Performance Art Review: Michael Anthony Garcia at Experimental Action
Michael Anthony Garcia performed twice; I watched him perform Saturday night February 23, at 10:30 pm for the duration of 45 minutes, at The Secret Group in East Downtown. The lights were dimmed, and a round, white spotlight lit the center of the concrete floor in the main event space. The audience encircled the light, and was thrown into near darkness. Two assistants entered the spot light and gingerly laid down two lace, round textiles on top of each other, fitting the center of the light perfectly. From my vantage point, the lace textiles appeared to have floral details. After the lace was carefully flattened, an indigenous-looking grey and maroon woolen satchel, with a braided black and white strap was placed in the center. The assistants exited and were absorbed by the crowd. After a few bated breaths, a figure with a long black beard, clad from head to toe in an assortment of textured red cloths, emerged between the audience and walked straight into the center. He descended onto his knees and made a show of putting the satchel on, proceeded to remove a pair of white cloth gloves from within it, then ceremoniously put them on. He ascended, and went around the audience wordlessly presenting several people with white gloves that they then put on. He gave the gloves to seven Anglo-Saxon-looking members of the audience, walked back to the center and silently called those people to him. They stood, arrayed around the edge of the lace just outside the light, faces barely discernible in the shadows. He went around to each one and lightly caressed their faces with his gloved hands, his eyes closed, he seemed fully present in that moment with each individual, as if seeing them without his eyes. After a revolution, he went back to the center and began to sing a phrase (I believe it was in Spanish) over and over in various pitches and tones. Then he took back the gloves and wordlessly released the people back into the audience. He descended once more onto the lace, then put his head to the floor as if in prayer or gratitude for the ground beneath him, sat up and carefully arranged the white textile. With the satchel still on, he stood, and pinned the gloves, one by one, onto his attire. He pinned more and more white gloves onto his red torso, pulling additional gloves from the satchel to pin to his chest. He dropped a few, and with slow deliberation, bent down to pick them up. He kept rearranging and adjusting the gloves on himself, kneeling down, standing up, roving about the circle as he arranged them. He descended one last time, then stood with the lace clutched in his white gloved hands, sung one last stanza with it hugged to his chest, and with slow, even steps, exited the spotlight. He walked straight through the crowd, the lace —bunched in one hand— drug on the ground, his red attire trailed behind his every step.
When I spoke with Michael Anthony Garcia days before the show, I asked what inspired his work at Experimental Action. He told me he was trying to experience forgiveness for the larger white community so he could move on. When we had initially talked I had no idea what that meant, nor what his performance would be, but I was excited to see what he would do. I had never been to a performance art festival before, and had no expectations for his performance, or Experimental Action as a whole. I really appreciated the mindfulness of his actions, the care and intentionality with which he enacted every action. One of my favorite parts of his performance was the attention to texture, lighting and color. The red seemed almost to radiate against the stark white of the lace and pitch blackness around him. The gloves stood out vividly against his torso, and, juxtaposed with the solid colors, the woolen satchel’s patterning and detail had weighted significance. Everyone and everything seemed to dissolve, the lighting made the space feel somehow intimate, as if it were just the performer and myself, as if I was an invited voyeur witnessing something special meant only for him. Looking back, I can see how this performance was an act of forgiveness, of forgiving, but maybe also of being forgiven. I never once felt uncomfortable, or felt anger or hatred from him or the participants or audience. There was a tenderness with which he performed, maybe even a sense of acceptance, or cultural embrace. It seemed ritualistic, like a ceremony. I particularly connected with this performance because of how he treated the divide between himself and the participants. With the current political climate, and as a bi-cultural artist myself, I’m acutely aware of the hatred, fear and segregation there seems to be in the air here in the United States. I appreciated this performance, because it felt like he was somehow honoring their differences, even through any pain or anger he might have had. To me, there seemed to be a sense respect and mindfulness for the culturally fraught terrain between himself and his participants. I personally view everyone as equal humans, regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, beliefs, etcetera, etcetera, and I want to see more cathartic work like this that bridges gaps, heals wounds and brings humans closer together, rather than continuing to separate us through otherness, war, fear…
Michael Anthony Garcia is a multi-disciplinary artist, and independent curator based in Austin, TX. He doesn’t believe that a work of art is ever really finished, rather, he believes you have to cut off, and not over think the project. His most important artist tools are adaptability and problem solving. Being a creative, he sees himself as a problem solver, because he has to think of ways to make things work and find solutions. The element he enjoys most in his art is the immediacy performance brings, the authentic audience reactions, how visceral it is; he loves to read people’s faces to see how his work is affecting them. He started making things when he was about four or five years old, and he’s always made things with his hands, but it wasn’t until the end of college that he took art class. Now he feels like art is something he has to do, “it’s like breathing.” To him art is a form of catharsis and a “primary way to communicate.”
Learn more about Michael Anthony Garcia at mrmichaelme.com
First published on the Experimental Action blog Apr. 26, 2019. See the original post on ExA's website