ARTIST WORDS: An Exclusive Interview with Suzanne Bocanegra (December 2016)
Mitchell Center: Where were you when you thought of the title Farmhouse/Whorehouse?
Suzanne Bocanegra: I don’t remember when I thought of the title, but I’ve always thought I had three stories to tell, and they all are stories about how I became an artist. The first is about my Catholic church in Pasadena, Texas and a scandal that happened there when I was a child. The second is about the body cast I wore as a teenager and how that taught me to appreciate sculpture. And the third is about the aesthetic impact of my grandparents’ farm in La Grange and how strange it was that there was a famous brothel across the street.
Mitchell Center: What is important for you when you talk of your family, when they become characters in a story?
Suzanne Bocanegra: My family aren’t really characters in the performance. I am more interested in the hardscrabble life they lived, trying to make a living on this little farm—I am more interested on how they lived and how people like them lived than on the details of their lives, or exploring their character.
Mitchell Center: At what point in your life did you think it was maybe “unusual” that your grandparents lived across from a famous whorehouse?
Suzanne Bocanegra: I couldn’t tell the story of my grandparents’ farm without telling the story of this whorehouse. Both of them were kind of historical anomalies—my grandparents trying to make a living off of such a small farm, a 19th century style Wild West whorehouse trying to hide in plain sight. They both were doomed and they both closed up around the same time.
Mitchell Center: What led you into bringing in some of the particular historical and cultural contexts into this lecture?
Suzanne Bocanegra: Part of the whole idea of this piece is to examine how my grandparents’ farm was ending at the same time that urbanites started becoming fascinated by an idealized agrarian life—the hippies, the back-to-the-land movements, the organic farming movement. In my life I watched both happen—the decline of a real farm and the rise of the ideal farm—and I have been thinking about what that means ever since. Then I started looking for connections to art and to how I learned about art.
Mitchell Center: What are some of the ways the lecture format continues to appeal to you?
Suzanne Bocanegra: I love the lecture format because it is a person speaking directly to the listener—it is more conversational and direct than a play or a performance. But because there is an actor there is still a fourth wall, a distance between the audience and the stage that gives me freedom to bring in lots of other things. What I love about Lili Taylor is that she is a much more convincing version of me than me.