Guillermo Gómez-Peña: Poyesis genética and the Aztec ethno-cyborg

For decades, performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña has been curating an ongoing, serial “Ethno-Cyberpunk Trading Post,” a provocation with bio-poetic undercurrents. His phantasmagoric essays, poems, manifestoes, and theater pieces all offer up a mutant, cross-splicing take on race, just as his “genetically engineered Mexicans” and “ethno-cyborgs” use the language of bio-manipulation and robotics to undermine prefabricated notions of racial “belonging.” In such work, the human figure “enhanced with prosthetic implants” is a recurring trope for neocolonial incursions and resistance to such incursions at once. This is achieved by way of a Fourth-World “virtual barrio” of an ethnoscape trying to take back the rhetoric of “borderlessness” from the profiteering of the post-national, corporate world.

Gómez-Peña weds the Aztec and the high-tech via the “literary bank” (and virtual gene bank) of his lowrider laptop. He refers to waging an “experimental ethnography” and “reverse anthropology” via interactive rituals like his Mapa/Corpo series, in which the lingoes of science experiment and ceremony merge at an intergeneric swap meet. In such performances, acupuncture needles outfitted with the flags of occupier nations pierce a gurney-prone body, the torso itself is a site of imperial invasion, and the black box of a stage is also a surgical theater in which the body is decolonized as a group activity.

Treating “race” itself as a biological figment and a cultural surreality, Gómez-Peña also treats a baiting and stoking medium like the Internet as an apparatus for genetic reconfiguration. The prefix “trans-” and suffix “-tron” close-dance here, as Gómez-Peña demonstrates how crossings-over between genetics and prosthetics can both enhance and dehumanize at once.

This “ethno-techno” approach looks at genetic “race” as a steeplechase with an ever-receding finish line, and sees ethnicity as a never-ending project of self-assembly. Like a cob of Aztec maize with each kernel a different pigment, Gómez-Peña’s mestizo aesthetic is a genetic and generic jumble. Via hijacked pirate radio signals, virtual reality culture-jamming, and interactive stage works like Border Brujo, Two Undiscovered Indians Visit Spain, and El Warrior for Gringostroika, a “personal esperanto” is forged, made up of intermingled dialects real and counterfeited.

Gómez-Peña works via the “lingua poluta” of mingled vernaculars in which the vagabond defeats bondage and teases out the “spore” nestled inside of “diaspora.” From such a perspective, a bureaucratic coinage like “Naturalization Service” becomes a bad joke. Gómez-Peña refers to walking the “fibers of transition,” envisioning migration corridors as corpuscles and arteries of some larger cosmopolitan body on which a border is a festering (but fully operable) wound.

This work operates primarily under the sign of Intersection: the serpent that participates in Mexico’s prime symbolism twines like a strand of primeval DNA, and Inglañol and Spanglish form a double helix of cross-woven language. Gómez-Peña creates crossbred characters like “Krishnahuatl” and hybrid races like “Anglosaxicans” and “waspitos,” all united in a postmodern version of the Mexican conchero dance whose steps emulate the Fibonacci spiral of the conch shell.

In works by Gómez-Peña’s early performance troupe Poyesis Genética, the Day of the Dead becomes a theatric opportunity to interrogate the essences of biological being itself, and the lucha libre of masked Mexican wrestling is a chance to unpeel various layers of performativity from race and gender. In Gómez-Peña’s war against monoculture, the “meso” in Mesoamerican becomes a giddy “mess of” a pastiche, and Aztec sundials are spun like roulette wheels in an open-source genetics tournament. In defiance of eugenic border patrols and race-sanitizers, the ellipses in the essay title “The Border Is … ” is a set of three ready-to-roam chromosomes.

In Gómez-Peña’s estimate, a border is a juncture rather than an edge, a synapse cleft sizzling with torrid genetic potentialities. He laments a “mutilated civic self” and los amputados who have been “mortally sliced in half” by the imposition of borders by some “Señor Monocromatic,” and the outcry “someone stole my liver” blends Prometheus with Third-World organ trafficking. Gómez-Peña refers to “sharpening the meaning” of words like “multicultural,” playing the angles against Anglo-ness and counter-stinging the WASP, using crossbred language as a surgical probe. Here, a performer’s stage can be a penitent’s protesting “cell” because the reproductive, racialized biological “cell” is a place of political combat.