Posts in PERFORMANCE STUDY
PERFORMANCE STUDY: NELLY AGASSI'S MANY FACES
  Bedroom, 2005

Bedroom, 2005

I don’t usually write about contemporary artists in this Periodical, mostly because I feel like I have a lot of catch up with learning about art history, but today I want us all to get to know Nelly Agassi. Since I have so many pictures of her work I am planning on posting on Instagram, I thought it necessary to give her a moment here.

When I first came across Nelly Agassi, I actually thought she was a historical figure because her work isn’t trendy or very marketing-driven the way most well known young artists work tends to be today. (At least those in my immediate orbit, I’m sure there are other great artists I don’t know about because I’m in fashion and not the art world).

Agassi was born in Israel and currently lives and works between Tel Aviv and Chicago. The majority of her work is performance based, though she does create installations as well. Working with a variety of materials, her own body, and performance, Agassi stands in a genre of her own. She is at once a site-specific performance artist and a performance for video artist, as well as an installation artist who works with body art and mixed media. Because of her dynamism, she’s one of my favorite living female artists.

Below is a roundup of my favorites I’ve found of hers so far:

  Wall Dress, 2002

Wall Dress, 2002

  Still from Video, “Tear Meter,” 2009

Still from Video, “Tear Meter,” 2009

  Remains, 2002

Remains, 2002

  Innermost, 2008

Innermost, 2008

  Borrowed Scenery, 2004

Borrowed Scenery, 2004

  Still from Untitled Video, 1999

Still from Untitled Video, 1999

  Whispers, 2004

Whispers, 2004

I don’t have much to say about her since I don’t want to be a creep and investigate a living person’s life without conducting a proper interview, but I hope you enjoyed these <3


COURTNEY CADY, © 2018



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PERFORMANCE STUDY: YVES KLEIN'S BROKEN BOUNDARIES WITH ANTHROPOMETRY
  YVES KLEIN, UNTITLED ANTHROPOMETRY (ANT, 106), 1960

YVES KLEIN, UNTITLED ANTHROPOMETRY (ANT, 106), 1960

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard from me since spring, it’s because a lot has been going on with Bagtazo. But today I’m finally back to tell you about Yves Klein.

While scrolling through my Instagram feed recently, I came across a post in which someone had basically recreated Yves Klein’s Anthropometry paintings, albeit in the form of a cell phone video performance. A young woman, naked save for a trench coat and boots, held a bucket of blue paint near a cinderblock wall painted solid white. The footage goes on to show the woman dipping a large paint brush into a bucket of paint, covering the front of her body with it, and then pressing herself against the white wall. The post was published without so much as a nod to Klein, leading users—the majority of which I assume to have been unaware of the content’s historical link to Klein—to comment by the dozens with things like,  “COOL,” “YOU NEVER FAIL TO AMAZE ME,” “OMG, I LOVE YOUR WORK,” “Blue heart emoji…”  

I of course, was outraged, and commented, “So very Yves Klein #citeyoursources” and proceeded to put my phone away and begin researching Klein for the periodical. (LOL)

  Suaire de Mondo Cane, 1961

Suaire de Mondo Cane, 1961

One of the coolest details of Yves Klein’s work is that he created his own shade of blue, an ultramarine pigment known as International Klein Blue, which he patented in 1961.

(Maybe I’m partial to this detail because I have been gradually working on a piece about pigment, though due to the research being so intense, I have yet to finish. If you’re interested in reading a wonderful article on the history of color, check out this piece from the September 2018 issue of the New Yorker).

To me, color is the foundation of visual arts and is inextricably connected to historical eras. Sepia photographs belong to a specific period, as do the chalky primary colors of the surrealists and suprematists; the bold colors of Bauhaus, the muted, chemical shades of early Kodachrome prints, the neons of the 1980s, millennial pink, and so on…

And so naturally, when I saw Anthropometry being put on via the wrong shade of blue, not to mention sans citation, I cringed. I’m not always such a purist, however given that in the video there were two parts completely poached from Klein’s Anthropometry: color, and the use of the female body as a “living brush,” I just couldn’t let this one go. It’s so frustrating that in this so-called information generation, citation and accuracy are no longer relevant. *Shudder*

Yves Klein was born in Niece, France in 1928. He lived briefly in Japan, where he studied judo, though upon returning to Paris, decided to focus solely on painting. And while his output is impressive in both quality and quantity, Klein himself only lived to the age of 34.

Working in a style that would later be dubbed Nouveau Réalisme, Klein was a pioneer, blurring the lines between conceptual art, sculpture, painting, and performance. His groundbreaking work paved the way for Minimalism and, in the years following his death, Pop Art. Though short-lived, Klein’s contribution to the art world paved the way for New York’s Happenings, performance art, Land and Body Art, and even some aspects of Conceptual Art throughout the 1950’s, when conformity, tradition, and repression were all but the standard of everyday life.

A good amount of Klein’s works are comprised of monochrome paintings, which focused on “the void.” of these works, his signature blue paintings became most well-known. Klein CITES THAT THE ORIGINS OF HIS COMBINING “THE void” and the color blue CAME from literary critic and philosopher Gaston Bachelard who wrote: “First there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing, then there is a blue depth.”

Fixated on finding the perfect blue hue, Klein developed his signature ultramarine with a chemical company to create a polymer binder that could fix the pigment to maintain its color intensity over time. (Many manufacturers and artists struggled with the limitations of pigment technology in the past, as a main issue with certain colors was fading over time).

After success in creating the polymer, which Klein called International Klein Blue (or IKB), he began utilizing the color to begin creating objects of various forms: textured painted canvases, sculptures of sea sponges soaked in the pigment, and field-like floor coverings composed entirely of the powdery blue substance.

 
d7hftxdivxxvm.cloudfront.jpg
 

Through his work, Klein’s interest in “the void” lead to an attraction to the “immaterial,” which he cites as the reason he began making solid colored paintings with curved edges, which were meant to meld into the background and his blue fields.

During his blue phase, Klein gained recognition from his work via his “living brushes,” creating artwork he called Anthropometry. After clearing out his studio (another focus on the void), Klein utilized models traditionally employed for figure painting as actual “brushes” for his works with IKB pigment. The body impressions were an adaptation of the marks bodies leave on dojo mats that he witnessed during his martial arts practice in Japan. Klein was interested in distancing himself from the artwork, so using another’s body as a medium between himself and traditional art media became the cornerstone of his conceptual artwork. Soon after he created studio works of this nature, Klein took to having the models paint themselves (under his direction) as performance as well.

d7hftxdivxxvm.cloudfront-2.jpg

I found an explanation for his concept in an excerpt from Chelsea Hotel Manifesto, 1961:

Whatever directed me towards anthropometry? 
The answer can be found in my work during the years 1956 to 1957, when I was taking part in the adventure of creating the pictorial immaterial sensitivity. I had just removed from my studio all my former works. The result – an empty studio. My only physical action was to remain in my empty studio, and the creation of my pictorial immaterial states proceeded marvelously. However, little by little, I became mistrustful of myself: but never of the immaterial. I therefore hired models, as other painters do. But unlike the others, I merely wanted to work in their company rather than have them pose for me. I had been spending too much time alone in the empty studio; I no longer wanted to remain alone with the marvelous blue void that was budding. (...) 

Today, the academicized easel-painters have reached the point of shutting themselves in their studios, confronting the terrifying mirrors of their canvases. Now the reason for my use of nude models becomes quite evident: it was a way of preventing the danger of secluding myself in the overly spiritual spheres of creation, thus rupturing with the most basic common sense, repeatedly affirmed by our incarnate condition. The shape of the body, its lines, its strange colors hovering between life and death, hold no interest for me. Only the essential, pure affective climate of the flesh is valid.


Here is a quick video of Klein’s first performance, Monotone-Silence Symphony in 1960, “a performance in which an orchestra plays a single note for 20 minutes, followed by a 20-minute period of silence, to a large audience. Remarkably, despite the resonance with John Cage’s 4’33” (1952), there is little evidence to show the two artists were aware of each other.” (Artsy).

Some feminists later criticized Klein’s Anthropometry works, claiming that by instructing nude female models, Klein maintained control over his subjects, a factor which would in-turn degrade the female body to the state of a mere object intended solely for the male gaze, flexing and further strengthening patriarchal values. I’m not sure I’m that kind of a feminist, because I agree with art critic and close friend, Pierre Restany, who praised Yves Klein’s artistic philosophy and process that denounced “traditional, conservative, classic French art” OF THE TIME. Since it is difficult to separate the female body from the male gaze, as men perpetually utilize the body as a subject, in hindsight, I can understand this feminist read of the work. But I do not think the use of the body form necessitates the objectification of the female form. Plus at the time, I doubt women would be allowed to do this type of body art and be taken seriously, and I feel the work itself extremely important.

As writer Tess Thackara states, “The performances can arguably be read not as action paintings in which women become passive instruments, but as performances in which creator (in this case Klein’s female performers), artwork, and audience become one.”

sylviepuiroux_nice.jpg

Anyway, Yves Klein did a lot more than Anthropometry, and has amazing website that’s maintained by his estate where you can see his works.

I admit I didn’t look too depply into the cause of Klein’s premature death, though I did learn he died of a heart attack at age 34. I’m currently 34, and so when I read this, I wondered whether I’d be satisfied with my body of work were I to die right now, and I have to say, I’m glad I have more time because I have so much more I want to do. That said, I’m thoroughly impressed with how much Klein was able to do in 8 years and am hopeful that in another 4 (Bagtazo was established in 2014), maybe I could die happily…

Not sure if it’s a myth (a lot of what I’ve read about Yves Klein seems like hyperbole (possibly self-made), but if it’s true, Klein’s focus on the void and immaterialism was even embraced before his death where he’s quoted as saying, "I am going to go into the biggest studio in the world, and I will only do immaterial works." 

YVES KLEIN - THE VOID

COURTNEY CADY, © 2018


BIBLIOGRAPHY

YVESKLEIN .COM

YVES KLEIN, ARTSY.NET

YVES KLEIN LEGACY IS MUCH MORE THAN BLUE, Tess Thackara. ARSTY. Jan 9, 2017

FEMINISM AND YVES KLEIN’S ANTHROPOMETRIES, Kirstin Russell. WALKER ART CENTER, Jan 19, 2011

Schrin Gallery

“Overcoming the problematics of Art -The writings of Yves Klein”, Spring Publications, 2007


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PERFORMANCE STUDY: PINA BAUSCH'S 'WALZER'
 
  STILL FROM WALZER, 1982

STILL FROM WALZER, 1982

 

For several years, I've tried to write about Pina Bausch, but her work is so complex that I haven't figured out how to do it properly. Plus, there's not a lot about her online in English, and going to the library to check out books is more than I have time for these days. 

So, I've decided to bite off what I can chew, and start writing about her individual performances instead; beginning by focusing on Walzer, a 1982 piece first performed in Amsterdam.

Bausch began working in a time when West Germany was still a thing. A classically trained ballerina, Bausch helped forge modern dance, eventually forming her own dance theatre called Tanztheater Wuppertal. (Tanztheater is a combination of dance and theatre, as the name suggests, which was created by Bausch's teacher, Kurt Jooss).

After completing grade school, Pina received a scholarship to go to Juilliard in New York in 1960. Two years later, Bausch returned to Germany.

So now, after many years of much ado, check out the few clips I could find from Walzer

 
 
 
 
 
 

Out of all the performances Pina Bausch has choreographed, Walzer is of the more difficult ones to find in video online. And there are very few reviews in English. But since I'm a nerd and have a sign-in to an academic journal catalogue, I was able to find a review of the original 1982 performance written by Helen M Whall in the Theater Journal Review:

Walzer takes place in a ballroom located on board a transatlantic oceanliner docked in the harbor at Homburg [sic]. No doubt a party is about to begin, a send-off gala, perhaps, or an evening of organized fun on shipboard. The guests, women in long strapless gowns and men in dark suits, begin to arrive...

When not dancing or chasing each other, they lie about the large stage, empty but for a grand piano far left and a few potted trees and some chairs along the edges... building human pyramids and changing their patterns whenever they please, or drawing foot steps and following the "leader." Other ships may come and go – "Welcome to the Prince Hamlet" and "Homburg wishes you a good voyage," we hear the loudspeaker system announce – but this one seems a pleasure cruise suspended in mid-voyage, holding the promise of "La Vie en Rose" forever, as Edith Piaf's song, played on a taped recording, suggests.

By creating a type of dance-theatre Bausch conveys emotions more severely than dance alone can. Her signature gowns on female performers gives a vintage air to her aesthetic, as does the story taking place on a ship; but the absurdities going on in Walzer forces the audience to look at the performance through a post-modern lens. 

Since I only have three partial clips of Walzer to look at, it's pretty difficult to analyze the piece as a whole, but I'll just do like historians and archeologists did with the Greek fragments and just work with what I've got.

It's hard to say what bausch 'meant' in putting this performance together, but I know from translated interviews that she was more interested in how emotion can make one move, rather than how movement can evoke emotion. And we can infer from the title, Walzer (German for waltz), that the piece is centered around people waltzing.  Maybe the piece was an absurdist nod to the "vie en rose" as described in the review above that was taking place all over the world in the 1980s and continues today with the "Peter Pan" culture the boomers accuse my generation and younger of living.

Throughout the performance, it seems that there is one fairly hysterical woman. First seen screaming at the sight of another party goer's acrobatic dives, later having a full-on fit, and lastly begrudgingly dancing along to a choreographed waltz with her fellow ship mates.

In the second clip, it is clear that Bausch uses the hysterical woman to comment on the objectification of women, as well as the dying standards of what it means to be a "lady." She is also very much pointing out that a dancer who knows ballet has the free will to do otherwise with her body. Because Bausch was a classically trained ballerina, and could not have pushed the envelope without mastering the classical framework, I think the portion of the second clip where the young woman walks about with a "ballet turnout," talking about what she can do as opposed to what she wants to do, is very important for Pina Bausch's work.

I wish there was more to see so that we could piece together what Walzer 'does' because I think that Pina Bausch certainly conveyed some good messages with this performance, but since the rest is left to speculation, I will stay in wonder for now. I see that I can purchase a dvd (lol) but it only has clips of this performance. So maybe we will never be able to see the piece in its entirety, but I'm glad that I got this draft (that has been sitting here since August 2017) completed. My first attempt at covering Pina Bausch took me forever and it's not even a whole piece. Haha.

Now that I've shown myself that covering her work piece by piece is feasible I hope to study her work more soon. Keep posted.

xoxo


COURTNEY CADY © BAGTAZO, 2018


BIBLIOGRAPHY

REVIEWED WORKS: WALZER ; NELKEN BY PINA BAUSCH, PHILIPPA WHELE & HELEN M WHALL. THEATER REVIEW JOURNAL, VOL 36, NO 2, THE MARGINS OF PERFORMANCE, (MAY, 1984), PP 240-243

FEELING PINA: HOW THE CHOREOGRAPHER MOVED PEOPLE, VELLEDA C CECCOLI. PSYCHOLOGY TOMORROW MAGAZINE. NOV 5, 2012


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PERFORMANCE STUDY: THE DRAG QUEEN BALL - PARIS IS BURNING
 
 

Living in New York City, one of the things I miss the most is the grit of the underground that I had access to on the west coast. That's not to say there isn't any here, but being new and not knowing many people (and also being in my 30s, married, and content living a quiet life), I haven't spent much time in the underground club & warehouse party scenes here. Plus, I think things have changed in the last 10 years. 

Today it seems that almost everything is commercial. Citibank sponsors pride parade floats, and pop music and fashion are capitalizing on feminism. This started in the 90s and is in full force right now. I believe that as a result, normcore was born (do people even say that term anymore?), and the 'xennials' have taken back marriage - including gays. Since everything is 'normal,' we've embraced normative behavior and recreated it to our liking. And not to seem too nostalgic, but with all this progress, I believe we have certainly compromised the grit. Sure there is still queer nightlife, but dissenters have it easy today in comparison to our forefathers/mothers. 'Underground' implies hiding. We no longer have much to hide. The goal is acceptance, so we should have an easier time, but with this soft life I often look back on the angst of my generation's youth and wonder if it just felt harder because I was in the trenches fighting.* 

*I play by saying 'soft life' but that is not to say there aren't struggles today. Equality is far away in terms of race, gender, and class. There is still a lot to fight for. I'm just looking back at all my closeted friends, and the gay bashing & racism I experienced like it was nothing and seeing how far we've come.

Nowadays, sometimes I go to the fancy drag parties in NY where beautiful people like Amanda Lapore and Susanne Bartsche grace us with their presence. But the drinks are always almost $30.00 and if I do end up knowing anyone, they either got on the list, or somehow snuck in because entry is very exclusive, and the fee is, shall we say... cost prohibitive. The costumes are amazing, and the illicit sexuality is uninhibited. The legends who attend helped build an empire, but today's parties they throw don't have much 'street.' Still, we could never have had these rather commercial parties without the work they did in the 70s and 80s.

In my teens and through my 20s I explored fashion and culture by dancing and going out at night. I never felt that I quite fit in where I grew up, so from an early age I gravitated towards the underground. Looking back, I believe that I was living through the tail end of what the 80s had created. Urban environments aren't as gritty as they once were. And most people in metropolitan areas aren't shocked by fashion, music, and lifestyle choices in the way that they could be in the 80s and 90s.

After going to a party on Fire Island recently, I will admit I was sort of saddened by how elite and extremely white it was. It was not a Suzanne Bartsche or Amanda Lapore party, where despite the cost, it seems all social classes and races attend. And though there was still a level of performance that I've come to expect from these types of parties, I couldn't help but romanticize what the underground clubs in NY must have been like in the golden era.

The reason I can even romanticize this period without having been there, is the film Paris is Burning. If you haven't seen it, you're in luck, because I have it right here:

When I went to high school I wanted desperately to fit in, but my privileged-suburban-theater nerd-dancer-dark wave-goth-punk-ska-chola-thrift store tween style was far from the norm. Also most people were white, and I was mixed with kinky, frizzy hair. So I put on a mask, straightened my hair, and bought Roxy clothes so that I could get invited to the parties and make out with boys. My approach was not unlike the 'children' of the Balls as seen in Paris is Burning. Balls were created by drag queens in the 60s, as a sort of escape, and slowly, as an adaptive measure, competitions started to become more inclusionary, allowing people to feel, "100% right being gay," no matter what their aesthetic was.

Because I didn't have an outlet like the Balls, I just told stories and made believe that I was someone else. Fortunately, despite not having an outlet, I grew out it after moving to the city where I found others like me.

In the film, the Balls took place in Harlem. In this tiny niche community, the Balls had competitions with categories where one could dress up according to the category and compete for 'realness.' The performative aspect of these competitions both helped encourage gay men (who were mostly black and minorities who didn't have a ton of money) to explore their notions of heteronormative pressures, while also gaining feelings of acceptance that they did not easily receive from everyday society.

Some of the categories for 'realness' included looking like a real woman, a real collegiate student, executive realness, town & country, high fashion evening wear, even the military - the idea was to find a more natural you. "To be able to blend, that's what realness is," to "look as much as possible like your straight counterpart." These competitions were not seen as satire - but as a "case of going back into the closet," so as not to not be questioned. And while some might say that this fantasy is repression in and of itself, the performances were like role reversals, which can be cathartic and empowering.

Many in the film argue that if given the opportunity to be a 'real' girl, or to be an executive; they could, and so they portray themselves as such as a way to prove it. As someone in the film says, "When you're a man and a woman, you can do whatever you want... But when you're gay, you monitor your everything." At a time when underground really implied hiding, these Balls and their competitions allowed one to be who they wanted without judgement.

In addition to suffering from prejudice against their sexuality, many in the Harlem night life scene were fairly poor, and/or came from troubled homes.  Balls served as an escape from the alternative, the streets. And much like gangs, 'houses' were created, where heads of the household took on much needed parental-like roles, which were gained from their status in the competitions. Over time, houses began to 'throw shade' on one another in competitions, vogueing their differences out on the dance floor. Before Madonna and Joan Rivers got a hold of vogueing, it was originally used to fight it out in competition.

One of my favorite explanations in the film is when they discuss vogueing. Someone says it's like break dancing: taken from hieroglyphics, gymnastics, perfect lines in the body, awkward positions, but where it differs are in the poses taken from magazines (hence the name) and most importantly, in throwing shade.

For a number of reasons, by the end of the 80s, the culmination of fashion, popular culture and the faster rate in which people were living, Balls became less about creating one's own outfit for the competitions, and more about owning labels and fitting with the aesthetics of the time. As the 80s was coming to an end, this underground culture was slowly hitting the mainstream.

In 1990, Madonna came out with Vogue after she saw it happening in the gay night clubs in NYC. But at this point, the era was almost over, as evidenced in Paris Is Burning. The film was made throughout the late 80s, I assume because the director saw that there was a very important, but fleeting cultural phenomenon happening. And once it hit the mainstream, people began adopting and appropriating all kinds of elements from the subculture.

Even today, more than 30 years later, we still use words like, "fierce," "throwing shade," and "24/7," and I see break dancers on the subway taking the vogueing dance moves and furthering them into crazy contortions. The balls that were created to stay off the street, went from underground, to commercial, and back to the streets again.

Anyway, I know I'm a straight woman writing about queer nightlife, but I identify with this group of people as part of my cultural lineage, so I thought I'd share my thoughts with you. And as a treat, here are a few videos of the amazing Joan Rivers interviewing some of the cast of Paris is Burning on her show. What a queen.


DISCLAIMER

This is an editorial piece reflecting on my own life in relation to Paris Is Burning, and my understanding of the subculture therein. Since I left San Francisco, I will admit I'm not as up on the current appropriate language that is expected of one who writes on this subject. Please forgive me, I'm getting old. If you have any objections or want to point out flaws, please leave a comment below.

Just no shade ✌️


COURTNEY CADY, © 2017



PERFORMANCE STUDY: SQUAREGAME VIDEO

I've been having a hard time adjusting (schedule-wise) to my new life in New York. I really love it here, but I'm so busy trying to settle in that a weekly post has been asking a bit too much of me during this transition process.

But here's a cool video of Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1976 moving around in ways that I think accurately expresses how I feel rn trying to jump around from here to there in order to find my stride.

I've had intentions in doing an in-depth study of Merce Cunningham on this blog, but for now here's less than a minute of footage to tide you over.

More regularity to come soon, I promise.

xx


Courtney Cady, © 2016



PERFORMANCE STUDY: ASCO AND A BRIEF DISCUSSION ON DISPLACEMENT IN LOS ANGELES

Returning home to LA after two years of being away, it's easier to see the changes that are taking place. I lived in this city for eleven years before taking off, so to step back and see it from a new perspective, while at the same time understanding its long history, has been very influential on me. Given that cities in the US are experiencing regeneration after decades of neglect, with the majority who previously preferred suburbs and small towns now showing a preference for the city, every major urban area is going through similar changes. But still, I can't help but to resist some of the change happening in my own city, perhaps because I felt I 'belonged' to the LA that once was.

I mean, I feel so connected to LA that I shed a tear for a few closed shops in my old neighborhood. Seeing a completely vacant storefront of a business that had been around since before I was born really bummed me out. It's like a new type of person has taken over Highland Park, and where I may have been guilty of once being the gentrifier, now I'm pointing the finger at the new people for putting in vintage stores on every block and opening coffee shops where a variety of small businesses once served the community. I feel displaced, not having a sense of home in my own neighborhood, and refusing to support the spike in rent. Regardless, obviously these businesses are serving the new community, otherwise they wouldn't thrive, so maybe it's me who's unable to adapt. In effort to do so however, I asked myself to look at history to see how other people have dealt with this.

Another time LA experienced a huge overhaul was when the freeways were constructed. Neighborhoods were literally cut up. Houses razed. Major streets closed. (And this, actually, was a nation-wide phenomenon as well). Before the late 1970s, suburbs and neighboring counties could only be accessed from the city through major street routes. But once the car took over in the 1950s, LA modeled itself after the success of the first freeway in the world, The Arroy Seco Parkway, which was a small section of what is now California's 110 freeway that connected Los Angeles to neighboring Pasadena. So began a campaign to easily connect the entire city to the outside world that lasted through the late 1970s. As a major side effect of this long construction period, communities were ripped apart, thousands of homes were demolished, and people were displaced. And as one might suspect, a majority of the demolition was of lower income neighborhoods housing minorities. 

Asshole "Mural", 1974. Harry Gamboa Jr. (Featuring the four founding members of Asco).

Towards the end of the freeway construction era in Los Angeles, an artist group of Mexican Americans known as Asco formed, almost in reaction to what was taking place in their neighborhood by Harry Gamboa, Jr., "Gronk" Nicandro, Willie Herrón and Patssi Valdez in Boyle Heights. (Asco means nausea in Spanish). During the freeway construction, Boyle Heights endured the erection of 5 major freeways, with two large interchanges; diving the neighborhood through its center, demolishing thousands of homes and businesses. At the same time, the Vietnam War was taking place, and many residents of Boyle Heights were recruited to join the military. Combine that with the blatant racism against Mexicans in the US during that era, and yeah, Asco had a reason to be pissed.

But what's so great about Asco is that instead of bitching and moaning, they turned their suffering into art. They explored performance art, and brought new takes to old ideas. Playing with the tradition of murals in Mexican culture for example, Asco made live murals with people, and took photographs or recorded their performances. (As seen above). They also adapted traditional Catholic themes, paying homage to their culture, while simultaneously brining awareness to the injustices they collectively endured.

The First Supper After a Major Riot, 1974, Harry Gamboa Jr

My favorite of these performances is seen above. A take on The Last Supper, where the performers are wearing traditional Dia de Los Muertos costumes (in December around Christmas time, however) in the same location where a riot had broken out a few years prior after rubber bullets were shot by police at a group of protestors demonstrating against the Vietnam War.

Two years earlier, Asco had done a similar performance, replacing the Christmas Parade that was revoked as a result of the riot, with a performance parade entitled, Walking Mural, that took the old parade route, only this time it ended at the US Marine Corps recruiting office. Dressed as the Virgen de Guadalupe, a Christmas Tree and the Holy Trinity, the group made a procession with reference to the Stations of the Cross, carrying a large cross with them through the streets, effectively recruiting people in the neighborhood to march onto the military recruiting office to shut it down. If only for a day, Asco was successful in making art meaningful.

Living in the "Entertainment Capital of the World," Asco also did a series of short-lived performances they called No Movies. These performances consisted of costumes and filmic scenes set up for one or two photographs. The intention was to make images that appeared to be film stills, only there was no actual film associated with the images. 

In the early stages of Asco's No Movies, group member, Gamboa, upon realizing the Chicano* artist community was underrepresented at LACMA (the city's only contemporary art museum at the time), approached LACMA's curator to ask him why this was the case. It was reported that the curator's response was, "Chicanos are gang members who don't make fine art," so Asco turned around and played out the stereotype by spray painting their names on the entrances of the museum. In an act of iconoclasm, Gamboa photographed Patssi Valdez posing with the "graffiti." This No Movie was called Spray Paint LACMA, and later became one of their most famous. I found a rather witty description below a slide in, Urban Exile: Collected Writings of Harry Gamboa, Jr, (1998) that said, "All entrances of the museum are spray painted with the names of Herrón, Gamboa and Gronkie, transforming the museum itself into the first work of Chicano art to be exhibited at LACMA."

At a time when Mexicans in America were extremely marginalized, Asco spoke out through performance and imagery to question the status quo. They also disregarded the 'rules' of fine art, paving the way for experimental modes of art, especially with the use of performance, the topics of identity, and the application of still and motion pictures with otherwise fleeting performance work. 

More than 30 years later in 2011, ironically, LACMA hosted a large retrospective of Asco's work, which is where I first learned of them, so I guess their resistance finally paid off. I doubt my resistance against the current wave of displacement in Los Angeles will be quite as effective, considering I'm just writing blog posts about it and turning my frustrations into jewelry pieces and hats, but who knows...


*I chose to only use the word Chicano when it was used by the group itself. I was taught that Chicano is a term used to identify oneself as Mexican American, but with a distinction that 'Chicano' connotes oppression. As this term is interpreted in many ways, I opted to not use it in my own right in effort to stay neutral. 


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015


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