As part of "Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas" currently on view at UCR Arts Block's PST: LA/LA, UCR hosted La Pocha Nostra, a transdisciplinary group made of Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Balitronica Gomez, and Saul Garcia Lopez, best known for their radical interactive performances. Thus Pocha Nostra's Ex-Machina 3.0: A psychomagic ritual against violence (part of the Mapa/Corpo Series) took place a few days ago.
I made it my point to attend Friday night's Guillermo Gomez Peña's monologue type pre-rehearsal and Saturday night's Pocha Nostra's performance by the entire ensemble. I will preface that this is not my first encounter with Pocha Nostra as I often partake in their radical participatory performance-based ritual art practices. However, this set of performative actions, in particular, unleashed an inner dialogue that had been bubbling at me since the opening festivities of Pacific Standard Time.
During the first night of the participatory performance action, Gomez Peña took it upon himself to introduce glitch poetry and subsequently led an exercise to relieve the stress caused by our current political administration, during that evening I was asked time and time again to translate ever so complex and often untranslatable concepts. I was reminded of my love/hate with academicism that is gendered in "Gringo theory," while also hypothesized of what language will sound like in thirty years or more when the dominant lingua francas inevitably mash together to form a new one. I was made aware of how intensely Americans, in fact, speak Spanish while pretending to be monolingual to police Spanish speakers. Gomez Peña signaled to the criminalization of Spanish in this country while challenging the use of the following words; Colorado, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Broncos, Adobe, Avocado, Incognito, Piñata, Tequila... the list goes on for days. He read a mock dialogue between service workers and their employers, which inevitably concluded with certain uncomfortable levels of out-right-racism towards gardeners, maids, caretakers, etc.
And then the night took a twist... Gomez Peña recalled a midnight infomercial, that spoke to a unique intersectionality of peoples. He posed the following questions: Do you feel like you are being mocked by Spanish speakers? Have you ever believed you lost a job because you are white? Are you afraid the cartels will come through your doors? Are you afraid that sexy Latino boys will seduce your women? amongst many others, toward the end of this line of questioning Gomez Peña uttered the following words, "If you answered yes to three or more of this questions, you may be suffering from Mexifobia, if so please visit mojado.us.weback or speak to any Curator in Pacific Standard Time"
These last words changed the entire context of the night, as I am a Curator and a part of Pacific Standard Time, but furthermore, this made me immediately look at the adjacent Curator who I had not paid much attention the entire night. I quickly realized that the crown in attendance was predominantly brown, whereas the curator was not. Often as we laughed she seemed confused, often as we shouted translations at each other, she seemed relieved to understand the context. And here she was brokering this entire exchange. More power to her first and foremost because the performances were epic, and thank you because as a part of this community I value this kind of interaction more so for its transformative knowledge sharing, than for its performative aspect.
However, Gomez Peña challenging me to "Speak to a PST Curator" about Mexifobia no less, left a bittersweet taste in my mind... after the performance I came home and read a few pages from "Conversations Across Borders" a book of curated conversations brokered by Gomez Peña himself. Page 9 reads "The European and US critics, curators, and producers, are always brokering and framing the dialogue between us (referencing Latinx cultures) and even speaking on our behalf." (Guillermo Gomez Peña). The next logical step became to map out the PST exhibitions curated by Latinx people (Thank you, Getty, for making this bit of research easy courtesy of the happy PST: LA/LA booklet and site), my findings revealed that PST: LA/LA is predominantly brokered by people outside Latinx cultures.
Thinking back at some of the exhibitions, and conversations that I've had regarding PST: LA/LA with art professionals in this city and abroad; I often noticed that certain exhibitions barely scratch the surface and others completely lost their mark. In the words of one of my interns, "they are completely glossing over entire chunks of history because it's not their history." After realizing that our community is not starting the conversation, I understood many exhibitions who've failed to dig the trenches of Latinx knowledge, as they are barely catching up to it themselves. Now I must say that this is a general observation and does not apply to all, there are a few exceptions to this rule, as some curators (who don't speak any Latin American languages for instance) made sure to surround themselves with native speaks and Latinx scholars to inform the exhibitions, while others failed to realize that Colombian focused scholars, for instance, know very little about Brazil, but hey at least they spoke the language.
To further delve into this matter, and due to my curatorial mapping demographic data gathering interest. Led by Gomez Peña's words once more I realized that "entire regions of the world are erased from the art map." Whereas Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba seem to be of predominant interest in PST: LA/LA I have failed to notice exhibitions dedicated to Belize, Nicaragua or El Salvador. I highly doubt that these countries are not producing culture or art. But I suppose this is a byproduct of people outside our communities generating our conversations. I keep reading these great articles about how PST: LA/LA is changing the way people view art, and how its highlighting X and Y communities, but I dare question who is the doing the highlighting? If the Chicano community, for instance, is the new art focus, is a Chicano leading that conversation? or is it an anonymous other who highlights from an outsider perspective? I personally have an academic background in Chicano Studies, and often feel like I am underqualified to speak for the Chicano community, as I am a first generation Mexican immigrant who does not identify as Chicano. In a city with over 4.9 million Latinx people, why couldn't they start the conversation from within the museum, instead of just cleaning it? (Yeah, I know, below the belt).
PS: Much Love to all the Latinx Curators for making phenomenal exhibitions, and the non-Latinx Curators who went above and beyond with their praxis for PST: LA/LA.
But I digress, the second night of this imaginary activism acknowledged as existing from within a position of privilege. Gomez Peña thanked our current administration again for their savage capitalism strategies, for making the government's predatory intentions apparent to the rest of the world, for re-politicizing art, for inspiring "art that gives you the creeps," for keeping artists sharp and awake, for allowing them to make counter political artwork, after every sentence in this thankful litany Gomez Peña would proudly and loudly articulate "Thank you Pendejo," as the crowd cheered.
On this occasion, the attendees were also asked to decolonize a naked female body (Balitronica Gomez), which had been conquered by the many corporations who hold monopolies in certain industries on both sides of the Mexican/American border, Apple and Santander stood out to me amongst many others. While every attendee was asked to eat masorcas off the naked body of Saul Garcia Lopez. This particular instance was very reminiscent of communion, it was ritualized, people stood in line, walked toward the feast, devoured maiz straight from the body of the performer time and time again, it felt like mass. While some people in the audience refused to partake in either instance, others pushed the boundaries of participatory action; a few of us eat corn husks of Saul's face, others off his crotch, others of his feet.
Toward the end of the night, Gomez Peña did it once more, the performance nearly concluded with him articulating "We (purposefully representing Latinx artists) who have never kissed the hand of a bishop or a curator." referencing no less the way in which Latinx Art History has been predominantly taught in a monolithic discourse that was not generated by a single POC. Page 6 of Conversations Across Borders reads "the costs of visibility, unfortunately, is good behavior. If Latin American artists wish to be included in the club we must be willing to paraphrase, represent, mimic and echo the stylistic trends set by the North." Sadly Page 7 continues to ask, "What mythical iconography and fetishes can we evoke that can make us attractive to a German Curator, a British Critic [or an American PST: LA/LA broker]." Regardless, it is safe to assume that Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba have made themselves trendy or approachable, but where does that leave the rest of Latin America? Would we see the emergence of these invisible art nations if our community was the driving force behind projects like PST: LA/LA. How are these questions surfacing from radical participatory performance-based ritual art practices available only a few hours out of the entire PST: LA/LA project which expands months? Dare I wonder what PST: LA/LA could be like if Latinx people exclusively brokered this convergence? Wouldn't that give us just a little equity, diversity, and inclusion.. aren't those the popular museum buzz words of today? How can we have both conversations mutually exclude the other? Let's convergence, let's talk, let us stop talking about people, and let the people do their own talking!
PS: In case you missed it La Pocha Nostra will be perfoming again on November 1st at CAlArts. More information here. See you there!