Silvia Gruner

1959 | Mexico City, Mexico
Silvia Gruner — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Silvia Gruner, Photo Silvia Gruner

Mexican videographer, photographer and performance artist.

Born into a Polish family who survived the Holocaust, Silvia Gruner has continually produced multifaceted works that engage in questions of sexuality and gender with national and cultural histories. She left Mexico to pursue a BA in sculpture at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem in 1982. She held her first solo exhibition in 1986, Conversaciones con un loto azul, at the Thompson Gallery after completing an MFA at Massachusetts College of Art and Design that same year. Using a Super 8 camera she produced a number of short films during this early period, which featured her nude body juxtaposed with art historical, national and cultural symbols. This is seen in works such as Desnudo con alcatraces [Naked with calla lilies, 1986], which intervened in Diego Rivera’s (1886-1957) painting of the same name, or her playful use of Christian and art historical symbols of “original sin” in El Pecado original/Reproducción [The original sin/reproduction, 1986].

S. Gruner began to incorporate references to pre-Colombian symbolism and objects into her video, photographic and installation works during the 1990s. She participated in inSITE, the site-specific biennale organized on the border of San Diego, CA and Tijuana, Mexico, in 1994 where she installed La mitad del camino [Half way, 1994]. This work consisted of 111 figurines of the Aztec goddess, Tlazoltéotl – a symbol of birth, filth and sexuality – along the US–Mexico border fence. In Don’t fuck with the past, you might get pregnant (1994) and How to Look at Mexican Art (1995), the artist disrupted traditionally conservative approaches to engaging with the past by opening these objects up to sexually suggestive gestures.
Her 1994 solo exhibition at the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil in Mexico City, Inventario, explored the anthropological significance of modern domestic objects via two-channel video projection. She stated her use of these symbols was both personally and culturally significant, addressing, “a parallel, both looking at culture and at what we are taught, what we are allowed to know, and looking at my own past and ideas, where I come from”. S. Gruner’s work engages with the connections and tensions between notions of personal and collective identities and how they are continually constructed by location, language, and the body. This shaping of identity can be seen in the video installation for inSITE, titled Sueño Paradójico (2000), in which she crosses the border between Tijuana and San Diego while being interviewed by psychologists, one in English and another in Spanish. In recent years her practice has shifted towards issues of illness and healing in relation to her undergoing treatment for cancer.

S. Gruner’s work is featured in a number of permanent collections, including the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo and Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. In 2016-2017 her mid-career retrospective, Hemispheres: A Labyrinth Sketchbook by Silvia Gruner, curated by Gabriela Rangel and Tatiana Cuevas for the Americas Society in New York and Museo Amparo in Puebla recognized her significant contributions to contemporary art in Mexico in.

Julissa Aguilar

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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