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Art Department


Guillermo Gomez-Peña Shakes Up Neddy at Cornish

Guillermo Gomez-Peña Shakes Up Neddy at Cornish

: Guillermo Gomez-Peña speaks at Neddy at Cornish. Photo by Jenisa Ubben.

Guillermo Gomez-Peña Shakes Up Neddy at Cornish

: Guillermo Gomez-Peña speaks at Neddy at Cornish. Photo by Jenisa Ubben.

Guillermo Gomez-Peña Shakes Up Neddy at Cornish

: Guillermo Gomez-Peña speaks at Neddy at Cornish. Photo by Jenisa Ubben.

Guillermo Gomez-Peña Shakes Up Neddy at Cornish

: Gomez-Peña collaborator Michéle Ceballos-Michot warms up the crowd. Photo by Jenisa Ubben.

Guillermo Gomez-Peña Shakes Up Neddy at Cornish

: Gomez-Peña collaborator Michéle Ceballos-Michot warms up the crowd. Photo by Jenisa Ubben.

Guillermo Gomez-Peña Shakes Up Neddy at Cornish

: Gomez-Peña collaborator Michéle Ceballos-Michot warms up the crowd. Photo by Jenisa Ubben.

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Delivering a performance-based talk on “imaginary activism,” iconic artist Guillermo Gomez-Peña attacked barriers at the Frye.

Imaginary activism — that’s what Guillermo Gomez-Peña was doing when he lifted the big plastic megaphone to his lips, pointed it at the packed Neddy at Cornish lecture crowd last Friday night, pressed the button, and croaked out … nothing. Confronting the audience with a completely silent cry perfectly sums up Imaginary Activism, the title of his lecture-performance. He challenged his listeners to fill in the blanks, to enter into his message, to make something of nothing. Making something of nothing has been for the last several decades exactly what Gomez-Peña has been doing. With few resources he and his performance troupe La Pocha Nostra have, in a multitude of imaginative ways, created performance art with that has put them at the forefront of the art world.  Gomez-Peña’s line-crossing, loco imagery seeks to break down cultural defenses and push everyone together. His work challenges current ideas on organized religion, cultural diversity, language, sexuality, gender, U.S.-Mexico relations, democratic politics, and much more. The button he was wearing on arrival at the Frye says it all: “Todos somos imigrantes.”

Gomez-Peña calls himself a deviant shaman. He looked the part – otherworldly – appearing on stage Friday night wearing a leather bustier, feather headdress, “pre-censored” sunglasses, a mariachi jacket, and one broken high-heel.  He made his shaman’s journey into that “other realm” fueled by whiskey and tobacco, and he delivered messages to the people in bursts of linguistic pyrotechnics. Gomez-Peña described the difficulty of explaining himself as a performance artist by recounting a night when he tried to explain to an ER nurse exactly how he got to the emergency room. “I set my hair on fire TO MAKE A POINT!” he spat.

Gomez-Peña delivered his politically labyrinthine, artistically probing questions about current U.S. society and his thoughts on performance art as if addressing close friends—alternating between English and Spanish, taking swigs of Jameson, throwing out heavy-hitting maxims (“we must be visionaries, not functionaries”), “glitch” poetry (“how do I talk to the ****ing techie youth?”), and shamanic incantations in equal measure. “Let me tell you … I’m in love with you,” he raved at the crowd. “Are you going to censor me? Is the Frye Art Museum a democratic institution?” His Bohemian charm was captivating, and he often had the whole room dissolving in laughter. “I am an activist against violence” he said, letting the silence stretch out after a particularly big laugh. “I am an activist against amnesia.”

Not content to do all the talking, he urged everyone in the audience to shout back at him, like some sort of vampire preacher calling for an “amen.” He begged the crowd to tell him what he should include in the evening’s performance:  “Con Guerra o sin Guerra? With Lady Gaga or Marina Abramovic?” Those who understood Spanish no doubt caught more of his humor, though Gomez-Peña shouted “Translation?” every once in a while. Playing with language and sometimes making up his own, he even rolled out the Wikipedia definition of “glitch” – “to be “slippery”—to explain the way he uses speech. (“Glitch,” it seems, derives from the German for “slippery,” glitschig.)

Gomez-Peña and fellow Pocha Nostra artist Michele Ceballos-Michot stirred up anticipation and left a wake of stories everywhere they went. The Friday night Neddy talk was just one part of their Seattle visit. On Saturday, they led an interactive workshop, “Exercises for Rebel Artists,” especially for Cornish students. The public was not permitted inside the Beebe Building to observe the event, but the Pocha artists’ instructions given to the workshop participants hints at the artistic explorations that took place. Students were asked to bring “objects related to your personal mythologies and iconography… ritual artifacts, which are important to your symbolic universe and aesthetics,” as well as ethnic, military, fetish, and artist-made costumes. Later that evening, the visiting artists wrapped up their Seattle stay at Vito’s Cougar Room where they were joined by members of several Cornish-connected performance groups including Implied Violence, Saint Genet, and Degenerate Art Ensemble (along with an assortment of colorful “art dignitaries” from the Seattle scene) for dinner, libations and no doubt more “glitchy” conversation about imaginary activism and rebellious performance artists. 


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