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Debra Levine

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A Critical Regionalism: The Allegorical Performative in Madre por un día
Amy Sara Carroll

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A Critical Regionalism: Mexico's Performative Range-of-Motion in Madre por un día & the Rodríguez/Felipe Wedding.
by Amy Sara Carroll

[Abstract en español]

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 "Mexico" as a Critical Regionalism1

In the context of Mexico, any Jamesonian projection of national allegory (1986) must be read in light of post-revolutionary cultural nationalism and its conceptions of public and political art, externally and internally epitomized in and by muralism and the representational sedimentation of mestizaje. Because the allegorical was deployed in the service of a nation-state which is now synonymous with the institutionalized political party PRI (its veritable monopoly on nationalism somewhat disrupted by the 2000 historic elections of Vicente Fox), many contemporary cultural producers, including those involved in performance, express a decidedly Mexican unease with a certain nationalized vision of political/public art (e.g. Orozco 2000, de la Torre 1999). The story is more complicated than this, however, because before performance surfaced as a viable genre on the Mexican aesthetic horizon of possibility (and here I speak of performance art), proto-performance work, like that of Los Grupos, positioned itself in conflict with national allegorical traditions.

Los Grupos, distinctive artistic collectives that experimented with happenings, actions, and ephemeral art during the 1970s and early 80s, endeavored to reclaim and reconstruct the relationship between the aesthetic and the political in post-1968 Mexico.2 Paradoxically, their efforts made and make it possible for current cultural producers to avoid the gesture of complete disavowal, meaning, the contemporary work I allude to hover-crafts in a space in-between, dodging binaries, including those that would oppose the allegorical to the anti-allegorical. The majority of contemporary Mexican performance (based in either cabaret or the visual arts) exhibits a healthy suspicion of national allegorical templates—taking from them a sense of the location of aesthetic production in relation to the national (and/or the transnational in terms of neoliberal [cultural] capital), but critiquing this location and the details omitted or downplayed in consolidated narratives which naturalize Culture as a handmaiden of the state and/or capital-isms.

The kinds of philosophical and political negotiations which ground a contemporary Mexican performative aesthetic might then be characterized as relying upon "disidentification," in the sense that José Muñoz develops the term (1999). Often enough the work displays a careful attention to the tug of popular culture (television, music, the web) while utilizing humor as an aesthetic tool with which to sugarcoat the import of the (neo)political. In addition, a proportionately high number of performance artists demonstrate in their work an extrasensory perception of the pendulous figure of Woman, where Woman, with a capital W, as I have noted, traditionally operates allegorically to tag "gender" as the marker of radical difference (the make-or-break of weak and strong, South and North, bottom and top oppositions).3

This paper will focus on two Woman-centric, yet open-ended televised performances of alternate sex/gender systems that humorously (re)interpret traditionally scripted intersections of gender, sexuality, and nation/region: Mónica Mayer and Maris Bustamante's Madre por un día (1987). and Jesusa Rodríguez and Liliana Felipe's Valentine's Day wedding (2001). I juxtapose these pieces in part to throw into question the parameters of the genre of Mexican performance, but likewise to contend that each re-cites the allegorical in gendered constructions of the nation.  In other words, like the Latin American women writers Jean Franco considers in "Going Public: Reinhabiting the Private" (1999), Mayer and Bustamante and Felipe and Rodríguez "understand their position to be not so much one of confronting a dominant patriarchy with a new feminine position but rather one of unsettling the stance that supports gender power/knowledge as masculine […] displacing the male-centered national allegory [to expose] the dubious stereotyping that was always inherent in the epics of nationhood that constitute the Latin American canon" (57).

Madre por un día and Rodríguez and Felipe's wedding bridge an imaginary divide between Mexican visual (performance) and verbal (cabaret) performative traditions by broaching certain topics which straddle other divides like that between representation and the social real and/or that between high and low cultures. The halo-effect of this bridging as a performative, in and of itself, criss-crosses possibility within the belly of the beast, which is to say each piece, evoking the figure and placement of Woman in the public sphere, acts as a public, political intervention mediated by the mass media. Put differently, on the one hand, these works interrogate nationalized/naturalized constructions of gender and sexuality in Mexico through an appeal to the popular; on the other hand, they do so at an acute angle, arguably allegorically, thereby, homeopathetically, re-imprinting Mexican foundational fictions (Sommer 1991) to highlight "Mexico" as a (postmodern) critical regionalism in possession of a performative range-of-motion.

Madres por un dia, Maris Bustamante y Guillermo Ochoa


The Maternal Prosthesis

In Madre por un día, Mayer and Bustamante, the founders and sole members of the first Mexican feminist performance group, Polvo de Gallina Negra (PGN), in operation from 1983 to 1993 appeared on the well known talk show "Nuestro Mundo" and granted its host Guillermo Ochoa the "honor" of being "mother for a day."4 In the performance, Ochoa was invited by Mayer and Bustamante to wear an apron fashioned to make him look pregnant. Before donning the apron, however, Ochoa quizzed Bustamante and Mayer in true talk-show fashion about their work as performanceras (although he didn't use that word). Bustamante, who did most of the talking, underscored the pair's feminist agenda, highlighting what it means to create work as women in the machista space of Latin America. Her discourse tacked between a general introduction of the group and a more specific contextualization of the piece at hand.

Concerning the piece, the pair clearly stated that their objective was to offer alternative representations of maternity because those "currently in circulation had been painted by men." In addition, they insisted they wanted to move beyond "the good mother, bad mother dichotomy" by demonstrating the constructedness of each of these polar distinctions. Finally, Bustamante emphasized that their choice to "perform" the piece on television with the "participant-observation" of Ochoa had everything to do with their conception of television as the museum of modern art. The importance of the inclusion of performance as a genre on the talk show cannot be overestimated, but the scope of Mayer and Bustamante's aesthetic and political intervention extends beyond the piece being exemplary of the disseminatory potential of performance.

Indeed, "Nuestro Mundo" had over 200 million viewers that day in Mexico, greater Latin America, and the United States. And many of these extended audience members chose to participate in the performance's reverberating echo, calling in to complain about Mayer, Bustamante, and Ochoa's "lack of respect" for motherhood's sanctity (Bustamante 2001)— another act of participant-observation, which highlighted an opposition between the aura of motherhood and motherhood as an institution, the latter being what Mayer and Bustamante attempted to present in relation to what they had learned in and from early feminist transnational scholarship, cultural production, and practice (including the indistinguishability of those three turns of phrase).5 Madre por un día represented and represents a double act of insemination. Ochoa, temporarily made pregnant by Bustamante and Mayer, sported a maternal, feminine prosthesis, a reversal of a prior performance by Bustamante, where, in reference to Freud, she wore and distributed to her audience prosthetic "nose-penises."



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