[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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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!
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?
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?
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?
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.