Where there was fire: Alexia Miranda

Alexia Miranda and I belong to a generation marked by social and telluric movements. Both of us survived the devastating consequences of the earthquakes that affected Mexico City in 1985 and San Salvador in 1986. We both belong to countries where the class struggle, the social conflicts, the economic inequality and, in her particular case, the Civil War and the Postwar Period marked our ways of seeing and relating to art and public space. Alexia Miranda and I could have met in Mexico during the time she lived in that country that we both call home. However, our paths didn’t cross until the beginning of 2020, during a research trip with curator Daniela Lieja Quintanar to El Salvador.

“No Necesitamos Más Papel, 2012, Miami Performance Internacional Festival, curaduría Charo Orquet. Foto: Alexéi Tellerías

In San Salvador, I experienced Miranda’s art installation at the Museum of Art of El Salvador (MARTE) where her piece Where there was fire ( Donde hubo fuego, from the series Tejido Colectivo, 2011- ongoing) hangs as part of a permanent exhibition featuring artists and collectives from El Salvador. That same day, I met Miranda at the Centro Cultural de España where she was showing a video performance as part of an exhibition on female artists from El Salvador. Her work was until then only familiar to me through images and video documentation, including her participation in the 13th Biennial of Havana in 2019. Mostly based on performance, conceptual experimental video art, installation, and teaching, Miranda focuses on the inner self but also collaborates with diverse groups and communities.

Our last in-person conversation took place on a volcano a few days before the world lockdown, the volcano near the Salvadoran capital that has remained silent since 1917. Our next encounter, marked by this endless health crisis, took place via Zoom. We talked about her background, the beginning of her career, her previous and latest projects that include the coordination of an Online Performance Festival in Latin America, an initiative that continues her interest in the dissemination and promotion of work that generates conversations like these in her country, ​​El Salvador.

Claudia Pretelin: Can you talk briefly about your childhood and your family?

Alexia Miranda: I was born in a very conservative and catholic family with strong ties to tradition. I am the youngest of five. My father was one of the best racing drivers in the country. He loved speed and was always experimenting with engineering, he even designed his own car to race. My mother raised me with strong ethical values and rules of right and wrong. Although she thinks I’m particularly crazy and she has had a hard time accepting the way I decided to live my life, she has always been there unconditionally for me and my three kids. 

Both my parents, although they were raised in a different system of structures and beliefs, found a way to accept me. I was different from my other brothers and sisters, yet my family has supported me in my creative professional studies. My parents taught me to appreciate nature. I have been exposed to sea life since I was born. For me, the sea is my soul’s home. It’s the place where I discovered who I was and what I wanted from life. Since I was a child, I loved to be alone in nature.

As a little girl, my sisters and I enrolled in ballet classes. I grew up dancing and rehearsing for shows in theaters as part of the Escuela Nacional de Danza Morena Celarié. I loved dancing but I felt a coldness in ballet and too much psychological and mental torture.

When I left the country in 1996 and went to study in Mexico I started to train and explore contemporary dance, which I loved. It was in contemporary dance that I came to find yoga as a method of feeling and exploring my body, my existence in another way; with other values and parameters of perception.

CP: Was there a particular moment that made you first feel connected with art?  

AM: My first aesthetic experience was both spiritual and poetical. I was 12 years old, standing in front of the sea when I wrote in my diary: “I am a human being, I’m not a machine like the others, I am alive, I feel my soul…” It was an awareness of my consciousness. I will always remember that afternoon. 

At 15 years old my drama teacher René Lobo, who was an ex guerilla activist and became a very good friend of mine, introduced me to Gabriel Otero, a writer, poet, and cultural administrator who published some of my poems, “Voces del Alma Marina”, in the local newspaper Diario Colatino.

CP: Growing up in El Salvador, how did the social and political events happening in the country inform your ideas about art, performance, and life?

AM: Growing up in El Salvador was complicated. I am part of what people call “The War Generation.” I have memories of chaos, bombs, days, and nights without water and electricity. I remember feeling in danger and fear. I grew up on uncertain ground, with strong social changes, civil war, peace treaties, and political fury.  All of this made me feel insecure about life. I couldn’t walk without feeling threatened in the streets or in public spaces. In performances, I try to create new relationships with the audience, the local people, and to transform the atmosphere with collective happenings or collective installations, as I’ve done with Tejido Colectivo.

Tejido Colectivo is a project that I have been working on since 2011 in different places. It began in El Salvador with the desire to intervene and heal the public space that has been denied to the people in my country followed by many years of war and violence. The artists who have been and lived this struggle, we are currently trying to take over and rescue the public space.

–Alexia Miranda

Tejido Colectivo, an ongoing project by Alexia Miranda.

CP: Can you talk about the years you lived in Mexico and how this experience contributed to your professional artistic development?  

AM: Mexico was definitely a school of change. I could synthesize my 6 years in Mexico as feeling catalyzed by a super-powerful enzyme. Mexico is my third homeland. First comes the sea, then my own country, and then Mexico. I discovered performance art while studying at the university. In 1998, Adrián Soto, one of my art professors, invited me and other artists to perform a poetic action in Escalón, an interdisciplinary space in Mexico City . This was my first art performance piece. In Mexico I studied literature, philosophy, contemporary dance and I learned choreographic techniques. I was devoted to learning, experimenting, and growing. During this time, my partner and I traveled to visit indigenous communities. We loved to explore the traditions, the rituals, the cosmogony of their world. We lived in indigenous communities in la Sierra Sur de Oaxaca. This was an important moment for me to feel alive and develop spiritual consciousness.

Entre Nudos Calaches y Otras Cosas, Proyecto Ruta 06, Intervenciones en el Centro Histórico, curaduría Mayra Barraza, 2006. Fotografia Andrés Díaz .

CP: In 2008 you wrote a letter to curator Rosina Cazali in which you stated that “nobody can tell you how to feel, and how to perform a work of performance more than yourself.” Can you talk about the creative process of thinking about your work and how the audience plays a part in it?

AM: When I wrote that letter I was trying to make a statement. I was tired of people trying to adjust and deconstruct my work according to their expectations or visual aesthetic needs. In 2009, I created Primera Convocatoria Nacional de Arte de Acción, a call for performance art that came about as a reaction to all the dissatisfaction with art around me. I wanted to give performance art its own prestigious space and adequate ways of exhibiting and interacting with the audience. I wanted people and institutions to understand that performance should not be treated as a tridimensional sculpture, or as a painting hanging on the wall. Performance art is living art happening in the life and body of the person performing.

In my personal process, I go from more intimate pieces related to existential and individual ontological questions, to questions about how we relate with others in society. I recognize in my own work two different needs. One is to explore, find answers, or generate thoughts about our human condition using metaphors and poetic images. The second need is to integrate the audience and let go of control, to interact, play, transform, and generate new experiences with local communities and the audience and to form a co-creative action with the work and concept.

CP: Tell us about the need of not only being a practitioner but also an art promoter in El Salvador. 

AM: I strongly believe that in life if you don’t find the conditions you need to develop in the direction you want or dream, then it is your responsibility to create that atmosphere and reality. During my process as an artist I have shifted into many different roles. I’ve been an art teacher in schools, a professor at the university, I’ve been my own curator and my own personal manager. I’ve been a producer, director, performer, and cultural manager of projects in alternative contemporary art spaces. 

In 2006 I was a cofounder with Mayra Barraza, Luis Lazo, Baltazar Portillo, Amber Rose, Romeo Galdamez and many others of the art Space LAFABRIKA situated in Zaragoza, la Libertad. We worked together to generate art exhibitions and open contemporary dialogues in a nonconventional space, an old warehouse outside the city. In 2011, in collaboration with my friend and artist Rodrigo Dada, we started the project Catapulta Multidisciplinary Platform.  Catapulta’s aim was to create interactive organic emotions based on individual and collective work that could indulge the audience in the exploration of a variety of artistic languages produced in non-conventional spaces. We wanted to make people active participants in the contemporary art scene. We wanted to make the audience experiment with new ways of interaction with their close ones, their families and friends. The aim was to generate new experiences using art as a tool of strong transformation and playful process, and to modify and intervene in the local public spaces with creative healing and joyful atmospheres.

In 2013, parallel to Catapulta I created Boceto Lab Creativo, a small art space located in a  trendy designer’s store called The Carrot Concept in Colonia San Benito. Boceto Lab worked as an alternative art gallery to facilitate adequate space for artists that needed to create new dialogues, installations, and experimental work that was still in the process of finding answers. Some artworks even required modifications of the actual structure of the gallery. The store was used as a performance art space for workshops and night exhibitions. I taught workshops for kids on a daily basis to maintain the costs of the space. I charged a small fee of $3 to cover some activities, to gain some profit, and to remind people that art also needs financial support.

All my life I’ve been an artist and a promoter. These two needs have grown together and I don’t see myself in another way. I have this urge to generate change, create community, to get in touch with what urges me, and to find more of what can make me grow and of what I can share with others. This gives my life a purpose!

CP: I understand that yoga has been an essential tool for you and for your practice. When did you start practicing it and how has it helped you take care of the primary medium for your art: your body?

AM: I started practicing yoga as a technique for contemporary dance. I was also exploring with a choreographer from the US something called “Release” technique while I was living in Mexico. Movement that comes effortlessly and synchronized with breathing. I fell in love with yoga when I discovered other sensations in my body such as tranquility in my mind. I felt connected and lost the urge to compete. The dance world is very egocentric and competitive. Yoga gave me the strength to keep on dancing at my own pace and without the need of approval. 

At 25 I became a mother. I was pregnant with my first child, Ahimsa. Her name means  non-violence. I was focused on studying comparative religions. Budisim and Hinduism made a lot of sense to me during those days of discovering awareness. During my three pregnancies, I practiced yoga daily. In 2004, when my third child Asha was born, I decided to start teaching yoga for moms and babies.I felt the urge to explore and share motherhood in another way. I started a new process of learning about Montessori pedagogy education. I pursued a diploma in transpersonal psychology and began exploring new ways of teaching and learning. 

I was enchanted to see how the mind of a newborn develops, amazed by the body’s process of reproduction, cognitive learning, development of habits, cultural inheritance, and unconscious patterns of behavior stuck in our ancestral genes. All this baggage of information influenced my study of yoga as a discipline for self-control and style of well being.

I became certified and started my own teaching practice.I began to feel very pleased and peaceful teaching others. After teaching in different studios and schools in El Salvador, in 2017 I opened my own personal yoga studio called Shanti Yoga, named after my second child. This is what I do for living, to keep art activities and daily family payments going on since art is not a profitable activity in a third world country like El Salvador, with excessive political corruption, noninvestment in education, daily violence, pathetic salaries for teachers, and nonrecognition or interest of empowerment and growth in the cultural scenario.

Yoga keeps me centered, healthy, and present in time. It helps me control my inner fears and embrace my weakness and reinforce my strength. Yoga is my technique when I perform. I hold onto my breathing. I connect with the feeling of being inside an asana and feel the warrior in me. From there I can risk myself and put my body in strong situations of physical and mental vulnerability and danger. It helps me to feel that I’m in control of myself although everything might be out of control around me. I stick to my mental calmness and breath and enjoy the ride.

CP: What were some of the projects that you completed in 2020?

AM: Last fall I coordinated a Latin American Festival of Performance Art with the aid and alliance of 18 countries from Mexico to Patagonia. It aimed to generate thought and to question the chaotic reality we’re living in, the abuse of power, the manipulation of mass media, the co-dependant needs of consumption as acts of systematic slavery, and the unequal human treatment we are facing during this time of the pandemic. 

I also produced a new piece exploring connections with humans and animals, finding new codes of communication, developing new ways of interaction, discovering synchronicity and tenderness. I worked with horses and created a new video performance art piece that screened in the Triennial of Performance DEFORMES in Chile in November 2020.

CP: What’s your favorite instrument of memory?

AM: A poetic image, a glorious smell, and music.

IoM: Thank you, Alexia! 

Alexia Miranda, is a multidisciplinary artist from El Salvador whose work explores the limits of human relations. She works with vulnerable communities through art therapy. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. In 2019 she participated in the 13th Bienal de la Habana. 

If you are interested in learning more about Alexia Miranda’s work, check out her website www. alexiamiranda.blogspot.com or follow her on Facebook and Instagram

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