Errant Lines and the Anecdotal Register
My personal genesis begins with El Mercadito where my parents met at a Valentine’s Day dance in the early 1970s. The ultimate site of populist convention, it is a place my friend urban planner and spatial theorist James Rojas has referred to as a Chicano Utopia. And I am kind of a fan of that.
I’m from the Southeast Los Angeles communities, Bell Gardens and Huntington Park. Before the gamut of scandal that became synonymous with these cities, we were just a cluster of Hub Cities. I grew up alongside Lebanese, Filipino, Cuban, Mexican, and Nicaraguan. It was all of them that indicated a world larger than the one I knew in private space of home.
I learned to drive at 16 and took advantage of that privilege.
My hunger for experience took to other places, other publics where artists like Vaginal Davis could express what Laura Kipnis calls the “anarchy of desire.” But while most pasty normals do that through extramarital affairs and as a stoppage to the doldrums brought on by capitalism and neoliberalism, Vag was doing that resistance through performance art and punk rock.
I was drawn to DIY space. Do. It. Yourself. An easy enough imperative to understand
and then try to interpret. The trying was fun. It was these spaces where I gave myself permission to experiment. My first band, Tummy Ache, is
evidence of that experiment. Our ephemera was on view with the Alien She exhibit, last at the Orange County Museum of Art.
• a performance artist
• a poet
• a commentator
• a producer
• a live performer
• a playwright
• a writer
• a film actor
• a chapbook publisher
• an essayist
• an editor
• a convener
• a curator
• an interlocutor
• a community organizer
que es LIFE AS AN ARTIST?
I’d like to talk about poetry. But I am going to pull at a more interesting thread. Or at least interesting in this moment, which will pass by the time it arrives to the train station called your attention. I want to collapse all of my practices under the idea of the ANECDOTAL REGISTER. My relational performance practice in the context of you and me; brown people; queer people; women of color, queer people of color; borders and Los Angeles.
THE NETWORK IS A MODE OF BEING: or to put it in ways inspired by Fernand Deligny and José Muñoz, this might be what happens when the seemingly random quotidian errant wanderings of the aimless community college student begin to cohere into marvelously mapped cartographies of interactivity with the brown creative commons of Los Angeles.
as a record of
works in the witnessing of artistic and cultural arenas I have been a part of during the initial creative meanderings, the synergy produced by visiting and other vagabondisms. This anecdotal knowledge comes from being at the same parties, art openings, fundraisers, performances performed once, the rehearsals and late night talks at the diner, the after-hours, waiting for the drugs to wear off. We were at the same marches, the same protests, canvassing and voting booths and political education and emergency action meetings.
It’s through these happenings that movement shakes and shapes the here-to-come. We have no reason for coming together other than to be woven together.
Sometimes I am more interested in creating a means to forgo talking about being a writer-actor-performer-and-so on and go towards the bigger picture with a practice centered on being a social index for and alongside other practitioners. Mine in looking back at the thread that has consistently woven through the work of bridging the last twenty years. Convening as a practice or rather identifying important ideas and producing spaces for those ideas to land and take shape.
Fashioning our artist-identities
In the current context of what remains of my professional life, I’m thinking about the roles we affix to our artist identities. Artists tend to be tethered to the “-scholar” or to more contemporary attempts to affix “artist” to “citizen.” When I think of affixing “organizer” to “artist,” I think about whose genealogy do I think of myself belonging to? What are the politics of belonging I am trying to embody?
As an artist-organizer I look at my late friend and mentor Jeanne Córdova’s work in gathering lesbians for the first national lesbian conference at UCLA in 1973; she went on to be one of the founders of the gay and lesbian center in west hollywood that ultimately became an early template for an lgbt civil rights movement.
When I think of affixing the word “convener” to “artist” I think of the work of Brendan Mullen and what he did to create the space that gave way to the early days of the Los Angeles punk movement. He was a significant engine behind the founding and operation of the Masque and became the movement’s loudest voice to ensure the continued remembering because something special transpired when The Bags and The Germs, two ambiguously racialized and gendered projects, hit the stage at that Hollywood venue. It wasn’t just a stage, it gave us a public.
how does what I know
interface and grow, contribute to or contradict
what you know? and vice versa?
These figures activate different types of anecdotal registers of the labor that organizers and conveners have been privy to in the early stages of development. Jeanne and Brendan represent for me the approach to these labors as part and parcel of creating and operating as a living social index. I have been a part of and witness to many artistic movements and think about whom are the artists making work and how can we learn about these creative pasts of these artists, the past before it becomes absorbed into a historical rubric, as these pasts are more immediate than others and possible to access through variously constituted anecdotal registers.
I want to look at the anecdotal register as a potential for radical collective narration; a potential for arriving to a collectively produced oral tradition in times of war, in times of crisis.
trappings and possibilities of community
Returning to Deligny helps me think through
the trappings and possibilities of community. A community creatively iterated; a map connected by wander lines and those lines collected collectively. Where is the connective tissue we need to live and how do we continue stumbling upon it serendipitously? Along the way we sense there’s a feeling of belonging that falls into the terrain of fundamentalism, that gets read and calibrated against the logic of hierarchy. To invoke F. Deligny poorly and coarsely: I remember that a human network, the original social network, is a fallible one.
Raquel Gutiérrez has long been a writer and live performer. She has also been a film actor, curator, publisher (Econo Textual Objects, established 2014), playwright, arts administrator, and community organizer. She writes about art, culture, music, film, performance, and community building, and creates original solo and ensemble performance compositions. Running In Place: poems about INSTITUTIONALITY is Raquel’s third chapbook, released in March 2015, following #WhiteBoo and Breaking Up With Los Angeles (Econo Textual Objects, 2014).