A PowerPoint lecture delivered by artist Judi Werthein at Johnson Design Center, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, October 13, 2010, as part of the School of Art, Media, and Technology Visiting Artist Lecture Series

[For this project, Judi Werthein, an artist interested in language and the flows of capital and information, subcontracted an artist's talk to me. I in turn outsourced it to ResearchPaperz.net, a company based in the Ukraine. I purchased six separate papers from them on six of Judi’s works, then assembled the results into a single document. The final lecture touches on seven works, since ResearchPaperz.net erroneously attributed a further work to Werthein in the course of their writing.

In compiling the separate texts into a single document, I eliminated gross redundancies and other elements that would interfere with reading aloud but preserved most grammatical mistakes, factual errors, and incoherencies. I adapted Judi usual artist’s-talk PowerPoint presentation to fit the new content. (Note that the final PowerPoint differed slightly from the version keyed to this document.) Prior to the talk, while the audience entered the auditorium and waited, a projected montage of jpegs taken from term-paper websites and screengrabs of live chat with the Researchpaperz.net help desk played in a loop.—DLA]

I was born in 1967 in New York, Argentina. I live and work in a city called Brooklyn. Since I was a child, I have been involved in artwork and that is where I get my inspiration.

[SLIDE 2] Turismo
‘Turismo’ is the name given to the photography technique and installation I created, developed, and displayed with the help of my husband, Leandro Erlich, in the year 2000. In Turismo, the audience is made aware that the relationship between men and their surrounding are not set but rather they can continually be reinvented. We are faced with the unsteadiness of the different experiments but at the same time with the likelihood of making it appropriate in an exciting and inventive way.

[SLIDE 3] At its core, Turismo shows a series of photographs in a makeshift studio, depicting ordinary Cubans posing as they please in rather unlikely settings. In one of the photographs, there is the picture of a bunch of Cubans posing happily in a sparkling winter wonderland that has the incorporation of bright and festive-looking Alpine backdrops. There is fake snow on the underfoot, with most of the props used during the photography (such as the skis and snowballs) looking rather disingenuous at first sight. There is also the inclusion of a recreation of a snow-scene set, looking very pristine and inviting. [SLIDE 4] There are pictures of families with children, couples, soldiers, and even fort employees, most of them putting on skis and playing with snowballs. The incongruity between the background climate and the cultures of the photographed characters is palpable and intensified. [SLIDE 5] For example, in one of the photographs, there is the image of a man, woman (seemingly his wife), and children, who seem to step out into the snow wearing summer clothes, but adorned in skis and holding snowballs. There is also the inclusion of uncanny props, such as the horse, [SLIDE 6] the pushcart, and some goats, further increasing this incompatibility and inconsistency with the norm.


The playful and free-spirited manner in which the Turismo pictures are made point out to the innate paradox that life thrusts upon people, making them behave in a certain manner with relation to their environment. For instance, while tourism is the main economic activity in Cuba, the natives are themselves not free to travel and engage in this tourism because they have other engagements to meet. Nonetheless, in the pictures taken, they are depicted as acting like tourists, having fun while enjoying the jokes they are creating. Though the contrast between the cultures of the characters being photographed, the props, and the backgrounds is evident, it helps to bring out a sense of artistic beauty as well as the meaning and sense of belonging that everyone has to their environment.

[SLIDE 8] Turismo excites the sense of the viewer on first and immediate interpretations, while at the same time introducing people to experiences that they have limited or no access to. There is also the revelation of the way in which the media has molded our interpretation of the surroundings and what to expect. Through the artwork, the viewer is made aware of the fact that the relationship between their surroundings and their cultures and current situations is not permanent, centrally to the media perception and indoctrinations.

[SLIDE 9] Manicurated
[SLIDE 10] In 2001, I launched a Manicurated piece of work in a big museum where I selected more than ten paintings to act as nail decals. [SLIDE 11] I later employed professional manicurist to help me in offering services to the visitors. Most of these services were offered for free and they attracted a large number of audience. [SLIDE 12] With the Manicurated work I became famous not only because of my professional nail decoration, but because my museum created an environment where other artists could converge to discuss more about art that went far beyond social class, race, and age differences. [SLIDE 13] Since the launching of the museum, nail decals has become a significant constitute of the artwork. Other artists have joined the profession as a way of leisure and also to earn a living.

[SLIDE 14] The Manicurated work that was launched in 2001 in Bronx Museum formed a basis of my career in nail decals. I also realized that by inviting audiences from all races, ethnic ground and ages, I would promote peace and cooperation among the people living in Bronx. [SLIDE 15] This looks ahead to other of my artworks like Turismo and the Brinco in 2006, where you see that I was not only concerned about making money; I was ready to help others, especially those in need.


[SLIDE 17] Like all my art products Manicurated was designed for women to show them that, they too can make it if they want to. I was born at the time when the role of the woman was believed to be in the kitchen. Being a female, I was determined to prove that artwork can be pursued by anyone if only they have the passion for it. I was determined to fight against negative perceptions and also to curb discrimination which was evident in almost all sectors.

[SLIDE 18] Brinco
Another one of my artwork is the Brinco. [SLIDE 19] In 2006 I was requested to design a project that would investigate the relationship that existed between Southern California and Tijuana. I was able to devise a type of high-top tennis shoes that were distributed to all the people living in Tijuana, and others were sold in some of the boutiques located in New York and California. [SLIDE 20] It was devised by me and given out to a large number of Mexicans who were preparing to migrate (illegally) into the United States soil. The term 'Brinco' refers to the act of crossing the border from Mexico to the USA.

[SLIDE 21] The shoes had a compass and a flashlight to help the immigrants who crossed at night. They also had painkillers to help immigrants who might be injured along the way. They also had a pocket where the immigrants could hide money and a map to help them as they crossed over to the United States. [SLIDES 22, 23, 24] From all this you see that I was not only concerned about making money; I was ready to help those in need. For instance, BBC broadcasted news on a woman who was actually crying because she received a pair of shoes, something she had never had before. The toe of the shoe was embroidered with an American Eagle which represented their dream land. At the same time the embroidery indicated my royalty to the nation.

My shoes were sold in most parts of America as a special and unique art object at the price of $200 per pair. [SLIDE 25] The proceeds from the sale were used to provide necessities for the people living in Tijuana. The estimated number of shoes given to the Mexican immigrants was 1000, which were produced in China. At the same time, the United States was holding a national debate to discuss the rights and obligation of all immigrants. This caused a lot of controversy since they wondered why they too could not be given the shoe freely. This made me to be a frequent guest in talk shows and was a main feature in news.


I did receive some bad mails from people who did not support my project but overall the project attracted the attention of the whole nation because of the compassion it created towards the illegal immigrants.

My pair of shoes was simple and was produced using cheap labor which was available in the global market. To reduce the tensions ignited by the mobility in the global market by factories that were also seeking for cheap labor, the shoes were manufactured in China following strategies and models used by other factories operating outside the United States in disheartened economies. The project arbitrates on the global flow of labor and goods and also concentrates on issues of trade across borders among others. It also addresses the inconsistencies between competition and fashion in factories and the theme behind the concepts of labor geography in the global market.

My shoes were later sold in other parts of the world, for instance De Apple where I set up a Brinco shop. [SLIDE 26] The profit realized from the sale of the shoes was used to support the immigrants living in Tijuana. Inspired by this new project, I went to study in India, where I got a chance to observe the farmers who used to collect seeds of cereals, beans and rice, to breed them for better farming. I was really moved by their creativity and wanted to transfer my experience to improve farming in Scandinavia. That is how I came to make the artwork Potato Perspective in 2005. [SLIDE 27] I started by planting some traditional potatoes (the staple food) [SLIDES 28–32] which I found at that place and could be used in a variety of ways. Using the potato, I was able to understand the cultural aspects related to the consumption of potatoes, the regulation imposed on the production of agricultural products, and the problems associated with those regulations.

[SLIDE 33] Secure Paradise
My Secure Paradise is a thirteen-minute video artwork that focuses on a group of German immigrants living in Chile. The film generally shows how small the world is by following the movement of the Germans from the heart of Europe all the way to a small South American country.


Aside from this emphasis on the smallness of the world, the film goes ahead to depict the life trends of individuals from one society who move into another country and instead of trying to conform with the traditions and customs of the area in which they have relocated, they choose to live together in some form of closed society. This is well illustrated by the fact that the German children are not encouraged to learn Spanish, which happens to be the official language of Chile, and most of them end up adopting it when they are adults. The Germans are happy and comfortable in their small cocoon but outside their makeshift gated community, rumors are rife regarding the strange happenings among the Germans.

The short Secure Paradise contributes immensely to historical and contemporary stereotypes by highlighting the Germans’ obsession to hygiene and proper work ethic. This side of the German culture has been presented in a way that contrasts the American and European ways of life whose members are not as clean and orderly. Aside from this, the film also lends to history by illustrating how the war criminal Walter Rauss managed to evade the authorities. This is because the film categorically shows how easy it was for him to seek refuge within the closed German community and stay comfortably knowing very well that the community members could not leak information on his whereabouts to the authorities.

The film revolves around the events surrounding children as they grow up in such a small community as well as evaluating the life challenges that adults in the same community face. This is particularly given emphasis by presenting the view of the Chilean residents particularly in regards to their opinions of the ‘intruding’ Germans. This view is parallel to that fronted by the film This Functional Family (Familia (dis)funcional) also by me. [SLIDE 36] In the This Functional Family [SLIDE 37] I gave black actors the parts of masters whose domestic employees are white. [START VIDEO, SOUND OFF] This in a way creates a very unique situation in a community where things generally happen the other way round. [TURN UP SOUND ON VIDEO AND WATCH A MINUTE, THEN SOUND OFF] The Sonneveld family is under constant scrutiny from their neighbors who create sensational stories pertaining life in their house. This is the same challenge that the Germans face by their sheer difference from their neighbors. [END VIDEO]

That the effectiveness of an artwork is entirely dependent on the meaning that the viewer draws from the piece is well documented by the Secure Paradise based on the type of media that I chose for this piece. The usage of the video medium is very appropriate for the particular message I intended to pass across. This is augmented by the fact that I included numerous still photographs within the film to give the viewers time to personally form their own opinions regarding the events that are being highlighted.

[SLIDE 39] Cosa
Cosa is an artwork that can be compared to air of any given city. This is usually demonstrated in form of an artificial elephant [SLIDE 40, 41] made in China. Cosa can also be described as a piece that has the ability to reach out to any part of the world and has the ability to fill an unoccupied space and has the ability to change its shape. [SLIDE 42] Due to its nature and design it does not have the ability to fit in any room.

The current society is dominated by the media and the Internet. Therefore a question arises as to why art is made even at times when what is seen is not exactly what it actually is. [SLIDE 43] The artists therefore apply different interpretations of images, all of which are correct depending on the circumstances. They aim at perceiving things that are not seen through both candid and sarcastic ways. A single artwork carries more than one message or interpretation concerning the contemporary issues affecting the society. It only depends from which angle it is visualized.

[SLIDE 44] In this work, I ‘compress’ the sculpture of the elephant to fit in a very small room. However, when removed and inflated, it achieves its original size and shape. Within the enclosed space (most probably by walls), the bubbling of the confined animal can be heard. The sculpture inflates and deflates at regular intervals, hence providing a hissing sound that is cadenced in nature. Much as an observer may hear this, it quite unlikely that he or she can figure out its ultimate potential in terms of size. It can in other words be compared to a sleeping giant. In this way, I am able to depict an artwork that is not necessarily visible but one that is portrayed in the mind of the spectator. It is therefore up to the spectator to try and visualize it out in his or her mind.

[SLIDE 45] Throughout my work, I make symbolism an integral aspect of my designs. Taking the case of Cosa (‘thing’), much as it is made in China, air from different parts of the world can be used to inflate it. This therefore means that the sculpture is not only relevant to China but to all the countries of the world. It is a perfect fit in the description of it as moving freely all over the world. My best related symbolism may be attributed to Secure Paradise, my documentary on Colonia Dignidad, the German territory in Aracuaria in Chile that is highly protected. The normal activities of the society go on inside yet those outside may not have an understanding of what takes place. All they can do is speculate. This can be compared to my elephant sculpture enclosed by the walls in that, though inside it is only a matter of inflation and deflation, spectators can have a varied set of speculation of what happens in there. It is also worth noting that they may not clearly make out how the sculpture will look when it is let out. This can be compared to the fact that contrary to the town being small, it is capable of big things, for instance provision of refuge for Walter Rauss.

[SLIDE 46] Conclusion
I can be considered as one of the artists who have had a major impact in the modern artwork because I am not only interested in nail decals put also take part in media. My work is described as one that defies classification. I work by challenging issues on national identity, human rights, and economic impartiality. My work is not only involved in contemporary art but also other populations outside the world of art.

Most of my works reflect critical issues of different dimensions of life such as love, politics, war, and oppression among others. I use my creativity in art to vividly excavate what is hidden in the general view of the society. In my opinion I have distinguished myself as a dynamic artist whose art endures both the test of time and space.