Get Disturbed

At Centro Cultural Español, Hispanic artists go radical on culture

Tuning into "Constant Disturbance: On Cultural Contamination and Foreign Agents" at Centro Cultural Español, one might be reminded of the B-movie classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The 1956 film depicts the takeover of an entire community by alien seed pods that replicated and eventually replaced humans. At its core, the movie was a cautionary tale against corrosive ideologies, the annihilation of individuality through group thinking, and the spread of a noxious germ. This exhibit — curated by local artist and critic Gean Moreno — also explores the dynamics through which cultures are hybridized or altered by the introduction of foreign bodies.

"Constant Disturbance" brings together nineteen young Latin American artists under the premise of reflecting the northern colossus's influence on cultural identity. But perhaps it should have been titled "Invasion of Madison Avenue." In his catalogue essay, Moreno alludes to "a second conquest of the Americas," citing what amounted to an epidemic outbreak by North American corporate types who were rabid to infest south-of-the-border markets in the aftermath of World War II. The curator likens these suits to the conquistadores who laid low their victims with smallpox and measles before absorbing them into colonial culture. The Latin American teenager, it seems, was an ideal guinea pig to turn into a consumptive zombie by sinister gringos who have perfected the art of packaging and exporting teen-friendly counterculture.

One of Beatriz Monteavaro's Your Body Is a Vision, 
Hungry for You ink-on-paper drawings
One of Beatriz Monteavaro's Your Body Is a Vision, Hungry for You ink-on-paper drawings

Theoretical hokum aside, though, this exhibit looks to be more of a commentary on American Pop influences shared not only by Latin American artists who reside in their native countries but also those of Hispanic descent living in the U.S. Although some work on display seems to reflect virulent foreign contaminants on cultural identity — with a stretch of the imagination — most exude a sense of an old-fashioned youthful scoundrel cracking wise.

Jedbangers, by Yoshua Okon, is a large video projection shown on a wall above stacked speakers emanating white noise. A critique on Mexico City's headbanger subculture, the video captures four metal-addled dolts sporting dreadful haircuts while thrashing their noggins to and fro like stiff-jointed puppets. As the video jumps from one mook to the next, they jig and twist spastically as if being jerked around on invisible strings. Nearby, a recording reruns the rant Jim Morrison delivered during the Doors' 1969 Dinner Key Auditorium concert.

William Cordova's color DVD, You're All a Bunch of Fucking Idiots, shown on a television set that rests on the floor in a corner of the gallery, splits the air with "You're all a bunch of slaves! What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about it? Maybe you love getting your face stuck in the shit, letting people push you around! What are you going to do about it? Come on!" While the Lizard King cackles in a dope-induced stupor, a group of b-boys appear on the grainy screen, executing head spins and cartwheels. One of them throws his arms under his legs in a yoga position and hops around on the palms of his hands like a tree frog.

One of the show's most arresting pieces is Miguel Calderón's Secundaria #8. The photograph depicts what appears to be an elite boarding school's graduating class. Wearing mirrored sunglasses, the students pose in impeccable blue-and-white uniforms. Calderón's provocative image seems as much a reflection of Mexico's class differences as a comment on the chili con carnage corruption that results from the drug-trafficking industry. With their shades betraying any semblance of youthful innocence, these children might be the pampered sons and daughters of narco gangsters who have shuffled them off to a ritzy prep school to polish their own images.

America's insatiable drug consumption, our government's hypocritical foreign policies, and its feeble stab at drug interdiction are featured in Colombian Humberto Junca's works. DAMN RIGHT! comprises three unusual drawings displayed atop school desks, which mix album-cover graffiti with symbols of power. Hung at knee level near the entrance of the gallery, one of the tomahawk-shape pieces of wood depicts a posed photo op in which President Bush shakes hands with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. The word Kiss, a reference to the popular glam-rock band, has been drawn as if by a teenage fan over their heads. The two s's are rendered in the manner of the Nazi SS insignia and appear like a vise around Dubya's brainpan, tarring him a fascist and also alluding to Uribe's right-wing paramilitary supporters. Another of the pieces features Washington's Capitol dome haloed in a crimson glow and crowned by the word Sodom, a reference to the German thrash-metal band.

Hymning the economic disparity between the first and third worlds, Paul Ramirez Jonas's Ghost of Progress is one of the show's more political pieces. The video depicts a model of a supersonic Concorde jet affixed to the handlebars of a bicycle that wings its way through the streets and alleys of the artist's native Honduras. The camera zooms in on the white plastic plane as it progresses along cobblestone streets, occasionally capturing backpacking teens walking or people entering shops in the background. Sputtering along the highway and overtaken by dilapidated vehicles and buzzing scooters, the aircraft's absurd journey serves as a powerful reminder that Honduras remains one of the poorest nations in the region. Several of the pieces share supernatural themes riffing on vampires, demonic possession, and zombies. Perhaps the curator is suggesting the Great Satan is the planet's biggest blood-sucker.

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