The costumes are weirdo enough, but the interplay with the ancient archeological site and performers who appear to be native mexicanos is even weirder. Can she come back and do more? Or should we film a re-make?
Feliz año nuevo!
** Originally published at World Now:
A day laborer outside a Home Depot hardware store in northeast Los Angeles is riding in a bright orange shopping cart in the store's parking lot, peering through imaginary binoculars, as if he were on patrol in a dangerous jungle.
Others are crawling under parked vehicles as if squeezing below barbed wire, or diving and body-rolling as if evading gunfire. Before a sale display for storage sheds, two men lie still on the asphalt, their legs spread, as if dead.
The laborers are undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, and in an unsettling video installation by Mexican artist Yoshua Okon on view at a university gallery in Mexico City, they are war survivors playing themselves.
Before Okon's cameras, the migrants are reenacting their days fighting in Guatemala's long and catastrophic civil war.
The four-channel video piece, called "Octopus," is Okon's latest and possibly most provocative video in a career in which he frequently pushes against viewers' comfort zones with the use of improvising non-actors.
A native of Mexico City, Okon has also lived part-time in Los Angeles. He bought a house in L.A. and came to participate in a rite of passage for many new U.S. homeowners in the last decade -- hiring day workers.
The men he found at the Home Depot store in the Cypress Park district, it turned out, were indigenous Maya from Guatemala. They spoke a Mayan dialect and very little Spanish or English. They had escaped Guatemala's war in search of work in the United States.
Some fought for the U.S.-backed military government and others for the leftist guerrillas. Some, he said, showed him scars of bullet wounds. Now, as laborers at the bottom of the U.S. social ladder, they fight for scraps of work in the slumping construction market.
"They're more afraid of immigration than about talking about the war," Okon said during a visit this week to the exhibition space in Mexico City's Roma district. "To me, that's what the piece is about. It's the United States. The war is not over. The war is over there."
Okon, 41, has made films with wanna-be Nazis in Mexico City, an isolated family in California's high desert getting drunk on "White Russians," and Mexican police officers who agree to make bawdy sexual gestures they probably shouldn't in uniform.
While these works usually elicit in viewers a mix of chuckles and creeps, "Octopus" is different.
The new video is guided by a polemical stance, not self-parody. Home Depot customers amble past the bizarre scenes playing out with hardly a blink, showing that workers who build homes in the United States have "always been invisible," Okon said.
The artist also had to work guerrilla-style in some form himself. He filmed on the store's parking lot without proper permission. "I had to constantly negotiate with the security guards, until they finally kicked me out," he said.
Over two days of filming in March, Okon said the men from Guatemala gradually stopped giggling through takes and began to seriously inhabit -- or re-inhabit -- their roles. "It felt like a job," one of the workers later told the LA Weekly. And indeed it was; Okon said he paid the men a double day-rate for their time.
"Octopus," commissioned by the Hammer Museum at UCLA, will show at the Casa Jose Galvan exhibition space in Mexico City through January. Next year, Okon plans to take the piece toProyectos Ultravioleta, an arts space in Guatemala City.
A single-screen version of the 18-minute piece is viewable here. In one shot, as seen above, a motorist drives past Okon's cameras with a bumper sticker that reads, "Voter for a new foreign policy."
The shot was not staged.
* Image: A still from 'Pulpo.'
And here is some of the cool shit we got around to publishing in six lil issues of 8-pages each!
This was the best part of the entire Estrella Cercana operation, I think. We turned into a platform for fresh and interesting work, intersecting on the printed page across text and image, and often in interaction with pieces in the "Distant Star" show at the gallery.
We had no editorial guidelines from our publisher, the Kuris. The sky was the limit.
And as things came in, we went with the most Newsy stuff possible. Inevitably, this led to some criticisms about whether there was too much death, exploitation, violence, abuse, loathing, shock-value, guns, fascism, skin, dirty sex, and politics in our pages.
Our response, inevitably, was, 'Duh.' This is a NEWSpaper. (But with pseudonyms at work, yes.) We published, and please stay with me, the following ...
Remember Mexico City in the 1940s? Here's another good one.
Via LAObserved, this is an L.A. Public Library photograph showing the intersection of 1st Street and Broadway in downtown L.A., with a view of the corner where the gloomy Times Mirror corporate building now stands.
That's on the block that is sometimes gallantly known as Times Mirror Square, the headquarters of the once-storied L.A. Times company, where I went to work between 2002 and 2006 (and work now again, from farther away). In 1954, it looked like this. Look closely. There's a sign for a "Mexico City Cafe" in the mid-right, near the woman's head.
Come again? A place called Mexico City Cafe in downtown Los Angeles in the 1950s? Boggles the mind. A quick search turned up zero, and I'm left wondering and imagining ... Who founded it? How long was it there? What did this place look like inside? What was on the menu?
How did regular downtown Angelenos in the period respond to and interact with this cipher from its future "sister city"? Did LAT staffers or City Hall workers take lunch there? Did they like it? And, what are the cafe's ghosts?
This calls for a Serious Investigation. Mike Davis?
** EXTRA: Zocalo Public Square, another of my writing homes, asked this week, "What Movie (Besides Chinatown) Best Captures L.A.?" I thought of this one.
At least ten people were reportedly killed during fiesta patrias celebrations across Mexico last night.
That's an extremely low figure relative to Mexico's population and relative to an expectation that rises quietly every recent mid-September when Mexico celebrates its Independence Day. Inevitably, some people worry that a narco-terror attack will strike somewhere around the Grito like in 2008 in Michoacan. (See here.)
This week at La Plaza, I used the occasion to consider the implications for Mexico's current drug war and its future as a nation bound on democratic principles (supposedly) through the new Canana release "Miss Bala."
Read my thoughts on the flick here. And definitely go see it.
True role models, as far as I'm concerned. I know that headache. Are we need of an a la chingada with it all, pan-Latino-style work revolt? Play it!
* Previously, "No voy a trabajar."
That was fast. Within hours of a shootout near the Torreón football stadium that caused pandemonium among thousands of fans, a group calling itself Los Gallos Alterados uploaded on Youtube a corrido documenting the incident.
Really, the song gives about as much if not better detail on what happened than your average news story. He sings that the cause of the shooting was a checkpoint set up by the "gobierno militar," then calls for safety at sporting venues for the sake of the children.
Mexico, no matter what, I love you.
This is Eyaculacion Post Mortem, from Barcelona, on Friday night at Club Atlantico in downtown Mexico DF. Like death-punk? They're synthy and hardcore. Live, one of the best shows of any kind I've been to in a long while.
People were dressed in their darky punk best. I was busy in the slam. Everyone's sweat. Bodies. "Gente guapa aqui en México," said a voice from behind the masks.
Above, the documentary short "Barrios, Beats, and Blood," on the hip-hop scene in Ciudad Juarez, now on YouTube in its entirety. (I covered the premiere of the film last year at the Morelia Film Festival for La Plaza; see here.)
Directed and produced by journalists Ioan Grillo and John Dickie, "Barrios, Beats, and Blood" offers a direct window into the worldview of youth in a U.S.-Mexico border city that is drowning in death. The voices here direct their protest MCing at the cartels and the government alike: "Queremos que se jode y ya que se quede un puto cartel."
I bet Gil Scott-Heron would be nodding his head right now.
My brodderh Total Freedom, the king of casual, is wearing a one-of-a-kind altered overall by Uriel Urbán, aka U+U. Ash is wearing the piece as a jacket. We're on a street in Los Feliz, central Los Angeles, early May 2011.
The piece is from Uriel's first collection, shot by César Arellano a year ago. Check the look-book they shot at the Teatro Opera here. Ashland mixed the runway soundtrack for U.'s second collection, which was presented in late March as part of International Designers Mexico. Watch highlights here.
If you wanna, get the original runway mix below, a gift from Intersections.
Below, our homie Ellory, out of New Orleans, wearing the overall through the legs. We're in the studio in Centro in late April, during Ellory's first stop over in D.F., via La Habana, on his way to Monterrey ...
The photo above is by Tatiana Lipkes, an editor and author at the indie publishing house Mangos de Hacha, during the presentation and party for "Down & Delirious" on Thursday night in Club Atlántico in Centro. I'm waiting while Gabriela Jauregui is presenting the book.
Went so well! I read from the book in Spanish for the first time, from a draft of a Spanish translation by Elizabeth Flores. Gaby and the Pulpo ladies had us sweat-dancing all night. Took some questions. Rad performance by punk riders Agudos, Crónicos, y Vegetales. Thanks to everyone who collaborated, participated, and attended! Special thanks to the friends at Bósforo for the mezcales.
Now some notes:
† "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" is now on sale in D.F.! You can get it at Pendulo Condesa; that's at Nuevo León 115, in Col. Condesa. Sorry for the delay on that, for readers who've been asking where they can get the book.
El taller abarcará temas como medios, plataformas, métodos, y éxitos del periodismo que se practica en línea. Las sesiones son martes y jueves entre las 4 y 6 de la tarde. Informes con .357! Apúntense!
††† Finally, here's a video by Carlos Alvarez Montero where I introduce myself and the workshop. Check it out, and see you soon.
No exaggeration, a good 18 different people have personally sent me this link since it went live (though I saw right after it dropped, via Mudd Up!). So I'm just gonna post it already. Pointy Boots. Extremely pointy pointy boots. Botas picudas.
I'm as much at a loss about this 'craze' as you must be.
The video, part of an art package by Vice, is an introduction to a fashion phenomenon that is directly tied to the tribal guarachero boom that has taken hold in the north of Mexico and in some parts of the U.S, particularly in Texas. Filmmaker Bernardo Loyola and crew visit a town in San Luis Potosí named Matehuala (near the border with Nuevo Leon state), where local vatos claim the pointy boots were invented.
3BALL MTY mix-master Erick Rincon ("un dios para hacer el tribal") makes an appearance. He makes the connection between SLP and its migrant diaspora in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex. Watch and learn.
Let's just quickly hit the most obvious wonders. The pointy boots point to a fusion between a music movement and a regional tribalism in Mexico that appears to have nothing to do with any kind of illicit trade, neither as a belated reaction to a trend from north of the border. The boots, intervened, are the basis for a competitive dance-crew culture as well. Reminds me somewhat of the ass-bouncing cowboy crews in California.
I took these a few weeks ago on a visit to Ciudad Satélite, one of the most mythical and mythically dismissed suburbs in Mexico City. I'm on the rooftop of the new studio and workshop center .357, as a rainstorm approached. Megamall Mundo E is to my back.
.357 is a place you'll hear more about from me as I collaborate with Carlos Alvarez Montero, the photographer and founder, by offering a workshop there on digital journalism. More about that later.
A que ser vecinos.
Bill Cunningham might be "the hardest working reporter in New York," says the NYT Lens blog. I came to the same conclusion while watching the documentary on the street-fashion photographer last week in Manhattan. Cunninghman's life is devoted to his work, capturing what people are wearing on the streets of New York, and in the process, documenting a society's vivacious sense-of-self through its clothes.
He knows perfectly well what he's doing, and how important it is.
In the film, Cunninghman is depicted as living a monastic life that revolves entirely around his weekly features in The New York Times, "Evening Hours" and the addictive "On the Street" (my favorite piece of journalism in the entire paper). He lives in a cramped space in the Carnegie Hall studios, with no kitchen and a bathroom down the hall, and eats cheap. He is an 80-something with attends church every Sunday and admits in the film, in a tough moment, that he's never had a "romantic relationship" in his life. In some ways, he's a lot of like Enrique Metinides.
Cunningham started out as a hat designer in the 1950s after the war, then spent years shooting (and comparing) runway shows and street looks for Women's Wear Daily and the original Details. His ethic and moral compass are unwavering: when WWD used his photos to mock the women appearing in them, against his wishes, Bill quit the magazine and never looked back. Through the decades, he's followed his sidewalk muses -- such as a former U.N. official for Nepal who dresses in flamboyant suits -- and has charted not only chic women's fashion but also the rise of men's hip-hop wear. He made an "On the Street" on baggy jeans (in 1997) and one asking "How low will they go?"
The documentary "Bill Cunningham New York" is directed by Richard Press. Press is an unobtrustive presence, capturing Cunningham in total silence in solitary and seemingly unimportant moments, such as shots of the photographer quietly locking or unlocking his studio door. Press uses thrilling archival footage and photographs to present the history of the pulsating tradition of New York streetwear, through the eyes of its most faithful watchman.
"The point is," the photographer says, "fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life."
* Previously, "Bill Cunningham hat-tips the summertime fedora."
This is what D.F. feels and looks like right now, "Mordor." The smog and altitude and dryness of the spring is the source of the Mexico City mutation.
Last night on a roof-top we couldn't decide what color the sky was: a red-purple-orange nighttime gray? I look across the way on a street and I can't see the tops of the mountains. It's just ... blank. An idea: think it's time local fashion designers maybe start considering making ready-to-wear street masks? A future-is-now kinda thing?
But we still love living here, right? Without question. Addicted to the impossible city, infected by it. Oh yessss.
* Source uncertain for photo. Please alert me if it's yours.
Above, kids in the midst of some hard-core skanking at an underground ska toquin in San Bernardino, Calif., up near the mountains in the Inland Empire, Friday, February 11, 2011. I shot these photos with a disposible camera. It's all I had on me. It was so smokey and hot in there.
What is skank? Wikipedia says: "Originally, skanking consisted of a 'running man' motion of the legs to the beat while alternating bent-elbow fist-punches, left and right. Over time, however, variations have emerged across the musical world. The punk version features a sharp striking out look with the arms, and is sometimes used in moshing to knock around others doing the same."
Here's a blog-post on Skanking 101.
The show got going in a warehouse behind a storefront in downtown San Bernardino, with a long line-up of IE ska bands, a 5-dollar cover, and a BOYB ground-rule that usually promotes good vibes and good skanking. The dudes in Los Rudos told me about it during an interview the night before in Riverside (more on that later!), so I went. Among the bands on the bill, some of the hardest working Latin ska bands in the IE: Cerebro Negro, Skakahuate, La Liberacion, and more.
It hit me standing front-and-center before a Joy Division/Bauhaus cover band at a tucked-away little "centro cultural" (read: bar) on Bolivar in Centro, with two friends, Susana and Andreina, and Andreina's tattoo artist homies from down on Regina: Really, I could die happy right now.
Above, Joy Haus, playing all the dark-core post-punk hits, late Saturday, March 5, 2011. They played so good -- "She's Lost Control," "Bela Lugosi is Dead," "Love Will Tear Us Apart," "The Sanity Assassin" -- I coulda been in Manchester, circa 1979. In Mexico City, kids know their rock covers.
I can't find much of an Internet presence for Joy Haus, and I was hesitant to hit them up right away after their set because the singer was so, um, intense while performing. Called it a night. Felt so good the next day.
"Nos desquitamos de todos los pedos esa noche, pero cabron."
More photos and a short video clip after the jump.
Buildings crumble like mud and bread, people fall dramatically to their deaths from exposed rubble, stuff falls on people and crushes them, looters get shot. I remember seeing this film when I was kid. It was terrifying back then. Right now, would I laugh watching it or go check to see if we have a fresh earthquake kit?
The news in the United States is intensely upsetting right now. It feels like it's from another world. But no, it's here, the world we've created. Watch this Russia Today report from what appears to be West Los Angeles. Correspondent Ramon Galindo, emphasizing the words "extra precaution" over and over, asks a regular citizen named Aaron Gonzalez how he's preparing for the coming nuclear apocalypse:
Gonzalez: "I've been following several subscribers on YouTube that broke the news early, so I was able to get to Whole Foods and beat the crowd and I was able to get a hold of several bottles of the potassium iodine pills so I can distribute to my family and friends."
Galindo: "Besides the pills, have you heard of any other people taking extra precautions to prepare for a possible radioactive cloud coming this way?"
Gonzalez: "I've heard of people saran-wrapping their doors and windows, loading up on rice and grains, storing water."
Then this: A Berkeley-educated geologist who claims he can predict earthquakes and says we should expect one this weekend. Jim Berkland (bio here) accurately predicted, to the day, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. He told Fox News -- where the threshold of speculative wackiness is usually very high -- that he predicts a large earthquake on the U.S. Pacific coast this Saturday, March 19. Watch here.
Berkland's evidence: schools of fish washing up dead (happened in Redondo Beach three days before the Japanese quake, and on the day in Acapulco, only the Mexican fishies were alive), animals fleeing their homes, high tides, and the spring equinox, arriving on Sunday, March 20.
When the anchor thanks Berkland for appearing on air, Berkland replies: "My pleasure, I hope."
Cesar Arellano, the original street-fashion-party photoblogger in Mexico City, has died. Cesar was a crucial founding component of the scene. He was hard-working, generous, and supported emerging talents and faces on his website, Diario de Fiestas.
There's a lot of sadness and shock in the community in D.F. right now. The scene has lost its most respected and committed indie chronicler. The loss is enormous.
Last year Cesar redesigned and upgraded his site. It had started out three years earlier on the blogspot platform and immediately made an impact on the fashion community in Mexico, how it saw itself, and how it read in other parts of the world.
To honor Cesar's life and work, I'm re-publishing below the section of a chapter in the book where he is interviewed. Cesar will be missed.
Previously, a post on a 1940s video on "modern" Mexico City sparked some good ideas. Here's another. At the Prelinger Archive in New York, this is a World War II-era video by the U.S. Office of Inter-American Affairs on a day in the life of Mexico City.
The video is said to be a reflection of Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy. "Mexico is an old country which is new, a poor country which is rich, a country with more freedom than it has ever known," the narrator says.
* Thanks, Josh K.
My La Plaza post on Christmas Eve on photographer Enrique Metinides turned into a piece in the print paper, which ran today. (Somewhere. Couldn't find it anywhere on the main pages at LATimes.com.) Clip:
Even Metinides professes wonder at the ultra-violence of today's drug conflict. "There is just such a frightening quantity of dead, that they'll never find all the cadavers," Metinides said, fingering silicone albums filled with favorite snaps.
Then the retired journalist stops himself, arching an eyebrow. "But why even say it? What does that have to do with me?" he asks, then answers his own question. "Nothing."
Thanks to the editors in Foreign and Calendar for spotting the post and asking for a broader piece. Thanks to curator Veronique Ricardoni for connecting the interview. And thanks to photographer Eunice Adorno for sharing her portraits of Metinides with the paper.
By the way, readers in L.A., where did it run? How does it look?
* Previously, Enrique Metinides: 'El Niño' with all the shots.
We don't know how or when it started, and wouldn't know what to properly call it. All we have to work off right now is this video recently commented by friend Anahi. Potentially, these are "cowboy crews" at Salinas High School on the Pacific slopes of California's San Joaquin Valley.
That's where generations of migrants from Mexico have traveled to pump out the crops that help make up the breadbasket of the United States. That's what my dad did. Migrants pick your fruit but also have kids. Kids go to high school. And make culture.
Here, they're taking banda music from Mexico and the Mexican diaspora in the U.S. and applying a dance style to it that involves the hopping and spinning of duranguense (previously explored in Intersections here) but with new acrobatic tricks. Mainly, flying into the air and to the ground and landing on your ass, then picking up the hopping right from there. The boys also do this break-dance-rooted diving move.
It looks competitive.
Oh not to worry. This kind of hyper-physicality is totally Mexi. Remember the "dos borrachos" dance clip that went viral a couple years ago? Realness.
But these cowboy crews? Are they big, big? Do they have them in L.A.? In other U.S. cities that are Mexicanizing? Atlanta? Salt Lake City? On Long Island? How are they socially organized? If you're reading this and in a cowboy crew, let us know what's up!
One of the best in blogs in L.A., Chimatli, caught duranguense early on. Here's the blog's dance category. Great stuff. Here, I've looked at tektonic arriving in Mexico City (but since kinda gone?), the cholo-cumbia-chuntaro current in the North, the mosh-pits of Ecatepec, and the (guarded) sonidero scene in and around Tepito.
* Post updated 21-1-11.
"The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned beef hash with diced chiles, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of Key lime pie, two margaritas, and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert… Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, a telephone, a notebook for planning the next twenty-four hours and at least one source of good music… All of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked."
Now come on, and be honest, doesn't just a fraction of that sound like a fat slice of heaven? "Stone naked"? I wonder how many days Thompson actually started off in this way. Every single one? And I'm reminded, I need to re-crack open my copy of "Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72," and finally get "Hells Angels," which I understand is a masterpiece of the form good ole Hunter S. Thompson perfected.
Today, Friday, I went for a big breakfast at la Pagoda, inspired. Huevos con jamon, cafe con leche, una donita, un plato de fruta, totopos y frijoles, salsa, jugo de naranga. Yours?
The Tacubaya transfer was just as empty late on a Sunday night. My flash made a visual trick on the escalators heading up to Line 1, a simple amusement. I used to live above this joint. Sad as ever.
* Previously, "Literary anagram of the Mexico City metro."