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“Feliza ‘Baila’ en Cali” [Feliza ‘Dances’ in Cali], is an interview of Feliza Bursztyn by Maritza Uribe de Urdinola conducted in 1979. With precise questions, Urdinola reviews the artist’s work and career from her early, remarkable sculpture series through the most recent, La Baila Mecánica [Mechanical Dancing] (1979). The artist’s responses explain her opinions on art, especially the relationship between art and politics. They also tell us about Bursztyn’s take on “her Cuban experience” and the contrast with her political perspective on Colombia. The interview concludes with a few personal questions focused on Bursztyn’s love relationships. The closing paragraph drafted by the interviewer captures the final flow of the conversation; and the interview ends in laughter.
This interview points out a basic aspect about the life and work of Colombian artist Feliza Bursztyn (1933–1982): her raucous laughter and keen, wise sense of humor. In most of her replies in the various interviews, she cuts through the tension in the air with her [relentless] humor. In this article, we can see that tension in Urdinola’s descriptions of an artist who laughs at everything. That is why it is important to question the precision of her answers and not take them too literally. Thus, Bursztyn did not allow herself to be boxed into political preferences or any intense militancy regarding any other matter. However, she did carry on one fight, one that exhausted her, to the bitter end (her death, in exile in Paris). That struggle was for her and others to be able to freely do whatever they wanted to do, which in her case was art. The aim of the questions in this interview was not just to pin down aspects related to Bursztyn’s work, such as the “espacios ambientales” [environmental spaces] she created, but also to find out her attitude toward life, art, politics, and the art market. What she called “environmental spaces” can be understood as sculptures that bore a direct relationship to the space where they were on exhibition, works that are now called installations. The sculptor was a pioneer in this concept and in other aspects of her work. In 1968, she exhibited 27 sculptures at the Museo de Arte Moderno [Museum of Modern Art] in Bogotá in stainless-steel scrap metal. She called them Las Histéricas [Hysterical Women] and placed them in various locations in the exhibition hall: in corners, on the ceiling, and on the walls. Each piece in this series had a record-player motor that provided movement (causing the pieces to rub up against one another); along with sound and several spotlights, these elements completed the exhibition’s environment. In 1974, again at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, Bursztyn presented another exhibition of this kind. Las Camas [The Beds] were metal-frame cots with figures covered by fabric that moved in time with a musical composition by Jacqueline Nova (Ghent, Belgium,1935 – Bogotá, 1975). In the interview, Bursztyn recalled the chronology of these exhibitions that led up to the one presented in 1979, just when this article appeared. That exhibition was La Baila Mecánica: a ballet of seven kinetic sculptures covered with fabric; the pieces were situated on a platform that served as a stage. The montage was accompanied by a twelfth-century musical piece by Perotino Magnus.