Interview: Marie Tomanova
Photo: Olimpia Dior
I met Martine Gutierrez a couple of months ago through an exhibition Muse Muse that we were both part of. I walked into the gallery on installation day and there she was… tall, beautiful and shining with such a wonderful energy! I was immediately drawn to her and fell in love. Martine’s work is as captivating as her presence, exploring the construct and complexity of gender identity, transformation and self. I was so excited to talk to Martine about her recent project at Public Arts, and find out more about her childhood and where the inspiration for all her work is coming from!
Marie Tomanova: You performed at Public Arts, the preference space at Public hotel recently. How did that come about? I heard that it has been first time in two years since you performed live, is that true?
Martine Gutierrez: Yes, all true! It was for a party called PRIMA. It all came about because me and 3 of my sisses wanted to have a four way bday party, because we each have the same birthday with one another. We knew we needed a performer because the party was going to be on a Wednesday, and I volunteered to be the diva we needed. It was major, but I honestly don’t know when I’ll climb on a stage again, it was so anxiety provoking. But it gave me a chance to see how people responded to the music I’ve been making. My first self produced album comes out this year, and the first single dropping in May!! I can’t wait.
MT: I am very curious – how you started doing performance?
MG: It’s just a more public and scrutinizing form of what I do by myself to make an image. All the same elements; costume, makeup, exuding a persona bigger than myself. The difference is I wash off the spectacle I create right after I shoot, no one else gets to see it until it’s up on a gallery wall. Because the process is solitary it allows me to be reflective and fully in control. But I’ve been dressing up and performing for my family since I was little.
MT: Your performances are very captivating, filled with emotions, vulnerability and powerful intimacy. What is the inspiration, your thoughts and emotions behind it?
MG: I can only estimate the mood I want to give. When I shoot with myself I often have such an awareness of my physicality that what I end up performing can be miles away from what I capture on film, and what I intended originally–and those shoots are some my favorites because I surprise myself! OR, I’m so discouraged looking back at my film that I completely reshoot on another day. There’s really no in-between for me, it’s love or hate or no one gets to see it.
MT: How do you think your performance connects with community?
MG: With my community? Are you asking about LGTBQ or Latin community, both? I really couldn’t, it’s something I feel I would need more experience doing–but people at PRIMA really lived for it, so idk.
MT: What does your process look like when you are preparing for performance? How do you find the right music, look, do you practice moves?
MG: Oh, for sure! It’s the same mode of thinking for when I make a music video; It always starts with the sound, what it conveys visually, narrative, and then what I feel I should look like to perpetuate that narrative. But what I do on stage is intuitive, like in front of a camera, and I think my anxiety stems from that–from not being able to control how people see me because it’s all live. I don’t have the luxury of deleting and reshooting if it’s not to my own standards of what I know I can deliver.
It's one of my favorite things to watch people watch me. Usually people don't recognize me in my work, I can stand alongside them as they scrunch up their nose, squint their eyes or point.
MT: From my own experience as an artist, I feel like lots of my work reflects on my childhood experiences. Do you feel like your childhood and youth plays big role in your art?
MG: Absolutely. It’s not just the sense of play that I want to hold onto, it’s the influence of characters that have been iconic to me since childhood, and travel. We traveled a lot growing up, back and forth visiting family in Guatemala while living in the states and all the cross cultural mythology is instilled in my minds eye.
MT: I am always interested in people’s upbringing and childhood memories.. What was your growing up like? What is your strongest memory from that time?
MG: God, so many strong memories. A few near death experiences, some very happy or very upsetting gender affirmations. My parents met in the Bay Area when he was coming out of a past marriage, and divorced not long after I was born, so I grew up in two very distinct household environments. My dad was bewildered by the ideal of the ‘american dream’ yet my sister and I had to teach him what being American meant–mostly consisting of correcting his broken english <3 lol. And my Mother was a very independent, liberal single mom who really nurtured my love of the arts. She pushed me signed up for everything; dance, music, theater, painting, filmmaking, because she saw how liberating it was for me to express what I couldn’t articulate. I really am so grateful to her.
MT: I used to play in this small abandoned park with big pine trees that I loved and I planted flowers there. I was very serious about it. It was my secret hideout, an escape where I could dig in dirt, climb trees and take care of flowers. I still think of that place. Do you have favorite place from your childhood where you like to return in your thoughts and memories? Do you think it reflects in your art when you create “space” for yourself?
MG: I moved with my mother to Vermont, and that’s really where I went through puberty and finished high school. My angsty, misunderstood teen years where especially chaotic for me and I would often seek refuge of the woods after getting out of school. We lived up a half a mile dirt road that the school bus wouldn’t drive up, so every day I walked the road alone. On one side ran a small stream hidden by a field of knee high grass and along the other, maple trees lined with ferns and clusters of blackberry bushes. I could lay down and disappear into either. Or if I didn’t want to go home, I could walk up beyond the house into the cow pasture or climb though a rusty trash heap that looked to been abandoned in the 70s.
MT: You work with the “self”, your body and identity on so many different levels. With my own self-portraiture work, I find it amusing to see people’s reactions once they realize that it is me who is in the photo.. What is your experience of viewing your art with your audience at art shows?
MG: It’s one of my favorite things to watch people watch me. Usually people don’t recognize me in my work, I can stand alongside them as they scrunch up their nose, squint their eyes or point. It feels like I finally get to see how people internalize their perception of me, or of a person similar to me. Whether they question the gender or ethnicity of the pop-star I perform or if they don’t, both are interesting and say something about how they might interpret me as an individual irl.
MT: Do you remember your dreams?
Not unless I tell someone as soon as I wake up, although I’ve been trying to recite them to myself when I can–but there’s usually too much detail to illustrate before they evaporate.
MT: Do you have other exhibitions, art projects coming up this year? What can we keep looking forward to? When and where can we see you next? <3
MG: I have a solo show coming in Chelsea set to open on the beginning of September! That will feel monumental because it’s been a long time coming labor of love. I have the album but with no date, and an on-lost of music videos I’ve been sitting on. But the fist single is called Origin, and it’s especially important because it’s a sexy collaboration I got to produce and direct with my mother mentor and glam idol Nomi Ruiz. That’s all I’ll say for now. Xx