By: Catherine Camargo

“Two dimensional forms of artistic processes were too simple of a representation for me when I could literally just show myself.

David Correa, Death in Dade 6, 2021

.........Rather than paint this melding of machine and man, I could strap an engine to myself and really become that you know. yeah.”

CC: Hi David. I thought we should begin by discussing the artists who inspire your work. Your performances draw heavily from the past, often referencing figures like Gustave Courbet, a prominent Realist painter from France. He created his gallery The Pavilion of Realism where he displayed 40 works of his in 1855— Works which were originally rejected from the Paris World’s Fair. I’m curious as to whether you are inspired more by his paintings themselves or also by the history of his rejection from academic and romanticized conventions during his generation of artists?

DC: I’m really enamored by not just the history, but also the themes and elements from his paintings— really everything surrounding his work and his start of the realist movement. The elements in his paintings have really inspired my performances. If we look at one of my favorite paintings by another prominent French painter during his period, Gustave Caillebotte, —the floor scrapers (1875), it pictures three shirtless men scraping the floor with their faces almost fully obscured. They're on their knees and there's all these little elements that begin to dehumanize and belittle the subject, even down to the title of “the floor scrapers”. It's funny that we look at this painting and we don't see John, Michael and Peter, but we see the floor scrapers. They’re not named, rather, they are but not after their human names, but their task. They are only as valuable as they are able to accomplish their function. That is their title. That became something really beautiful to me, the idea of being named after your function as opposed to your being. That idea became a prominent thing in my own work. Therefore, these characters that I create in my performances, such as the death catalyst, the fuel bladder, or the superstructure, these are titles that are more so functions as opposed to names. Courbet and Caillebotte were also painting such works massively; The floor scrapers is like six feet by five feet. This size was usually only done at the time for paintings of royalty or religious paintings. I like to think of my performances almost as like a contemporary evolution of these kinds of bodies of work. Regarding the whole rebellious nature of Courbet’s history as well with opening his gallery right in front of the Paris Fair after rejecting him—rebellion and the idea of “protests” for the lack of a better word has always been a big part of my work.

CC: What are the most demanding aspects of being a performance artist? I imagine there is a lot of patience and self-advocating that is involved in being an artist of this medium. One could say this experience was similar for even Courbet and his having to self-advocate for himself by creating his own gallery.

DC: Yeah. 100% it is honestly hard to be a performance artist for two reasons. I feel like there's this stigma against performance art, especially endurance-based performance art. If we look at the OG’s doing crazy stuff like Chris Burden being shot, Marina Abramović setting herself on fire, even Joseph Beuys and the coyote. I think there's definitely a stigma against that kind of extremism in art. So, trying to explain that and your work to people who are not really versed in your world is a little hard. I’m trying to use performance as a way to question fine art which is something that is done a lot in history. Now I'm trying to use the medium to rather tell narratives. It gets difficult explaining that I have all these components, props, and ephemera from these performances but they aren't actually the art itself. The art is this performance that existed at one single point when this piece was happening and afterwards, the piece doesn't exist anymore. It existed solely during that period of time. To explain that to viewers is a whole other separate conversation. But the thing that has really struck me being a performance artist and has been the most difficult for me is that I realize that in my process of like making and creating, what I'm attracted to the most is being able to see the product and the work that I'm putting towards that product. As I'm doing it there's this satisfaction of progress. Like in painting, you can see yourself completing this, this work, right? But when I'm working on my performances, I have to create, weld things, and build all these separate components for the rehearsals and I don't really get to see the piece until months later when everything is done. That can be can be difficult sometimes, you know, I don't get to see that progress until I really activate the work.

CC: That's very interesting. I often think about how hard it is for artists to explain their concepts whenever they make anything that isn't, you know portraiture or realist style work. So, I can imagine for performance artists, it's even harder having that feeling that you must justify a narrative in order for it to make sense to viewers.
Could you delve into the procedures within your performances that you consider distinctive or "signature" to yourstyle? This might encompass elements like the unique headpieces worn by you or your performers throughout a piece or the characteristic sound of an
 engine being pulled, among others.

DC: Well, I try and make everything as referential as possible while not being outrightly corny (Correa laughs). The headpiece has been super important for me. In the last few years, I've been working a lot with this t-shirt just wrapped around the head with the eyes exposed. When I used to work landscaping and was doing minor construction, it was all we used to wear because it was hot out. Work in Miami, you know, it's humid, there's stuff flying around and it is just a form of protection from the elements. That coupled with the sound of the engine running and the two-cycle engine is such a specific sound that when I hear it, I think of gas-powered tools, leaf blowers, I think of chainsaws. It’s no longer the sound of a car, it's a sound that is specific to these types of tools which all becomes referential to labor. I used to work a lot with the safety color green, a highlighter green that’s referential to that labor attire. White has been
an interesting color for me too. This is funny but something I've been thinking about for years is this line that Drake has where he goes, “I can't take a knee because I'm wearing all white” (both laugh). But really, I’ve always thought about it because there's a symbol to white. It’s usually worn to denote purity and is in a lot of biblical mythology. It can reference Deism and this like holiness and transfiguration. This idea of purity and not getting soiled is interesting to me. The white garment does not get soiled because it is not used for work wear, right? But there's beauty to me in the garment becoming dirty during these performances. It shows all the action. Nothing is hidden on the white garment and it’s an interesting yet beautiful dichotomy— The deity who does not get soiled versus the worker in the mud, you know?

CC: That's beautiful. I have the advantage of knowing you as a friend for as long as you’ve been an artist. When did you decide that performance art was the ideal medium to convey your artistic philosophies? Can you recall a specific point in your artistic journey when this realization came to light for you?

DC: Like you said, we've known each other for so long and going to high school together, while taking art classes during then, I became pretty interested in performance art relatively early actually. We were trained early on in classical drawing and painting. It became very easy for me (personally) to look at a painting and then move on. There was something so captivating to me about Performance art, being able to fully enthrall an audience through action and this whole time-sensitive aspect, right? To me, it seems a lot more difficult to ignore performance than it is to ignore a painting on a wall. So, that idea of being able to completely captivate someone, to call someone to witness something, to force someone to see something, became something that I was very attracted to. Secondly, as I began to explore this medium it became the only way to show what I am trying to show. A lot of my work deals with blurring the lines between operator, tool, and operation—the idea of man and machine becoming one in a protest of sort. Two dimensional forms of artistic processes were too simple of a representation for me when I could literally just show myself. Rather than paint this melding of machine and man, I could strap an engine to myself and really become that you know. Yeah.

CC: Your performances often incorporate masculine elements from the props included to the male performers themselves. I believe there is a great deal of proving one's strength, brotherhood, and patience as a man in your acts. However, viewers often sense a gentleness and a stir of sensitivity in the interactions between performers. Does this juxtaposition of conventional masculinity and tenderness resonate with your artistic vision?

DC: 100%. All of these works that are based on this protest, this engine that is sort of revving and burning gasoline, without really producing anything. There's this aggressiveness and this sort of specifically masculine aggressiveness. It's this extreme stomping, pulling, and all these harsh movements. But the second feeling that comes up is the sorrowfulness, right? The narrative with a lot of these works is of a boy who strips the tool of its function. The tool melded to him burns fuel and gasoline and becomes this object of protest and now the boy is forever fused to this tool which is now rendered functionless. Therefore, yes, it is this protest, but it is also an underlying soreness and a kind of failure. I sometimes equate this narrative of this boy to the idea of a hunger strike. I remember a while ago I was looking into the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who would perform hunger strikes and then be fed through their nose through a tube that went all the way down to their esophagus. Through this action there is a protest and in spite of the self-harm there is still this aggressive energy, a climactic roar of masculine energy. But there's this underlying sort of tenderness and sorrowfulness too. Because of this narrative of the failure to escape this cycle of labor and this “death roll”—which I call it a lot in my work, it references a lot of Achille Mbembe’s writing. So, I think this tenderness comes out of this underlying deeply sorrow narrative. I believe that can be seen in the work itself and the atmosphere I create through my performances.

CC: Have you ever considered including female performers in your work? (Correa laughs) Why is it funny?

DC: Okay, I don't know how much of this as you're going to cut out because I’m not sure how to answer this. My performers are my friends. Why? Because it's always people I can trust, can confide in, and I can perfectly explain my vision to them and direct it and feel completely comfortable doing so. I've been very picky about the friends I choose because in these performances, I want to remove as much individualism as possible. I choose performers that have a similar body structure to me and similar skin tone. It's so that when there’s three of us, we can’t be individualized. That basically just makes it harder choosing a woman with a similar build to me who is also my friend. The other thing is that I struggle a lot with the positions I put my characters in. So I feel like it's kind of difficult to talk about and to make work including all genders and not talk about gender politics, especially nowadays. I usually play the character of the fool carrying the engine and a lot of my female friends realistically just cannot carry that engine. I can barely carry that engine. One of my main performers, Carlos De la Nuez, has always played this character of the death catalyst, the person who is pull starting the engine. Then there's this third character, the fuel bladder, who is holding the fool and is carrying the gas thing. So, I thought, Okay I could make a woman the fuel bladder, but then questioned if there would be a misdirected dialogue? —Where people question, why is the woman carrying and holding this man? It's a dialogue that I don’t necessarily want included in my work. I apply that thought process to all of it. If the woman is carrying the engine, does she become the central figure? Thirdly, I have had women in my performances in the past. It was a performance that I never released. I did not like how it came out.

Death in Dade 2, 2019 

CC: Okay. It sounds like anonymity is pretty important in your work. Is that right?

DC: Definitely.

CC: So, I'm curious, do your drawings and renderings serve as parallel pieces to your performances, or are they primarily outline sketches to help you develop the physical performances?

DC: I have always thought about them as just outlines and renderings to kind of understand the shape of the performances and the composition that they'll hold and how all these different tools, props, and ephemera will interact with each other physically. But as I’ve begun presenting my work more, especially presenting the ephemera of the work in gallery spaces, I've really enjoyed actually showing the process of the work along with these tools. Therefore, maybe showing a still of my performance with the tools along with those drawings will further explain the actions taking place.

CC: Finally, I recently encountered this Michelangelo quote and wondered about your interpretation: “You sent me a brass rule, as if I were a builder or a carpenter and had to carry it around with me. I was ashamed to have it in the house and gave it away”.

DC: The first thing that strikes me about this quote is the shame, which is really beautiful. Especially that shame of the tool. Like I stated earlier in the interview, there's this connection between the subject and the object, the human and the melding of the tool and therefore the stripping of that tools function while carrying it and the burning of gas. There is this inherent shame and sorrow that comes with being bound to that functionless tool. That shame is kind of the first thing that this quote made me think about.

CC: Yeah, the shame definitely is inherent in that quote and it is really beautiful. It reminds me of this other Michelangelo quote that I'm definitely paraphrasing but goes something like:
“I saw the God in the marble and I carved him free” and when I think about your work, I think you're also working with somewhat the same mentality where through the process of the performance, through the act itself—the concept of the work is released. The concept of the performance and the narrative that everybody is asking for, it’s only released in that moment of the act being performed, which is, I guess, what makes performance so powerful in the first place.

DC: Yes, yes.

CC: What is next for you as an artist or in your current practice?

DC: Thank you for asking. I’m performing my live performance of The Machining of The Fool for the closing of this years Untitled Art Fair in collaboration with Negrón Pizarro gallery. I've been refining and perfecting this piece during rehearsals and fixing any little functionality things that I need to for the performance. I am also working closely with the Director of the Negrón Pizarro Residency, Kimberly Green, to prepare for an artist residency/retreat in Santurce, Puerto Rico in 2024. Receiving a stipend from their upcoming artist in residency program will really help further my research, practice, and overall realize my body of work. So, I’m looking forward to having that dedicated time and space. The work that I’ll complete during this residency will result in a solo exhibition with the gallery program in the spring of 2024 in their Puerto Rico location. In 2024, I will also be realizing a curated performance in the Negrón Pizarro gallery’s remote location in New York City. Overall, I’m excited to do more performances, more sort of public happenings, and just invite people to see the work.

CC: All right, cool. Well, thank you, David. This is my first interview. So, I'm happy it was with you.

DC: Thank you. Me too. It's been a pleasure.

© Q Magazine 
Interview: Catherine M Camargo
Editor: Catherine M Camargo 
Photo courtesy: David Correa