HAVANA BIENNIAL DOCUMENTARY

Posted Sunday, March 29th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

OPC Blog Entry 6

March 29th, 2009

Tonight we attended two major biennial events, performances by Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Tania Bruguera at the Wifredo Lam Center in Old Havana. The evening began with Bruguera’s performance, in which two soldiers holding a white dove flanked a podium situated in the center of the stage and in front of a large orange curtain. The performance’s physical infrastructure consisted of a stage and podium, plus two soldiers and a white bird. As people from the audience climbed on the stage and approached the microphone, the soldiers placed the bird on the shoulders of anyone who wished to speak. By turns funny and poetic, nearly all political, the statements and actions by members of the audience who took the stage roused the audience into cheers several times during the evening. Audience members invariably addressed Cuba’s political situation, and most expressed pro-democratic sentiments. Other participants spoke of social problems or were generally critical of the current state of affairs in Cuba during this somewhat choreographed scene of controlled chaos. Finally, Bruguera, who had previously watched from amidst the crowd, took the stage and thanked the Cuban people.

Following Bruguera’s performance, the crowd moved into a courtyard of the Lam Center, where Gómez-Peña and his collaborators performed. In the space were four performance stations and a large screen on which live video footage of the various stations was projected. The first station, to the right of the entrance, featured a santera (santeria priestess) dressed in blue silken robes waving a matching fan through the air as audience members bathed her feet. One participant, the University of Chicago’s own Marilyn Volkman, was brought onstage, where the santera combed through her hair, then mimed a scalping.

At the station next in the clockwise direction an acupuncturist stuck needles adorned with national flags into a young Cuban woman’s naked body. A man holding a video camera followed the lines of the woman’s body, slowing over each tiny flag. Later in the evening, members of the audience were invited to remove the flags, one by one.

On the largest station, next in the circuit, Gómez-Peña stood adorned in his typical Chicano cyberpunk attire: one black patent leather high heel and one chunky black motorcycle boot; a skirt of black leather shreds and metal grommets; a black bustier alternating with a bare chest, showcasing his tattoos; one long gray braid slung over his right shoulder; feather earrings; and heavy black eye makeup extending from his lashes towards his hairline. Between reading cyberpunk manifestos, Gómez-Peña invited audience members onto the stage to hold a gun against various parts of his body.

Atop the following station lay Gómez-Peña’s longtime collaborator Roberto Sifuentes in a red-stained white gauze diaper, his arms and legs painted red; a red bandana across his forehead and an abstract geometric design painted in black horizontally across his nose and cheeks; and a brace on his left leg. Partway into the performance, the santera joined Sifuentes in a series of rituals they performed in dance-like slow motion movements.

At the end of the evening, Bruguera joined Gómez-Peña on his stage as the final audience participant to press the rifle against the performer. After several moments frozen in the arrangement of Bruguera’s choosing, Gómez-Peña positioned Bruguera so that the two artists straddled one another on the stage. Once disentangled, Gómez-Peña and Bruguera approached the acupuncture station and removed the last flag from the patient’s forehead.

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