Where do artists stop and artworks begin?

By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove

 

Is the artwork an extension of the artist, or the artist an extension of the artwork?

Today, I was having a conversation with an artist, whose artwork immediately occupied the space between our faces as we conversed. The artwork, a truly exquisite yet delicate hanging installation, which he placed at eye level in the comfort of his own home. 

While he spoke the slight breeze in the room allowed the work to dance for me. I was entranced by the motion, its color, the experience overall,  I was even allowed to play with said artwork, and that single instance quickly became a lasting memory.  For a moment, however, it became difficult to focus on the artist, as the artwork commanded all my attention. Yet, as I glanced into his eyes the artwork ceased to exist, it disappeared between us, this interaction unsettled and shook my very core, to say the least. 

I often find myself witnessing artworks at galleries or museums, even during studio visits the works are somewhat removed. At museums, for instance, the works command respect, the museum curators carefully craft experiences in which people are not allowed to interact with artworks for the most part.

Living Sculpture by Marisa Merz | Hammer Museum 

Living Sculpture by Marisa Merz | Hammer Museum 

The aforementioned artist and I visited the Hammer museums a few days ago and quickly became fascinated by Marisa Merz' Living Sculpture magnificently displayed in the middle of a large gallery, sectioned off so people won't accidentally get lost in all its wonder. As Hans-Ulrich Obrist explained, Marisa's sculpture was a part of her everyday life, Merz did not construct this sculpture at her studio, this artwork was in fact on her kitchen table, in her living room (similar to my artist friend's work), it occupied her own living space. It was an intimate part of who she is. Thus removing this artwork from her private home and taking it to a  museum, however beautiful was several steps removed from how the artist conceived of this in the context of her daily life. As I witnessed the artwork in the ever expansive galleries at the Hammer Museum, I could not help but think that the only way to truly appreciate the work as it was intended, would be to visit Merz' at home myself; idea which I mentioned to my artist friend, who quickly reminded me of how limiting this possibility would be for the general populous. 

Marisa Merz | The Sky is a Great Space

Marisa Merz | The Sky is a Great Space

But I digress, how was a delightfully elegant, and graceful artwork unsettling? How was something so fragile capable of such reaction? The work in question has a Calderesque essence about it, it is playful and subtle yet clearly packs a punch. 

The very fact that the artwork challenged the artist for my attention, made me realize that they were one and the same in a certain way. In galleries, at museums and even in this oh so private setting, the artwork spoke for the artist. The artist, in turn, was speaking about the artwork. So in reality, my mind was trying like Picasso to acknowledge different sides of a single whole. Trying to achieve this without acknowledging that this was in fact what was happening caused the unsettlement. 

Visually speaking it is fairly easy to acknowledge where one ends and the other begins (more so with non-performance related artworks). Conceptually, however, the artist and the artwork are in fact intertwined, so they breathe a single existence, one unique reasoning; before an audience steps in that is, because then both transcend themselves and inhabit many realms simultaneously. 

Untitled artwork by a great artist, personally keep anonymous today. 

Untitled artwork by a great artist, personally keep anonymous today. 

It is my understanding that the powerful and harmonious aesthetic iteration which inspired this article is, in fact, the birth of a more elaborate artwork, so I will allow the artist to share that with the world on his own time. Yet maybe, just maybe, the artwork won't see the light of day further than the privacy of this artist's home, maybe it was created just to challenge me to delve into this very concept. 

Maybe the conceptual praxis of this artwork lies at deciphering my aesthetic understanding of what an artist truly is, or help me redefine those very parameters. Either way, I eagerly await the future of this artwork and am fairly certain that the artist's aesthetic practice will continue to challenge me for days to come.

Abdul Mazid: GlitterVicious, GlitterViolent, GlitterDangerous

By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove

Untitled Disaster (detail) | by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

Untitled Disaster (detail) | by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

Anticipating the upcoming exhibition GlitterBold, artists Matthew Carter and Abdul Mazid embarked on a collaboration (a first-time experience for both). Untitled Disaster was born on a rainy afternoon in a nearly empty parking lot, somewhere in the city of Angels.

Untitled Disaster consists of a burgundy Toyota Camry, which has been intervened by the artists. Said vehicle was recently in a collision and is no longer operable, a great portion of the driver’s side has been wrecked, and one of its windows is shattered. Carter and Mazid coated with glitter portions of the vehicle in a quasi-primitive performative action.

The conception of Untitled Disaster sprung out of a conversation had during a recent visit to Matthew Carter's studio, at which Mazid and I found ourselves discussing car crashes and glitter. On that occasion, we spoke about art, glitter,  economic concerns, collisions and my inability to comprehend how glitter could be masculine.

Untitled Disaster (detail)                                                         by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

Untitled Disaster (detail)                                                         by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

Untitled Disaster (detail)                                                         by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

Untitled Disaster (detail)                                                         by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

Glitter having predominant connotations as a craft, mostly relegated to female activities, for me, lived in the intersectionality of pleasantness and kitsch delicacy. That is, until today. I arrived a few minutes into the action to find Carter and Mazid filling water grenades with blue paint. I was shocked, to say the least. Mazid quickly explained that I should take every precaution not to be harmed in what I was soon to witness.

Carter and Mazid took turns displaying intense force and thus thrusting these explosive exchanges one by one toward the vehicle. On selected occasions, the small missiles would fail to burst causing exasperation, mild hints of rage, and uncontrollable dissatisfaction from both Carter and Mazid. As a result, the consecutive interaction would be met with even more force, deliberately increasing in roughness.

Untitled Disaster (detail) | by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

Untitled Disaster (detail) | by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

While trying to keep me safe from being splattered or harmed, Mazid would often direct my positioning. This conscientious exchange between us inevitably brought about a conversation about the primitive nature of man. It was concluded that contemporary man does not, in fact, indulge the primal side to him any longer, yet cannot truly escape it, as it is his innate instinct, even if it can only flourish under restraints.  

I found myself lost in the scene performed by the actions of Carter and Mazid, time and time again. Untitled Disaster was entrancing to witness. Glitterfying a car had turned glitter violent, it was as if the medium had become other to its true nature. The feminine craft connotations were tossed aside and instead, glitter was granted an almost disturbing sense of passion, it became forceful, rough, unrestrained, vicious, violent, dangerous.

Abdul Mazid creating Untitled Disaster

Abdul Mazid creating Untitled Disaster

I kept my distance as instructed by Mazid, yet Untitled Disaster somehow managed to invade me. I was not alone, I saw two glitter beards, a glitter nose, glitter shoes, a glitter behind, and oh so much more. Glitter violated the inner sanctity of my personal space and managed to violently infringe upon me without so much as a warning, while it absolutely took over the artists themselves. I’ve never before had glitter violently attacked me. I kept staring at one of my fingers covered in this blue substance, so foreign yet enchanting, I felt vulnerable at the site of this invasion, as if the violence of the medium was somehow crawling upon me.

Witnessing such unrestrained emergence of force, made me fear at times for my safety, it made me hyper-aware of glitter’s otherness, which had been obscure to me as of today. I had the opportunity to witness this interaction in relation to the artists themselves, yet simultaneously removed from partaking in the creation of Untitled Disaster itself. It was fascinating to witness these two men interacting with such a delicate yet violent medium. This interaction felt so far removed from each of their practices, yet simultaneously at the core of their aesthetic queries.

Untitled Disaster (detail) | by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

Untitled Disaster (detail) | by Matthew Carter & Abdul Mazid ©

Mazid and I, who had previously spoken about the economic value of art, continued to discuss said implications during the performative action. We seem to problematize the convergence of aesthetics and economy at a philosophical level. Untitled Disaster raised many queries about profitability, the performative nature of mankind, the whimsical aspirations we need to bestow upon our work (he as an artist, and I as curator), the violent nature of actions, and so much more.

At the core of Mazid’s practice lies questioning creation and destruction of value itself. Untitled Disaster granted Carter and Mazid a well-expressed appraisal of simultaneous creation and destruction of object, value and medium exploration, thus marking the early stages to a glitter-coated concern that has been instigated, one I very much look forward to witnessing him transcend.

Untitled Disaster made in conjunction with the exhibition GlitterBold, to take place at Jai & Jai Gallery, featuring the artwork of Matthew Carter, and Abdul Mazid, alongside that of Juan Logan



CAAM is finally a place for me

By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove

Extra Value by Genevieve Gaignard

Extra Value by Genevieve Gaignard

I visited the California African American Museum of Art for the conversation between Mark Bradford and Naima J. Keith. Mark Bradford, and abstract painter and currently the United States representative for the upcoming Venice Biennale and Naima Keith CAAM’s New Deputy Director, engaged in a conversation about Bradford’s career for the most part, but they also spoke about race politics, community engagement, contemporary art and Jheri Curls (seems Bradford sported them in the earlier stages of his life).

Bradford expanded on his practice as being abstract in nature; abstraction is my way to interrogate ideas in the intimacy of my own studio, he mentioned. He explained that the art world is a safe space for unsafe ideas, whereas the world is just an unsafe space. He joked about the early stages of his artistic path and mentioned the struggles he underwent decades ago. He was very real, approachable, kind, funny, not at all what I expected to encounter.

In Conversation | Mark Bradford and Naima Keith

In Conversation | Mark Bradford and Naima Keith

It seems to me that this intimate conversation between friends (Keith and Bradford have been friends for over fifteen years) which I witnessed marks a beginning, a new era for CAAM possibly. As a Jaxican (Japanese / Mexican) female, I often interrogate the nature of my own race, the hybridity of my being per se. As a person of color (multiple shades at that) my intersectionality navigates and become fluid in various spaces, conceptual and real. In a crowd of Mexicans, I am a Pocha. In a crowd of Caucasians, I am brown. In a black crowd I did not really feel like I fit-in before (but I must confess that most of the times I have been in all black crowds I found myself in the South). As Bradford himself mentioned during this conversation, “race enters the room before you do… I usually take a minute to process it, I don’t know that I am black, until I see certain responses in others toward me.” This conversation made me internalize my own query in the same regard, I don’t think of myself as brown in a room full of brown people but that changes when I’m surrounded by any other race, this is true.

 
When surrounded by your race, you don’t see color.
— Mark Bradford
 

But let’s discuss art now, my professional art focus is Latin American (predominantly Mexican and Chicano) and I am well versed in European, Asian, Contemporary, and even African Art, but not African American. Thus in previous occasions I felt a disconnect between me and the art shown at CAAM. Growing up in another country also means that while you all learned about issues such as slavery I was dealing with the Mexican-American loss of territory. So there is a clear gap between my comfort level around art and the works shown at CAAM, but no more!

The exhibitions currently at CAAM, their new programing strategies and the countless number of people I came across the other night activated CAAM for me in a whole new light. I felt inspired by Mark and Naima, I felt like I could come up to them and have a real art conversation, instead of feeling them far removed, now I think they are approachable, friendly and oh so brilliant.

The Black Righteous Space by Hank Willis Thomas 

The Black Righteous Space by Hank Willis Thomas 

The Black Righteous Space by Hank Willis Thomas felt challenging at first, but I it also bestowed upon me a level of agency toward developing a further discussion about identity, media and race (which inspired this entry).

Works by Sherin Guirguis

Works by Sherin Guirguis

The Ease of Fiction opened a new window for me to explore work of artist born in Nigeria, Rwanda, Botswana and it also made me fall in love with Sherin Guirguis (b. Egypt) whose work was new to me, all while exploring the concept of memory and play. Whereas Genevieve Gaignard: Smell the Roses was a child-like exploration into concepts of femininity but also of constructed memories which to me were far removed. Colliding both black and white cultures into these rooms filled with endless kitsch wonders, made me feel extremely foreign. Whereas, her self-portraits simultaneously brought me in.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet by Genevieve Gaignard

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet by Genevieve Gaignard

The anxiety of feeling foreign in a place that is so familiar was exactly how I felt every other time I had visited CAAM in the past. But not today, on this occasion CAAM welcomed me. It showed me sensations unknown and made me feel a wondrous serenity, I was able to speak to a few of the artist being exhibited and even took a selfie with Mark Bradford.

I made lots of new friends and ended up dancing at CAAM after a very pleasant interaction with another individual who felt just as inspired that night as I did. At the end of the night me and him discussed our mutual desire to further the art careers of our people, but instead of it being Latino or African American exclusively, our people became people of color in general.

Finally, after all my previous visits to CAAM, I can honestly say I look forward coming back; it might be the new administration, it might be the programing, it might be the amazing art I came across. But I am now eager to become a part of the CAAM community in as much as I am a part of MOLAA or MOCA. Now I know that CAAM is a place for me. A place for me to come and question the commonality and larger issues of my own community; issues that while not often directly affecting my intersectionality still affect me, my friends, my family, my community, my and city.

 
People will always have time for the things they love.
— Mark Bradford
 

I Only Have Eyes for… Electric Earth

By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove

Song 1 (still from video), by Doug Aitken

Song 1 (still from video), by Doug Aitken

Over the past couple of weeks, I must admit I have developed a mild addiction to Electric Earth. A survey exhibition on Doug Aitken’s career as curated by Philippe Vergne Director of MOCA, currently on view at MOCA-Geffen. As of now its only been open about twenty days and I have already witnessed it several times; each time however I seem to have an entirely different experience, yet somehow manage to leave Geffen more enamored then when I initially arrived. 

Song 1 welcomes everyone into MOCA-Geffen, a circular-all-immersive screen video installation playing the song I Only Have Eyes For You; which is displaying a 35min video made of fragments, instances in which a plethora of characters re-imagine the same song over and over again, song which has been meshed into a singular cohesive melody. Tilda Swinton and Devendra Banhart are amongst the individuals featured in this piece. The intoxicating experience entranced me upon arrival, it immediately granted me a zen-like state of consciousness, which I don’t think I have ever experience downtown. Song 1 permeates the entire landscape at MOCA-Geffen, as if playing in the background to every single artwork in the entire exhibition, or serving as a needed pause between video installations.

Electric Earth lacks a beginning or a logical design by which to be experienced, thus exploring the labyrinthine gallery spaces becomes a wondrous journey; an aesthetic exploration of sound and moving image installations that blends emotion and perception seamlessly with epic levels of cinematic craftsmanship, geometric sound, chromogenic aluminum light boxes, resin casted pay phones that sense the viewer, black mirrors that create infinite spaces, billboards displayed at eye level and flickering neon signs. As Aitken himself mentioned in conversation with Vergne, “I wanted to empower the viewer to get lost and become absorbed in the different narratives… so the viewer can be the author of their own experience.”

Twilight by Doug Aitken

Twilight by Doug Aitken

Yesterday, I lost myself in Electric Earth for about four hours, and I was unable to fully enjoy all of the artworks it has to offer. The countless installations seem to go on forever in the best of ways. As Aitken himself stated,

We are experiencing time in a different way now in terms of information…. the moment when we stop and turn everything off, we find ourselves alone in an almost greater silence. This expansion and compression of time moves us toward alternative forms of perception.

As I delved into Black Mirror, Migration or even just walking around Song 1 my perception of time was significantly distorted. It even managed to make me hide away my personal technology, there is no real need for it, not in this space, I was surrounded by video installations after all. The information I was visually receiving satiated my inner most needs to be constantly plugged in, but unlike my iPhone this one filled me with a sense of inner peace. This exhibition somehow managed to stop me on my tracks, turn me off to the universe outside of MOCA-Geffen, and fed me a constant string of information that was simultaneously making me question my perception while removing outside stimuli. The universe outside of Geffen actually ceased to exist for a few hours.  

Migration (still) by Doug Aitken | Image courtesy of Regen Projects 

Migration (still) by Doug Aitken | Image courtesy of Regen Projects 

Migration for instance, which is astonishingly displayed in a series of billboards, had me questioning my own patterns of comfort within foreign spaces. The 24min video shows the interactions of various animals inside a motel room, an owl, a beaver, an eagle, bunnies, and even a horse, all find themselves destroying a motel room in one way or another during this linear video installation. While watching it I wondered if the next time I find myself in a motel, I will make sure there are no beavers in my bathtub. But as I spoke to my companion about the potential of this being filmed on-site versus having a set constructed for the purposes of this installation, I also began to wondered how much of this perceived reality I was in fact constructing out of my own information, and how much of the same was being presented to me as a mere informative reality of an imagined truth.

Black Mirror by Doug Aitken

Black Mirror by Doug Aitken

Whereas Black Mirror, which stars Chloë Sevigny (rumored to make an impromptu appearance at Geffen during this exhibition) kindly reminded me of how illogical it is to perceive motion as my place in time and geographical location is constantly changing. Departure appeared to be a deconstruction of the sense of geographical perspective. Within it a traveling Sevigny moves from place to place, but in fact Aitken removes all visual signifiers of a specific locations from the video itself, leaving the viewer to wonder where exactly this all takes place. Losing Baggage is another distortion of linear time, in which the awareness of the same is reinvented with a series of images that again manages to stretch time into an amorphous concept. New Condition however directly confronts the general concept of time “next year, ten years from now, or things like that.”

1968 | House by Dough Aitken 

1968 | House by Dough Aitken 

One of the most intriguing factors that re-appeared through the entire exhibition was a constant use of re-purposed video imagery, glances from Song 1 informed Black Mirror, which in turn informed other installations. Similar instances or glances into moments from one installation carried onto the next. Each interweaving moments from one room to the next, from one artwork to another. It was almost as if the more I delved into the exhibition the more it unraveled in front of my eyes. The more it gave me, the more it fed my need to dive in and possess fragments of a whole I cannot fully piece together. Each song, each instance, each glance into a mirror or the flickering neon, each photograph carried me deeper and deeper in an endless exploration of time that warped my perception of itself. The more I saw, the more I questioned. The more I learned, the more distorted my view became of all the information I was being fed through all these multiple channels. As previously mentioned I was there circa four hours, of which I perceived less than a fourth. It was not until my companion pointed to the time that I realized how long we had been there.

Sonic Fountain by Doug Aitken Installation video courtesy of Vaughan Risher.

The crown jewel of the exhibition is without a doubt Sonic Fountain. Tucked in one of the corners of Geffen exists an installation so magnificent that the museum structure had to be dismantled for it to come alive. Sonic Fountain is a water installation which tore open the floor at MOCA-Geffen to give way for a white pool of light that is being activated by a geometric pattern of water that drips from rods suspended from the ceiling. The patterns being created by the water, shifts in volume and speed to create a cavernous sound amplified by the chaotic surroundings of the gallery space which it inhabits; the aftermath of demolition lies all around the space, pieces of shattered concrete and a number of other destroyed elements give way for its existence. The entropy of its conception lies all around the cacophonous room, disrupting the museum from the inside in the most wonderful way.

Furthermore, the activation of the Underwater Pavilions said to inhabit a marine preserve off Avalon in Catalina Island is another iteration of this exhibition that I am very much looking forward to, which is due to open by the end of October as per the public conversation between Aitken and Vergne that took place during Electric Earth’s opening week.

This adventure of mine, this affair I seem to be indulging on with Electric Earth is one I have yet to fully complete. It is save to say I will return to Geffen, head to Avalon and continue to quench this thirst, this newly-found addiction to a quasi-illogical warped perception of time and space that can only be satiated by delving deep within the confines of this exhibition.

But for now Electric Earth is “here… and so am I.”


End by Doug Aitken

End by Doug Aitken

More by Doug Aitken 

More by Doug Aitken 

Witnessing My Own Shadow

By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove

This past summer Los Angeles saw the birth and death of its own shadow. As a part of Current:LA Public Art Biennial brought forth by the Department of Cultural Affairs; Teresa Margolles erected La Sombra, a monumental yet minimalist structure made of concrete that stood colossal at Echo Park. 

La Sombra was born out of death; a monumental signifier of the state of our city. Margolles confronting the death tolls of Los Angeles, was invigorated into accomplish this installation after a year long research project. Having accessed the Los Angeles Times archives, Margolles discovered that 975 murders took place in Los Angeles this past year. Which she marked in a city map over which she inlayed a spiral that began in Echo Park. After learning this, she and a group of volunteers took to the streets to ritualistically mark one hundred of the murder sites (those that rest on the spiral) with water. Having a degree in Forensic Science informs many of Margolles’ actions, thus the symbolic cleansing of the city gesturally mimicked an autopsy. Having collected the fluid remains from each of a hundred murders, allowed Margolles and her team to gather water which was mixed in with the concrete used to create La Sombra.

Alongside the installation, Margolles having quickly ventured herself within this community asked local shops to display the video documentary, filmed while collecting the water of the murder sites. The video was on view at El Clásico Tattoo, Sunday’s Best, Reggie’s Deli-Café, Elya Hair Salon, Echo Park Film Center, and Los Lavaderos Laundromat, during the duration of Current:LA. Each and every site selected is within walking distance to Echo Park. As Margolles explained she wanted La Sombra to permeate the community via word-of-mouth, she wanted people to be dragged on site having never even encountered the structure.

La Sombra dominated the landscape of Echo park for about a month, somewhere between mid July and mid August, thousands of people were fortunate to witness this installation. Considering that a city as vast as Los Angeles as a population of nearly four million people made me wonder at times what the structure itself witnessed. I found myself personally gravitating toward Echo Park during the days Margolles sculpture was on-site. Due in part to my previous interest in Teresa’s work; over the last couple of years I have gravitated toward her aesthetic practice in more ways than one, during my days at UCLA I used her work to inform a few of my papers, in my time at Sotheby’s I discuss various legal issues in art making processes referencing her practice. Needless to say I have been fascinated by Teresa Margolle’s work for an extended period of time, and having met her this past summer filled me with joy, but it also made me question the bureaucracy of city commissions, art manufacturing standards, public engagement and multiple other concerns. 

El Arte publico es lo menos publico que existe
— Teresa Margolles

During one of my initial encounters with Margolles, she stated that Public art is the least public type of art in existence. Hearing this unraveled a number of conflicts deep within me, after all how can public art not be public? Yet there seemed to be a poignant truth to said statement. La Sombra was commissioned by the city and paid for in conjunction with a private corporation whose sole focus seems to be a philanthropic cultural agenda. Furthermore, La Sombra was curated by Irene Tsatsos, Director of the Armory Center of the Arts, alongside a project curator and experience curator who also helped to see this project come alive. La Sombra is public or so I thought to myself, I somehow wanted people to visit the sculpture and passively observe (because in my mind Echo park was clearly an accessible museum) the structure while pontificating about its implications in this very public space. I was not considering public engagement at all (not back then anyway). What I witnessed during the next couple of weeks shattered my little public-art-engagement bubble.

For starters during the day of the official unveiling of La Sombra, a twenty-year-old Latino male was stabbed a couple of feet away from the structure itself. It seemed almost sinister to me that these two events converged. La Sombra was viewed as a contemporary memorial, after all it marks the deaths of almost a thousand people in Los Angeles. I however, could not think of this structure as a memorial, for me a memorial commemorates death, noble deaths far-removed, like those of war veterans. La Sombra to me, was not showing respect to something that happened decades ago, this was directly criticizing the injustice and death apparatus currently operating in the city of Angeles. I took a peak at Margolles’ research (as was made available by DCA) and found that a great portion of the murders that informed the creation of La Sombra where in fact young Latino and Black men. The entire concept was far from removed, after all its my people, my community, my city.

A conversation about gentrification arose courtesy of this installation. It seems Echo Park for some Angelinos still carries severe negative connotations, let us not forget that before the park’s restoration concluded in 2013 this was a place filled with gang members in a zone of the city that was less than optimal to be around (specially when its dark). However, after the city infused this location with a forty-five-million, two-year renovation, decked with lotus flowers, a playground, and a running path that goes around the entire lake; Echo became a prime yoga classroom, raspado, elote and paleta vendor nirvana, and a perfect space for hundreds of runners who now come for their daily exercise routine (alongside insane rental upsurges in housing all around the park, and too-too many hipster eateries that sprung up in the near vicinity to accommodate the needs of the new park goers). La Sombra being a city commission generated a very intriguing conversation about gentrification, as local Angelinos could not conceive of the city spending money in the arts at Echo Park before its renovation.  

But aside from the clearly negative and grim connotations, La Sombra witnessed many unique interactions on the happy spectrum of the city’s reality. I recall seeing dozens on infants use the structure as a hiding space while playing hide and seek with their parents. I also witnessed countless families turn each side of the structure into a field, to teach their children to play soccer and score goals. Some young adults turned the interior of the structure into a silly-string war-zone. Many couples gathered underneath the structures’ shade to enjoy their love for one another. People held picnics, some used it as a place to have a quick meal on the go, others would stop and get munchies from the local vendors and enjoy the shade. The homeless population also relished the shade as a place of refugee from the scorching summer heat, often turning La Sombra into a homeless camp. It even became a place for religious proselytizing on occasion. Furthermore, the global artist community embraced La Sombra as a place of aesthetic praxis, painters dragged their canvases underneath the shade to create, artists drew La Sombra as they felt inspired by its beauty, musicians came to jam under the structure, photographers held a number of fashion photo-shoots, and even Hollywood stopped by to use the structure in various commercials or filmed raw footage.

I had a conversation with a sibling of a murder victim under La Sombra. Her brother was murder near Echo park. She brought along with her a little girl, daughter of the deceased. While the little girl danced underneath the sculpture, her aunt burst into tears as she recounted the death of her brother. She explained in detail how she created an idealized reality of his murder in her mind, and how it shattered the moment the police department allowed her to view the murder itself (as it was caught on video). La Sombra witnessed the aftermath of murder and the potential for the future of our city, a complex reality that seeks redeeming praxis. The city spoke, La Sombra listened.

Teresa Margolles’s aesthetic practice often revolves around pain, loss and death; using bodies, human remains, corpses or even water distilled from the morgue she infuses a level of urgency into her work. She mentioned that having lived in places like Sinaloa and Mexico City, witnessing herself the trajectory, and apparatuses that lead to a deadly apex she is concerned that this city is taken the first steps toward a reality we need not see in our future. In contrast to modern Mexico and the death tolls courtesy of the war on drugs, the dehumanization of Mexican society, and the cruelty that is ever-present in day-to-day life, I can understand what she means, and fear for what this city is beginning to convey with statistics such as the ones responsible for the birth of La Sombra.

There is a long history of death in Echo park, Teresa explained to me. Death is all around us. In Los Angeles it’s a reality we don’t keep ever-present, but it’s a reality that can signal to our demise in a near future. La Sombra came to witness the reality of a city in which displacement has emerged at large and alarming numbers, gentrification is all around us. La Sombra denounced murder and witnessed murder, in our recently renewed areas of recreation. In a sui generis language: intellectual, fragile, confrontational, colossal, momentous, critical, it had a conversation in a city that embraced its existence while questioning its presence.

After witnessing countless blissful and somber moments alike by La Sombra, my ideals of public engagement vanished. My essence of the reality of the city crashed, and my notions of being a part of a society in which death permeates every crevice of reality nearly broke my heart.

I witnessed La Sombra, it witnessed my reality.

More on Teresa Margolles

From left to right | Erika Hirugami, Teresa Margolles & Irene Tsatsos 

From left to right | Erika Hirugami, Teresa Margolles & Irene Tsatsos 

Los Angeles: “Imitation of Life”

By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove

Untitled Film Still #13 by Cindy Sherman | Part of the Broad Collection

Untitled Film Still #13 by Cindy Sherman | Part of the Broad Collection


Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, is tailored to a Los Angeles Audience.
— Eli Broad

In a recent interview Eli Broad said “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, is tailored to a Los Angeles Audience.” After having visited said exhibition I am left wondering who exactly is this “Los Angeles Audience” as envisioned by Broad. Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life while having seminal work such as the Untitled Film Still series, and In-Transit Bus Rider series leaves a lot to be desired and raises a number of intriguing queries.

While making my way to the exhibit itself, the extensive lines forming outside the Yayoi Kusama/ Cindy Sherman shows which almost share an entrance, reminded me of waiting in line to get into Coachella or the never-ending lines at Disneyland, which I suppose are Angelino rights of passage. I was happily greeted by the magnificent floor-to-ceiling murals that Sherman created specifically for this exhibition, both showing reproductions of Sherman’s Read Screen Projections series. The massive images where a welcomed pause from the whiteness of Broad's walls and a nice introduction into the space.

However, from the beginning, the exhibition produced within me an unsettling sensation. It was a bit awkward to move from room to room, from image to image even. The inclusion of the artworks in which Sherman pretended to be African-American made me wonder, if we are finally at a stage in our lives as a society in which its allowed to cross such race barriers. Lets not forget that similar imagery has produced heavy debates in the past; I don’t for a second think that Sherman employed any mockery toward African Americans in the development of this project, however I am not completely certain that it is publicly correct. 

The many stereotypes by which Sherman role-plays an endless masquerade of personas, made me almost uneasy and weary while I made my way through each room in the exhibition. After all, how many Cindy Sherman’s can one person continue to be excited about encountering over and over again? Furthermore, the vagueness in each and every expression, and the way in which image after image was just slightly overproduced tired me quickly to the point in which I really did not want to continue. This was a first for me, usually I cherish retrospective type exhibitions. But somewhere along the poorly written wall text and the assortment of fonts used for each one, the lime-green walls, the clowns, the oversimplified themes, and the repetition of it all the show lost my interest time and time again.

I kept speculating if this was Sherman’s extreme narcissism or a general lack of self understanding for who she truly is. To what extend did this work influence selfie culture? The exhibition made me wonder, which if any was the real Cindy Sherman? Which one could I be? Could we be all of them? at different times, all at once? Do each and everyone of these representations lie within me, within all of us? What does this all mean? Why are they so over the top? Are we just looking at a gross overgeneralization of society’s realities? Why don’t Cindy Sherman name her own selfies? Why don't I name mine?

Untitled Film Still #122 by Cindy Sherman | Part of the Broad Collection

Untitled Film Still #122 by Cindy Sherman | Part of the Broad Collection

Cindy Sherman’s work in the late 70s and early 80’s has always been in my mind of great importance to the canons of art history. The way in which Sherman challenged female agency in her Untitled Film Still series was in huge part the reason why I visited this exhibition, yet somehow I ended up thoroughly disappointed. Sherman’s most current work made me wonder if Lady Gaga and Bjork where taking their cues from Sherman or the other way around. Are these the contemporary female agents that are to challenge the status quo?

Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life also beckoned to the obvious implications of mass media dissemination of imagery, and its hyper vigilant notions of easy to consume cruelty. The “Explicit” room, the dark room, the corner room, the one with more guards, the one that presented the grotesque in a quasi comical repetition trope, it raised questions of the validity of this kind of imagery in daily life. In a universe of selfies (not just the real world but also in this exhibition), how important is it to pause for the incongruous, for the bizarre, for the unappealing representations of a reality that is signaling to the morbid versions of a very unique experience?

All of this aside, something was not quite settled for me while I saw the exhibition. I was accompanied by Artist in my visit to Broad (he partly shared my perspective), and since I have spoken to various people (both inside and outside the art world) about their encounters with the same exhibition, while trying to ascertain whether or not I somehow missed something. I wondered if my lack of interest was founded or if I was just having a bad day; all of us sadly came to similar conclusions. Not happy with my results I took to online reviews of the show and came across what I expected, any non art related feature raves about the show’s majesty, while the art professionals are anything but impressed.  

Armed with all this ammunition, I revisited Eli Broad’s statement “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, is tailored to a Los Angeles Audience.”  If this is the case, who does Broad think I am? Are Angelinos interested in being seen as opposed to actually partake in a greater discussion centered around art? Given the constellation of luminaries that attended the Soiree for Cindy Sherman hosted by Broad are we to assume that Angelinos are so Hollywood-obsessed that we will follow anything that celebrities endorse? Is Broad telling us that anything branded as “Special” Angelinos will flock to see even if its more reminiscent of a day at Coachella or Disneyland? Is Broad just showing off his “Largest collection of her work in the world,” both purchased and traded? 

Untitled #92 by Cindy Sherman |  Part of the Broad Collection 

Untitled #92 by Cindy Sherman |  Part of the Broad Collection 

I wonder as an Angelino myself, if I should be insulted by the oversimplification of topics within that exhibit, If I should feel like I am visiting Disneyland every time I walk into Broad? If the overly saturated gimmicks such as an urge to use technology within the space detracts me from actually having an evocative museum experience. Should I be concerned about the lack of educational programing or curatorial team within Broad? That the labels next to the pieces don’t really tell me anything that is not incredibly obvious? Should I worry that the Visitor Services Associates gather in large numbers throughout the space to crowd control instead of provide active engagement to the visitors who walk from to room encouraged to play in their cell phones or take selfies? What about the aura of exclusivity… having to make line for hours after reserving tickets, seems like an unnecessary double barrier to have to cross just for a 45 second experience, does it not? 

Who is Broad catering to? Who are these Angelinos who need to be fed over-simplified “special” curatorial statements, attached to ephemeral experiences only captivated by cell phones, who must also make duplicate lines for attendance while being monitored and crowd controlled? Am I wrong in holding museums to greater standards? Or am I just spoiled by the Acropolis above the 405, Broad’s neighbor across the street and even in occasion the encyclopedic interaction currently threatening construction over Wilshire? Am I a part of this tailored Angelino audience? Are you?

 

More on the Author Erika Hirugami, MAAB | The Broad Museum | Cindy Sherman | The Exhibition

Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life is on view until October 2nd at Broad Museum.  

L.A. Louver: Jazz, Moonshine and Alison Saar

By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove

Image courtesy of Art Library Crawl

Image courtesy of Art Library Crawl

Living in the city of Los Angeles and having an interest in art, translates to being able to attend limitless exhibit openings or aesthetically driven venues each week.  Somewhere in between the countless museums exhibitions, gallery shows and alternative art spaces (aside from the constant string of art pop-ups and events), this city produces enormous amounts of art ready to be devoured incessantly. Alas this also translates into multiple galleries having comparable art shows time and time again (same artists, same topics, really similar shows), and various institutions displaying the work of the same artists all over the city at the same time (think Mapplethorpe). But somewhere in the middle of all this wonderful artistic chaos there’s L.A. Louver.

Deluge and/by Alison Saar

Deluge and/by Alison Saar

Over the past couple of weeks, I found myself at L.A. Louver on three separate occasions all of which coincided to programming around Silt, Soot and Smut, a solo exhibition featuring the remarkable work of Alison Saar who I recently had the pleasure of meeting. It is very rare for me to attend the same exhibition on multiple occasions, in part due to the art scene of Los Angeles. Yet on each individual interaction at L.A Louver I encountered some of the most fascinating happenstances as I engaged with art, the artist, the gallery owner and other individuals who just like me where enjoying the site, the art and the programing being offered by this gallery in Venice Beach.

Silt, Soot and Smut features the works of Alison Saar, a Los Angeles-based contemporary artist who delves deep within her practice into issues such as displacement. While producing the body of work featured in this exhibition Saar dug deep into the historical precedence of the great floods of our nation, starting with the Great Mississippi flood and culminating with Hurricane Katrina. It seems Saar became deeply intrigued with this subject matter upon a residency she had in New Orleans in 2013. Her work focused on the African American subjectivity, as each artwork envisions a different implication in the convergence of individuals with catastrophe and havoc.

Hades D.W.P. by Alison Saar

Hades D.W.P. by Alison Saar

Hades D.W.P serves to welcome the audience into the exhibition, a work featuring five different jugs on top of a shelf, each representing the five rivers of the underworld of Greek mythology. Acheron the river of sorrows, Cocytus the river of lamentation, Phlegethon the river of fire, Lethe the river of oblivion and Styx the river of hate; each are epitomized by a different etched jug, which contains liquid elixir to be conceptually drank by the accompanying ladles lingering from hooks on the shelf itself. Different poems by Samiya Bashir are attached to the jugs, all of which works cohesively for an aesthetic play on the viewer’s own visualization of this artwork. As Saar herself mentioned, she enjoys the visual interplay between the viewer with the work; as portions of the work itself become invisible or obscured based on the angle of the viewer, thus adding another layer of meaning onto the artwork itself.

Breach (large figure on raft) by Alison Saar

Breach (large figure on raft) by Alison Saar

The center piece for the exhibition prominently features Breach (large figure on raft), a beautiful sculpture made of wood, ceiling tin, found trunks, washtubs and miscellaneous objects that nears thirteen feet standing. The sculpture in the round, shows a figure of a female in a raft, carrying on her head her sole belongings hidden inside of trunks. Some of the objects that hang as a part of her baggage include pots, pans, an iron, a chair and multiple books. Symbolizing the various levels of displacement caused by the river floods in our nation, and how individuals were forced to relocate with only their necessities on a moments notice.

Breach is comparable only to Deluge, a floating head that stands by its hair, made up of wood, ceiling wire and cast iron standing at five feet tall on the opposing side of the gallery space. Deluge was by far and large my favorite artwork in the show, as it instantly reminded me of Girodet’s own Deluge currently in the permanent collection of The Louvre. Yet in a completely opposing manner, this Deluge hurt… somehow, seeing the floating head of a female reminded me of the countless images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which I later found out from Alison Saar herself to be one of the sources of her research while creating this body of work. Saar however, expanded on how she was horrified about the insensitivity of the media who focused their entire effort on showing chaotic imagery, instead of providing a helping hand for the victims of Katrina onsite. Surrounding these epic sculptures are multiple works on fabric, produced on the backs of steamer trunk drawers using charcoal; by which various African American individuals are depicted within bodies of water, be it at foot level of completely submerged. Alongside them smaller wooden sculptures accompany the exhibition.

On Jun 23rd L.A. Louver and Alison Saar hosted a Listening Party, by which Saar herself presented jazz and blues from 1927 Mississippi flood era music. Saar gathered the music which inspired her creation of the body of work featured in Silt, Soot and Smut, and presented the attendees with yet another layer of understanding into her own intricate creative process. Alongside Alison Saar herself, a screen, a dj, several jugs of moonshine and over one hundred attendees (which included Betye), L.A. Louver’s gallery space was transformed for a couple of hours into a hub of knowledge creation and transcendence, a conversation around the very topics of the exhibition’s theoretical framework took place that night as Alison Saar explained the inspiration behind Silt, Soot and Smut.

Deluge by Alison Saar

Deluge by Alison Saar

I was happy to attend the listening party as well as the exhibition opening and a private tour lead by Saar herself courtesy of the Fowler Museum, and was able to deeply engage with Silt, Soot and Smut on various levels and occasions. I even culminated a recent Public Art Tour of Venice which I hosted in conjunction with the Center for Management in the Creative Industries, last month by encouraging my attendees who joined from all over the country to visit L.A. Louver’s Silt, Soot and Smut.

Thus realizing time and time again that the superb level of programing and artworks being presented by L.A Louver surpasses that of its contemporaries. Thus I deeply encourage you to visit L.A. Louver, and be on the look out for Silt, Soot and Smut traveling to your city as it will be traveling to several college towns in our Nation.

More on L.A Louver | Alison SaarSilt, Soot and Smut

Alison Saar takes us into her Los Angeles studio as she prepares for her solo exhibition "Silt, Soot and Smut," on view at L.A. Louver 25 May - 1 July 2016. More info here: http://lalouver.com/exhibition.cfm?tExhibition_id=1206 Video: T. Leeser Camera: T. Leeser and K. Leeser Edit: T. Calkin

Five Psycho-Magic Actions Against Violence

[Note | Sexually Explicit Material] 

 

As an avid culture junkie in the city of Los Angeles, my quasi-obsessive need to devour the art this city produces brings me to institutions, museums, galleries, alternative spaces and beyond in the quest of that moment of aesthetic wonder, the moment of artistic lust, the moment in which my fetishization of an object, a work, or a happening enlightens me, or as Kant referred to it “The Sublime.”  In my quest for the sublime I seek to bestow upon something, a quality of greatness that surpasses physicality on a moral, intellectual or metaphysical level. 

Needless to say I don’t encounter these moments often, but I have; several times over past years. These moments are like intellectual orgasms that make every neuron in my brain do a little dance. In an eager quest to arouse my synapses I visited LACE. What I came across however, went beyond an intellectual orgasm, it confronted me, physically, emotionally, intellectually and in a myriad of other ways I am having difficulties articulating even to myself. 

This political-art-action took place in different stages. Each stage brought about new questions, new feelings, new concerns, new explorations.

 

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Stage 0 – Arrival

Upon walking into LACE, females and males where being allowed in by a member of Pocha Nostra who held an “APPROVED” stamper, she would signal to the males in the audience to come in almost in a demeaning way. Her body signaled a desire to move past them quickly, however women where encouraged to step near her and she would stamp them with the world “APPROVED.” I attended the event with two male colleagues and this immediately confronted me with gender biases. As afemale I wondered why me? Why not them? Upon reading the wording I realized the meaning and knew that this happening was unlike anything other I had ever witness, the conversation had not even begun I was already mindfully deconstructing privilege and power. 

Once inside the other members of Pocha Nostra where gallivanting about. A female that looked infirm and disturbed sat on a chair, next to an elderly ballerina pirouetting around, and a human whose gender was obscured wearing a prison inmate orange jumpsuit as it crawled all over the floor; all of which revolved around a bathtub where a naked man laid with his face covered by water and a straw in his mouth to allow him to breathe without moving. The visual cues where so strong, that I nearly failed to observe that the gallery was in fact covered from floor to ceiling with posters from every blue chip gallery, from Gagosian to Blum & Poe, from Maccarone to LA Louver. As I realized this, what I now discovered to be a female began crawling onto my foot. I was being touched by a stranger. She was caressing my foot, and while I could enjoy that I was not prepared for my psychical space to be infiltrated by someone’s whose face I could not see. Thus the welcoming ceremony began.

 

Photograph by Bryan Ruiz

Photograph by Bryan Ruiz

Stage 1 – Welcoming ceremony

In a white podium in the center of the gallery, stands a man wearing iPod holder bands across his body, a Latino body of a man in his prime almost completely exposed. He is wearing a mask. His face obscured by iPods. Each iPod displays a different erogenous part of a body, and upon touch these parts react a penis, a clitoris, an anus, a foot, etc. Another member of Pocha Nostra walks around him stating “Its just a body… come touch.” The members of the audience flock to the naked body and each touches an iPod, each arouses a new portion of this hybrid being, members from all over the gallery interject, each part of the body becomes aroused. At this point my psyche is trying to prepare itself for what I am witnessing and feel awkwardly uncomfortable at a couple of things happening before my eyes.

No one is in fact touching the body… the audience is being encouraged to lose its fear of the body and instead they all come close and interact with technology, I explain this to my one my companions who instigates me to lead the revolution and make a statement; but I rather observe then partake at this point, I’m not comfortable in this space yet. I wonder what about this makes me uncomfortable, is it that as a conservative catholic raised female I was taught that sexual exploits are not public experiences? Is it that no one in the whole audience can follow directions? Is it that as a society we think that interaction with technology is just as valid as human contact? Which is it? What makes me uncomfortable?

The political art action transcends into a query about cyber sex, the man responds to calls that come in every language; English, Spanish, Russian, etc. He then performs acts lead by the client, he arouses himself, touches, licks, masturbates, charges… again technology making up for human contact? Why are we so afraid to connect in the real world? Why hide behind our devices to try to connect to one another, and lose our sense of humanity in the process?

 

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Stage 2 – Ballet Lessons for the Aging Body

The elderly ballerina takes the stage. She is beautiful like every other ballerina. She is wearing a white too too and cream colored ballerina shoes. From the ground up she is perfect, pristine, the ideal female; but her face, her body, they are much older, she has passed her prime, she is wearing a lot of makeup, that’s not ballerina like. She is holding a sombrero. This ballerina is fierce. She is perfect. She has serious breasts (which at some point in her performance she signals). She demands that Guillermo Gomez Peña come dance with her. He is to take lessons; she is not taking no for an answer. The tiny ballerina exhorts enormous amounts of power toward getting this patriarchal male figure to do as she pleases.

This ballerina deconstructs gender power roles in a too too, wearing a mariachi sombrero no less. This is genius I think, as I see Gomez Peña awkwardly move between positions, clumsy. He pirouettes around on her command for minutes that seem like decades, he becomes exhausted quickly. The patriarchal male body in front of me, is willed by a tiny little ballerina… in a white too too. I began to think of all the power structures that be, all the ways in which the little people can take down giants, I think of gender struggles, I once again am reminded that I am female, but I see down my arm and in this space I am APPROVED. I am confronted by my own ability to “pirouette” against my perfect ballerinas at the same time in which I wonder what is my white too too, do I have a sombrero of my own? Why must even today should I conceive of democratizing gender, when will this be enough? Will I ever witness a space with no need for perfect ballerinas to command giants?

[ Guillermo Gomez Peña Pirouetting | Clip of political-art-action by Roman Lujan ]

 

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Stage 3 – La Güera Loca

A white female takes the stage, she is sick, she is bruised, she is mentally unstable or so I am made to believe as the title of this stage includes the word “crazy” on it, she is in crutches, and one of my companions lights up a cigarette for her. Her performance whatever this might be, will happen while she smokes a cigarette – great I think (sarcasm). I did not come to be smoked on, how there she I wonder.

The performance quickly becomes grotesque, its raw, its violent, its like seeing someone have a seizure, while trying to hurt herself, with a cigarette inside of a mosh pit... but its just her. She spits, she crawls, she eats the cigarette. Needless to say I feel deeply disturbed by this point. She begins to throw herself violently into the audience members, some chairs event tilt backwards, and I fear that what was my prime seat at the show has now become a reason for me to get injured.

Her crutches swing from place to place and I see blood dripping from fresh wounds made as a part of this performance. She is stripping, she is eating her hair, she is confusing me. Do I fear for my life now? Where am I? Do proper rules of societal etiquette not apply? Who codifies those rules? How is any of that dance threatening me, she hasn’t even touched me? Why do I feel fear from the infirm? What has society taught me to fear? So dictates my fears?

 

Photograph by Bryan Ruiz

Photograph by Bryan Ruiz

Stage 4 – History of Western Art in 15 minutes

Art History introduces the audience to specific moments forever immortalized by artists in different media, such as the Birth of Jesus, The Pieta, The Scream, Chac Mool. The audience is asked to discover death, fetish, curatorial masturbation, biennales and even Marina Ambramovic, as a number of scenes are enacted in front of us by two naked individuals in the middle of the stage.

While these individuals contort their bodies to every iteration of the historical cannon, one of the members of Pocha Nostra, begins to pass around inked stampers labeled APPROVED and DECLINED. Members of the audience are instructed to come in to stamp these words on the naked bodies of the performers. As I sit in the circle of chairs around this performance, I know I will be asked to partake, I am ok – I’m confident I can achieve this level of interaction… but wait! What if they hand me the DECLINED stamp? I will not decline the body!

I mentally take a stand; I will not partake unless I APPROVE something. I see other people reacting in front of my eyes, the male genitals quickly become both approved and rejected, the female breast get approved almost immediately by one of my colleagues no less. But no one is approving the vagina in front of us. Am I brave enough to approve a vagina? To approve the female body? To decline something? What kind of body shaming issues have been instilled in me so deeply that I am having difficulty articulating this really simple action? At last its my turn, I get the coveted APPROVED stamper, I come close to the female body and I see stretch-marks; I quickly forget about making a stand for females, and instead make a personal one. I APPROVE stretch-marks! I approve aging, I approve the body changing. I APPROVE!

Photograph by Erika Hirugami | Political art action post stage

Photograph by Erika Hirugami | Political art action post stage

Stage 5 – Respiratory Action

A man dressed in camouflage appears in front of the crowd, Guillermo Gomez Peña elaborates that this political art activist is deeply interested in participatory action that deals with respiration. Thus during his performance, the audience must come and breathe into him, he will be holding his breathe during the course of the performance unless audience members breathe new air into his lungs. I hear this statement and quickly become perplexed, wait a minute I think…. he will hold is breath unless we are brave enough to breathe into him? WHOA! This is a level of interaction on a scale in which no level of interaction should be presented, or so I think. Thus the performance begins, he takes an initial breath and another member invites partakers to come in to breathe on him, kiss him, make out with him, sustain his life for minutes at a time.

The man is slim, and now shirtless, he is wearing drag make up and has bangs yet no hair, and has doodled sayings all over his body. I think to myself I can’t breathe on him, that’s disturbing, he disturbs me, he is other – every type of other I can think of, this disturbs me. One by one, I see brave audience members go up and exchange air with him. Then I think – gross now if I do interact its not just him I will taste, I will taste every other audience member, I can’t do that.

But wait… What if no one does it? What if everyone in this room thinks I like I do? We would not communally let him die would we? We can’t? Whoa… since when am “I” a “we”? Why am I thinking as a group here? Group mentality is a negative most of the time, would “I” let him die? How much would “I” wait before I actually breathe on him?

I didn’t breathe on him. One of my brave colleagues did, so instead of doing it myself I was witnessing what I consider to be the zenith of macho in the scale of every guy I know, locking lips with this dude. My friend the womanizer, the guy who sleeps with everything that crosses his path, the guy whose sexual exploits make me think I am kind of a prude. His humanity whoa! The intimate level in which he can let go of his own preconceptions to interact with another being, that… that is braver than I could ever be.  At what point are my preconceived notions of safety greater than potentially saving the life of another human being? Who polices my humanity? Why do I allow them to police my interactions?

 

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Stage 6 - Border Puta / Mrs. Republicana

To stage returns my perfect ballerina, Guillermo Gomez Peña tells me she was once a prostitute in a border town and I feel broken. How can something so powerful be so flawed? She wears red high-hells, a shimmering micro dress and underneath a United States flag bikini. She begins to strip. She puts on a plastic horse head; from which she begins to pull flags. A confederate flag emerges first, after using it to caress her body she ties it around the back her bikini-bottom and it becomes a tail (or maybe she is pooping the confederate flag), she certainly did wipe her ass with it. She dances, there’s a trumpet player in the background.

The next flag is a Russian flag, this flag she masturbates with and tucks it in her vagina. The gay flag is the last to emerge. She cleans Pocha Nostra's members faces with it, before parading it around; lastly waving it around on top of the podium. Then she crawls on her hands and knees and audience members are instructed to come and sit on her, ride her if you will. A brave female member partakes, this is sexy I think, but then a much larger male rides her… this again makes me uncomfortable to watch. Why do I have such issues with anything outside the norm? Why is this not sexy? When did I start body shaming based on weight? What is the matter with me? 

 

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Stage 7 – Ways to Kill me

Two members of Pocha Nostra come into the stage, one has a gun. She is wearing a lace full body suit and matching head mask, she and Guillermo Gonzales Peña pose with this gun aimed at his body for a couple of minutes, his heart, his testicles, his chin, she pushes harder every time. It is her turn, her heart, her back, etc…

The audience members interact, they are given this riffle and asked to point it to the political art activist and lock eye sight with them while doing so. First Guillermo, an audience member choices to point the gun to his chest and almost smiles while he interacts in this manner. Then the female, an audience member points the gun to her vagina. Why is no one refusing? How is this funny? What did the Vagina do to the person pointing a gun at it? How can you smile while holding a gun? 

 

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Photograph by Erika Hirugami

Stage 8 –  500+ Years of Machismo

In front of us a table, with salsa, tortillas, aguardiente de Zapopan, a chopping board, a grill. One of the members of Pocha comes out and begins to stroke his inherent cock over his pants, the audience helps, males and females alike. It turns out to be a peace a meat, he whips it out, a naked woman cuts it while still attached to him, tortillas go on the grill and aguardiente gets passed around. The audience is invited to drink, eat, and feast on the political art performance which they have just witnessed. I do not eat the tacos. At this point I become exhausted by questioning the very core structures that make up who I am, I leave.

For the following hours I did not feel like myself, everything I vaguely believed to be true of society was questioned, everything I know about me was confronted. My race, my gender, heteronormativity, violence, truth, sex, power…

After the night ended someone asked me to help him do something, and I cautioned him that; the political art action I had just witnessed, had pushed so many of my buttons that I felt like I needed to deeply delve into my psyche before I could even begin to comprehend the emotions that had been stirred within me. I explained that every single one of my senses was exploding in query and that my inner art yearns, had been satiated in ways so foreign to me that I had a deep desire for that sweet comfort and embrace one needs after a serious of artgasms (he indulged me).

I needed an intellectual cigarette after having my mind fucked! 

I don’t know where all the queries will take me, I don’t know that aesthetic practices will ever feel the same. I don’t know how I will see myself from this point forth. What I do know, is that I have not been challenged in this way before and I am eager to see where this what's next.