Rites of Democracy @ the Pickle
Later this month, Salt Lake City's The Pickle Company will host a week of events with internationally known Latino artists. Rites of Democracy, held March 17th through the 21st, will feature the U.S./Mexican Performance Art Troupe La Pocha Nostra, which includes Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Roberto Sifuentes, and Violeta Luna.
Raised in Mexico City, Gómez-Peña, the first Chicano artist to be awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship ("Genius Award," 1991), has blazed new paths for experimental performance. His pioneering work in performance, video, installation, poetry, journalism, cultural theory, and pedagogy explores globalization, cross-culturalism, immigration, and the politics of language. His work has been presented around the world.
In 1993, Gómez-Peña helped found La Pocha Nostra, a multidisciplinary arts organization, based in San Francisco’s Mission District, which views performance as an effective catalyst for thought, debate, and public dialogue. La Pocha Nostra specializes in performances about globalization and inter-cultural identity, believing that crossing borders on the stage may be the first step to crossing them in larger social spheres. "To us," La Pocha Nostra's mission statement reads, "the artist is above all, an active citizen immersed in the great debates of our times. Our place is in the world and not just the ‘Art World.’”
La Pocha Nostra will bring this philosophy of art as activism to Salt Lake. Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra core members Roberto Sifuentes, an interdisciplinary artist from Los Angeles who graduated from Trinity College, and actress and performance artist, Violeta Luna, will conduct a three-day, hands-on workshop at the Pickle Company, exploring performance art as a form of radical democracy.
The workshop begins with a performance of the groups riveting , Mapa/Corpo: Oppositional Rites for a Borderless Society, on Saturday, March 17th at 8pm. An interactive performance installation developed in response to the post-9/11 "era of terror," Mapa/Corpo is a living diorama that explores the current occupation of Iraq through a symbolic mapping of the human figure. This poetic, multimedia work examines the body as occupied territory, inviting the audience to participate in a ritualistic process of decolonization. La Pocha Nostra began workshopping Mapa/Corpo in 2003, immediately after the invasion of Iraq. This particular version, perhaps the most complex to date, was developed in Dublin and London. Featuring Gómez-Peña, Roberto Sifuentes, and Violeta Luna in collaboration with local artists and audience members, Mapa/Corpo is constantly alive and evolving. (to view a previous performance click here; warning: this video contains nudity)
In Guillermo Gómez-Peña: Sophisticated Seduction, Carol Becker has written that "Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s work navigates the contested terrain known as the US/Mexican border. By telling a story of realities, he acts as a warrior in transnational identity and immigration issues. As El Mexorcist Gómez-Peña assaults the construction of the US/Mexican border that is lined with Minute Men, rising nativism, three ply fences, globalization, and transnational identities."
Rites of Democracy will continue to explore issues of borders and multi-culturalism Sunday the 18th at 2pm with An Afternoon of Video Graffiti and Spoken Word Roulette with Guillermo Gómez-Peña at the SLC Film Center. Gómez-Peña will be presenting selections from Ethno-techno: Los videograffitis. In this project, the artist invited film and videomaker colleagues from around the world to re-envision his own performance works through a collaborative editing process. “Ethno-techno…” is a conceptual DVD comprising over 40 performances created specifically for video. The videos were originally created to be shown as a media installation in the shape of a “video Juke-box”, and the user can retrieve them by author, title or subject matter. It’s a complex multi-media piece involving 9 filmmakers and over 30 performance artists from around the world.
La Pocha Nosta's stay in Salt Lake will end with Conceptual Lab of Hybrid Art and Critical Culture, a three-day community workshop on performance art as radical democracy, Monday, March 19 to Wednesday, March 21, 12 to 8 pm. Since 1993, Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra have conducted innovative workshops that bridge cultures, generations, and disciplines to create “ephemeral communities of rebel artists.” Drawing from multiple traditions, including experimental theatre and dance, ritual performance, and shamanism, this workshop will help participants develop a hybrid persona and a performance piece based on their own complex identities, personal aesthetics, and political tribulations.
Designed to build bridges between marginalized cultures, this workshop will bring together a diverse group of community members and students in a deeply personal engagement with art and politics. No prior performance experience is required, but a great deal of willingness to experiment is fundamental. To register for the workshop, or for more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 801.450.8977.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Anne Watson's Places
by Shawn Rossiter
Places, a space-breaking exhibit by local artist Anne Watson, has been startling drivers and strollers along Salt Lake City’s 17th south for the past month.|0| Watson has birthed a new exhibition space by using the glass-encased alcove’ on the north side of Westminster Colleges Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory for her most recent installation. Two stories tall and about four feet deep, the installation space remains relatively innocuous during the glare-filled day, but at night becomes an imposing two-story diorama. This is not the first drive-by space in Salt Lake; Don Brady’s gallery in Foothill has been there for years. But Watson’s exhibit is something entirely different, not simply an alternative space to show paintings, but a world unto itself.
Watson’s installation consists of a variety of “puppets” placed on both levels of the space, along with drawings, backdrops, preliminary sketches and photos, the tools of her puppet-making trade, and a video running on a loop. On the second level, puppets of an angelic figure |1| and young girl are suspended in the air like marionettes. Below, the puppets are more earth bound: a giant teddy bear relaxes in the corner and another multi-colored puppet scales a ladder to the second level.|2| Behind the stage setting of Places is an actual, unseen stage, the Dumke Student Theatre; and Watson’s puppets, while they seem to be lying about, ready for use on the stage behind them, are actually in the process of creating their own narrative for the larger world.
Watson’s interest in narrative began emerging in her works after her return to Utah in 2002. A native of Salt Lake, Watson spent close to twenty years in New York working as a director, writer and producer of documentaries and biographies for television. She has always had an interest in writing, both fiction and non-fiction. In college, she studied with James Baldwin, and while in New York did journalistic work for the Village Voice and the Nation. But including the “word” in her visual work was not immediate. “ Over the years,” she says, “I have mustered the courage to put the word into my work following after one of my all-time favorites, Cy Twombly first in my paintings and later in other ways.”
One of those other ways is in the form of Corinne, the central figure in the Places exhibit, who has been in Watson’s imagination for over a decade and began to emerge in drawings after Watson finished her I’ll Never be so Far Away installation in 2003. Since then, Corinne has come to life in Watson’s writing and as a three-dimensional trickster. “The marionettes or tricksters or puppets became a storytelling vehicle, “ she explains. “In their case, they are often telling me back the story. In other words, Corinne, the puppet center and front of the “Places” exhibit, has a voice of her own and speaks to me, much like Pippi did” (referring to Watson’s exhibit at Art Access gallery in 2005 that used a Pippi Longstocking character as the vehicle for her storytelling).
In Places, Watson has continued her interest in narrative with a keen imagination attuned to the specifics of her installation site. The space’s setting, behind glass, facing north to the outer world, creates a unique environment for Watson’s narrative. During the day, the space reflects back the world it looks onto: a small suburban home on the first level, and a towering tree and sky on the second level.|3| Watson says these are important reflections of the installation’s theme of “place,” of the earth and air and our suspension between the two. The windows also reflect the viewer, who during the day must step close to the glass to see past the glare at the exhibition inside. In the process, the viewer sees their own reflection become part of the exhibit.
At night, the exhibit takes on a completely different aspect. The space is brightly lit catching the eye of a night driver or staring down at the passerby on the street. The space becomes a stage, or if one concentrates on the grid structure holding the glass together, a multi-screen television in the living room of the outside world.
This dual aspect of the exhibition is the setting for the unique narrative that Watson choreographs in Places. “There is a story told in the exhibit,” Watson says. “It has to do with life, death, the in-between and some very complicated characters who are in the ‘play.’ There are references to children who have been forced into wars, to women who have been abused, to men who abuse, to people who answer dreams and provide safe harbor, to ghosts and angels.” The video element of Places sets the tone for the dynamic tension between the brighter elements of the puppet world and the darker stories referenced. In the video, a young girl, dressed as an angel, in pink and with wings, skips about an urban setting completely foreign to and oblivious of her innocence. The text of T.S. Eliot’s ominous “The Hollow Men” scrolls over the visuals.
Like the brightly lit nocturnal incarnation of the exhibition, Watson says that in her own mind the actual story is quite clear and specific. But if viewers do not see the story that she has, if they look at it, like its daytime incarnation, through glare and their own reflection, she is happy for them to find a story that suits them.
Places continues through the month of March. It can be viewed on 1700 South between 12th and 13th East in Salt Lake City.