Galleries

Performing at the Center of an Artistic Oil Spill: La Pocha Nostra’s Corpo Insurrecto #NSFW

A detail GIF of one of the many tableaus that were part of La Pocha Nostra's " " (2013) performance at Grace Exhibition Space in Bushwick, Brooklyn (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)
A detail GIF of one of the many tableaus that were part of La Pocha Nostra’s ” ” (2013) performance at Grace Exhibition Space in Bushwick, Brooklyn (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)

Friday night’s performance at Bushwick’s Grace Exhibition Space was an acid bath of imagery that oscillated between the trippy baroque and provocatively unnerving. The performance of tableaux vivants by La Pocha Nostra, a conceptual performance art laboratory established in 1993 and inspired by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, was the first major performance event for the monthlong Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival.

Guillermo Gómez-Peña performing during Friday night's performance.
Guillermo Gómez-Peña performing during Friday night’s performance.

“Corpo Insurrecto: Psycho-Magic Actions for A World Gone Wrong” (2013) is, by the group’s own admission, their “newest experiment in ‘corporeal transformations’,” but what that exactly means is up for debate. The evening featured the central figure of Guillermo Gómez-Peña, one of the group’s founding members, along with Roberto Sifuentes and Nola Mariano, and a leading Chicano artist in his own right. At various points during the performance, Gómez-Peña changed his hybrid costumes that included an Aztec headdress, a bandanna, forearm gloves, a gaucho hat, a leather skirt, and other cultural references carefully selected to create the image of a powerful conductor responsible for orchestrating the multifaceted theatrics. Gómez-Peña’s character, and we are made conscious that he is most definitely a manufactured character through his dramatic actions and orders, darted around the space with a cloud of seriousness as he whispered to performers and ordered the crowd to react — “Hurry and put this on Facebook,” he announced at one point during the evening.

9232374621_152c62e88b_z

The flurry of camera activity was prevalent, as every order of digital gadget captured videos, images, and GIFs of each scene, which began with a man wrapped to a pole with transparent plastic, and transitioned from one tableau to the next, until there were multiple scenes taking place simultaneously around the room. It’s obvious that we’ve all become more comfortable mediating experience through our screens, eager to share our experiences and amplifying moments into looping fragments of memory.

puchnost-5-320

The visual language was a collage of cultural references from art history, pop culture, news headlines, and fantasy. The seemingly never-ending string of references eluded any clear narrative but created a sense of surfing through websites or video channels where disembodied imagery can often generate a desire for new sensations, each more visually immersive than the next.

As the night progressed, the audience found itself in the center of a constantly evolving stage that was dizzying in its intensity while maintaining a coolness that made you feel emotionally detached.

9232362539_bc29aa683d_z

At one point, an artist tapped me on the shoulder and explained that a friend’s feminist reading of the performance made her feel uncomfortable with the scene as a dominant male figure was the only one who spoke as a half dozen — mostly female — silent figures were being directed on what to do. The disparity in power appeared intentional. As the performance progressed, Gómez-Peña’s character started to engage in the actions, and at one point he asked a number of people to point an assault rifle at various parts of his body as he wore a t-shirt with bright yellow letters that read “POLÍCIA” (police in Spanish). It was clear that Gómez-Peña was always in control.

puchnost-3-320“Corpo Insurrecto” conjured up nightmares through a shadowy sense that things were broken or haphazardly cobbled together out of necessity. A hybrid doctor/acupuncturist pinned branded needles into the body of a woman who lay motionless on a makeshift gurney that evoked the sense that the corporate colonization of Andrea Mantegna’s “Lamentation of Christ” (c.1480) was underway. On a podium across the room, a frisky Carmen Miranda-like drag queen decomposed into some semblance of a Classical sculpture with fake hips and panty hose that transformed its linear perfection into a lumpy form.

If La Pocha Nostra  — which is a play on La Cosa Nostra and the term pocho, a slang word used to describe gringo-fied Mexican Americans — sought audience participation in their project, they received most of it in the form of image sharing. Cameras, which were as prevalent as viewers, allowed for the transmission of these stark images, clearly packaged for shock. This multi-centric performance canonballed through dozens of layers of our culture to leave us unpacking the cultural distinctions and their meaning one by one, but it seemed like an impossible and even fruitless task.

puchnost-4-640

Watching “Corpo Insurrecto,” you get the impression of losing power as you’re relegated to the role of spectator. The performance around you feels overwhelming, and even when we’re being asked to participate there is someone guiding or directing your actions. It’s a paranoid vision we’re placed in the midst of, where a flamenco dancer performs with gas nozzle castenets and anti-Putin messages are projected onto Amazonian women waring strap-on dildos while performing an undisclosed script.

When the performance stopped, I found myself more conscious of being there in the space, and I wondered why I hadn’t acted more in the moment, whether it was kissing the back of a performer, putting needles in the woman on the table, or taking a swig of a 40 — all things that the audience was invited to do in one way or another. Instead, I chose to bathe in the moment, content to watch someone else directly influence in the after-dark artistic cocktail all around. As I stood there, the sensory buzz was quickly wearing off, but I was certain it would penetrate my dreams.

9232361683_d633521b3e_z

9235144330_bbaaa0cfc6_z

9232369375_091ab47aba_z

9235146816_4fdb015fda_z

9235139464_3b1140e4e2_z

9235152798_23cae33b4f_z

9235151260_14d60fa1af_b-640

9235153706_f2da30bf75_z

9232358727_a48326475d_z

9232366169_c156b8a117_z

9232372477_db61f54d89_z
9235157416_1aaf6fd4d2_z

9232375571_77dfe6d417_z

La Pocha Nostra’s “Corpo Insurrecto: Psycho-Magic Actions for A World Gone Wrong” (2013) took place on Friday, July 5 (9pm–11pm EST) at Grace Exhibition Space (840 Broadway, 2nd Floor, Bushwick, Brooklyn) and featured performers Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Erica Mott, Roberto Sifuentes, and others. The performance was part of the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival, and there are more images from “Corpo Insurrecto” on the author’s Flickrstream.

comments (0)