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Cucú – A Enconter with Perla Zuñiga


22 April 2024
This month's topic: Electric & Porous -a continuous presentResident Editor: Natalia Piñuel Martín
Cucú - Encuentro con Perla Zúñiga.

Cucú – A Enconter with Perla Zuñiga

Carried out online between February and March 2024


Natalia Piñuel Martín: Hello Perla, nice to greet you again.
To know and understand your artistic practice, one has to go back to your university days when at a very young age you were diagnosed with cancer and learned from the illness, but also to those connections you began to establish with artists who had worked with AIDS in the 1980’s and 90’s. Who were those first references?

Perla Zúñiga: My reference was Shin-chan, which I only realized a few days ago. Then, after my first year of university, once I was diagnosed with cancer, my references were artists and writers who worked and lived with the illness in different ways, such as Pepe Espaliú, Carolyn Lazard, Nan Goldin, Fernando Molano Vargas, Anne Boyer, Jon Greenberg (and his letter Querida Carmen), among many others. I feel that the person who has influenced me the most is Pepe, due to the poetics and power of his work.

Natalia: In your case it is clear that life and work are clearly linked and one feeds back into the other. Would you say there are differences when you perform in an artistic context, museum or cultural center and when you perform in a night club?

Perla: I feel like my work falls into a very cloistered reading. Starting from my experience with the illness, most readings of my work are like: “Oh, poor Perla, through her work she tells us about her history with cancer.” It is minimized and is no longer a challenge to the public. In fact, I deal with such common topics as time, love, sex and what is truncated. Picasso started with the whores he fucked, Dalí with his dreams, and they aren’t judged like that, even though whores and dreams are fragile and common. (You are absolutely right, I apologize that the formulation of the question implies a “paternalistic” reading.)

Natalia: How do you link the written text and poetry with your performance on stage and the creation of a DJ set?

Perla: My main work tool is writing. My visual and performative work are both born from this. I combined poetry and music out of an impulse to do something live when I was 20 years old. I wanted people to look at my ass and spit in anger. Also, it was what I could afford at that time. Now, 7 years later, I see that what I do on stage has evolved a lot. I have been able to listen to my work and that is thanks to time and perseverance. Linking text, poetry and performance seems easy to me because I think of my writing as rhythmic, I imagine it as songs. Each text finds its history, material and sound. Preparing a DJ set is a ritualistic experience. I like knowing where I’m going to play and what intention/story the mix I record has and then I search for music. I love spending hours geeking out on things.

Natalia: You are very young and yet you have already traveled and visited several cities, such as Madrid, your city of origin, Berlin, London, Valencia, Buenos Aires, and you are now based in Barcelona. What have each of these cities given you?

Perla: Although I have had many breaks due to my health, I am lucky to have traveled to many places and been able to do so thanks to my work. This has allowed me to meet and connect with other people. That people come to see my DJ sets, my visual work or to listen to my poetry is amazing.

Buenos Aires has been fundamental in my development, plus my boyfriend is from there, hahaha. I am a tremendous fan of the rich, local and diverse publishing scene. I also admire many artists, writers and poets from the city. I was there recently and it was a dream. To read my work in Cecilia Pavón’s space and have her tell me what her favorite lipstick is, or to dance in Hiedrah, a music label I have followed since I started DJing, or to play on a pier above the River Plate converted into a club. I really admire their energy for doing things and moving forward. Valencia is my favorite place to perform and to go out. Every time I go I have a great time. They are the true queens of the party. Not only do they know how to make parties, they also know how to enjoy them. They really have a great time. Everything is so genuine there. I was recently in Pluto and I came back floating with excitement. London, to be honest, horrifies me, but I think Berlin, when I was there, was in a good moment. I went to lots of quarantine parties and was able to experience ‘the spirit of old Berlin’ that everyone loves to talk about. Although I think it’s still a great city, it’s a bit rundown, especially with so many disgusting things going on in Germany. But hey, people I love live there and I changed thanks to that city. I saw incredible performances that made me dream and learn how to go and materialize those dreams. It’s a city that’s really conducive to experience, they really work on that. I miss it so much!

Natalia: In the last two years you have not stopped working. For me it was very exciting to rediscover Cabello/Carceller’s video Movimientos para una manifestación en solitario (Movements for a Solo Demonstration) when we put together the exhibition with them at Playtime Audiovisuales in DA2, and to see you from the stage with advertising triptychs waving and embracing a flag with the phrase “What a body can do.” This work has also recently been exhibited in the Patio Herreriano along with a sound installation of yours. What has this meeting with such important artists, such as Cabello/Carceller, within the queer movement in Spain meant?

Perla: Working with Cabello/Carceller has been very important for my career. It was a motivation, a wake up girl, keep doing your things. They are artists I respect and admire. We understood each other perfectly from the first moment on. The day I saw the finished video for the first time at the Joan Prats Gallery, I got goosebumps. I went alone and I remembered the trip that was, has been and continues to be, that is, to embody that phrase and make it dance. As you say, I was very grateful for the invitation to participate in the Patio Herreriano exhibition. I exhibited a set of 3 graphic works, which could be seen at Generación 2023 in La Casa Encendida, along with a sound piece from 2016 called Querida célula alterada (Dear Altered Cell).

Natalia: Despite some of your health setbacks, I want to return to that wonderful phrase that comes from Baruch Spinoza, “What a body can do.” Last December you inaugurated your first individual in Barcelona within the artistic space in Cordoba directed by Cory John Scozzari. What were visitors able to find in Cucú (Peek-a-Boo) and how did you work within an industrial space as special as this one? Did being located in the city’s Free Trade Zone and not in the usual route of the galleries change things?

Perla: The public has had the opportunity to encounter the largest collection of my visual artwork, all new work, which has a lot to do with desire and spaces. For this exhibition, I used Cordova as a game setting. I kept the background space and drilled holes in the walls. The audience had to look inside to see the works, but what you saw through the hole was only part of the piece. Afterwards, people could go into another room in the space and see the rest of it. This made them two different works, two readings, or, just the opposite, one needed the other to be complete. I don’t know, you tell me. That’s the fun of playing peek-a-boo. In this exhibition, I delved deeper into drawing and sculpture. I used cages, urine bottles and moving boxes, everyday objects that speak of being trapped, enclosed and having to move. In addition, I returned to working with image gels, since I am interested in the process of transferring, the idea of a trace, a footprint, what was and what I narrate. I also really wanted to explore the idea of the banner, and so I presented the first one I ever made, made entirely with medical bandages, which had the phrase ‘Today you are here’, to close the exhibition. With this exhibition I wanted to make fun of the demand for visibility and representation in addition to continuing to explore what I had been working on since Generaciones, the idea of the shell and of entrails, of what is truncated, of time.

Natalia: Your work is critical and vulnerable and at the same time has a good sense of humor. The Cucú exhibition had to be postponed several times. I know how you don’t like to use warlike language when talking about your illness, but how do you face the future and how have you integrated irony into your work, for example in Cucú or last year in Generaciones 2023 in La Casa Encendida?

Perla: Laughter is something that cannot be taken away from us. Humor is a very powerful tool to announce truth or to talk about what hurts. I use irony because it is part of my life. My life, in the end, is very hard. It is one truncated desire after another, with constant pauses. I always think, ugh, where would I be if I didn’t have to stop every once in a while to take a chemo vacation? The irony in my work is in my use of images or phrases. In Generaciones, for example, I used SpongeBob’s Crabby as a metaphor to talk about cancer (the crab is the symbol of cancer), and the crab stuck out its tongue and said: ‘If your body gets cancer, touch your ass.’ In Cucú, there was an image that said ‘Ibiza is waiting’ because it doesn’t matter how you are now, Ibiza is waiting for you to have a great time. Basically, there are no problems as long as there are lemons for the gin and tonic.

Natalia: You are quite prolific on social networks, very funny and honest, too. For example, on X you are Emma Watson @JOVENDELAPERLAA? Do you like public exposure and does it help you? How do you manage your networks and followers?

Perla: I use the name Emma Watson because someone uploaded my Boiler Room to Twitter and said what’s a naked Emma Watson doing playing at the Boiler Room. I don’t care about followers. I don’t want to be a fashionable DJ/artist and, furthermore, it makes me very happy to know that when people come to see my work live they don’t think: “It was better on her social media.”

Natalia: I would like you to tell us about your work at night. On other occasions we’ve talked about the liberating and safe space that clubs provide for dissidents. Tell us about the parties with CULPA and your intervention in the CLUBS project in Barcelona.

Perla: CULPA is my baby. I gave birth to it with Vera Amores, and over the last year we adopted a third mother named Vega Serafín. Within the collective I am the creative director and musical curator, although in the end we all end up doing a little of everything. It is beautiful to see how the group has evolved, all the people we’ve met and who are now family. CULPA parties are created by and for trans people. That is the intention, although obviously everyone is welcome (I always get pissed having to repeat this). We create parties to invite artists that we like and to dance to them with other trans people. One beautiful memory is when we saw Slim Soledad in She Makes Noise, and although we already knew each other from Berlin, I saw her with Vera and we said ‘We have to bring her to a club in Madrid,’ and then thanks to inviting her we spent a magical weekend together and we are now friends. (This part about generating community and friends from the She Makes Noise festival makes me very excited.). For clubs, I presented a sketch of the track I’m working on with my friend Cem from the HerrenSauna collective. We rescued a poem I wrote in 2019 and the concept was: Sound destruction of spoken jazz madness. Art and the dance floor draw from each other. Do the codes, creative processes and relationships that you establish when you work with an institution or a gallery, or with a music promoter at a festival like Sónar or a nightclub change for you? (I would say that the creative processes are the same but the professional relationships, production, logistics and time is less flexible with the institution, although it is also true that it has been a long time since I’ve left the institution).

Natalia: Describe Vera Amores aka Berenice, your accomplice in CULPA and in the live El Hechizo del Viejecito (now Cuarto de Pastilla).

Perla:  Vera is a tall, beautiful, mysterious girl, the cover of Vogue Czechoslovakia and a great music producer and artist. She is also one of the fundamental people in my life. I can’t wait to see what she’s up to these days.

Natalia: You are also a resident of MARICAS. Does the LGTBQ+ community throw the best parties?

Perla: Yes, and yours are a great example of that.

Natalia: Beyond being a DJ, I remember one of our meetings back in 2021 collaborating with a powerful music producer like Lechuga Zafiro. Where are you now musically?

Perla: Last summer, Vera and I founded the group Cuarto de Pastilla, which is the consecration of our show El Hechizo del viejecito (The Old Man’s Spell), and the idea is to continue recording the songs and release an EP, but there is no rush. I’m also working with my friend Cem and excited to see what things will come out of it. But, I repeat, there is no rush.

Natalia: What is your present-day life like, Perla. What can you share with us about 2024?

Perla: My present is pretty shitty because of health issues, but I am very fortunate to have the friends, partner and family I have. I love you all.

Natalia: Thanks and a big hug. Take care of yourself.

Perla: Thank you for this interview and to have been able to talk at length and calmly about my work.  It’s always a pleasure to meet and I can’t wait until next time. I’m sending you a huge kiss. (One for you, too, Perla.).

[Featured Image: Cucú – Perla Zuñiga. Photo Courtesy of the artist and Cordova].

Natalia Piñuel Martín is an art historian, cultural researcher and curator. Co-founder of the Playtime Audiovisuales platform based in Madrid since 2007 from where they develop projects for museums and cultural spaces such as MUSAC (León), DA2 (Salamanca), Espacio Fundación Telefónica and Museo Centro de Arte 2 de Mayo (Madrid), AECID or the Cervantes Institute. She has been programming music & activities for the She Makes Noise Festival at La Casa Encendida since 2015. She writes regularly in the media and gives classes and talks on contemporary artistic practices and gender issues. She has curated exhibitions for the MEIAC (Badajoz) and audiovisual and performance cycles for the Women’s Institute and the Her Festival. She currently directs and hosts the Derivas podcast. She is in her second year as a doctoral student at USAL. Photo: Enrique Piñuel.

Perla Zúñiga is an artist, poet and DJ. Since 2016 she has lived with the disease and works with its traces, drifts and metaphors. Her work explores the dimensions and perspectives that language, time and emotions acquire in spaces of desire; To do this, she uses various media such as visual arts, writing, performance or sound. Additionally, she is co-founder of the music collective CULPA, a space created to celebrate and reclaim trans and nb existences at night.

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