In case you missed Chicano-chilango postmodern performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña during his two visits to San Antonio earlier this year, his recently released Apocalypse Mañana is the next best thing. Based upon a "performance opera" staged in San Francisco last year, the disc incorporates themes and materials recognizable to listeners familiar with Gómez-Peña's oeuvre, and captures the spirit of seeing him live. Gómez-Peña's distinctive, deep voice resonates alongside multiple — and multilingual — voiceovers, sampled sound bites, and an accompanying score, composed by Guillermo Galindo.

Unlike his printed texts, this CD allows the listener to hear Gómez-Peña's different characters and characterizations: the radio announcer in "Califas is Burning"; the quasi-shaman/samurai chanting religious incantations in "Japanese Rag"; an autobiographically inspired Gómez-Peña reflecting — as he has in all his work — on his experiences entering and adapting to life in the U.S. Since it is a recorded performance, repeated listenings shed light on some of the more subtle nuances, such as when the sha-muri prays to "Santa Frida, Santa Selena, Santa Pocahontas, Santa Shakira," revered saints of pop culture.

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Part of Gómez-Peña's project has been to blur the boundaries between performer and audience, pushing us from spectator to participant. Surprisingly, however, this disc doesn't come with any additional interactive features. Given the direction of his recent explorations on stage and in print, as well as the innovative nature of his Web site (www.pochanostra.com), this absence is a disappointment, one made all the more ironic by his loving paean to cyberspace in "Cyber Ave Maria." The brevity of the liner notes is also a let-down, as a performance text or scrapbook would have nicely complemented the recording.

To satisfy this craving, I turned to the Temple of Confessions: Mexican Beasts and Living Saints, Gómez-Peña's and Roberto Sifuentes' 1996 collaboration. The book explains and documents their touring "Temple of Confession" performance, and includes artistic responses to the reactions and emotions which they provoked, as well as essays and poetry by notable writers and cultural critics like Ana Castillo, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Ruben Martinez.

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Guillermo Gómez-Peña

Temple was conceptualized in the mid-1990s at a time of vehement anti-immigrant sentiment — but then again, when isn't that around? — and taken on tour throughout the continent (including Mexico City). It combined what is now a Gómez-Peña trademark, the living diorama, grounded in the milieu of a Chicano and Mexican Catholic ritual. As part of their performance, Gómez-Peña and company invited participants to confess their deepest desires, fears, and fantasies of Mexico, Raza, and cultural "others." The artists recorded these confessions, and reprint several of them in the book.

The first part of the accompanying CD is an audio documentary of the exhibit, with commentary and reflections read by Gómez-Peña and Sifuentes, along with other collaborators and curators. The real strengths of the recording, however, lie in the voices of those who confessed. Their statements, distorted to obscure their identities, lend a feel of documentation, complementing those printed in the book.

The second part of the CD, the bonus track "Menage a Trade," falls more along the lines of a recorded performance, much like Apocalypse Mañana. This meditation on NAFTA — at one point referred to as the "no-fat" agreement — blends segments from his mid-1990s performances, such as the simultaneous translation to and from Spanglish, Spanish, English, and Gringocol.

At times humorous, serious, prophetic, and occasionally just hard to figure out, Gómez-Peña's work has the power to at once challenge and confound the audience. In this regard, Apocalypse and Temple both succeed. The uninitiated and those interested in more explanation may prefer Temple, if only because the CD and text complement each other. Fans of Gómez-Peña should have an enjoyable time with Apocalypse, although those same fans may be disappointed with the lack of any interactive software or complementary artist's statement. Yet taken together, the text and CD should be enough to tide us over until the next time Gómez-Peña passes through these parts of Aztlan.

Apocalypse Mañana: Ópera Electrónica for the New Millennium (CD, Calaca Press y La Pocha Nostra) Guillermo Gómez-Peña & Guillermo Galindo $15.00

Temple of Confessions: Mexican Beasts and Living Saints (includes audio CD)
Contributors Guillermo Gómez-Peña & Roberto Sifuentes, with Roger Barta, Ed Morales, Ana Castillo, Ruben Martinez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Nancy Jones, and Philip Brookman
powerHouse Books, in association with the Detroit Institute of Ars, the Corcoran
Gallery of Art, and the Scottsdale Center for the Arts
$29.95, 144 pages
ISBN: 1576870049

More by Alejandro Pérez



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