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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?


Time’s up.


Caracol Poetas LA at the Redcat gallery Sunday, June 3rd from 2 to 6 PM


Gloria Alvarez
Sesshu Foster
Carolina Rivera
David Lloyd
Mike “De Poet” Sonksen
Nzingha Clarck
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Adrian Arancibia
Janet Quezada
Abel Salas
Roberto Leni
Cihuatle Ce
Angela Roa singer/song writer
Gallery at REDCAT
631 West 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
T +1-213-237-2813
M +1-213-503-8643
F +1-213-237-2811

Rigo 23 and his collaborators’ Autonomous InterGalactic Planetarium (2009-12)

“Do the Mexican Rebel Zapatistas Have a Space Program? A New Exhibit Imagines One”—

By Catherine Wagley Mon., May 7 2012 at 2:02 PM

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

By Sharon MizotaMay 22, 2012, 11:58 a.m.

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.


photo by Scott Groller

May 2012