BAY AREA ARTS: PAI and Pocha Nostra

Last week offered the chance to experience two important time-based art initiatives in one evening.  The Performance Art Institute, initially conceived with Marina Abramovic and now led entirely by her co-founder Stephen Tourrell, has an absolutely incredible space (I should say spaces) on Sutter Street.
As a partner in the already successful Toomey Tourrell gallery, Stephen has turned his attention to performance and has secured a multi-storied space for rehearsal, performance, and display.  It also has rooms to house visiting groups and a variety of sequestered convivial spaces throughout.  How did he do it?  I looked around for a magic wand, but he assured me that it takes nothing less than 7-day work weeks and daily leaps of faith.
In a lovely moment of Bay Area synergy, PAI made the space available to Pocha Nostra, the diasporic community of border artists and activists who find ways to gather and make work in collaboration with Guillermo Gomez-Pena.  San Francisco’s SomArts commissioned Pocha Nostra to do a performance installation, Corpo-Ilicito, and PAI offered space for a work in progress showing.
Since I wasn’t going to be able to see the final product (see Brava and Joe Goode elsewhere on the blog), I’m glad that I had the chance to see something of what they were up to.  And it was a great way to welcome Berkeley’s new Chancellor’s post-doc Angela Marino Segura who has her own points of connection to the Gomez-Pena through the Hemispheric Institute. Pocha Nostra featured the work of core members as well as “associates” invited for this venture, and each presented solo or paired live art experiments. Michele Ceballos came on as a disturbingly comic “Miss Arizona,” borrowing imagery from “Planet of the Apes” to ask who in fact could be labeled human and who primitive in this increasingly notorious “border state.”  Roberto Sifuentes flew in from Chicago to test a new image—a “Low Rise Christ” who joined the crucifixion imagery of the altar with the high endurance structures of performance art, placing lines of burning altar candles on his outstretched arm.  As we endured his endurance, he pulled out a large syringe filled with water that he squirted into his eyes in fountain-like arcs. The piece cited for me at least the memorable moment of an AIDS-battered era of experimental theatre when Ron Vawter showed us that overtly artificial tears can create real moments of poignance and social critique.  Affiliates Natalie Nguyen and John Zibell seemed at first to be conspicuous audience members, roaming the gallery as a high-powered, coked up couple.  But then they occupied the performance space to present a dance/circus act that moved from an intensely disturbing sexism to a semi-violent feminist reprisal.  Others moved in and out of the space to test new ideas, including Larry Bogad as a corporate mimic who, Guillermo says, will travel as interlocutor throughout the installation.  Meanwhile, Pocha Nostra’s sound artist Guillermo Galindo, created an auditory scape that both unified and unsettled the various acts presented. Indeed, all of these figures were going to be assembled in co-present space at SOMarts, and I imagine the embodied collage would have an entirely different set of effects.  But as of Wednesday, it was a privilege to be allowed to see this group in process, in a vulnerable moment of creation.  And we were all privileged that Stephen and the folks at PAI made such a gathering possible.