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Friday, December 02, 2005 | Experimental performance artist and radical pedagogue Guillermo Gómez-Peña lives by fourteen commandments, which are listed on his virtual arcade Web site,

The first one states: “Practice responsible hedonism. Vindicate the sacred right to party. Fight Puritanism in all its forms. It is a subtle form of political control.”

“Pocha Nostra” according to the site, translates as either “our impurities” or “the cartel of cultural bastards.”

Gómez-Peña and his “ever morphing trans-disciplinary arts organization based in San Francisco with branches and factions in many other cities and countries” love this poetic ambiguity.

He writes, “It reveals an attitude towards art and society: Cross-racial, poly-gendered, experi-mental, y qué?”

The internationally acclaimed theorist, writer and experimental performer returns to Sushi and St. Cecilia’s Playhouse for two nights only – tonight and Saturday.

He will turn the downtown theater into what he calls “a radical talk show, a bizarre experimental town meeting.”

Gómez-Peña’s performances are only partly scripted. “I work with my audience constantly, asking questions and inviting them to help me create the experiment,” he explains. “The fate of the piece is in their hands.”

The artist describes himself as a trickster, brujo-poeta, who engages the audience by shattering the glass houses of poetry and performance (the dreaded, sleepy events of two hours of sit down, listen quietly and drift off to your happy place).

Gómez-Peña’s performance – “Mexterminator vs. the Global Predators” – is part of Sushi Performance and Visual Art’s current season, “Takeout Series: Rebels and Pioneers.” For more than two decades, the nonprofit organization has served as San Diego’s “first and only multi-disciplinary presenter of alternative voices in contemporary performance, dance and visual art,” a mission that is also evident in the hybrid, radical works of Gomez-Pena.

Sushi Artistic Director Jeremy Gaucher said, “We like to let artists do what they do. Sushi has been an incubator for new art, for pushing the envelope.”

Gomez-Pena’s career as a performer began at Sushi more than 20 years ago. He has since gone on to receive the “Prix de la Parole” at the International Theatre Festival of the Americas, a MacArthur Fellowship, an American Book Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Taos Talking Pictures Film Festival.

Currently residing in San Francisco, he comes home to the border region that played such a crucial role in politicizing his art.

It was partly here in San Diego and also in Los Angeles where Chicanismo opened his mind to his own identity. Artistic-political peers and mentors such as Roberto Sifuentes and Dan Muñoz, Sr. helped him “rediscover (his) lost voice and (his) citizenship through (his) art,” he says.

Gómez-Peña returns in “Mexterminator” where he will take on the Minutemen, the subject of the U.S.-Mexico border as an “open wound,” globalization and transnational identities.

His performance, installation and video works have been presented at more than 800 venues across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, Russia, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela and Argentina.

He has been a regular commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Latino USA” and has authored eight successful books on performance art, border culture and activism.

“We live in a time of perplexity and a time of inquiry,” says Gomez-Peña. “It is the artist’s job to ask the questions that are not being asked in universities or by politicians.”

The participating audience at tonight’s and Saturday’s performances will see a different face of America. One that is progressive, poly-cultural and diversified. “One that has little to do with U.S. unilateralism, the Bush doctrine or the Patriot Act,” he says.

Gómez-Peña hopes to interactively convert each of the participants into social critics, chroniclers, media pirates, information architects, experimental linguists and radical pedagogues.

Challenging the traditional art world mythologies of the artist as a suffering bohemian and misunderstood genius, Gomez-Peña contends that the artist should be, “above all, an active, responsible citizen immersed in the great debates of our times.”

So far out on the edges of free speech, his shows have elicited a broad range of responses and reactions.

In an infamous piece called “The Chamber of Confessions,” Gómez-Peña played a saint in a wheelchair. He sat in a glass cage, surrounded by live cockroaches, candles and drug paraphernalia. He had the audience come up and confess about their darkest interracial fears.

Gómez-Peña once allowed an audience to crucify him in a performance work called “Cruci-Fiction.” His was protesting the poor treatment of immigrants. The rood had the letters “INS” (Immigration and Naturalization Service) above his head instead of INRI. He remained on the cross for hours.

“I have been picketed by everyone,” he said, “even animal rights organizations for hanging dead chickens. I’ve had confrontations with live audiences. I have almost lost control,” he admitted.

But Gomez-Peña makes no apologies. “There is a crisis of representation in theater and dance because performers have not redefined their audience expectations,” he says.

“I encourage those who are brave enough to speak up. It is radical democracy. I give them the space to talk back.”

Chilean-born spoken word artist Adrian Arancibia will open both evenings at St. Cecilia’s Playhouse with a performance titled “¡avisale! … exile in aztlán.” The piece is a personal narrative of a Chilean immigrant searching for identity and the experience of finding Chicanismo.

There will be a reception and a chance to meet Gómez-Peña after the performance on Friday, Dec. 2 at Voz Alta, 1544 Broadway in downtown’s East Village.

Voz Alta director Stephanie De La Torre is honored to be working with Sushi and welcomes all to come for food, drink and conversation.

“We are participating as a community to bridge the gap with Latino audiences,” says De La Torre. “Part of our mission is inter-cultural. We provide a safe forum to talk about what is Chicano,” she says.

“Guillermo’s work deals with redefining Chicano identity,” De La Torre continues. “We as an organization define Chicano as re-evolving or redefining itself. We share a different point of view of what Chicano means, of what identity means.”

“Mexterminator vs. the Global Predator” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 3 at St. Cecilia’s Playhouse, 1620 Sixth Ave. For more information and tickets, contact Sushi Performance and Visual Art at (619) 235-8466 or

To learn more about Voz Alta, visit

To read more about Gómez-Peña’s performances and projects, visit his Web site, “La Pocha Nostra,”a “virtual maquiladora that provides a base for a loose network and forum of rebel artists from various disciplines, generations and ethnic backgrounds.”

Michael Klam is a freelance journalist and San Diego author who moderates poetry and art events in the Museum of the Living Artist.

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