THE PELICAN PASSAGE interview (2016)

Novemeber 11, 2016

 

CT: Your work is suffused by Latin American and Caribbean traditions yet Pelican
Passage is your first work taking on the large-scale performance dimension of the
processional traditionally associated with Carnival, Conga and other processional
performance traditions of the Americas. How does this shift in scale, dimension and
motion impacts your practice?
CB: I have been preparing for this opportunity for a while. While this is the first work
taking in the processional tradition, in past works such as The Cut Out Army, La Arena
Sabrosa, The Hedge and the Supper, to mention a few, I have constantly navigated the
performative and theatrical aspects of performance that is inherited in processions. As I
deal with issues of memory in most of my work, and having participated in many
processions and Carnival while living in Puerto Rico, these experiences permeates
plenty of my works. However, it is not until this commissioned worked with Faena Art
and your curatorial experience with procession that I can present a work that is directly
associated with these themes. For a while now, I have sort of created this opportunity
in my mind…an object to be worshipped while sliding down a parade, a
procession. Most of my friends know that I always wanted to do a carroza! It is not so
much the shift in scale, dimension and motion that impacts my practice, but the believe
that what you are meant to express will come to fruition naturally and without much
explanation. I thrive in these mysteries, not so much in the answers. However, this
experience at large has made me very curious about our endemic need to congregate
publicly around a theme and identifying ourselves collectively. The rest of this
new experience for me involves honoring the past and traditions, while luckily offering
them in a new relevant contemporary context.
CT: Pelican Passage harks back to ancient ritual cleansing and spiritual healing practices
associated with the symbol of the Pelican. Can you tell us more about how you are
weaving together the many mythological traditions of the Pelican, ancient mythology,
Miami’s mythology and your own personal mythology?
CB: I believe that I thrive when I work in collages, mixing and blending as well as
oxymoron’s that make sense to me and somehow others as well. We leave in very
syncretic times and I have my own syncretic system. To explain this a little bit better, I
resort to an essay by curator Cheryl Hartup from my recent exhibit Re-Collections at
MAC (Museo de Arte De Puerto Rico) "…Betancourt shares the Martinican writer and
theoretician Edouard Glissant's belief that "…the past resides in material objects that
only release their hidden meanings when encountered imaginatively and sensuously"
As Cheryl pointed in the same essay, "In Betancourt's work mass-produced and as well
as unique objects, and their related memories, participate in a feast of infinite
metamorphosis. These observations by Cheryl I relate to and agree with, as I do
attempt to democratize objects and absorb their embedded memory, perhaps even
creating my own mythology. There is also a lot of research that goes into most of my
artwork as I enjoy history and the honoring the past. In the case of the Pelican Passage,
it is no exception as I research the symbolism through the ages associated with the
Pelican.
For example, one of these mythologies hit a cord with me, perhaps because of its
romanticism and visual appeal. In Christian symbolism, "the pelican was believed to
pierce its own breast with its beak and geed its young of its blood. It became a symbol
of Christ sacrificing himself for man- and because of this was frequently represented in
Christian art."*(Durham Heritage Site). This symbolism of the mother pelican feeding
her little baby pelicans has its beginning before Christianity, in an ancient legend. The
legend was that in moments of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself by striking
her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to avoid starvation. Another
version is that the mother fed her dying babies with her blood to revive them from
death, but she lost her own life in turn. I used tones of red in the Pelican Passage to
allude to blood on this legend, the red tail (blood) of the Pelican Passage as a cleansing
ritual of the past and for the shape of things to come. La sangre de Dios que quita el
pecado del mundo….as I grew up hearing in Sunday mass when young. I am a big fan
of pelicans, and the Pelican Passage is of course loaded with other type of symbolism
associated to the Pelican, as well as piñatas and bizcochos that I could not resist.
CT: The central element in Pelican Passage is a monumental sculpture inspired by the
piñata motif around which a small group of followers/worshippers from your close circle
of friends and family congregate for praises and libation. Can you tell us more about
the piñata and the performers? It just occurred to me that Pelican Passage might be the
a mobile, public, Imperfect Utopia…
CB: As you may know by my past work, I have explored piñata, pelicans and birthday
cake (bizcochos) motifs in my artwork before. It is rooted in memory as I grew up with
plenty of all these in Puerto Rico and Miami. Since an early age I had an obsession and
attraction to them, an obsession that thankfully I haven't outgrown as these are not only
interesting themes but also fun to explore. The opportunity to express this persistent
issue and to activate it with followers and worshippers from our close circle of friends is
not only organic, but priceless. I couldn't define it better, the Pelican Passage is also a
mobile, public Imperfect Utopia indeed and I am very grateful for the opportunity to
work with you ( curator Claire Tancons) and the Faena Art team.