[ISEA97] Keynote: Guillermo Gómez-Peña – Mexican Cyborgs and Artificial Savages


I am an interdisciplinary artist and writer working in various mediums and genres, such as performance, spoken word poetry, video, radio-art, interactive television and computer art. For the past five years, perhaps my most significant work has been the hybrid domain of performance/installation. My collaborators and I have been experimenting with the colonial format of the “living diorama”. We create interactive “living (and dying) dioramas” that parody and subvert various colonial practices of representation including the ethnographic tableaux vivant (as found in Museums of Natural History and Anthropology), the Freak Show, The Indian Trading Post, the border ‘curio shop’ and the porn window display. In these fictionalized contexts, we “exhibit” ourselves as highly decorated and exotized “human artefacts”: at times we are ethnographic “specimans” or members of an alleged endangered tribe (from Tijuana, East L.A. or Manhattan). Other times we assume composite identities, becoming multicultural Frankensteins, artificial savages and “ethno-cyborgs.” Depending on the cultural baggage and racial background of the visitor, and on his/her particular relationship to the symbols and performance characters, the installation changes its meaning and even its looks. At times these performative environments look like a pagan temple from a cyber-punk novel, or a stylized Indian post, in which the audience is made to assume the role of spiritual tourists. Other times they look and feel like a wing of an anthropology museum of the future, where the audience members are placed in the position of cultural voyeurs. These dioramas function both as a bizarre set design for contemporary theater of mythos and “cultural pathology” and as a sui generis ceremonial space for people to reflect on their attitudes toward other cultures.

  • Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Mexico/USA. Born in Mexico City, interdisciplinary artist/writer Gomez-Pena came to the United States in 1978. Since then he has been exploring cross-cultural issues and North/South rela­tions through performance, bilingual poetry, journalism, video, radio and installation art. He has contributed to the national radio magazines Crossroads (1987-90) and Latino USA, and is a contributing editor to High Performance magazine as well as to The Drama Review. He is a 1991 recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship. Warrior for Gringostroika, a collection of his essays and performance texts, was recently published by Graywolf Press. His second book, The New World Border, was released in 1996 by City Lights, and has just received the American Book Award. A third book in collaboration with artist Enrique Chagoya entitled Friendly Cannibals appears from the Art Space Publishers, and the catalog for the exhibit The Temple of Confessions was published by Powerhouse Books this year.