Act­ing Out Per­for­mances by James Luna, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Re­becca Bel­more

Act­ing Out

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Casey Sanchez

IN a one-off show on Fri­day, Dec. 4, three of the most dar­ing North Amer­i­can per­for­mance artists to emerge over the past 25 years take the stage at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter. The show is the cap­stone of a two-day se­ries of work­shops and lec­tures called Act­ing Out: A Sym­po­sium on In­dige­nous Per­for­mance Art. The three se­lected artists are known for ask­ing provoca­tive ques­tions about how Na­tive and Chi­cano lives are rep­re­sented in the dom­i­nant cul­ture while us­ing heavy dol­lops of satire, pop cul­ture, and ab­sur­dism to keep their work ac­ces­si­ble to au­di­ences out­side the art world. The per­form­ers are Re­becca Bel­more, James Luna, Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Bel­more is an Anishi­naabe-Cana­dian whose work blends sculp­ture, video, and per­for­mance to ex­am­ine unresolved his­tor­i­cal trau­mas among Cana­dian First Na­tions peo­ples. Luna, a Cal­i­for­nia Luiseño tribe mem­ber, creates per­for­mances that force art con­sumers and mu­se­um­go­ers to look at how they ide­al­ize an­cient Na­tive cul­tures while fail­ing to re­al­ize the plight of ac­tual liv­ing Na­tive Amer­i­cans. Ex­per­i­men­tal Chi­cano writer and mono­logu­ist Gómez-Peña brings a flashy vis­ual panache and a mul­ti­lin­gual at­mos­phere to his per­for­mance art pieces, whose an­tics bor­row from drag the­atrics and Banksy-style po­lit­i­cal gags.

“I’ve al­ways be­lieved per­for­mance art is the most per­fect medium for In­dian sub­ject mat­ter be­cause there are no bound­aries,” said Luna in an in­ter­view with Pasatiempo. “You can dance, sing, scream, howl at the moon, get naked, pray and ex­press grat­i­tude. Our cul­ture in gen­eral comes from an oral tra­di­tion.” Luna is famed for his per­for­mances, which en­gage mu­seum crowds in ways that are both stealthy and star­tling. In his 1986 per­for­mance, Ar­ti­fact Piece, he no­to­ri­ously in­stalled him­self at a the San Diego Mu­seum of Man, where he lay with eyes closed on a bed of sand along­side dio­rama ex­hibits of the Kumeyaay In­di­ans who once lived in San Diego County. Dressed in just a leather loin­cloth, Luna was sur­rounded by la­bels that iden­ti­fied his scars from drink­ing and fight­ing, along­side a col­lec­tion of his books, shoes, and rock albums, as well as con­tem­po­rary rit­ual items from the La Jolla reser­va­tion where Luna still lives. His per­for­mance forced au­di­ences to reckon with In­di­ans as con­tem­po­rary cit­i­zens.

At the sym­po­sium, Luna said he will be pre­mier­ing a new piece called Na­tive Ad­ven­tures, which will com­bine an in­dige­nous take on road trips with what he called a “turista, first-im­pres­sion look at ar­riv­ing in Santa Fe.” Luna has been awarded the Eiteljorg Mu­seum Fel­low­ship for Na­tive Amer­i­can Fine Art

and was spon­sored by the Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian to par­tic­i­pate in the 2005 Venice Bi­en­nale.

Through­out his ca­reer, Luna has been a fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor with Gómez-Peña, who ac­com­pa­nies him on the Len­sic bill for the night. Born and raised in Mex­ico City, Gómez-Peña moved to the U.S. in 1978 as a young adult. Dur­ing the 1980s, he co-founded the Border Arts Work­shop/Taller de Arte Fron­ter­izo, where he pi­o­neered per­for­mances that looked at glob­al­iza­tion, violence, and tech­nol­ogy through the eyes of Latino im­mi­grants. In a ground­break­ing early 1990s per­for­mance, Two Undis­cov­ered Amerindi­ans Visit the West, Gómez-Peña and fel­low artist Coco Fusco toured mu­se­ums across the coun­try in a gi­ant cage, dressed in an tribal kitsch of grass skirts and Day-Glo wrestling masks, where they were billed as Na­tive Amer­i­cans re­cently ar­rived from a tiny Mex­i­can is­land. Per­formed around the 500th an­niver­sary of Colum­bus’ land­ing in the Amer­i­cas, the piece poked jabs at the mu­seum and zoo tra­di­tion of dis­play­ing ac­tual hu­man fam­i­lies from tribal so­ci­eties as ex­hibits.

Much of his cur­rent work is pro­duced through his artist col­lec­tive, La Pocha Nos­tra (it’s a sort of bilin­gual word­play on the Mafia name and po­cho/a, a Span­ish word for spoiled fruit used by Mex­i­cans to in­sult Amer­i­can­ized Chi­canos). “La Pocha Nos­tra is mostly exiles, ex-dancers, ex-ac­tors, ex-video artists who are look­ing for ex­tra free­dom,” said Gómez-Peña in an in­ter­view with Pasatiempo.

Gómez-Peña has writ­ten 10 books, many of which ex­pand his idea of con­nect­ing art to ac­tive cit­i­zen­ship. “I call it ‘imag­i­nary ac­tivism,’ ” he said. “It’s a place where Lati­nos oc­cupy the cen­ter and An­g­los are seen as ex­otic and non-main­stream. It’s a place where there are no pass­ports and no bor­ders. I use mul­ti­ple lan­guages like English, Span­ish, Span­glish, and in­vented lan­guages as well.” It’s a con­cept he elab­o­rated on in The New World Border: Prophecies, Po­ems & Lo­queras for the End of the World, a 1997 book that won the au­thor an Amer­i­can Book Award. The artist is also a 1991 MacArthur Fel­low and a 2016 re­cip­i­ent of the the Fleish­hacker Foun­da­tion Eureka Fel­low­ship, which funds vis­ual artists.

At his per­for­mance in Santa Fe, Gómez-Peña said that his solo per­for­mance will be a stripped-down per­sonal look at ag­ing. “I just turned sixty. The piece is go­ing to be about me fac­ing down my demons and talk­ing about them in a com­pletely un­cen­sored way.”

Bel­more rounds out the bill for the night. Based in Win­nipeg, the artist is known for her ex­ten­sive in­cor­po­ra­tion of sculp­ture and nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als into her video and on­stage per­for­mances. In a 2014 piece com­mis­sioned by the Cana­dian Mu­seum for Hu­man Rights, Bel­more used lo­cal river clay to cre­ate thou­sands of large clay beads to con­struct a gi­ant fold­able blan­ket span­ning a large mu­seum wall. The work builds on pre­vi­ous video pieces she has re­leased that re-en­act the dis­tri­bu­tion of small­pox-in­fected blan­kets to First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing the Cana­dian colo­nial era.

Bel­more has re­ceived sev­eral awards and ac­co­lades for her work. In 2005, she be­came the first fe­male in­dige­nous artist to rep­re­sent Canada in the Venice Bi­en­nale. She is the 2013 re­cip­i­ent of the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s Award in Vis­ual and Me­dia Arts is­sued by the Cana­dian Coun­cil for the Arts.

Lo­cal art writer and cu­ra­tor Lucy Lip­pard leads a post-per­for­mance dis­cus­sion with the artists about their prac­tices as well as their past and cur­rent projects. As Gómez-Peña said of his work and fel­low per­form­ers for the night, “We will be pre­sent­ing a very dif­fer­ent view of what is in­dige­nous art. It draws from some very old and an­cient tra­di­tions. At the same time, it is ex­tremely ex­per­i­men­tal and post­mod­ern. It’s the kind of work that de­fies easy def­i­ni­tion.”

Guillermo Gómez-Peña

Re­becca Bel­more: White Thread, 2003, archival inkjet on pa­per

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