You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2012.
Calendars of dirt. Mudslides infected the meat, bluebottle flies had tiny electric guitar music coming out. Jimi Hendrix pants on the roadside. It was all good if it had green fire, released toxic fumes when it burned. Moonlight through eucalyptus leaves, scent of dust. Somebody wants to talk to somebody, you can Google them—say you find a Youtube video interview and they mention your name. It’s like you almost saw them for a second. Nervous gesture with one hand repeated, as he or she looked tired and alive.
Cool like blisters. What did you want?
“Do the Mexican Rebel Zapatistas Have a Space Program? A New Exhibit Imagines One”—
In 2000, members of the Zapatista Air Force launched an attack on Mexican soldiers stationed in Chiapas. Before this, no one knew the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, notoriously ill-equipped and mainly made up of indigenous people who lived in self-governed rural communities, even had an air force. But how they acquired planes was no mystery: they made them out of paper, folding leaflets with messages and poems written across, then snuck up close enough to send a fleet of hundreds into an army encampment.
Six years earlier, in 1994, when the Zapatistas first became known as a movement, they had donned black ski masks (“so that we would stop being invisible”) and staged a largely non-violent revolt against the out-of-touch government, taking control of cities throughout Chiapas. No lives would have been lost if not for the Mexican Army’s retaliation. “We didn’t go to war to kill or be killed. We went to war in order to be heard,” said their leader, Subcomandante Marcos. He also called poetry a “favorite” weapon.
The artist Rigo 23, who made the work for his new exhibition at RedCat in collaboration with Zapatista artists, was in San Francisco when the Zapatistas first revolted. He stole a copy of Yo, Marcos, writings by the Zapatistas’ leader, from the Stanford Library and devoured its poetic politics. “It was quite attractive, irresistible even,” Rigo now remembers.
He wasn’t the first artist to fall under the Zapatista spell. Mexican performer Guillermo Gomez Pena called Subcomandante Marcos a performance artist, one “fully aware” of his mystical effect, “whose persona was a carefully crafted collage of twentieth-century revolutionary symbols, costumes, and props.” It was as if he’d mashed up Che Guevara, Emilio Zapata (the early 1900s Mexican rebel who gave the Zapatistas their name) and Zorro to become the perfect postmodern revolutionary. Photographer Shawn Mortenson, known for his images of rap and hip-hop musicians, temporarily moved down to Chiapas to photograph the rebels, making them look as much like fashion icons as bandits.
But Rigo 23 “was less interested in the possibility of imagining a sort of utopia,” he says. He wanted to visit the dissidents, but not as a gawker or a fan. “I didn’t want to go without a project in mind.” After a decade and a half, he devised one.
In 2009, he heard about the “First Festival of Dignified Rage” in celebration of the Zapatistas’ 15th anniversary, and he decided to go. Since the Zapatistas had previously spoken of holding “Intergalactic” global meetings (the first was actually in Chiapas in 2006, not in another galaxy), Rigo 23 thought up plans for an “Autonomous Intergalactic Space Program,” like NASA only more fantastical and renegade. Clara Kim, then curator at RedCat, had invited him to plan an exhibition, so he knew, if it were ever made, he would be able to present an art exhibit version of that Intergalactic Space Program in Los Angeles.
A few days after the festival, he met with the Zapatista juntas and offered to design the program: “How are you going to get to an intergalactic meeting if you have no intergalactic space ship?” he asked. The men he spoke with were masked, but he thought he saw signs of smirks in their eyes. They told him to put the proposal in writing. He did so and submitted it right then. But they clearly did not view him as a priority, and it took over a year for it to pass from juntas who govern caracoles, the independent Zapatista communities, to artists willing to help.
“I had no idea how it would turn out,” says Rigo, who asked a Zapatista painter named Tomas to help him visualize the space program in 2011. “He responded with paintings in which the sun had his face covered, Saturn had his face covered.” The moon wore a red bandana and the space ship was a flying corncob on which each kernel had eyes and wore a ski mask. The “whole universe was Zapatista” in Tomas’ renderings, and the project became more Zapatista planetarium than space program.
Over six visits mostly between 2011 and 2012, Rigo probably spent a total of eight months in Chiapas working with artisans. “I don’t think it was enough time,” he says. “I still feel overwhelmingly confused.” He saw divisiveness and economic difficulty, and could sense a certain wear — he remembers hearing an older man say, “We are in resistance,” in a voice weighted down by exhaustion. Maybe, in 1994, the revolt boosted living standards, but now conditions seemed to have declined.
But then he also saw reason for optimism. He worked on the mural that stretches across RedCat’s foyer with two boys born in 1994 and raised entirely in Zapatista communities. They came to San Cristobal, a city of 166,000, for the first time to paint with Rigo. One, named Samuel, stared out of a shop window in awe the first day he was there: “‘How many people,’ he said, like he was literally overwhelmed,” Rigo recalls. The kid, along with the mask shielding his face, wore gloves that didn’t match — one was a Spiderman glove. “He seemed like a very globalized, hip kid,” recalls Rigo, “but you could feel a big sense of pride” in his cultural independence.
Installed at RedCat, the “Autonomous Intergalactic Space Program” consists of a corridor built with doorframes, window frames and various kinds of paneling. In a side room there are paintings of the Zapatista-run galaxy and, in the center room, an intricate model of the corncob-inspired spaceship.
Because narrow, eye-level slots have been cut into various walls, you can gaze through from the corridor onto the work, or, if you’re lined up just right, see through multiple walls at once. “I was thinking of it like peeking, or like clicking on a link and going into a new window,” Rigo explains. But looking through these slots also feels like seeing the world through a Zapatista ski mask. “That effect was unintentional,” he says.
Review: At REDCAT, Rigo 23’s art collaboration with Zapatistas
A remarkable, immersive installation at REDCAT is a collaboration between San Francisco artist Rigo 23 (born Ricardo Gouveia) and Zapatista artists and craftspeople from Chiapas, in southern Mexico. With the seemingly incongruous title “Autonomous InterGalactic Space Program,” it uses the language of interstellar travel to announce a fundamental departure from the world as we know it.
Whatever you think of the Zapatista communities, there’s no denying they are a radical experiment. The underground movement, which emerged on the international stage in 1994 in a series of bloody conflicts with the Mexican government, has evolved over the past 18 years into a network of self-governed, largely autonomous communities. Dedicated to the values of mutual aid and participatory democracy (with a libertarian streak), they see art and poetry as powerful weapons in a continuing revolution.
But their propaganda displays neither the avant-garde formal experimentation of the Constructivists nor the sleek, state-sanctioned Social Realism of the Cultural Revolution. As it turns out, it’s more like the Afrofuturist imaginings of musicians George Clinton and Sun Ra — a DIY blend of high tech and grassroots. The Zapatista ideology may be of this Earth but it is certainly not bound by it.
Fascinated by this aspiration, Rigo 23 journeyed to Chiapas and asked one of the group’s governing bodies to imagine what a Zapatista spaceship might look like, offering to build one with them. About three years later, the result is suspended from the ceiling at the center of the REDCAT show: It’s an intergalactic ear of corn.
This space vegetable — what can’t one do with corn? — is a marvelous structure, made of wood and studded with basket-weave “kernels” each bearing an embroidered portrait of a Zapatista. Of course, they’re all wearing their signature black ski masks, as are the two sculptural snails that sit on the nose of the craft. (Travel by corn, it seems, happens at a leisurely pace.) Inside can be found miniatures of, among other things, a tree, a basketball court and a spotted leopard — all things you wouldn’t want to leave the planet without, naturally.
The ship is displayed in a room encircled by a makeshift hallway lined with a patchwork of scrap wood. One section contains paintings and embroidered quilts by individual Zapatista artists; another is lined with a large embroidered banner representing the starry sky. A table on a raised platform in one corner cleverly integrates the watchful gallery attendant into the piece, and a couple of videos — one on the making of the ship, another documenting a Zapatista gathering — can be glimpsed only through cutouts in the hallway walls. These holes mimic the eye opening in a Zapatista mask, and ask us, if only for a few minutes, to see the world as they do.
The whole structure is fronted with a beautiful, intensely detailed mural, created by two young Zapatista artists. It depicts two large, masked figures with raised swords, standing on the Earth amid an interstellar landscape peopled with flowers, stars, birds, satellites and a dragon.
Collaborations like this always raise certain questions: Can an outsider present an accurate vision of Zapatista ideology? And is it exploitative to do so? Perhaps someone more experienced with Zapatista aesthetics could judge, but Rigo 23 seems to have maintained a very light touch, functioning more as an instigator and a curator than an auteur. And showing the work so far from home seems appropriate to the Zapatistas’ infinitely expansive vision.
At any rate, what comes across most forcefully is not revolutionary fervor but a playful, flexible sense of whimsy that acknowledges that ideology, like art, is abstract and imaginative. By using the language of space travel, Rigo 23 and his Zapatista collaborators lay claim to the future but also to an opening of horizons. Their visions may seem outlandish, but they speak to the Zapatista project — a total reworking of the social and political system. In art, such visions — even space travel in a giant ear of corn — become a little bit more concrete and, perhaps, just a little bit less impossible.
REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A., (213) 237-2800, through June 17. Closed Mondays. www.redcat.org
A Mexican Spring Begins to Blossom
In Mexico City’s daily life — in the shops, taxicabs, cafes and lines waiting for the bus — one could hear conversations between people of all ages saying Enrique Peña Nieto would, without a doubt, win the presidential elections. “Either something huge will happen,” a taxi driver told me, “or he will win.” And when people referred to “something huge happening,” they were referring to violence, or some unbearable crisis.
But it hasn’t happened like that. Far from anything originally expected, it is the Mexican youth and university students who are doing “something huge.” They have altered the political agenda in the country to prove that no one wins an election until the election itself.
The gathering began on May 23 at the Estela de Luz, or Pillar of Light — a monument that has caused much controversy due to the billions of pesos the government invested in its construction. The students appropriated this symbol of corruption to illuminate it with their democratic demands in a key pre-electoral moment.
With only forty days left in the race, the protest was provoked by the manipulation of information and the imposition of a candidate by the corporate and media elites during the hype of the electoral campaigns. In the end, twenty thousand students from different universities, public and private, marched for four hours along the main avenues of Mexico City. The protests that followed have sparked talk of a “Mexican Spring,” making reference to the uprisings that began in North Africa at the end of 2010.
Javier Sicilia, the poet, journalist and leader of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), came to give his support at the march and to share some very emotional and inspiring words. Remembering his son Juanelo — who was assassinated on March 28, 2011 and would surely have been marching if he were still alive — Sicilia said, “I would want to see my son here. I can’t see him, but I see him in the thousands of youth here.”
Sicilia inspired the movement that shook the country last year by asking for an end to the war on drugs, an end to the violence in the country and justice for its victims. In reference to the student protest he added that, “we are at a historical breaking point, a crisis of the world’s civilization. We are coming through the cracks in the state and the crumbling economy to build something new.”
The poet expressed his excitement, “They are the ones fighting for the present; it’s the revolt of intelligence in the face of barbarism. They are not minors. They are our elders fighting for what we took from them, their present. It’s a marvelous lesson and we are here to support them.”
The principal demands of the students coincide with the last point of the National Pact for Peace that Javier Sicilia proposed at the Zócalo in downtown Mexico City on May 8, 2011, when the MPJD was just beginning: political reform, a representative democracy, the democratization of the media and state policy that breaks with the monopoly of the media — a policy that will generate competition and make public media stronger.
In this sense, it seems as though the Movement that had its first anniversary on March 28, found in these students and youth its perfect allies to rebuild the social fabric of Mexican society.
The story started two weeks ago on May 11 during a meeting with Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) at the Iberoamericana University (Ibero), one of the most prestigious private universities in the country. Students admonished the handsome candidate that aspires to be Mexico’s next president and give hegemonic power back to the PRI, which lost twelve years ago. They shouted “Coward!,” “Ibero doesn’t want you!,” and “Assassin!,” reminding the candidate of the brutal repression he ordered against the farmers and florists that mobilized in San Salvador Atenco in 2006, when he was the governor of Estado de México (the state bordering Mexico City). This repression, in which two young men were murdered, 350 people were detained — including 10 minors — and 26 women were raped, was one of the most violent episodes during his mandate.Trying to avoid a scandal in the media and attempting to protect his image as a candidate in the face of the student’s disapproval, the PRI accused the students of being agitators paid for by the candidate of the left, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The media duopoly that dominates 95 percent of television concessions in Mexico — Televisa and TV Azteca — followed the script by not giving visibility to the student protest against the candidate that the two have already determined will be the “winner” during the electoral process.
But Peña Nieto’s advisers and the media duopoly missed a detail: many studentsposted videos online that went viral on the social networks, exposing how the two huge television networks were omitting what really happened and selling what occurred as a “campaign success.”
Three days later, 131 students posted a video on YouTube in which they identified themselves as students with their official Student ID cards and they assured viewers that nobody had paid them to admonish Peña Nieto. In this video, the students insist that they do not belong to any political party and express their disapproval of Peña Nieto and the evident manipulation of information. The video has had over one million hits to date.
Now, youth from other universities have decided to support the Ibero students who exposed the relationship between Peña Nieto and the media elites and the lack of fairness and equality in the political campaigns. They then adopted the name #YoSoy132 (or #IAm132), because they united “in conjunction” as one more.
That day, a student movement with their name in the form of a hashtag was born. It extended itself on the web and became a worldwide trending topic for over six days. The movement called for massive mobilizations on the streets of Mexico City, such as the march led by students from four main private universities — Ibero, Anáhuac, Tecnológico de Monterrey and the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) — on May 18, who held a rally in front of the various Televisa offices demanding “transparent, plural and impartial information that promotes critical thinking” and does not favor any single candidate.
With no relation to the youth of I am 132, the following day, according to official estimates, 45,000 people marched against the PRI’s candidate Peña Nieto in downtown Mexico City without representing any other political party or candidate. No movement or organization took responsibility for the gathering; it was all born out of the social networks.
On the afternoon of May 23, those who introduced the hashtag on Twitter, also created their ownwebsite hours before the march. Twenty thousand people showed up, marching with books in hand — shouting and chanting for a change in the country. Fliers that the students handed out stated their demand that citizens can “criticize their government, politicians, the heads of corporations, and society itself based on facts. This is why, I am 132 makes the right to information and the right to freedom of speech its main demand.”
They also declared that they are a “movement free from any political party and made up of citizens, and that’s why they do not support or reject to any political candidate.” Another demand of I am 132 is “the guarantee to internet access as a constitutional right.”
As people joined the protest, the students decided to march along Paseo de la Reforma (one of Mexico City’s main avenues), to the monument of the Angel of Independence. Once there, spontaneously, some of the protesters decided to continue to the main headquarters of TV network Televisa to demand the transmission of a second political debate on June 10 by the candidates on national television. Another group of protesters continued the march to the Zócalo in the centre of the city capital.
During the march, the demonstrators chanted “We don’t want a Soap Opera of a Democracy” and “October 2 isn’t forgotten,” in reference to the day in which the Mexican government tried to dismantle the student movement of 1968, killing hundreds according to independent investigations.
There were also demonstrations in other states on the country, in Oaxaca, Jalisco, Morelos, Querétaro, Yucatán, Michoacán Hidalgo, Chiapas, Baja California, Puebla, and Estado México.
The students have called a general assembly for Wednesday May 30 in which representatives of each university will work on their collective proposals.
Has the Mexican Spring arrived?
Whether or not the Mexican Spring has arrived, the students wanted to demonstrate that no one can win the presidency before an election takes place. They ask for the truth. Also, they are showing that the youth are politically engaged.
This is about the self-expression of a generation that is challenging the assumed victory of a presidential candidate forty days before the elections. They are playing their role as revolutionaries, as agents of change and of a moral force. These students know that social media can be a space where they can participate as free and independent citizens and can serve as a counterbalance to the discourse of the powers that be, including the media duopoly.
As Lyalli, a 23-year old student from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) says, “it’s the first time in which many of our generation are going to vote. They should see that we, the youth are interested in our country, in changing it, in creating a better society starting with ourselves.”
“We are party-less. We are not favoring any political party or candidate and we want the media to open up, to stop lying,” said a student at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
They are party-less but not apolitical. The supposed apathy and individualism by which the Mexican youth have been characterized has been disproved on the streets and on the web. The budding movement intends to organize itself, create ties between the different universities, public or private, to elaborate collective proposals, and to develop a more concrete political organization. Only after this can we start talking about a Mexican Spring.
Marta Molina is an independent journalist from Barcelona, Catalunya. She has written about cultural resistance in Brazil and Palestine, and now she is based in Mexico following the steps of the Movement for Peace Justice and Dignity (MPJD) against the war on drugs.
Sesshu Foster, The Battle of Algiers
Friday, 5:00 p.m.
education, haha ha, the homeless guy is beaten to death by cops, smashed repeatedly in his face with broken tazer—“I can’t breathe!” his lungs filled with blood
justice, haha ha, i used to live near valley blvd where Steven died instantly when his car hit the pole at 70 MPH, chased they said by a white pick-up truck at 6 AM, the girl who walked away from the vehicle showed me her broken wrist cast saying, “hey, look at this”—
freedom, haha ha, on the roof of the hospital the crazy woman held a kitchen knife to her 6 year old, threatening incoherently and after the cops all shot her dozens of times, like a football pool they told the rookie to shoot too so he felt that he must
peace, ha haha, september 21, 1976, orlando letelier and ronni moffitt were assassinated near the irish embassy in washington dc by a car-bomb planted by a team headed by michael townley, ex-CIA agent given protection in the witness protection program
jobs, yeah, crips and bloods truce after the 1992 riots saved tens of thousands of lives
human rights, yeah, on lonely days working at my desk the 21 year olds’ cries and the slamming of her bed against the wall were a happy noise like someone’s little baby crying in a room full of women
environmental justice, yeah, i dreamed the the bureaucrat who turned down my leave of absence request without reason pissed me off so i went to see him on the upper floors of the beaudry bldg downtown and he looked up from his desk and it was mikhail gorbachov
equality, yeah, while others played tennis i walked several blocks to big bear lake and walked along the shore in the noise of passing traffic to the marshy east end where i frightened four white egrets who flew off over the water
Sea lions barking late all the foggy dark night while we were talking, talking till 2 AM, then I said I was hungry so he said jump on the bike and
Or sitting inside a parked
Dry grass smell of dust and yeast we were hidden by the warm night without stars, vague street noise or vehicles below, maybe dogs barking, I could only
Streetlights shining on the asphalt like the moon on the ocean, we lay in tall dry grass on the hillside outside Linda’s house yakking our lives away (Linda was inside asleep), finally I listened
You better believe I got in trouble for talking poetry, life and shit all night long, driving back across town on the Santa
I used to drive all night leaving L.A. after midnight and arriving in Northern California in the early
So many times sitting on stairs or in a parking
He liked the echoey reverb of the parking structure and always wanted to sing, the closer toward morning the more he
For hours in the chilly damp night looking out on the empty park by the public library, hanging on the phone receiver, who knows what I had been
It seemed like everybody was sleeping, only I rolled down the avenues with my headlights
Sometimes on the 5 I pulled off to get a burger or something till it made me violently
We’d end up on a street corner like 3 or 4 AM, me asking her if she’d be
Endless hours talking about anything and everything, moving from one joint at closing time to
Walking back up the hill alone, sad and relieved and more than anything probably zonked and wasted with
If they spend their days shifting their gaze through blue screens at bold fantasies—
If days unfold upon them like foamy waves of dusty melancholic ages, eras swathed in musky curtains of red glances—
If avenues and boulevards fan out from their fingertips like the unspooled circulatory system unhinged from hormones—
If the objects of middle distance free float, bob and merge like slowly remembered tokens and toys—
If the squeaks and chirps of children rise behind walls of carton, cardboard and plaster like birds—
If habitual rages and eruptions of men have not cracked and stained their vision like the troughs of laws and roots in uncovered plumbing—
then it’s “another year” (Nati said as I sliced chickens open at the breastbone), it’s Mother’s Day—