We had the good fortune of connecting with Rodrigo Arruda and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rodrigo, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk is at the core of what I am trying to create. If I know exactly where I am going and how to get there, what would I learn? In 2021, for instance, I developed a video piece called “Phantom Glory Hole”. It was done right before I came to the US, and it condensed several of my interests and unsettling elements of my life at that moment: my own isolation during that pandemic; members of my family who were supportive of the far right; me having to comprehend the white-American gaze in relation to queer Latin American artists. The only thing I knew was that I was trying to touch on complex issues, and instead of avoiding the problem I was “poking the wound”. Right now I am doing a series of works called “Zombie Cattle”, where I explore colonial relations between Brazil and the US through imagery of cattle, cannibalism, and the zombie. Part of this work will involve going to cattle ranching sites and performing in a Zombie Cattle costume that I developed (a weird beige mask and black latex horns). Infiltrating those spaces poses a lot of risks to me, but that’s part of what I want to test and challenge.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
In the last ten years of my practice I have explored so many different bodies of work, and each new step seems to go in a direction that I hadn’t predicted. It is clear to me that experimentation or “zigzagging” is at the core of my practice, and I believe that many people see and appreciate that. My thesis show “EAT YOU” is a good example. After arriving in the US, I began re-exploring Oswald de Andrade’s “Anthropophagous Manifesto” (1928). This text is a milestone for Brazilian and Latin-American art, and it investigates relations between Brazilian identity and coloniality, while encouraging the subversion of the colonial order through the act of eating, digesting, and regurgitating the colonizer’s culture. Each piece of my exhibition used a different material and a different part of the body (mouth, voice, face, skin, torso), in a process of dismemberment or perhaps self-cannibalizing. While the works were very different from each other, I believe they formed one cohesive body. The process was to think of the works as a system, or a constellation, where each part is vital to the ensemble. The key is to have each work relate and inform the others, while preserving autonomy and independence from the group. One faculty member mentioned having a feeling of “schizophrenia” in the show, in the sense that each work seemed to have been made by a different artist. I thought that comment was spot-on.
I really appreciate challenging conversations with people who are also unafraid to face the horrors of our world and reality (like my friends Renato Pera, Kristofor Giordano, and Juliana Cerqueira Leite). I am a horror film fan, and I think this speaks to a desire to go deeper into aspects of society and yourself that you want to avoid or to forget. The zombie is an interesting example. The zombie is an important image in anticolonial discourse, and it is known to have originated from Haitian folklore in the 17th century. It has since become an arguably ubiquitous and overused trope. Nonetheless, the zombie can still be powerful in what it represents. The zombie has already lost its life, but refuses to die. It has lost all hope, but continues to move.
My Zombie Cattle project was inspired by the zombie, and by imagery of horns and cattle (which I associate with allegories of male dominance in the far-right in Brazil and the US). This project analyzes my own colonial relations and how they have informed my family and who I am. It would be too easy to talk about colonialism without acknowledging that I am also embedded in this process. Implicating yourself can create an unsettling feeling, because it is often more emotionally gratifying to point the finger at groups who vividly represent the qualities you dislike. Rather than pretend I am not part of the problem, I want to put my own complex relationship to colonialism in the foreground of my work.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
First I would take my friend to go hiking all the way to the Griffith Observatory, or in the desert mountains of Santa Clarita. Then I would take them to the nostalgic Pier Santa Monica (without is very touristic, but has a beautiful view) and take a long walk on the beach to Malibu. I would love to take my friend to Navel, or the Vincent Price Art Museum (which now has an amazing show with sound art by Latinex artists). I would also enjoy introducing them to Human Resources, Art and Practice, ICALA, Craft Contemporary, Armory, and of course LACMA. Mexican food is one of my favorites, and I would recommend La Azteca Tortilleria (where I had an amazing cactus taco) and Damian. Some of the best tacos, however, can be found in trailers and foodtrucks across LA, so I would take my friend for a walk in Downtown and see what we would find on the way. Finally, I would take them to Akbar to have a drink and chose a song from the jukebox.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
A big shout out to my mentor Cauleen Smith, who challenged and provoked me in the most inspiring and caring way possible. A shout out to Michael Ned Holte for his friendship and for teaching me how to teach. And, of course, to my family, who was very supportive of my artistic career.