Interview with Gema Alava by Jose Manuel Simian for NY1 Noticiasés-de-palabras?r=6263901644


Last Spring, Gema Alava, a Spanish visual artist based in New York, developed an original performance: eleven participants experienced art pieces inside of a museum through Alava’s descriptions. This performance is entitled Trust Me and involved the participation of well-known artists and art critics. The participants are Jonathan Goodman, Ellen Fisher, Mayrav Fisher, Jessica Higgins, Alison Knowles, J. G. Zimmerman, Gordon Sasaki, Erika Kawalek, Ferran Martin and J.Morrison. The performance was photographed by Jason Schmidt.

This Friday, at 6:00 pm, there will be a presentation of the photographs taken during this experience. For the first time, the participants will see what happened on that day and will share their testimonies withthe public.

The Instituto Cervantes is at 211 E. 49th Street in Manhattan.

TV1- Welcome to Contraportada.Last Spring, Gema Alava, a Spanish visual artist based in New York, developed an original performance—she met with eleven participants inside two major art museums. The interesting part was that the participants were wearing opaque glasses and had to experience the artworks through Gema’s verbal descriptions; that’s why the performance is called Trust Me.Gema, thanks for being with us.

Gema Alava- Thank you for inviting me here today.

TV1- Besides being an artist you also work as a museum guide for visitors who are blind or visually impaired – the idea came from there, right?

G.A- Yes. As is the case with many artists, we have jobs which many times interfere, help, or inspire us to create artworks. I work as a museum educator in fantastic programs for people who are blind or visually impaired and who, thanks to us, can see the artworks through words.

TV1- What was the purpose of this performance?

G.A.-I have incredible experiences with the visitors who come to the museum and I wondered why the people who don’t have any visual impairment couldn’t also be part of this experience because I, as a visual artist, have learned enormously thanks to the visual descriptions. So, I sent out an open call and received an extraordinary response from people. I selected eleven participants and all of them enjoyed the experience very much.

TV1- You brought them to several museums, blindfolded, to see the same artwork, which you described…

G.A.- I gave them a pair of opaque glasses that slightly allowed the perception of light. I gave them glasses because I did not want to interfere with the museum or the people who were visiting the museum. We paid our ticket and no one could tell that this was happening.

TV1- You did not ask for permission then.

G.A.- No, because we didn’t need permission. I asked if I needed any kind of permission to do such a thing and I was told that I didn’t because if you don’t take pictures with a flash, and don’t take photographs of the art pieces of the museum, you don’t need any kind of permission. You can do what you want as long as you follow all the rules and you don’t bother anyone, and we followed all the rules of both museums.

TV1- And the participants, up to this date, don’t know which art work is the artwork they “saw”. What is going to happen today at the Instituto Cervantes?

G.A- Today at six o’clock, at the Instituto Cervantes, the participants and the photographer who documented Trust Me without using a flash in the museum (the participants didn’t meet each other, I met individually with each one of them in a single day, it was crazy but very beautiful, everybody arrived right on time), today they are going to meet for the first time. None of them have yet seen any of the photographs. I am going to tell them tonight that the same artwork was described to all of them, even when they were in two different museums. Through their words they will create a visual image of what was described to them and, only after that, we will project the photographs of Jason Schmidt, a fantastic photographer, and we’ll see what happens then.

TV1-There is something very interesting in this performance, this idea of “verbalism.” What is it that appeals to you regarding translating the visual language to oral language?

This is a very interesting arena because many times we separate a performance artist from an artist who works with poetry, with theater, with visual images… Something that I have learned during my verbal descriptions for people who are blind or visually impaired is that everything is connected. In fact, a very good article that just came up in FronteraD – written by one of the participants, Jonathan Goodman, an art critic – talks exactly about this, the relationship between word and image.

TV1- Gema, thank you very much for being with us today.

G.A.- Thank You. It’s been my pleasure.



c) Gema Alava 2008