Monday, September 8, 2008

Vamos por mas Victorias!

"Vamos por más Victorias¨was the title of a variety show I performed with colleague Ariel Bravo for the 2008 International Theater Festival in Managua. It was also President Daniel Ortega´s slogan, plastered all over the country on large billboards to small stickers, for the municipal elections held in November 2008. Ortega´s intended meaning was ¨Let´s go for more victories!¨as in municipal electoral victories to add to his win as President and his party´s accomplishments. ¨Victoria¨is also the name of one of Nicaragua´s most popular beers, of which there are only two, so I read the slogan as ¨Let´s go drink more beer!¨. My interpretation became the punch line for stories and people´s complaints regarding the failure of the Ortega government to live up to its promises. So you lost your job? Vamos por más Victorias! So more women are dying because Ortega made all abortion illegal? Vamos por más Victorias! etc.

Ariel´s and my show juxtaposed the plight of freedivers on Nicaragua´s Atlantic coast whose bodies shrivel from their punishing work with my tales of cultural misunderstanding and mediation with the traffic police, littering, catcalling men, shopping etiquette, and dogs.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Basement Geniuses

Why do journalists frequently trumpet the uncomfortable, humble physical locations of the development of new enterprises that later become wildly successful? The classic suburban basement is the most favored, followed closely by garages and dormitory rooms. Is there an inverse relationship between one’s level of creature comfort and commercial greatness? Does mentioning Bill Gates’ basement beginnings make the rest of us less jealous of his outrageous gifts and good fortune? Or does having written your first great novel in an attic perched atop an unlikely tower of steamer trunks confer goodness and integrity you might otherwise be suspected of lacking?

Michael Chabon is one of my favorite writers. Like so many others I admire his imaginative storytelling, his relationship to history, his crafting of language. He writes like a very intelligent man. So why, Michael, why, would you write your master’s thesis, soon to become your acclaimed debut novel, in such a precarious position that you had to hold your breath the entire time? And then talk about working in a crawl space at the start of interviews? Is it a point of honor? Because your description sounds preposterous. Either you wanted to be in a high-anxiety position or you were simultaneously practicing to join the circus, if things didn’t go well with the book.

Perhaps there is a secret society for geniuses who hatch their plans in subterranean, cramped, noxious or otherwise claustrophobic surroundings. To be admitted you must boast physical scars of you internment, like any other gangbanger.

Since all the vaunted hideouts are short on windows, perhaps there is a link, until now overlooked by science, between lack of sunlight and creative breakthroughs, at least among young adult while males. I personally do not have this twisted piece of DNA in my genetic code, and find my creativity and intelligence much more accessible in a well-lighted space, preferably with a good cup of organic fairly traded espresso close at hand.

Even if normal people, not only geniuses, claim to work on new ventures in their basements, attics or crawlspaces, I’m not buying into the fad. As a heliotropic human, I would sooner move my dining room to the basement and work next to the kitchen windows.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Message in the Bottles

Action taken during the International Festival of Poetry in Granada, Nicaragua. Palmer Fishman joined a renegade group of young poets who broke into the parade of the Established Poets. During the course of the parage Palmer invited children, ancianos, waiters, and passersby to scribble a short poem or prayer for Lake Nicaragua, the beautiful polluted body of water that was the destination of the parade. She put all the poems inside the plastic bottles. Walking right in front of her were the candidates for Miss Nicaragua from Esteli, Diriamba, Ticuantepe, etc, prompting several gawkers to conclude that Palmer Fishman must be the candidate from La Chureca, the dump.

The parade reached the lakeshore just before sunset. Palmer and her fearless friends convinced government officials to allow us access to their very long pier, and even provided a gun-toting guard to carry the globe of bottles on his head. By now the globe flashed red and white from within, like and ambulance. With the wind blowing and the sun setting we walked to the very very end, where Palmer hurled the flickering globe into the water, an offering to Lago Cocibolca. Looking for all the world like a fallen UFO, the wind and waves carried the globe of garbage back to the crowd on the beach.

You can try to throw your garbage away, but it always comes back to you.

Nicologia / Nicology

More examples from Nicology. Including designs by the girls of NicaHope, caps from the Left Hand brewery in Colorado, and an experiment with collage on the backside of the caps. Nicology is a project I founded to design and produce diseño de desechos, or design from discarded materials, with families who survive by scavenging in Managua´s massive dump. For more images and information on the project please see

Monday, July 21, 2008

Casa Crearte

After living with the conservative hues and architecture of the DC area for most of my life, I went a little nuts with the paint catalogue at our first house in Managua. It had not a single square room, taking on some undefined polygon form with some curves around the terrace. Taking my cue from the palette of the movie 'Frida,' and with a little help from graffiti artist friends, we created Casa Crearte.

Climate Change - the terror flick

Nicaragua is already being affected by climate change, in the form of unpredictable, abnormal, and extreme weather events. Poverty, closer dependence on local subsistence agriculture, unstable construction, and poorly-built infrastructure increases vulnerability far beyond that of more industrialized countries. An afternoon thunderstorm that would cause at worst heavier traffic in Washington DC results in bridges washing out, thousands of homes flooding, and potholes that swallow taxis. Whereas people in Costa Rica or India know that climate change is to blame, many Nicaraguans don't make the connection. Others think God is punishing them. They don't realize that climate change is the latest version of imperialism, of wealthier countries living large at their expense.

The silhouette of Augusto Sandino, Nicaragua's national hero, looms large over the city of Managua, with smaller versions placed strategically around the country. The Sandino silhouette represents national identity like the US flag, the bald eagle and Uncle Sam combined.

´Damnificado´refers to people affected by natural disasters.

"Inundado" = flooded

Friday, July 18, 2008

Icons / Iconos

It is common to see stickers or drawings on buses in Nicaragua of Che next to the Nike 'swoosh', or the Virgin Mary next to the Apple of Mac computers. Here and in the US the images of revolutionary or counter-culture icons are plastered on t-shirts and teenagers because they are cool, not for any deep knowledge of their actions of complex beliefs. What happens when we remove all distance between the human icons and the commercial ones?

Che-Nike, printed on page from Paginas Amarillas, which by total random chance happened to be the page for 'Guevara'.

Malcolm X - Visa. Malcolm X's most famous quote was to achieve (justice) 'By any means necessary'.

Virgin Halliburton. Halliburton's slogan is 'Release the Energy'. They have received the majority of contract dollars from the US government's war in Iraq.

Joyas y Chapas de Tapas - Nicologia

Nicologia is my name for the Nicaraguan ability to transform objects considered by others to be garbage into useful and often beautiful things. This ability is most obvious in poor communities, and thus is often rejected by people of greater means, who seek the shiniest, newest, most ostentatious of everything. My Nicologia project seeks to raise the profile of this national strength, and promote it as something 'cool', and as a tool for sustainable development.

I started with bottle cap jewelry. I now work with a nonprofit called NicaHope and group of teenagers whose families make their living scavenging in La Chureca, Managua's enormous dump. I collect bottle caps from several countries, and have allies who collect on our behalf. Coca Cola's representative in Managua has approached us with a proposal to make promotional items. Over the 2 years since I started wearing my 'trash' earrings public comment has shifted from calling me 'la gringa loca' to 'donde se puede comprar?'

Intervencion en Bienal de Arte Visuales

My fellow artist Ariel Bravo and I decided to do a performative intervention at the inauguration of the Bienal of Arte Visuales in Managua. The jurors and patrons of the event thought we were part of one of the chosen pieces and had their photos taken with us for the press. We had many amusing and surprising interactions with the other attendees.

Casa Crearte

Performance Installacion 'Gol' y 'Cut Piece / Corte'

In Yoko Ono's Cut Piece she sat on a stage, handed scissors to an audience member, and invited them to cut her clothes off of her. It was during the Vietnam War, and the behavior of the cutters took on many different meanings. In my Cut Piece I also invited audience members to cut my clothes off of me, but rather than sit silently, I read from a scroll of newsclips, testimonies, and studies about sexual violence against girls in Latin America. On different occasions people cut with anger, sadness, tenderness, and great anxiety.
During my time in Nicaragua I did performance-therapy workshops with groups of women and girls, many of whom had been raped by male relatives or family friends. In general they are filled with shame, when of course it's the offenders who should be ashamed. In these workshops with survivors I wore black, and invited them to cut my dress as an affirmation, or a rejection of shame, symbolically cutting a piece out of their experience and claiming power over it. It was very moving. In most cases they did not say anything during the performance, but afterwards we had small discussions with counselors.

I did a special performance for a group art show in Nicaragua protesting President Ortega's nakedly political prohibition of ALL abortion, including cases of rape, incest, or serious threat to the pregnant girl/woman's life. For that show I read clips about the deaths and emotional torment resulting from the law, wearing a long white dress with a basketball lashed to my belly. The photo showing several men cutting is a multiple-exposure from a performance in Tijuana, an extremely violent city and portal of sex-trafficking of Mexican girls into the United States.

With each iteration I appreciate more Yoko Ono's genius in creating such a potent action/performance, capable of receiving so many projections of human emotion.