Regina José Galindo Addresses Police Brutality through Performance Piece SIREN at the Watermill Center

SIREN, performed by Regina José Galindo in collaboration with a dozen mechanics. Photo by Maria Baranova.

This year, the Watermill Center’s annual benefit was centered on “The Body,” a familiar territory for Guatemalan performance artist Regina José Galindo. She used the occasion to debut her piece, “SIREN”. Over the course of two hours, Galindo sat in the back of a police car as a crew of twelve mechanics tore it to pieces. The final product was a lifeless pile of bolts and wires.

SIREN is a vivid argument for the practicality of breaking down oppressive institutions. A reminder that the effectiveness of state violence comes from the summation of small parts working together. "The police car is a symbol of oppression, of power. By dismantling it, piece by piece, we are playing the game of dismantling a system of oppression,” Galindo says. The artist cites the Black Lives Matter movement as a moment of inception for this piece, “Police violence became a national problem and I thought it pertinent to use my fellowship at the Watermill Center in New York to make a comment on this situation. A comment turned into action. Take power away from power. Dismantle it little by little.”

The dismantling can only take place, of course, by a collective and organized effort. SIREN was carried out in collaboration with twelve mechanics.

“My relationship with the chief mechanic, Gurcan Akis, was very positive. He seemed enthusiastic about the matter of dismantling a police car and wanted to do everything carefully to remove the pieces one by one, if possible, without damaging them. He confidently detailed the operation of dismantling the car, organized all of the mechanics with our team and gave guidance on the steps to follow,” Galindo says of the partnership. “During the performance, Akis made sure everything was under control. From the start of the collaboration with the auto mechanics, all of them made me feel very confident in SIREN's process,” she asserts.

The effectiveness of SIREN is in showing that an institution can in fact be stripped and divested of its power, a constant theme for Galindo whose work often exalts personal responsibility in the face of institutional transgression.

“I generally design into a performance a few punctuated moments of public awareness. I hope that the public can stop and pause to think about what I am commenting on. In the case of SIREN, I denounce police abuse committed against the population not only in the United States but throughout the world. The siren was kept on for quite a long time, that is until it lost power in the dismantling of the car. The siren's sound kept the public alert and this sequencing was by design,” Galindo admits.

SIREN was an action with great emotion, sitting there in the backseat watching. Watching how the car that is there supposedly to protect is dismantled piece by piece by a group of 12 men who work almost like ants following a very well-organized plan. SIREN was a transgression, a breach of order.”