Tuesday, December 9, 2008
On Saturday night, we were making our way to the new permanent home of Sushi: A Center for the Urban Arts and because we were chatting away, we ended up on the 8 West heading in the wrong direction. The solution was to take the 163 South, which put us right in the middle the insane amount of traffic going to December Nights. I started to get overly anxious because we were running late (typical). As I tried to calm down and keep my nervous toes from tapping, I looked around me at all the other cars. It occurred to me we were about to have a very different kind of evening than all of our fellow travelers on the 163. On tap for them: Christmas lights, child ballerinas, a Santa Claus, an organ pavillion, homespun snacks like kettle corn, fountains and happy, rosy-cheeked children running amok. On tap for us: an "x-treme" fashion show with a barbarian theme, cross-dressing, a "trickster, brujo poet," lots of leather, nudity, gender-bending dress, piercings, border politics, and plenty of masks.
We were on our way to see pioneer performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and his collective La Pocha Nostra at Sushi where they were staging the US premiere of The New Barbarian Collection , a radical, x-treme fashion show meant to critique the media and celebrity obsession. I decided to bring you a little slideshow from the evening to give you a sense of how things went down. Gómez-Peña's readings were the most interesting aspect of the show, as he chanted variations of "we are..." citing a long list of terms for marginalized communities and subcultures, races, and political affiliations. Some references were playful, others were reclaiming slurs and stereotypes. He continually landed on the refrain "we will not stop talking back." At other times throughout the night, Obama's acceptance speech played on a loop contrasted with a talking Bush doll that sat on the end of the runway. The doll would spout Bush-isms, like "a low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls."
A stream of performers walked the runway in various costumes and radical attire. Some danced, others peformed acrobatics, and almost all of them transformed, manipulated or used their bodies to make a statement or challenge a conventional idea. Overall, the show didn't feel as tight as it could be, especially in its pacing. If the idea was to mimic the fashion show aesthetic and then turn it on its head, it missed the boat on the pacing and spectacle of a fashion show. It did, however, achieve that tenuous sense you often get from performance art where anything could happen, especially if an audience member were to spontaneously react in a way that could change the course of the performance. Overall, I was intrigued and am certain that an appearance by Gómez-Peña is not to be missed. His work is so important to the politics and culture of this region and the nation as a whole. And, I suspect this fashion show idea will get tighter and more nuanced as it gets performed more.
I was thrilled to see the new Sushi space and founder Lynne Schuette presiding over the evening. Sushi has been so central to defining the edges and boundaries of the San Diego art scene. Now that they have a permanent space again, we'll likely find some of the most interesting cultural events in San Diego happening within its new walls.