There’s something strange about performance art––something special that sparkles and shocks in the space of the gallery, transforming the ordinary into something extraordinary. At Import Projects, the experience began with a golden ticket, personally embossed like an invitation to Willy Wonka’s factory. Upon achieving entry the bar beckoned, but across from the beer and wine was a site more surprising and sublime—a home-cooked meal laid out with porcelain and cutlery. With the personal touches, the home-cooked meal, the intimate space of the bodily interactions, La Mission’s performance spread through the space of gallery, forcing upon us an interaction with art both profound and prolonged.
Pre-show, we mingled in the darkness among the props—golden shoes, cheaply hand-sewn costumes, toy radios and a light with a long, coiled chord that I tripped over, dribbling wine. Like wandering through a neighbor’s home while you’ve been hired to dog-sit, stepping in, over and around the props before the performance began led to a sense of familiarity, of intimacy with inhabitants of this strange, parallel world.
Luis-Manuel Garcia performing with La Mission. Photo: Chris Phillips
At the far edge of the gallery, the small room of the performance space was half-full of chairs, and every available square-inch of floor space was occupied when a well-dressed member of La Mission came in to begin the show…with a lecture. Facing the assembled crowd with an iPad set upon a music stand, La Mission’s “chief demagogue,” Luis-Manuel Garcia, PhD, began to expound upon “Utopianism in Dance Music since Disco.” Although it wasn’t what I was expecting, I quickly became compelled by the idea of the dance floor as a utopian space of transformation and possibility. My mind was reeling, and I was hit with the sudden urge to take detailed notes when two young women in patterned chiffon dresses wearing white plastic bags over their heads crawled into the room on rope leashes held by by a mysterious figure in a jumpsuit and gorilla mask. Welcome to the cabaret.
Bags were ripped off of heads, and the two women began to move in unison––a dance/march of purpose with one woman intoning that “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it.” Through movement, rhythm, syncopation, ritualistic lighting and slogans, the performers explore the possibility of the performance as a tool for radical personal and social change.
Performers for La Mission. Photo: Chris Phillips
Making the personal and the performative so political in such a small, comfortable setting implicated the audience in an unsettling way; and, sitting in the darkness, lit by flickering red and green LEDs in the moments before the final “curtain,” I found myself marveling at the effect that this particular performance was having on me. I found myself believing in the possibility of art to create change and shape our actions; I found myself succumbing to the power of an intimate sort of art. In a world of sculptures set apart on plinths, of paintings glassed in and video projected from afar, the performance work of La Mission makes art personal again.
Article by Hannah Nelson-Teutsch