“Nighthawks (Remix)” is an original photo-based live performance created by La Pocha Nostra’s Artistic Director Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Native American conceptual/performance artist James Luna, inspired by Edward Hopper’s iconic painting “Nighthawks” (1942). Commissioned and presented by Galería de la Raza and La Pocha Nostra, “Nighthawks (Remix)” was made possible thanks to the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the San Francisco Arts Commission/Native American Arts and Cultural Traditions, and Grant for the Arts.
Adrian Nieto, editor
2_______About the artists
3_______Nighthawks (Remix), excerpt of performance script
Nighhawks (Remix) consists of a dialogue and photographic landscape that presents two aging shamans, Native American (Luna) and Mexican (Gómez-Peña), extreme performance artists who have resorted to becoming lounge entertainers, decide to share their act on stage in an attempt to jumpstart a new religion for cultural outsiders. The temples for this new phony religion are the lounge bars where they perform.
To develop Nighthawks the artists created a gallery of performance personas for the camera through a series of informal performances held at local bars. While the lounge bar settings provide an ironic reconfiguration of an archetypal cultural icon of mid-century White America, “Nighthawks (Remix)” examines aging in a youth-oriented society from the perspectives of two ethnic groups that revere their elders but are being increasingly overtaken by Western culture.
Between 1993 and 1997, Guillermo Gómez-Peña and James Luna collaborated on several projects, including The Shame-Man Meets El Mexican't at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, where they occupied "living diorama" spaces for an entire day surrounded by the "real" Indian dioramas of the Museum. Ten years later they joined forces again and began working on a series of new performances developed under the title "La Nostalgia/Nostegee."
Nighthawks furthers their exploration in the nostalgia of U.S. Americana, inspired by the melancholy of paintings by Edward Hopper, but from the perspective of a Native American and a Mexican. Although they have parallel artistic processes, their work is stylistically different: Luna practices an aesthetic of simplicity, whereas Gómez-Peña's work is more exuberant and "neo-baroque." They do however share similar theoretical concerns, deconstructing the ways indigenous and ethnic identities are portrayed by the mainstream and commodified by pop culture, tourism and self-realization movements, and utilizing melancholic humor and "reverse anthropology" as strategies for subverting dominant cultural representations of Mexicans and Native peoples.
Nighthawks (Remix evokes the condition of displacement, disenfranchisement, and ultimately of invisibility of Native Americans, Latinos and other disenfranchised cultural groups in the urban setting. In addition, the work of these two preeminent artists bridges these two distinct cultural identities and explores new phenomena of pan-identity in which individuals identify with Latin, indigenous, and aboriginal communities on a global rather than national scale.
Nighthawks (Remix) also continues Galería's explorations of the links between Native American, Latino and indigenous communities from the Americas. Since 1970 Galería has consistently organized exhibitions and projects exploring various American Latino identity issues. It is not always possible to separate out the Native American component of Latin American countries and their populations. In Mexico, for example, what is indigenous and what is Latino is frequently are one and the same, but they can also be distinct. In the early seventies, for instance, Chicano artists organized the nation’s first artist-led celebration of Día de los Muertos at Galería, reviving a tradition deeply rooted in the indigenous cultures of ancient Mexico. Other examples of past Galería exhibitions that have specifically showcased Indigenous American artists: Mayan Rubbings from Guatemala (1972); El Arte de los Huicholes (1975); Images of the American Indian Movement (1983); Meso-America: Resistance and Continuity (1992); América Latina: New World Mestizaje (1992); Indigenous Peoples: No Boundaries (1992); Threads of Sun: Mariana Yampolsky and the Mazahua Indians (1998); In The Heart of the World: The Zapatista Uprising (2001); James Luna: Four Ways (2006); and Living Under The Trees, David Bacon’s photography show on Mixtec Farm workers in CA (2009).
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Performance artist/writer Guillermo Gómez-Peña resides in San Francisco where he is artistic director of La Pocha Nostra. Born in 1955 and raised in Mexico City, he came to the US in 1978 to study Post-Studio art at Cal Arts. His pioneering work in performance, video, installation, poetry, journalism, cultural theory and radical pedagogy, explores cross-cultural issues, immigration, the politics of language, "extreme culture" and new technologies. A MacArthur Fellow and American Book Award winner, he is a regular contributor to National Public Radio, a writer for newspapers and magazines in the US, Mexico, and Europe and a contributing editor to The Drama Review (NYU-MIT).
For twenty-five years, Gómez-Peña has been exploring intercultural issues and border culture with the use of mixed genres and experimental languages. Continually developing multi-centric narratives and large-scale performance projects from a border perspective, Gómez-Peña creates what critics have termed "Chicano cyber-punk performances," and "ethno-techno art." In his work, cultural borders have moved to the center while the alleged mainstream is pushed to the margins and treated as exotic and unfamiliar, placing the audience members in the position of "foreigners" or "minorities." He mixes experimental aesthetics and social reality, English and Spanish, Chicano humor and activist politics to create a "total experience" for the viewer/reader/audience member. These strategies can be found in his live performance work, his award-winning video art pieces, and his 9 books.
Gómez-Peña’s performance, installation and video work has been presented at over seven hundred venues across the US, Canada, Mexico, Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Australia, Russia, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela and Argentina. Most recently, he has presented work at Tate Modern (London), the Guggenheim Museum (New York), LACMA (Los Angeles), the House of World Cultures (Berlin), MACBA (Barcelona), The Chopo Museum (Mexico City), the Encuentro Hemisférico (Lima, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte) and the Havana, Liverpool and Mercosur Biennales. His photo-performances are now in the permanent collection of Daros Foundation (Zurich) and Galeria Artificios (Gran Canaria).
Through his organization, La Pocha Nostra, Gómez-Peña has intensely focused on the notion of collaboration across national borders, race, gender and generations as an act of citizen diplomacy and as a means to create “ephemeral communities” of rebel artists. La Pocha Nostra is a transdisciplinary arts organization that provides a support network and forum for artists of various disciplines, generations and ethnic backgrounds. La Pocha is devoted to erasing the borders between art and politics, art practice and theory, artist and spectator.
James Luna is a Luiseno Indian and lives on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in San Diego County, California. Luna received his BFA from UC Irvine in 1976 and his MS in Counseling from San Diego State University in 1981. While at UCI, Luna was instructed by such artists as Bas Jan Ader, Eleanor Antin, Craig Kauffman, John Paul Jones, James Turrell, Lloyd Hamrol, Ed Beral, and exposed to a staff that included Robert Irwin, Tony Delap, Barbara Rose, and John Coplans. This educational background has played a significant role in his development as a conceptual artist. Luna believes that installation/performance art, in which he employs a variety of media such as objects, audio, video and slides, “offers an opportunity like no other for Native people to express themselves without compromise in the Indian traditional art forms of ceremony, dance, oral traditions and contemporary thought.” In his installations, the viewer is confronted with the nature of cultural identity, the tensions generated by cultural isolation, and the dangers of cultural misrepresentation – all from a Native perspective. Luna has affected audiences from across the United States, Canada, Japan, Europe and the United Kingdom in their views of Native people and other cultural perceptions within their boundaries. Using made and found objects, Luna creates environments that function as both aesthetic and political statements. As a “Rez” resident, he draws from personal experience and probes emotions surrounding the way people are perceived within their cultures.
In his artworks, Luna addresses the mythology of what it means to be “Indian” in contemporary American society and exposes the hypocrisy of the dominant culture, which trivializes Indian peoples as romantic stereotypes. Luna’s installation/performance art is provocative, often dealing with difficult issues affecting Indian communities, including socio-economic problems, substance abuse, and cultural conflict. He confronts these issues head-on, often using humor and satire as both counterbalance and salve, to take what he describes as “the first step in recovery.” Demanding a level of audience participation, he challenges viewers to examine their own prejudices. As one reviewer wrote, “The rich reward of Luna’s probing performance pieces is learning more about our own cultural perceptions, learning where the edges are, where the discomfort starts. His voice and his imagery carry the gift that a good artist can bring – the enlarging of our conscience and the increased awareness of what it means to be human.”
James Luna has presented work in numerous venues across the globe, including the Banff Center for the Arts, the Whitney Museum of Art (1993 Biennial), Detroit Institute of the Arts, Konfstack College of the Arts in Stockholm, Essex University in Colchester, UK, Harvard University’s Tozzier Library, the Hood Museum at Dartmouth, Santa Monica Museum of Art, and Michigan State University. In 2001, he spent six months in Tokyo under the sponsorship of a U.S.-Japan Society Fellowship. He was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution to produce Emendatio, a large-scale installation and performance for the 2005 Venice Biennale, and received the 2007 Eiteljorg Fellowship from the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.
An excerpt of the performance script by Guillermo Gómez-Peña and James Luna
The setting: There are 2 music stands for the scripts and two mikes. Lights are dim. A roulette table and a lounge bar are on opposite sides of the stage. Music plays in the sound system as the audience comes in. A title text is projected on the backdrop/screen. It reads: “Nighthawks (Remix): An Evening with James Luna and Guillermo Gómez-Peña.”
GP: So vato, how is your memory these days?
JL: Well, kinda comes in & out. I have my days.
GP: Remember being busted for burning sage at the Smithsonian?
JL: Yeah, I remember but things become a blur nowadyas; all the people we meet, the places we go…Europe, Canada…
GP: But you always go back to the res; and I always return to the barrio. That’s our redemption…salud!
JL: Salud! Damn, just think we have 20 plus years of work to fall back on
GP: 20 pinche years of performances, videos, stories, nightmares…but let’s not fall into nostalgia carnal.
JL: Nostalgia? Ehh Guillermo, would you say those lines for me?
GP: The nostalgie, wow, wow…protects me against the gringos, la migra the art world…
JL: Hey we are getting sentimental and we haven’t even started the project (he burps)
GP: What’s wrong with sentimentality carnal. We’ve gained that right que no?…So, let’s remember out loud.
JL: Well, my fondest memories are about family and the kitchen being the center of activity
GP: Mine are about gambling with death, love, art, authority.
JL: We then go to our respective stations stations and the performance begins.
GP: That was a typical beginning of one of our performances. But first let us give you some background on our collaborations.
JL: Since the early 90s, we have worked on an ongoing project titled The Shame-man meets El Mexican't, in which we “challenge assumptions and lazy thinking about race and culture with a strong dose of melancholic humor and sharp-edged conceptualism.”
Slide of Smithsonian
GP: In The Shame-man Meets El Mexi-can't at the Smithsonian Hotel and Country Club, 1993, James and I share a diorama space at the Museum of Natural History. I sit on a toilet dressed as a mariachi in a straightjacket with a sign around my neck announcing, "There used to be a Mexican inside this body." I unsuccessfully attempt to get rid of my straightjacket while James paces back and forth, changing personas.
Slide of Metropolitan
JL: At times I am an "Indian shoe-shiner," at other moments I become a "diabetic Indian" shooting insulin directly into my stomach. I then transform into a janitor of color (like most janitors in US museums) and vacuum the diorama floor.
Image of traditional dioramas
GP: Hundreds of visitors gather in front of us. They are sad and perplexed. Next to us, the “real” Indian dioramas speak of a mute world outside of history and social crises. Next to us, they appear much less “authentic.”
Image of JL & GP in busted position
JL: While rehearsing the 2nd part of our project, I light up some sage. The Smithsonian security guards phone the DC police and we get busted in the dressing room for “smoking pot.” Furious with such a ludicrous claim, curator Aleta Ringlero calls museum administration demanding an apology on our behalf.
GP: For James and me, such a situation is just a good anecdote. As James put it, “simply one more day in the life of an Indian and a Chicano.” We reenact the bust in a series of photos, which paradoxically are now in the Smithsonian archives.
Slide of La Nostalgia postcard
JL: Last in the series is La Nostalgia Remix, a collaboration that builds on our legacies of performance, visual and installation art.
Slides from Funeral Parlor performance
GP: The project was launched in 2007 with two “nostalgic” performances. We first stage our own ritual deaths inside a coffin. We are accompanied by Lisa Manter and…who perform the role of our widows. Here are the texts accompanying our coffins during El Shame-man meets El Mexican’t at a Funeral Parlor:
JL: “Luna, James (1950-2007) Luiseño Indian; died for your sins Last quote: ‘There is apathy out there. But there is life after performance as a lounge entertainer. So, let’s remember and drink to the good times.’”
GP: “Gómez-Peña, Guillermo (1955-2007) Post-Mexican; killed while protecting your madness. Last quote: ‘I saw this white guy in fatigues coming at me after the performance. He had a gun in his hands. Then I blacked out and woke up at an art gallery. Weird shit ese!”
Slide of James cooking here JL:…and then we engaged in a poetic dialogue while I cooked an Indian stew, and Gomez-Peña played roulette.
GP: In 2008, we continue our exploration of the cultural and political implications of nostalgia both in the Native American “res” and in the Chicano barrio.
JL: We deal with nostalgia as style, resistance, false identity and reinvention, in a series of re-enactments of our “best hits and outtakes for an imaginary bar.” The piece premiers here in SF at the Lab
GP: During the last rehearsal, we get together with amazing SF photographer RJ Muna to engage in a photographic jam session. We invite visual artists Isis Rodriguez and Nicole Superstar to partake in the experiment.
JL: The session lasts 4 hours. The result was a series of photos and composite photographic murals created by RJ.
GP: In late 2008, we tour Alaska incorporating indigenous artists into the piece.
JL: In this project, we pose as “two aging shamans and extreme performance artists who decide to become lounge entertainers and share their bizarre performance art with new audiences in an attempt to jumpstart a new religion for cultural outsiders.”
GP: Every La Nostalgia Remix performance is unique and uses our evolving repertoire of “greatest hits” and “outtakes” in varying combinations. We always invite local artists.
JL: In 2009, Guillermo and I receive a commission from Galeria de la Raza to work in the last incarnation of our ongoing Nostalgia series titled Nighthawks (Remix). GP: We invite RJ to work with us in a series of informal performances taking place at lounge bars located in San Francisco.
JL: We are joined by friends, local artists and intellectuals in an attempt to evoke and reinterpret the melancholy of the iconic painting Nighthawks (1942) by Edward Hopper.
GP: Among other artists who joined us at the bar performances are Sara Shelton-Mann, Kim Weller, Andrea Dooley, René Yañez, Rosa Powers, Tom Seligman, and Ginger Murray.
JL: Here are some of the poetic images and words that we used to develop our photo-performance bar aesthetic: Aging shamans/cowboys, narco-dandys, Southwestern glamour, the beauty of decay, Tijuana meets Santa Fe in Vegas, fallen “hookers,” neon signs, cacti, feathers, rattlesnakes, motorcycle, weapons, knifes,
GP: Indian jewelry, melancholy, fake window with Southwestern landscape (desert or Grand Canyon), violence and sexuality, knifed in hand and strangled as in the Godfather bar scene, drinking in wheel chairs with oxygen tanks to help us breath, restaging a few album covers and classic western paintings.
JL: The Last Supper; The Sergeant Pepper Album; The Banda Drag Group.
GP: We also did another photo shot at RJ’s studio. There we are joined by Lisa Manter, Sweet Cecily, and Ginger Murray
JL: The immediate goal is to incorporate this photographic series into an audio-visual projection for live performances. This is the first time we present it in this public format.
GP: Here’s a poetic text in progress that accompanies the photo:
“From the arrival of the first Europeans to the war on terror, Native Americans and Mexicans have had to create a parallel universe of freedom;
JL: A place to exist in our own terms without the burden of the white man’s gaze. This place can only be accessed through live art, poetry, drugs and alcohol…
GP: the human body stores memories; performance awakens these memories; some are true, others are fictional, mythical, literary, cinematographic…
JL: nostalgia is not an attempt to recapture the past but rather a stylized journey into selective zones of the psyche…zones layered with violence and tenderness, coated with cruelty and romance.
GP: nostalgia is also a colonial incident, a historical massacre, a lynching, a scalping, a weekend in jail, a love affair that never happened, a bar conversation; a photo-shopped image, the reenactment of an icon or a ritual,
JL: the projection of a desire or a fear, a dream that passes for a memory, a tender moment too sad to die, a fetish that passes for a souvenir…
GP: nostalgia is a delicate bridge that connects us with others who never had the same experience but wish they did…
JL: nostalgia is a memory in another language…
GP: un sueño disfrazado de memoria, el sueño de un shaman perdido, una pelicula que nunca fue filmada, un disfraz prestado, un objeto regalado.
GP: palabras cargadas de sentimiento como madre, hermano, muerte, loca, frontera, sangre, amigo, pasión, perdición, no recuerdo, prefiero no recordar…
Jame Luna speaks in Luiseño
GP: the “you” of my nostalgia only exists in my dreams. I wish you were real. you merely exist in the bottom of the bottle.
JL: I wish you were real, but you are just a photograph…
GP: You, tu…neo-Indian; posmo-nativo; robo-aborigen; cyborg-shaman…