Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Respite from the Sun

From the jam-packed Very Be Careful show on Friday at Grandstar's Firecracker in Chinatown to the Amsterdam Cafe in the North Hollywood arts district on Sunday for an afternoon of poetry, there was no avoiding the extreme heat that laid low the greater LA-area. At the moment, the much cooler sound of an El Sereno rooster accompanies the hint of fog under partially overcast skies. He must think it's the breaking of a longer-than-average dawn. This contrasts with the smoking VBC fusilade of Colombian cumbia and happy-fingered accordion riffs which was brief but beautiful. Unexpectedly caught sight, from across the room, of a healthy contingent from Proyecto Jardin, a squad of white-clad artisans and community comadres who support, nurture and cultivate--literally--the independent Boyle Heights green space and gather once a month for the Mercado Caracol to break bread while trading/selling books, jewelry, crafts and herbal products. Bumped into Azul and his camera yet again for an equally pleasant surprise. Of course, the foursome I was part of raced madly thereafter to Eastside Luv for last call with Guillermo "Pata de Perro" Uribe, whose entirely too hip and too cool night spot was the subject of an LA Times feature the following day. Felicidades to Guillermo and Arlene. You have to love an in-house DJ that plays Morrisey and Ramón Ayala back to back. And what's with all these husband and wife teams showing the rest of us how that sort of thing is possible? Unfortunately, I missed the Mentiritas show there the next night, but that's another story. Do yourself a favor and catch Lysa Flores there this Friday if you can't make the history of LA DJ culture event on Thursday.

Running on Firecracker fumes and residual Eastside Luv glow from the night before, I still managed to catch the last part of the First Annual Latino Student Film Festival at Lincoln High School in Lincoln Heights, the neighborhood directly south of here on Saturday morning. Organized by Harry Liflan and the Latin-American Cinemateca of LA, the one-day fest was chock-full of future directors, producers and writers. Alternately touching and hilarious, the short films were marked by uncanny understanding of teen angst and its place in the world as a harbinger of passion and the creative spirit. And the vegetarian tamales I brought home are off the hizinges.

Qwik-ee Round Up: I'll save the personal take on Linda Arreola's "Vaguely Chicana" exhibit, which closed on Saturday afternoon at Trópico de Nopal Gallery and the Vexing show which opened at the Claremont Museum of Art on Saturday night for another post. Suffice it simply to say here that Arreola is an El Sereno neighbor whose work is con[text]ually divine in its geometric and mathematical precision. At the other end of the spectrum, the Claremont exhibition is intended to highlight the contributions of women to the underground LA Chicano punk scene during the late 70s and early 80s as well as the bastard, hybrid art spawned by that era. Much of the work, which ruptured outward into the mainstream consciouness with an LA Weekly article on ASCO and again with the opening of "Phantom Sightings" at LACMA, is reprised, but not a rehash. Despite the fact that at least two of the show's curators were children being reared in places other than LA when the scene unfolded, the exhibition is extremely well put together. The research was spot on. The raucous opening night performances by queen of Chicano rock Lysa Flores and Alice Bags were fever pitch odes to the Sex Pistols and Clash-inspired turbulence I flirted with in high school while at the same time, I was ordering by mail a compilation album titled Los Angelinos: The Eastside Renaissance, a 1983 issue that included tunes by both The Brat and The Plugz. And who will ever match Alice Bags neé Alicia Armendáriz shouting "Chinga tu madre" in a song at the top of her lungs repeatedly then joking about the need to end her set because the vehicle from the senior citizen's home was waiting for her outside?

In the sin verguenza, mire lo que hice department, I read a few poems at the Amsterdam Cafe in the North Hollywood (NOHO... How pretensious is that?) Arts District on Sunday alongside Gloria Alvarez who has been like a sister, a literary co-conspirator and all-around comandante brillante through a tumultuous year, and Gabriela Jauregui, a heavy-duty wordslinger packed into a tiny, five-foot frame all decked out in a gauzy white dress, red undergarments and cat-eye glasses. Her book, Controlled Decay, is available on Chris Abani's Black Goat poetry series. Born and raised in Mexico City, she out-Conrads Conrad with an urgent, dangerously sublime command of el idioma de los gringos. Her poems are visceral yet captivatingly femenine. Obviously, being educated at some of the best schools in two countries as part of the elite, privileged class is no hindrance. But hers is a language that trancends, that couples freedom and liberation and dreams of a society without class distinctions or exploitation. Muscular and at times venturing compellingly into the realm of the pyrotechnic, her work is necessary frontburner reading and at the leading edge of Latina letters in the U.S. Props to Rafael Alvarado for coordinating the monthly Amsterdam event.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dualities and Line Drawing

Have to begin this post with a resounding plug for Alberto Ibarra and Christi Burgos, who celebrate 13 years of matrimony and art. Beto is a founding member of Teatro Chusma in East LA, and they both make stunning visual work they've grouped together for a show called "Giving Birth to Duality." The husband and wife collaborative exhibition is currently on display at Antigua Cultural Coffee House here in El Sereno and features serigraphy and painting as well as the vivid 3-D paper mache pieces Burgos creates as the force behind Mayan Inspirations. I wasn't able to make the opening, but the work will remain on exhibit for the next few weeks. Be sure to check the wedding photo that pictures the happy couple in front of a classic bomb lowrider straight from the 1940s. Kind of makes you proud to be in LA.

"Herban Mother-Lode," a photo exhibition at First Street Studios in the heart of Boyle Heights featuring work by several photographers I admire, opened last Saturday with a daylight outdoor performance by East LA's favored musical sons Ollin and beats by Spaceways Radio DJ Carlos Nino. The exhibition offer eye-catching and thoughtful work by Sandra de la Loza, Dalila Mendez, Heriberto Oriol and his son Esteban Oriol. Definitely worth checking out. I plan to stop by for a second look myself. It was definitely cool to finally catch up with Azul, the artist behind the "Peace in Iraq" photo project.

Of course, the weekend would not have been complete without a predictable stop at Ave. 50 after the Boyle Heights run for a showing of new work from The Los De Abajo Printmaking Collective, an informal group working out of Self-Help Graphics. "Drawing the Line," as the exhibition is titled, is a tantalizing show of experimental prints that use line as a point of departure for exploration and examination of social demarcations, internal and external emotional states as well as the intersections of art with political and personal ideologies or transfigurations. Among the artists exhibiting are José Lozano, Emelda Gutierrez, Judith Durán, Kay Brown, Poli Marichal (who will also be part of the "Maestras" show opening in several weeks at Self-Help), Mariana Sadowsky, Antonio Escalante, Victor Rojas and fellow Echospace Poetry Collective member Don Newton.

Emelda Gutierrez and Kay Brown deserve mention here because I had not yet realized how singularly powerful and evocative their respective print work has become. Beyond that, I'm wearing a nugget-sized quartz crystal in a brass wire setting that hangs from a leather chord around my neck these days. It is a gift from the hyper-energetic Gutierrez, and it has become the amulet that fuses both poetic and earthly energy for me as the waves of melancholy nostalgia and fear-laced sadness are gradually replaced with peace and light and joy.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mother's Day Tribute & Post-Chicano Blues

In El Sereno and environs, life will not be the same but it goes on, because go on it must. After turning the final pages of The Shadow of the Wind, an extraordinary novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, I linger on the moderate attempts made over the last few days to once again inhabit the land of the living and to once again be inspired by the landscapes of love and art. The annual summer youth play at Plaza de la Raza, an adaption of Teatro Campesino's El Soldado Razo by Culture Clash's Herbet Siguenza, reminds us of the need to examine the costs of war, both literally and metaphorically, in our community. Doff o' the old bowler hat to me friend Herb for a putting together a play in Lincoln Heights with more than a score of neighborhood and community youth, righteous kids who helped write the script then put on quite a show and even danced salsa with Vicky Grise and the ever fabulous Karla Legaspy at Friday's opening night after-party. Compound that particular joy with a Saturday night splash at Ave. 50 by the Inspiration House Poetry Choir. Joining the usual crew was the "Chola con Cello" herself, María Elena Gaitán, who lit up the already intoxicating fusion of improvised music behind live poetry delivered at volcanic intensities with her relentless bow. Y finalmente, I was able to sit in on the discussion between Sandra de la Loza and Harry Gamboa at Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of the "Phantom Sightings" exhibition. Not a whole lot of new ground covered, but at least it wasn't a rehash of the same old tropes. Ms. de la Loza, if a bit nervous before such a large crowd and for the fact that the show has been the subject of far ranging polemics, discussion and criticism, reminded us that we can and must reappropriate media and public symbols in order to restore forgotten or intentionally whitewashed history. It is this re-write of truth and distortion of historical fact to create myths and collective amnesia, she seems to suggest, that makes possible a world where urban youth are criminalized and dissent, critical thought or free-speech, at every level, is quelled before it truly ever even begins with the complicity of corporate thought control as issued by mass media in support of a hegemonic state and both its internal and external policies. So here we are, folks, well into the hyperglorified Cinco de Mayo celebration, a holiday rarely celebrated in Mexico, if you must know. Stay tuned for this Friday's "Homenaje Dia de las Madres: Honoring our Mothers and the Earth." It's a fundraiser and tribute at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock. The reading begins 8 p.m. and will include sets from spinmasters Fermina D and DJ Hugo Molina.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Para la quien ya no volveré a buscar

Con un agradecimiento sincero a la maga kenia.