Earlier this afternoon I headed out to VIVO Media Arts' new temporary space on Kaslo Street to witness a performative conversation between two leading Indigenous artists of the Americas: Guillermo Gómez-Peña, the Mexican-American multidisciplinary artist, writer, activist, educator and primum mobile of the performance art collective La Pocha Nostra; and Dana Claxton, the Hunkpapa Lakota filmmaker, photographer, video and performance artist who teaches in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia.
The talk was organized as part of the 2015 edition of Vancouver's LIVE! Biennale and was co-sponsored by SFU Institute for Performance Studies (IPS) and Neworld Theatre. In my role as Director of SFU's IPS, I had contacted Dana to see if she might be interested in dialoguing with GGP, who was going to be in town leading a LIVE! workshop with La Pocha Nostra. Luckily for all of us, Dana leapt at the offer. With not much time to liaise back and forth electronically about the format of their conversation, she and GGP put together something that subverted the traditional format of the academic/artist talk, while sacrificing neither philosophical and theoretical depth in ruminating on the relationship between art and politics nor, as crucially, a material grounding of each artist's practice. Over the course of successive prose exchanges, Claxton embodied the conversational circle we had arranged ourselves in through movement and acoustic presence; GGP, in trademark style, conducted his own oratorio, counting out the beats of his text and the rhythms of his breath with his right hand, while brandishing his pages with his left.
There were distractions: Le Brothers, from Vietnam, were rehearsing their evening performance in the next room, which meant that every few minutes the air was pierced with sharp, sustained yells; and VIVO's in-house chef, while rustling up a meal that indeed smelled delicious, nonetheless seemed oblivious to the fact that folks were trying to listen to a conversation about the politics of performance art.
Still, it was a most stimulating way to spend a Sunday afternoon.