Pochanostra Dialogues

dialogues   |   about pocha   |   pochanostra.com   |   email   |   feed   |   search

The New Barbarian Collection Fall 2007

01.11.08 @ 10:58:38 pacific

Designer primitives on the runaway runway
Bringing your dreams to life, one nightmare at a time.

A new project by La Pocha Nostra (Mexico/USA) and a troupe of European-based artists

“Dear visitor: Welcome to the New Barbarian collection, a new concept of presenting live art created by a consortium of global corporations catering to your innermost cultural fears, sexual desires and revolutionary aspirations…This is a temporarily de-colonized zone. Observe your own projections VERY carefully. North, South, East…delete…All political, racial, historical, medical and ethical implications have been carefully extracted from the bodies on display for your own comfort.” -British MC

On November 10, 2007, La Pocha Nostra premiered The New Barbarian Collection at Arnolfini in the beautiful British Port City of Bristol.

La Pocha Nostra has a history of appropriating popular cultural formats such as museum dioramas, the rave, reality TV, karaoke, and sideshow attractions. These formats are subverted by changing the context, adding politicized content, and reversing the gaze. The audience is invited to participate in the piece.

For “The New Barbarian Collection”, La Pocha appropriates the format of an X-treme fashion show, engaging the audience with a variety of fashion-inspired stylized performance personas stemming from problematic media representations of foreigners, immigrants, and social eccentrics, as both enemies of the state and sexy pop-cultural rebels. The “show” is about politicized human bodies far more than clothing. What is actually being “sold” is a new designer hybrid identity and the human being as a product. The performance also explores the bizarre relationship between the post-9/11 culture of xenophobia and the rampant fetishization of otherness by global pop culture.

For this premiere, 20 performance personas were developed during a one-week interdisciplinary workshop involving invited artists based in Bristol, the UK, Australia, Norway, and the US. During the workshop the artists worked through a series of exercises developed by La Pocha Nostra to encourage the use of the body as a site for creation, reinvention, and activism. The performance vocabulary, costuming, video and text were developed from these exercises.

La Pocha members involved in this project were Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Roberto Sifuentes, Violeta Luna, Pervis Jade Maravala and Rachel Rodgers. The participants curated by Arnolfini included: Rajni Shah, Carla Esperanza Tommasini, Sarah-Jane Norman, Folake Shoga, Alex Bradley, Steve Robbins, Cleo Lake, Michael Jones, Jiva Parthipan, Harminder Singh Judge, Roza Ilgen, Jacky Puzey, and Shi Ker.

The performance began with a glitzy pre-show ritual on “the red carpet” located in the foyer of Arnolfini. Audience members were invited to attend “dressed to kill” and were greeted as celebrities arriving at an ‘event’. They were interviewed live by a local TV personality and asked the usual questions, “who are you wearing”? “who is your date?” “are you buying or just watching tonight?” Questions then began to get a little more edgy in line with the politicized stance of the performance. Some audience members were asked to pose in a special “paparazzi diorama” where they were photographed next to La Pocha members, while others, wearing the most interesting costumes, were chosen as VIPs and escorted into the fashion show early to ensure their front row seats.

Selected “VIP audience members” walked the runway as the rest of the audience entered the theater to watch the fashion show. One by one, performance artists and costumed audience members displayed themselves along the runway to the sounds of ethno-electronica and live performance texts from Gómez-Peña and Rachel Rogers ‘MC’s’ for the evenings events.

In the second part of the evening, the performance rose to a new level. No longer adhering to the strict runway format, the models/performers began to morph their identities and engage in duets, trios, and larger tableaux vivants. Audience members continued to be inserted into these troubling yet beautiful images illustrating complex notions of power, gender and racial identity, and the problematic pop culture body politic.

In the third section of the piece, the typical high-energy fashion show finale was abruptly interrupted as the “models” re-entered naked, and devoid of energy. They stood before the audience, hair disheveled and make-up running down their faces as the British MC placed hessian sacks over their heads, covering their faces. A political speech by Bush was sampled over the sound system. Then an auctioneer, with accelerated vocal delivery, began to sell off the bodies; describing their physical and cultural attributes and calling out figures as the prices increase. The auction continued in spite of the protests and cheers of the audience as the lights slowly faded on the somber scene.

Excerpt from a review of the performance:

“…Days later, details of New Barbarians are still repeating upon me like snatches of a half remembered dream, sneaking up, unexpected and often unwelcome, triggered by some innocuous element of my daily life. BAM! There’s Alex Bradley, hauling himself the length of the catwalk by means of the connecting spars of two lighting clamps, the metal props attached to his wrists, instruments of torture, clunking painfully into the wood of the runway. BAM! Roza Ilgen, her form entirely covered in human hair, short-arsed, sporting breasts and a beard like some long lost evolutionary byroad: Captain Caveman, Morlock, Bigfoot, arms splayed out, a perverse Christ, the audience cheering her enthusiastically. WHOOSH! The sound of a mad Mexican woman jabbering away down a telephone line, unintelligible, distorted, insane. BOOM! BANG! Guillermo Goméz-Peña suddenly breaking into a native American chant, all the while pouting ridiculously like Derek Zoolander. GO!
Presented in the mode of a fashion show, New Barbarians keeps all the rituals, bluster and bombast of such events intact. The audience have been told to “dress for the catwalk” and most have obliged. There’s a foyer preview, free drinks, a rat pack of photographers (all uniformly name-badged “PAPARAZZI SCUM”) and once we are led inside the auditorium there’s VIP seating at the runway’s edge, a hammering soundtrack, plus some disjointed and deliberately mashed-up films projected onto a screen above the throng – cutting rapidly and queasily between ethno-geographic documentaries, rehearsal footage, adverts, military recruitment films and middle east news stories. There’s the obligatory show manager hustling models to and from the stage with a constant air of unflappable yet pissed-off efficiency. Goméz-Peña, founder member of La Pocha Nostra, holds court on a platform opposite the runway, freezing the noisy proceedings regularly in order to deliver verbose treatises in a patchwork of languages, physically inhabiting a space somewhere between a Hopi tribal chief and Klaus Lagerfeld. His consort is a snappy-suited female announcer who gives voice to the catwalk at random, speaking over the soundtrack in measured sing-song tones, offering performers for sale, encouraging the audience towards acts of rebellion or cultural vandalism. It is relentless, and total. It also has that single most important clash of textures prevalent in the world of fashion: the constant, repeated intertwining of the profound and the utterly meaningless, holding the event together like warp and weft. There’s the all-pervading sense that what we’re witnessing is the creators throwing a huge amount of stuff at the wall, and seeing what sticks. It’s exuberant, funny, unapologetic… and occasionally feels as if it’s in danger of collapsing under its own weight.
La Pocha Nostra have spent much of the last fifteen years conjuring up and making flesh this world of border and hybrid cultures, building a creative lab where cultural phenomena undergo a type of rapid, barely controlled fission. The forms (it doesn’t feel right to call them ‘outfits,’ somehow) on the runway tonight are the gene-spliced bastard children of the communications satellite and the nightclub, bearing the family traits of hip-hop, sado-masochism, youTube and airport terminals, cheap handguns, DVD boxsets, protest marches and internet porn, speaking cross-Phillipino-Icelandic with a Brazillian / lowland Scottish accent, listening to klezmer-grindcore on their iPods and spending their holidays on the fucking moon…” – ©Tim Atack 2007.


The trackback address for this entry is:

Comments are closed.