Tania Bruguera: The Francis Effect

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Dallas, TX
2014

The Francis Effect by Tania Bruguera took place at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from June 21 to October 1, 2014, as part of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative exhibition Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today. The Francis Effect was produced in collaboration with the Santa Monica Museum of Art (now the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) as it was included in their exhibition Citizen Culture: Artists and Architects Shape Policy (September 13 to December 13, 2014), and was the culminating project of The 2013 Meadows Prize, awarded to Bruguera by Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts. Noah Simblist was the project lead for the Dallas component.

The Francis Effect is a performance in the guise of a political campaign, the aim of which is to request that the Pope grant Vatican City citizenship to all immigrants and refugees as a concrete gesture of support that transcends simple charity to offer legal protection. Bruguera refers to Vatican City as having been “born as a conceptual nation without borders,” arguing that its international population aligns it with the idea of a global state into which people are accepted without judgment. The artist and her collaborators gathered signatures on postcards, addressed to Pope Francis, in Cuba, France, Germany, Israel, and Italy, as well as in Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York. As of October 2014, over 14,000 signatures were gathered from participants living in 190 countries. By using the form of the petition, the project appropriates a fundamental forum for civic engagement and addresses the denial of political rights to immigrants and refugees. The broad aim of the project is to challenge public perceptions of immigration by responding to recent shifts in world culture.

While bringing together the subjects of religion and migration through the Pope and Vatican City, both of which are widely regarded as apolitical, the artist reminds us of the long history of the Catholic Church in helping to establish kings and queens, treaties and borders, and of the Church’s influence over world affairs. Because of the Pope’s status as a head of state empowered to change local governmental policy to international effect, participants in the project are offered a possible role in using art as a vehicle for social change. Throughout the project, Bruguera has maintained a unique relationship with her audience, engaging in direct conversations on the streets outside museums with individuals who often take her and her collaborators to be canvassers. She thereby blurs the line between art and life and underscores her work’s political element.

To complete the project, Bruguera has written a letter to Pope Francis requesting an audience to deliver the postcards in person. In doing so, she returns direct accountability to an institution that has tended to shun it. The artist suggests that the Catholic Church may, by helping those in need on a global scale, and moving from charity toward public policy, become an agent for the implementation of long-term, economically sustainable change.

Curators:

Guggenheim Museum: Pablo Leon de la Bara and Christina Yang
Santa Monica Museum of Art (now the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles): Lucia Sanroman