If you've never seen/heard/danced your ass off to any of Viva Ruiz's work, you're missing out. It's hard to pin down Ruiz. Native New Yorker, first-generation American, queer, feminist, dancer, filmmaker, musician, revolutionary: you can try to label her, but, if you do, you're missing the point.
Ruiz makes for one great interviewee. I only needed to give her one word prompts and then try to keep up! Below you'll find her thoughts on the fine art world, labels, social programming, and the importance of partying.
Photo Credit: Daniel Lyons
Phillip M. Miner: Fine Art World...
Viva Ruiz: When I go to galleries mostly it feels the same as when I walk into Tiffany's and I feel cased, like people think I'm going to steal things. I was WAY too old before I realized just anyone could go to a gallery, "I can walk into here? Really? I don't have to pay anyone or show an ID?"
That's me growing up in Jamaica Queens, not some isolated country road. Now I can see it was about the access each class dictates. Galleries became a part of life for me relatively recently. Great to go to these spaces, but there are trillions of reasons these places pull a certain some, and not others. Street art is what first grabbed me, glad the internet is an alt way for people to be exposed to art.
MIner: What's it like showing work in galleries now?
Ruiz: It's fun! It all feels like a wild trip to me. I know about throwing parties, and I think that was my organic segue way into the gallery world although I have always made art and music. The work I make is very influenced by a lifetime of being a "nightlife" person, celebration is a strong element in the work itself or in the sharing of it. Definitely in the process, as a collaborative artist. If I'm involved, there's going to be a party. That goes for the kind of activism I engage in and am attracted to -- big commitment, and big fun.
Ruiz: There has always been a lot going on with the trans community that I identify with. I think most people would be served by new starting points and language when thinking about ourselves. What defines MASCULINITY and FEMININITY?
A feminism that does not honor the fact that the trans community is obviously doing front line work for self determination is hard for me to take seriously. We are fighting for the same control over our own bodies and lives. My job lately as a feminist artist is to speak to what might be a blind spot where I do not feel supported by my cis-gendered sisters, a place I have always felt aligned with my trans family.
Miner: In what way don't you feel supported by other cis-gendered women?
Ruiz: I'm a woman who has never really heard my "biological clock" ticking, although it seems to beat like some deafening tell tale heart to other women w passionate opinions. It's intense for me to have women try to talk me out of my disinterest in having kids, It would never fly the other way around. "You're having a baby? Are you sure? Think about all the reasons you shouldn't." If you said that to a woman, she would never talk to you again; it would clearly be offensive.
It's brought into focus for me this pervasive belief that HEALTHY women are MOST fulfilled or at their highest purpose by bearing children. It's a belief very present in the left, not a red state thing by far. I've had many feminist artist women in what I thought was the freaky liberal left tell me I'm going to regret not having kids, others have told me that women who have kids are better artists, this sick list goes on. The reason this is important to note is that it connects to and reinforces the rationale the extreme right also has in valuing women PRIMARILY as "mother." [This belief] is tired and dangerous.
I believe women are still struggling to have an identity based on "self" rather than an existence that's justified by other things.
These attitudes on the left are an extension of the politics on the right, and you can see how much of the republican platform revolves around our reproductive rights. In that extreme there is much rhetoric exalting "woman as mother" but in truth their [Republican] economic policies are opposite. I heard the unspoken promise in the last election- you vote for us and we'll give you women to control. "You may not make money, you may not be able to support your family BUT you can own women!"
I need to make clear that I'm not interested in criticizing the choices women are making for themselves in having / not having children. I want to be a support for all women. My intention in having these conversations is to unite us, to fortify a solidarity that already wants to be there, and needs to be there.
Ruiz: I am very willing to honor the new ways people are identifying themselves because personally I've never fit into one of two boxes. I'm glad to have language evolving that can encompass people who also don't identify. I don't feel comfortable assigning any language to myself. I know that when I was a teenager and first heard the idea of 2-spirit people, I felt relieved for myself. For now I'm cool with queer -- until the next word comes along. Mostly, labels are necessary to be in out of the closet solidarity with the whole bunch of demographics I identify with that are under attack. Not about "passing" today.
Julianna Huxtable, one of my inspirations, described herself to me as "self identifying." I thought, "That is so fucking cool." And, "yeah, let's do this!" Let's make new rules / no rules. I'm so down for all the kinds of change that are going to allow for how different we all are.
Ruiz: Gavin [Russom] and I just made a de-programming / re-programming audio-visual thing. In my research I found that a de-programming technique is to ask people questions and you keep asking people questions about what they believe until there is a crack, "Wait- why do I take this stance when I actually believe something different?"
Personally, I know that there's always an agenda out there. My own particular 1st programming? Latin American machismo taught me that I was owned by men and my biology. That's what I first started responding to and releasing myself from through art and music. There is MUCH more in that culture that I own and love, misogyny not owned by latinos but that first thing may have been what made me an artist.
There are other programmings. Of course I have been racist -- and I believe everyone is. We have been conditioned to be at war with each other, divided. I have to be aware of these tired mechanisms working in me because they can color my decisions or my words. For me, it's not about being upset about that. It's just knowledge. It's a great place to start a conversation, and the de-program.
I want to hold the intention of UNITY above all this because these are hard conversations to be in. Its not about picking people apart, its about shining light on some old beliefs that may not be relevant anymore but we may still be in the habit of adhering to. The end result is the same - let's party.
To check out Viva's insights and opinions on what shocks Viva the most about Girls, technology, and the importance of being naked. Follow this link.