‘It wasn’t magic, it was the power of my work.’
Lucia Reissig opened her new solo show called ‘El Trabajo Invisible’ (The Invisible Work). A cleaning lady herself, she illuminates the identity of those people or professions that are often turned into caricatures on television and are seen as inferior – the working class. The 23-year old artist attributes women’s invisible workload to, amongst other things, the household gender gap. Her exhibition explores different aspects of women’s invisible workload – such as the work that occupies a woman’s mind and the work she does that is being taken for granted. DEXTROSE caught up with her a couple of days before her show. By opening up about her personal life as a feminist, artist and cleaning lady, Reissig made us wonder why it is that we raise our girls playing as moms behind a toy kitchen sink instead of playing heroes like our boys.
What influence do feminism and female identity have on your work?
I always trust my body and instinct, and walking down the streets of Buenos Aires being constantly wolf whistled at, stared at and commented on by men, really made me aware of the macho culture that we are living in. I started paying closer attention to what is going on both culturally and politically, and since I strongly believe that art and politics are inseparably connected, incorporating feminism in my artworks was a natural thing to do. I started out mainly painting, but soon discovered other creative languages, which gave me the opportunity to be more conceptual. Through these working processes I began to realize that I really wanted to address the gender differences created by society. Not in a political way, but more in terms of what those differences mean in my personal life.
So you focus on your own feelings or personal concepts that you would like to explore.
Yes, I recently realized this. I’m as much an artist as I’m a feminist, which results in me analyzing the different ways we tend to speak about art and politics. My works get mostly seen by a public that is familiar with art, but sometimes also by people that might not know that much about art. I’m interested to see how I can get a message across to all these individuals, like some form of a new international language.
Am I right that this is also reflected in your previous work ‘Cajas’ that consists of latex boxes that people can stick their fingers in to experience a touch sensation. You named each box with a feeling or association with femininity such as ‘Puta’ (Whore), ‘Monogamia’ (Monogamy) and ‘Madre’ (Mother).
Three months after the beginning of the show, I took the boxes off of the wall and the latex was all black around the holes. That’s how I learned that ‘Culpa’, which means guilt, had been the most popular box of all as it definitely had the darkest color due to all the fingers that went in. In order to balance out that word its box contained the most beautiful feeling, namely wet jelly balls that felt like a vagina.
The first time I saw the boxes I thought the latex represented nipples that were ripped open. Some even looked like vaginas.
Or anuses, *laughs* I love that!
What has been the most exciting project you have done so far?
The project that I’m currently working on. The funny thing is that it didn’t even start off as a project, I just became a cleaning lady for monetary reasons. But doing that job made me realize that everything that I believed about art and feminism was reflected in that job. Fundamental questions like how I actually came to know how to clean and why I knew how to cook so well started coming up so I began documenting my work. I love that this project has so many different layers. By documenting it, I have started to see my job through an artistic lens, how using the cleaning chemicals can create beautiful patterns or how the act of cleaning transforms the space itself. I regularly post before and after pictures of my work at the houses that I clean on Instagram. That’s when I came up with the expression ‘It wasn’t magic, it was the power of my work’. I’m also working with the rags, the cleaning cloths, as a totally different part of the project. These materials contain stories, so I love using the very old and battered ones.
Cool. So combining these three things in life: your work, art and feminism, how are you going to proceed with this project?
I think I will continue to work as a cleaning lady because I really like it and it also allows me to work on my other projects and activities. It beats sitting in an office for nine hours a day! And I have discovered that I get a lot of artistic ideas through this job. In March and April I will show a big part of this project in the Selvanegra Galeria and in June there will be a final presentation at an artistic program called the Programa de Artistas which is held at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella.
In addition, we created the Sindicato de Trabajadoras Invisibles (Invisible Workers Union) where we explore the concept of work that you do for others which is invisible and/or unpaid. So-called ‘free’ work, like being a mother, educating your children, but also coming home from work and starting your ‘second shift’, having to clean up after others, cooking dinner for everyone else, etc. We all know that it’s typically women that take on this ‘free’ work, but why is it that it’s so dependent on gender?
Yes. It’s like because you are a mother, you have to take care of the kids. Because you are a woman, you do most of the cooking. According to society ‘that’s the way it’s supposed to be’ which is why it’s taken for granted and becomes invisible.
Yes and it isn’t innocent at all. A lot of this type of work doesn’t get recognized, because of the concept of ‘love’. We believe that women do these things out of affection, ‘My mom cooks for me because she loves me.’. But it isn’t that, we do it because it’s expected of us. If we would actually get paid for this kind of work, we would end up tearing apart the patriarchal and capitalist system. Another theme is “mental work”, which is basically having to tell your partner what to do, which he then probably will do, but only because you told him so and he’ll literally only do that one thing that you asked him to do. Whereas us women, when we do something we usually realize that there are about 100 other things that also need to be done, so that one thing turns into two hours of doing things. We give and give and give. We were talking about that fact that we do need free time, but what does that look like for a woman? Who is taking care of the people that take care? We don’t have the luxury of free time and if we do, we don’t know how to enjoy it and do nothing for a change.
Visit Lucia Reissig’s show until the 8th of April in Selvanegra Galeria. Gurruchaga 301, Buenos Aires.