself instead of someone else. It was my idea, with no curatorial rationale, no concept to follow; just a residency to do research.

The work is inspired by my experience of being Filipino. It was was filmed in Pampanga, Philippines – where my dad is from. I hadn’t been since I was six, so it was overwhelming seeing family and the landscape. I started to consider ideas around homecoming and the trauma attached to this. My longing to be in a landscape that I have no idea about. There is the lightheartedness in the playful music and text but the work is slow and meaningful – I’m always moving, but never arriving.

I looked at the slow cinema of Lav Diaz, who uses one frame forever. It plays into an aesthetic of trauma. The drones are also incredibly important. The idea of surveillance feeds into my experience of learning and unlearning culture; and how public it can be. This is also reflected in the landscape being analogue but having this modern aspect of the drones, playing with tradition and my modern life in Australia.

What has been your favourite work to produce?
Queen of the Carabao, because it was just so personal. My dad had organised the water buffalo, the props, the location. When I arrived to meet the man who would train me on the water buffalo he asked me whether I had ridden an animal before; I told him I had I rode a donkey in Mexico but only with a saddle. So he went and got me a white plastic chair, and said ‘Get on!’ I realised I had to do this, ignore the fear, so I climbed on and pulled myself up. He stayed with me for twenty minutes and said: ‘You’re off!’ Frightening yet ultimately part of the experience – immersing yourself into the culture, but really feeling like a phoney. If you watch the rope you can see how this tension plays out – it goes tight and slat, someone is leading me, but I have my own moments of control.

How has New York been to create work in?
I still feel like I’m navigating New York and I’m missing friends and family – especially my community of fellow Filipino artists.

The discourse around cultural politics in America is so layered and complex, and tackling that – seeing how my art fits within that framework – has been challenging. In America there is such a complex history that has been discussed in contemporary dialogue. I feel conscious of not wanting to f*ck it up. Australia doesn’t really have that discourse yet, we are still building it.

What projects are next for you?
Going to New York really set the standard for more professional works, like Flygirl (2017), thanks to Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center (Troy, New York) as part of the International Residency Program by Australia Council for the Arts, and Critical Path (Sydney, Australia). So I want to keep up this level of quality but continuing live green screening.

My new project is looking at headhunting, the concept of keeping decapitated heads as trophies. This is inspired by my dad’s ethnic group, Kapampangan from Pampanga, but seen across various areas of the Philippines where they had a special sword for cutting people’s heads off. I want to contemporise this traditional male activity and make it feminine. I’ve been experimenting with bamboo blowguns, and blowing darts into the green screen to construct the narrative. Aesthetically I’m drawing from Apocalypse Now, which was filmed in the Philippines. And also Tinder’s swipey aesthetics. Of course, some form of race politics will come through!

Primavera 2018: Young Australian Artists
9 November 2018 – 3 February 2019
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney


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