It’s a slightly mean thing to say, but sometimes the work of Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo veers pretty close to the sort of blatant symbolism you’d expect to find in parodies of performance art. In one video, for instance, she repeatedly gets thrown by a mechanical bucking bull onto a crash mat decorated with the stars and stripes – a comment on the US dominance of Latin America. Another film shows her sitting in a public plaza while blood drips onto her head – symbolising the bloodshed that mars Guatemalan society. And, in one of the few pieces in this mini-retrospective where the artist doesn’t feature, a man walks through village streets with a coffin strapped to his back – so that’s a metaphor for the everyday burden of death, then.
If these descriptions of her work sound glib, well, perhaps that’s just a way of deflecting the relentless earnestness of Galindo’s project. To be sure, she’s exploring some big issues: social and political violence, the treatment of women, torture. But actually the ideas are much more raw and affecting when she dispenses with the elaborate allegories and goes straight for the jugular – such as being forcibly subjected to water-board treatment, or carving the word ‘Perra’ (‘Bitch’/’Whore’) into her trembling leg with a knife.
Yet even these works are lacking something. Perhaps the problem is that they’re so obviously live performances, complete with flash photography and glimpses of the audience, whereas what you experience here is just the video documentation. In that sense, the best pieces are those that incorporate this discrepancy: the way her poetry recital gets lost to traffic noise, as she dangles from a wire above the city; or the sinister, voyeuristic scrutiny of the camera focusing on her naked form, wrapped in a clear plastic bag, and left, like a murder victim, in a rubbish dump.