26 January 2012: Presentation by artist and doctoral candidate Fotini Kalle on the performance workshop with La Pocha Nostra & Guillermo Gómez-Peña that she attended in San Francisco (Summer 2011) at Cinque Terre
Our series of three meetings around Performance was initiated after Fotini’s suggestion to present her experience with La Pocha Nostra. The discussion generated turned out to be very interesting and engaging – especially because it touched upon aspects relevant to both theory and practice.
For Guillermo Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra, Performance is Activism. Their performances refer to issues such as racial and gender identity, physical and cultural borders, immigration, language… Teaching Performance thus becomes synonymous with teaching activism, therefore inherent to the group’s practice. In fact, Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes have recently published the ‘Pocha Nostra handbook’, titled “Exercises for Rebel Artists. Radical Performance Pedagogy”, a guide book for teachers and performers with a “focus on producing the kind of challenging performances, which transcend the boundaries of nation, gender and racial identity” (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415549233/).
This being the focus of the 12-day workshop that Fotini attended, it certainly had an impact on the material generated by the participants. The workshop included daily improvisation exercises, individual and collective, which corresponded to recurring themes in La Pocha Nostra’s work, as well as to the main elements of their practice. Participants would start by exploring their body within space (the body as sculpture) and they would later engage in jam sessions – performative dialogues appropriately borrowing their name from music – where one initiated an action and the others would observe or intervene at any moment they felt appropriate or necessary, exploring the nature of performance as both a personal and interactive experience, without a definitive scenario, where co-performers or spectators have the right to intervene and shape the final outcome. Another point of investigation, the vocal aspect of performance and its vocabulary, was also explored through daily exercises on improvisational poetic/performance texts, that the participants were invited to experiment on. Finally, the use of props – which the participants were asked to bring with them from home – and music as tools, was also investigated. The workshop culminated in an event open to the public at the Performance Art Institute, during which participants realized individual and collective performances, which led to a jam session. This final event underlined the distinction between performances in a gallery/museum and public space, where interaction sometimes makes it hard to distinguish between performer and audience.
Since the participants’ improvised performances (and choice of props) were, understandably and unavoidably, largely affected by the themes recurrent in Pocha Nostra’s and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s practice, the resulting performances were seemingly uniform – which raised discussion on the true democratic nature of such workshops. However, the whole experience certainly gave participants the tools to explore their own vocabulary and develop their own performance persona, highlighting and promoting understanding on the value of Presence as a quality inherent to Performance.
Therefore, our discussion raised interesting questions around the function of Performance Art workshops and the extent to which it is possible to train performance artists.
– Is it possible for Performance Art –understood as a multi-media, activist and ultimately anarchist form of art – to be taught?
– According to which criteria do instructors make decisions on the steps of the training process and on the participants’ progress?
– How can we understand and identify the collective learning process? Can it be perceived as a finished work or as an open process: a preparatory stage for something else?
– How does a group of performance artists work together? Can it produce performances collectively when each of them needs to be individually “Present” – physically and mentally? Is a collective composition possible? Or do the performers simply collaborate on a continuous exchange of “Presences”?
We warmly thank Fotini for sharing her experience with us and for providing photos of her performances during the workshop, as well as her input in the documentation of our discussion.
* From the artist’s Philosophical Tantrum, performed on 14 June 2011 in the framework of the New World Theater symposium at Hemispheric New York. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74ajLA7MFDw