Interview with Guillermo Gomez Pena: You know, I worship the imagination!

by deborah on 06/16/2010

Among many film, dance and art festivals in Croatia, Queer Zagreb is also a blogger friendly oriented festival. Thanks to their understanding of the media, I had the opportunity to interview one amazing performance artist and poet, Guillermo Gomez Pena

I interviewed him a month ago after his performance with La Pocha Nostra… for this occasion, Body Pixel co-blogger Ivana also joined me for the interview with Guillermo…

GuillermoGomezPena1.jpgPhoto: Zach Gross (c)


Deborah: You are a journalist, but you’ve studied linguistics and literature, obviously a man of wordz. Then you made a switch to performance art… Of course, America accepted performance art as a vibrant form back in the sixties… So, it had been a ground for forming your art habitus…  How does this switch, this transition from written forms to expressive embodiment happen?

Guillermo Gomez Pena: That’s a very good question. Well, I’m first a writer and then a performance artist. Whatever I can translate into live images, I don’t write about; and whatever I can’t translate into life images, I write about. There are two parallel processes and they are very complementary. My literature is much more personal and I don’t have to be countable to anyone. It is the ultimate personal cry for freedom.

My performance work is more countable, since I have chosen, as a citizen diplomat, to utilize my performance art as a form of radical diplomacy and radical democracy. So, in my performance art everything I do is in consensus with my collaborators. It’s a different kind of practice.

GuillermoGomezPena2.jpg
Photo: Zach Gross (c)

Deborah: As a performance artist, do you use some kind of training?

Guillermo Gomez Pena: Well, yes and no. I mean, I’m a self style performance artist, but of course I have been doing it for so long that I have developed my own pedagogy, my own methodology. And we have now the Pocha Nostra Nomadic Performance School. Through all these years, of course, since I have been working with radical dancers and actors, I have been exposed to the training techniques and I have learned from them.

Deborah: Let’s switch now a little bit to the topic that is constant in your work, and that’s the issue of borders between US and Mexico… We saw tonight (Corpo Illicito: The Post Human Society 6.9) so many quotations, Guantanamo… Basically, you were always radical political performance artist, but you have also involved the issues of body and embodiment, the topics of otherness… I’m interested about your own triggers, reasons why you have decided to go in these directions?

Guillermo Gomez Pena: Essentially, I’m one of the first kind of Mexican intellectuals who began to utilize the border as a paradigm to theorize about U.S. – Mexican relations, racial issues, post colonial issues; bringing this paradigm into our world, you know. Why? Because, I’ve felt that it was a very useful one. We were no more interested in French structuralists and post structuralists, we were no longer interested in the THOUGHT coming from New York.

You know, as Latino Americans we felt that we have the obligation to develop our own theoretical frameworks. So, in many ways I began to think about the border as a laboratory. As a laboratory to develop utopian and dystopian models; and also as a place, as a zone where multiple rejects from mono culture, multiple exiles from different genders, races, nationalities and languages could meet. A kind of common ground and a spiral as supposed to a border line. And then, I’ve begun to work on my books and performance art in a way that it’s related to my colleagues, you know.

GuillermoGomezPena3.jpg
La Pocha Nostra Archives

Then, eventually, it became quite popular, it became almost like a fashion – the border paradigm. And in so many ways we needed to escape before, so to speak, ‘hit the rock bottom’ situation happens. But still, I’m fully committed to this kind of process of analysing intercultural, intersexual relations. Of course, my notions of the border have shifted.

In the beginning they were more geographically and geopolitically specific. I was dealing more with the U.S.-Mexican border, but then I began to think that in a sense there was a process of borderization of the world, and that in many ways everywhere, where two or more cultures, languages and races meet, there is a border phenomenon, right?! So, in that sense we can think of Paris, London, New York, Berlin as border cities.

GuillermoGomezPena4.jpg
Photo: Zach Gross (c)

Ivana: How do you feel within this globalized world? How do you see the issue of borders, especially now when we are all globalized, we have now this liberalization of thoughts and languages, but we all feel borders on our skin? I feel as an outsider when I travel outside of my country or the Balkans… How do you feel as a Mexican artist with borders between states in comparison with Europe? I’m interested in this conflict between globalization and borders…

Guillermo Gomez Pena: Yeah, that’s very important question. I mean, I oppose the global project and I believe in other kind of global eccentricism project that comes from within, from the bottom up, that is ‘cooked’ on the streets and that organically emerges out of it. You know, the migrations of people throughout the world; and that kind of global project is almost opposite to the one imposed by the master minds of globalization, right?

GuillermoGomezPena5.jpgPhoto: Zach Gross (c)

At the same time I also feel that to cross the border from South to North or from East to West has completely different implications then to cross the border from North to South or East to West, you know what I mean. So, people have their privileges across the border without experiencing biological, political repercussions; and others don’t!

Deborah: Yeah! We also feel like shit when we go to the West, you know… Very often we have to face prejudices based on individual bad experiences… like we are dancing around the fire wearing furry pants, or living in the cave…

Guillermo Gomez Pena: Yeah, for example (laughs). In that sense I really feel strangely familiar with Croatia, you know (laughs). I feel that this kind of tribulations that your are undergoing and your relationship with the West may not be that different from those that Mexico undergoes with the U.S.

newbarbarians.jpgPhoto: Zach Gross (c)

Deborah: You have used many art forms to express yourself: literature, opera, performance art, journalism, poetry… but I’m very interested in your work that includes radio and Internet… radio is the ‘cheapest’ tool you can use… especially for communication with the poor people, especially in the context of your poetics: you are referring to ordinary people, but you are also inspired by them… Radio is a very interesting way to get to people…

Guillermo Gomez Pena: There is a very variable traditional border radio. Since the beginnings of the radio around the U.S. – Mexico border, political radicals and cultural radicals have been producing radio to speak to the other side. So, in many ways, I’m very inspired in that noble history of border.

I’m really interested in kind of alternative, creative experimental forms of radio. Sometimes I have entered the mainstream, you know, I have been doing commentaries for the national radio both in the USA and Mexico, with the hope that I could reform it, thinking that I could push the envelope and speak from the perspective of  a performance artist.

GuillermoGomezPena6.jpgPhoto: Michael Macor / The Chronicle (c)

And I have had some degree of success and my radio shows have been kicked out from many stations, which I’m very proud of (laughs). But I feel that radio is still my third passion, after writing and performing. I’m still involved in radical radio community from different places. So, there is this kind of strange dilemma of being fully present, alive, talking to people that you will never see and you will never meet, it’s almost like the opposite of live performance.

Deborah: And what about the Internet? I know you have made a project based on the Internet… it’s so obvious that the majority of people in Mexico don’t have a computer and that the Internet connection isn’t so good… at the other side, Zapatistas are using high satellite technology to spread the information…

Guillermo Gomez Pena: Absolutely, absolutely! We are Web-backs! Since the socialization of new technologies in the nineties, I became really interested in being part of these processes, always with the help of artists and technicians exploring the kind of cyber borders as we know.

The Internet is also a hegemonic space and there are also borders, border patrolmen… and it’s mostly in English. In many ways the cyber space reproduces hegemonic structures of the social space, but with the kind of phony utopian language of equality and belonging that is completely false.

GuillermoGomezPena8.jpg
La Pocha Nostra Archives

So, I have tried to understand new technologies from a Latino perspective, from the South and also from the perspective of a performance artist. I have engaged a number of cyber or digital arts projects through the years .  Now, more recently, what my troupe has done… we have a group of advisers, people in their early twenties who know much more, because they understand.

You know, like  for me… breaking from a binary model to a hyper textual model was an intellectual project. But for a twenty year old is just a given thing, right?!

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Photo: Eric Fogleman (c)

Now we have a group of young intellectuals: Chicano, Mexicans, Latino intellectuals who are twenty, twenty two…They are advising La Pocha how to utilize successfully, you name it, Facebook, Twitter, blabla bla… you know… See… But for us, of course, it’s extremely important to be present on the Internet.

In many ways you can say that La Pocha Nostra is a kind of matrix that is defined by certain loose edges, such as community, activism, new technologies and perhaps a kind of social and existential experimentation. And somewhere between these things, we exist as somewhat ephemeral and nomadic sanctuary for rebel artists, you know. Something that it’s constantly changing and reinventing itself.

Ivana: Did you ever experience the real democracy in any state? Because you are talking about democracy? Do you have any ideas how one can actually accomplish a perfect country?

Guillermo Gomez Pena: No, of course. I mean, it has never happened to me in my life. I have never been to a truly democratic society. You know, I think that certain societies maybe can be slightly more democratic then the  other, but I really believe that performance art is a clumsy, imperfect and somewhat functional radical democracy. Because, all structures in performance art are horizontal and the authority is there to be questioned.

It is polyvocal and there is a consensus, decision making. In every decision, pertaining to the creation of the project, there is a certain kind  for this kind of strange democracy to function, there has to be a certain kind of love and respect between collaborators.

‘Citizens / Collaborators’, that makes it happen and this is something I don’t see in the real world. So, in a sense, the art space becomes a model, micro universe of the society; and we are trying to cross the border within the artistic space.

We wish we could cross in the larger society, but we are unabled to. But we also hope that the audience can experience courageously this desire and became inspired to cross them in the physical world. I’m really interested in the wonderfully clumsy democracy of artists.

GuillermoGomezPena9.jpgPhoto: Zach Gross (c)

Artists inventing passports, their own coin, languages… inventing their own notions of citizenship… impersonating corporations… creating alternative art world, alternative churches… exploring the multiplicity of the gender… kind of experiments that are constantly taking place in  the realm of our world are much more interested to me, then all social experiments. And this is why I continue to follow back the art world, to speak as an intellectual, as an artist, always from the position of art.

My discourse is first of all an artistic discourse, because my main tool is the imagination! You know, I worship the imagination! I think that losing imagination can be even more dangerous, then losing our civil rights.

Thanks a lot, Guillermo!