Friday, November 14, 2008

La Nostalgia Re-Mix: Best Hits and Out takes for an imaginary bar Guillermo Gomez-Peňa & James Luna

Out North had one of its culturally challenging nights. By that I mean, I had to stretch a bit, I had to think about where I was on the continuum between insider and outsider, between supporter of the status quo and challenger. Between comfortable and on the edge.

The bleacher seats were facing each other with a small stage on either end. We ended up sitting right in front of James Luna's bar as often violent black and white video splashed on a screen to our left to a varying playlist. On the other end of the field - it felt more like a field than a stage, I thought of ball court at Chichen Itza - was Guillermo Gomez-Peňa, in a feather headress. I snapped the picture quickly before the performance officially began.

And we watched the ball bounce from one side of the field to the other as the artists alternated short vignettes from their side of the stage. Luna took us, on his turns, into his life as an artist and Indian challenging the world's stereotypes. His first piece was about an early performance piece at a museum where he, in the Indian exhibit, with a lot of his own memorabilia, lay flat on his back in a loin cloth, on a bed of sand in an open display case as the unsuspecting museum goers came into his hall. We saw photos of the event as he lay flat on his back in a loin cloth at Out North telling us about the experience.

Then, we shifted our attention to stage left, where Peňa read his outsider artist manifesto. The most startling piece was when audience members were brought up to him and given a machine gun and asked to pose with him, dressed as a terrorist, and they holding the gun on him - to his head first, to his chest, genitals, mouth,etc. They held the pose for - I really don't know how long, I didn't time it, but it was a long pose. Maybe a minute, maybe two. These were the stereotypical television images of the terrorist being menaced with a gun touching his body by a soldier. Seeing the image, held for a long time, right there in front of us, was very powerful. It also forced me to think about whether I would agree to participate in that event if asked. (No.)

This was a thought provoking evening with people whose authentic voice most of us never hear. There will be a performance Saturday night November 15 and Sunday afternoon November 16. Getting performances like this in the tiny Out North theater means you are right there, almost on stage. No need to bring your opera glasses. There were no empty seats that I saw tonight. You can save $2 a ticket buying them online.

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