In Conversation with Cristina Tufiño: Fusing Fashion, Futurist Aesthetics, and Female Bodies in her Sculpture
Cristina Tufiño melds fashion, femme-focused sculpture, and a sleek aesthetic into her art practice. Tufiño was born in Puerto Rico, spending her formative years there, and currently the UPenn graduate resides/works between there, New York, and Philadelphia. To me, these locations seem to enter her work, her sculpture exists in this captivating intersection between sexuality, Caribbean-futurist ideas, and the concrete jungle. Tufiño reveals ideas, inspiration, her emotions about post-Maria Puerto Rico, and more in our convo below.
Gallery Gurls: Your sculpture is a sweet mix of tropical futurist aesthetics, pastel colors, and the softness and sensuality of women's bodies. What informs your artistic lens?
Cristina Tufiño: Lately I have been revisiting a memory of seeing Yves Saint Laurent’s live fashion show on tv during the World Cup in 1998, 1.7 billion people watched, and I was one of them as fifteen-year-old. In the fashion show, women were walking in perfect militaristic precision on a soccer field painted blue with clouds, wearing archival YSL pieces from tuxedos to Piet Mondrian-inspired dresses, and what looked like sculptural dreams in incredible colors. The artificiality and spectacle of this event where women walked in formation like a deconstructed Busby Berkeley film or a military march while men played tribal drums showed me how complex reality could be. The camera zoomed into Yves Saint Laurent’s discomfort and humble perfectionism as he viewed his life’s work, this left a great impression on me. The clothes were living monuments like a sculptural ensemble but also fleeting and temporal.
You were born and raised in Puerto Rico, and you split your time between NYC, Philadelphia, and PR. What is your emotional and mental connection to PR now post-Maria, will these feelings translate into your sculptures?
Recently, everything seems to rearrange itself around you; the Island as I knew it disappears and people enter a new plane of being, post-Maria. These moments of transition can be mystifying, but in reality, the changes in Puerto Rico --the capitalist disaster we have been seeing has been happening for some time-- probably since the time I was a child in the eighties in Old San Juan. I saw the first massive cruise ships come into the port and all the economic changes brought by the period of what people thought was progress-neoliberal economic policies that created an entirely new relationship between the citizens of my town to our local government and its colonial struggles with the US mainland. Maria was one of those moments where things shifted and I can't entirely say how I'm responding, because it’s a profound intersection in our culture. But I'm aware of new spaces opening up conversations, people interacting, research being done, and people coming together.
I have been looking more towards defining what the future means beyond this capitalist model of individuality where the world becomes destroyed; despite what feels like a vacuum, like mourning, like a late capitalist snuff film (in the words of Beatriz Santiago Muñoz) and looking more towards my own ideas and dreams of collectivity and alternate realities; this to me seems like an important act of defiance and the space where art thrives.
"Maria was one of those moments where things shifted and I can't entirely say how I'm responding, because it’s a profound intersection in our culture. But I'm aware of new spaces opening up conversations, people interacting, research being done, and people coming together."
As a Latinx feminist artist, what is important to you to convey in the work? and how do you think you execute that?
I like to connect different experiences and viewpoints; I work with so many of my dreams and interests, books, and orally transcribed stories, that this seems like an act of defiance and dissent in a larger dominant culture. I read my horoscope by Walter Mercado and consult with a female astrologist and bruja in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. A few years ago, a friend told me he went to the beach near his home and lamented to a cook who sold food there how his life was falling apart, and he almost lost his job. Meanwhile, his wife wouldn’t stop partying and spending money, he needed a divorce, so the cook looked at him and told him he had a solution. My friend thought the cook would give him the contact to a lawyer or a therapist, but instead, he told him to get a good coconut and put it under his bed and let all the bad energy soak up and at midnight go to a cross street and break it in half. Later, I cast a coconut in a short film, Since I Must Leave My Home, I made with Kiani del Valle, a choreographer and dancer in Berlin and Alex Nguyen a painter and filmmaker. It's like slipping into an alchemical vortex where material and reference exists for ritualistic fulfillment and little else.
You're currently in a group show called Clay Today at one of my fave downtown art spaces, The Hole. Can you tell me more?
I really enjoyed this show as it brought together fantastic artists working in ceramics. It was also a really intense opening as so many people where inside the space and some of the works were fragile. I enjoyed the energy Kathy Grayson brought to the show, she had been researching this show for a few years and it came together beautifully. Finally I met Bertie The Pomeranian, I think he had been in the back getting his nails done for the first hour.
What's next for you in 2018?
I'm looking forward to working with some friends, collaborations, going back to Puerto Rico and Mexico soon. Getting better health insurance, learning to save, and invest money.
"I'm looking forward to working with some friends, collaborations, going back to Puerto Rico and Mexico soon. Getting better health insurance, learning to save, and invest money."
Follow Cristina Tufiño on Instagram @deadmall1