Monday, August 13, 2007

Guillermo Gomez Pena & The Perils Of Abstract Art

(Saturday, Aug. 11, 5-8PM, Museum Of Contemporary Art, Toole Ave., Tucson, AZ)

I heard Anne Marie Russell, Guillermo Gomez Pena and someone from TPAC on KXCI, community radio, one Sunday, discussing his international workshop to be held at MOCCA during the next week and oh we climbed some abstract Freudian peaks and walked some lonesome Jungian valleys in that discussion. We were drunk on words, smirking and giggling with the in jokes of the new esthetic and we were ready to die slashing hobbits with swords of light rather than come down to a hangover. We spoke without even a hint of a smile crossing our beautiful, botoxed faces, of “the calculus of our interaction”, “the equation of provocation”, the power of Guillermo’s “text” and how he bravely laid that weapon aside to interact naked with the darkness. “How do we imagine the terrain of our plurality?” the masked Mexican wrestler from TPAC intoned. “How am I supposed to answer a rhetorical question?” I shouted into the speaker of my radio, “With another rhetorical question? Huh?” I bit my hand and farted and tried desperately to plot my escape from the event horizon of the terrain of our plurality. But it was useless. Guillermo sucked me back into the black hole when he said,

“You see the politicians and the media are no longer leeestening to the arteeests.”

“Was there a time when they were?” the incredulous interviewer asked. But the masked wrestler did a power dive that sucked this smidgen of common sense into the vortex of the refulgent flatness of the picture plane of our interaction, and seven six guns barked and vomited flame into the darkness and we were off on the biggest magical mystery tour of our lives. I never heard so much bullshit packed into a five pound bag since the last time I picked up a copy of Art News. The performances are this coming Saturday, and I was intrigued. I bit on the bait of international art (and fame of course), and when Guillermo said,

“If you come dressed as your favorite historical figure you get in for half price and if you come naked you get in free.”

that set the hook.

I’d LIKE to come naked, I said, I’d feel very comfortable and debonair, walking into the terrain of our plurality, naked, splashed with paint, holding a tree branch and a urine sample. I haven’t done that in a long time, I said. Matter of fact I don’t remember having done that at all much less in the calculus of our interaction or any other form of higher math for that matter.

So Monday I went down to Mocca, walked in to an empty gallery. A faucet was running with nobody there. “Cool” the ape man said to himself, a faint smile flickering across his sun bronzed face. He licked his lips in anticipation of getting to do battle with the dark forces behind the mathematics of our betrayal, his perfect white teeth flashing briefly in the post modern darkness of the gallery. Unfinished paintings with texts were leaning against the wall, full of anti moralisms and deconstructed exhortations like “scream at the top of your lungs.” And “Eat At Joe’s” while a thumping sound came up from the basement.

“Ah,” said Lord Greystroke, AKA, Tarzan of the apes, as he paced the floor with his customary cat like grace, “the physical metaphor of the subconscious subtext of mass anxiety, the audible cosign of nausea.”

Soon, as if in answer, a man in a plumber’s uniform came up the stairs carrying a motorized drain snake. All traces of the ape man vanished from my face and I became Dennis the serviceman, my utility belt bristling with competence, my clothes covered with honest grease and grime, my Caterpillar Brogans proud to bear their war wounds.

“Hello,” I said, “is there anybody in charge here?”

“Three doors down behind the door with a “B” on it.”

I walked in and saw a woman in one of those tent like dresses, (I always wonder what small animals in cages they’re hiding under those things) and spoke into the trigonometry of her lipstick and the orthodontic calculus of her smile,

“Hi, uh….I came here to get a ticket for the Guillermo Pena performance series.”

“Oh, YES!” she said, as if to say, (in Tarzan’s mind at least) “Would you like to make love to me now, or would you rather take me out to dinner first?”

“Well, he said, on the radio that if you come as your favorite historical political figure you get in for half price and if you come naked you get in free. And I was planning on coming naked.”

(And I was wondering where I could put the ticket because as you may already know, naked people don’t have pockets. Don’t say it! Don’t bite on the easy ones!)

“Oh, well, I’m afraid he was just joking about that.”

“Oh. But he SAID it on the RADIO!….so….you can’t take anything he says seriously then?”

“Well, with a grain of salt.”

(or maybe with salt flats proving ground and that FAST too? I was thinking about the article that said he kept himself in a cage for three days and also crucified himself, both of which Chris Burden already did in the sixties, or as Bob Dylan said when imagining the terrain of our plurality: “O bull shit! O so MUCH Bull Shit!”)

“Oh…well…probably just as well. I haven’t been naked in public in quite awhile, but I guess it’ll save the younger generation from a whole lotta TRAUMA.”

(I was thinking of Mark Twain saying there was a woman in his home town who had a glass eye, and she’d take it out and hold it in her hand every once in awhile. He said, “The grownups didn’t mind it so much, but it made the children cry.” We must always think of the children, that’s what clothes are really for, to protect them from us.)

“And it’s not safe to be naked there. There’s a WHOLE LOTTA splinters so I always tell my kids to wear their underwear.”

Like a WHOLE LOTTA women’s statements about the purpose of clothes and social graces, that sentence totally defied deconstruction. Like the purpose of lawns in the geometry of our interaction, I just never got it. My mom was always disturbed because I refused to wear underwear, it just never made any sense to me. Turned out she was right, though, considering what a magnificent failure and abstract sociopath I turned out to be. Probably too late to start wearing underwear now, though, nobody’d believe I was really sincere about it at this late date, and anyway, I hate having inauthentic genitalia, even with clothes over them.

She was writing out the receipt so she asked for my name, and when I told her, she said,

“Oh, I know you, from KXCI.”

“Oh really, well I guess I can’t come around here anymore. Bring back too many old memories.”

“Friends of mine are always asking, ‘Whatever happened to Dennis Williams? Because I remember him.’”

“Yeah, I HATE that! It’s kind of sad in a way. Because I remember him too.”

“What’re you doing these days?”

“I’m just a working stiff.”

“Yeah, I know how that goes.”

“But I am doing some shrines to go. Shrines on wheels. Shrines for a fast movin world. We’ll see how that GOESSSSSSS!” I said as I stumbled into her desk and it moved out of the way too fast for me because speaking of things on wheels, it was itself, a shrine a go go and was fast moving out of the calculus of my motor cortex as I asked,

“Can I pay for this with a credit card?”

“Yes. But do you have anything else besides American Express because they charge us extra for it.”


“Well, I guess they have to make money someway.”

“Yeah, poor things. So…do I get a copy of that receipt to show at the box office?”

“No, you just show up.”

“Oh. OK. If that’s the way you FEEL about it! This whole organization is just full of false promises, isn’t it? First the NAKED thing, and now NO RECEIPT.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Would you ask Guillermo to call me about that? I think there’s going to be a whole lot of disappointed naked people showing up.”

I mean who WOULDN’T want to go naked and not pay $10, especially in the calculus of our ECONOMIC interaction?

It boggles the mind.



The morning of the performance I woke up at dawn and wrote a letter to someone who was giving me a heartache, someone too young for me in years and too old in expectations. The letter turned into a calculus of possibilities, a list of electrical potentials, consisting unfortunately of all the things I was intensely interested in and all the things she, a microbiologist, couldn’t give a Labrat’s ass about. I fell asleep and woke up at noon and wrote again. Finally I felt I’d said what I needed to. I think it had to do with the authenticity of romanticism---the soul of nature and the good earth that self centered assholes like Wordsworth, Whitman, Rousseau, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Olson, et al touched….and which grave realists & so called good citizens die daily for lack of…, though I die miserably in the attempt…. it wasn’t you, ladies…..just the primal energy of my song….that I had wanted….all along.

I went to a job. I had only a couple hours to trouble shoot the lights and the gravitas of the Mise en Scene, saw out an access panel to a breaker box somebody had framed over, make a reconnaissance run to procure the equation of extra armament and weaponry, put in cooler pads, a motor, a two speed relay, put anti seize on the adjustable pulley, amp the motor, adjust the new belt and oil the bearings. .

The woman who met me there was the mother of the tenant. As I worked on the lights she said she’d moved her daughter out of another apartment because her roommates’ boyfriends just sat around drinking all day.

“That is SO obnoxious! “ I said, thinking of all that youthful energy gone to waste in the equation of ITS provocation, “Isn’t there some kind of bugspray for guys that age?” (NOT! Seeing as how they’re already in a roach motel!)
I said I had to leave but she could go and just leave the cooler on. She said she’d just stay there and go through her daughter’s drawers.

“Hey that sounds great!” I said, wondering WHICH was more obnoxious, callow lazy college bums, or the Homer Simpson father, or the meddling mom who need for chrissake, to just GETALIFE!!!!.

“Jesus.” I said to myself, “why do I DO this work?”

I got it all done in record time, with minutes to spare, telling myself,

“You’re ALLRIGHT, Dennis! I don’t care WHAT your little imaginary girlfriend says about you to her girlfriends.”

It was a wild, gorgeous post modern global warming sunset from the roof, the kind where you expect Charlton Heston to come down from the clouds in S & M leathers, with the stone tablets and a bullwhip. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets from a lot of roofs. I like it up there, with my sad little city---that couldn’t plan the plane geometry of its plurality out of a paper bag---stretching out to its provincial horizon. You can imagine so many exciting lives down below, so many mysteries yet to be revealed…but then you always have to come down to earth and do the math, prove over and over to yourself, nothing works and nothing gives in, better just get used to it. Because it is what it is. .

Three ladies in white GRACED the reception desk, moving the brackets around from one side of the equation of our provocation to the other, balancing the artist evictions from their space---without due process, much less remuneration for improvements---with the common benefit of international, avante garde NAMES….a fleeting coquettish smile crossed the PERFECT white plaster face behind the scales of the figure of JUSTICE OF THE UNIVERSE!!!! Then I saw the director’s face, safely ensconced in the 6 dimensional tesseract of her estrogen and money based comfort zone, and I had a sneaking sensation that figure of UNIVERSAL JUSTICE might just be a selfish, semi conscious, masturbating little bitch.
Then I saw Paul from community radio, always nice to talk to Paul, good actor. Always sad to lose a good actor to the self conscious catacombs and ego echo chambers of radio. I hated that he’d ever gotten near that abstract terrain of our interaction….I wonder sometimes if he’s actually jerking off while he talks into the voice enhancing mike or if it just sounds that way. Probably the plurality of his voice resonating in his earphones, I thought. Media mirrors just seem to fuck otherwise decent artists up something fierce.

“You should be happy.” he said, “so many people here are doing what you like to do, get naked.”

“Yeah I’m kind of bummed out about that. Guillermo said on the radio if you come naked you get in free. And then SHE,” I pointed at the ticket master, “said he was just joking. ON THE RADIO! On YOUR station. You little fuckers!”

“What!?” he said to the ticket master, “you didn’t let Dennis come naked? The daddy of performance art in Tucson?” O well, I thought, at least he didn’t say “granddaddy” like the others do. And like, why should I care, what anybody says, anyway? Or like whatEVERRRRR DYUUUDDEEEE!
We three discussed her sillyass idea that underwear prevented splinters going up your career and concluded that theory had to be based on the irrational numbers of cultural parameters. Or SOMETHING like that.

In the gallery I watched a video of a naked man trying to drown himself in a bathtub, unfortunately unsuccessfully, while the illusion of trains running into each other went on forever. Then I saw a real live woman leaving the gallery.

“Charlotte!” I shouted. She turned.

So many years had gone by, we were barely recognizable to each other. She’d written several articles about me, one of them asking why I wouldn’t just shut the bleep up or, if I couldn’t, at least come down with throat cancer & get an implant where my voice box used to be. I published a cartoon answer, of me grinning,

“Gee do you suppose it was something I SAID?!”

She was thinner. She said I looked thinner. I said to myself, yeah I got that way trying to lift YOUR sweet ass….HONEY.

“What’re you doing?”

“Writing a book.”


“Can’t tell you.”

“O come ONNN of COURSE you can tell him. You HAVE to tell him NOW!” Paul said. Evidently, being British, he knew ALL the rules.

“It’s about a rapist.”

“Oh. Does it have a happy ending?”


“So it’s hard core? Realism? Naturalism?”

“Super realism.”

“Come on, we can get naked over THERE,” said Paul, pointing to the performance area across the street. “It’ll be a reunion.”

“I don’t WANT to get naked with you, Paul, to have a reunion or any other kind of union.”

“No, nor do I.” said Paul. Then I lost him. (And if he has a PROBLEM with anything I said about him he can tell me all about it at: or

At the entrance there was a woman with long black hair flowing over her naked breasts with black tape crosses over the nipples. She was massaging a man in sunglasses who periodically hit a skillet with a flyswatter. Another man sat at a desk writing “The story of your life” on paper, burning it a little, cutting it into pieces and filing it away. The broad sweep of his equation, the geometric gesture of the hand ripping the paper, the non specificity and anti particularity of his black leather space suit sucked the air out of the room. My eyeballs popped out in the remaining vacuum. I stumbled into the next alcove, gasping for oxygen. One woman there was doing martial arts moves, another was moving a flashing light over people like it was sage….or age….or rage…….god damn you turn he page…..

They all seemed so very, very PLEASED with themselves. And I always tell myself, it’s really HARD, to give it away and keep it at the same time.

A fat woman with bare breasts beckoned me in to a booth and sprayed water on my face. I held out the envelope with the tour instructions and the receipt to be sprayed. She complied. She was preparing to grab me and, I thought, make me suck something I didn’t WANNA….so I left…

There were a lot of men and women with dildos on. Dildos were big that night. Dada was in, la la was hip and ca ca was key. Bare breasts were de rigueur and anything could be everything. But nobody was really naked, and I had realized sadly and too late, how easily I could have filled that void. If I could start over. But where was there ever a place to start over?

A bride and a man in black leathers and mesh were preening while another woman danced with a 2 X 4. A huge, young, muscular, well proportioned Indian in breechcloth with beef stew rubbed all over him writhed sadly, self consciously on a pedestal. And I thought, “He’s got all that youth, muscle, and a grant, and spare time to work in, and I’M supposed to feel sorry….for HIM!!!!!”

So this is the deepest mystery of the terrain of our plurality, the darkest intrigue of the calculus of our interaction? I said. Well golly gee whillickers, I’m plotting out the trigonometry of my enchantment ALREADY! Where I had felt sad and overwhelmed at the thought of other, younger artists surpassing my wildest dreams of the possibilities of performance, I suddenly felt sad and overwhelmed because they had not. Sometimes we CAN have it both ways.

I started toward a dark hall but a woman put up her hand and said that was the way to the dressing room. I saw dark figures coming out, a man in a black sheet holding deer antlers, which he waved hypnotically. Guillermo came out, fat, balding, leaning on a cane, smirking at his little kingdom, and all that he and God had wrought. This was evidently the place where Mexican wrestlers went to warm up for their so called fights. One of the wrestler mask people was energetically licking the bare arm of a giggling semi naked woman. But it was the woman in the hall with her clothes on who intrigued me. I wanted to grab her hand. To hell with her hand, I wanted to grab ALL of her. At least SHE still had enough clothes on to rip off. It didn’t seem the mathematics of such a gesture would be incalculable in such a mileu, and yet…..and yet…..the ghost of Stanislavsky somehow always deserts me when I have a MOTIVE in search of a through-line-of-action.
I asked her name, and what she did for a living.

“This.” She said.

“Oh….they pay you for this?”


“Wow.” I said. You can kiss me now if you want to, I thought, but, like in one of those dreams where you’re trying to scream and can’t, no sound escaped my lips. Hundreds of unsaid words and sexual provocations ached in my throat. VENGEANCE against the banality of evil and the evil of banality would not be mine that night. I knew somehow I was out of ammunition and this was not the hill I wanted to die on.

I went to the front to exit., The woman gatekeeper smiled and said I was SUPPOSED to exit out the back. This asylum MAY seem lawless but we DO have RULES here! Once outside, I felt lost and alone, like I’d just gotten off a carousel and missed the sad irony of all the whirling smiley faces I’d once looked down on. So I went through again. I gave the woman at the door, who was warm and nice, the instruction sheet from my envelope because I’d already given her my ticket. I explained that the instructions had been sprayed with holy water. She smiled, and took them. I went to the back of the performance area and asked the woman I couldn’t ask out,

What do you do for EXCITEMENT around here?”

She laughed:

“Play cards.”

“I’m kind of disappointed.” I said.

“Well, to each his own,” she said. She was keeping ALL her shit, and not giving anybody, ANYTHING.

And there WAS something cold and dully unforgiving about her in spite of the flower in her hair. The last time I went out the rear door, the sky was turning from turquoise to Indigo and little lights were coming on here and there. The desolation and loss suddenly became lush and achingly beautiful. I walked up to the nice woman at the front door for the third time and gave her my last piece of paper, a damp receipt for ten dollars for the ticket.

“I’m kind of disappointed.” I said.

“Is that why you kept coming back?” She asked. As a matter of fact, it was. I was trying to work up a little rhythm and distance so I could get my GROOVE on, so maybe it wouldn’t seem like just another dull, garish, greasy Halloween party, but it was never going to be one damn bit different.

“I need a hug.” I wailed. “Do you give hugs?”

“Yeah, I’ll hug you”. She laughed and reached out to me. I hugged her back.
Within the algebraic parentheses of our embrace I felt the sudden jolt of a solution for X. It wasn’t root mean square wave rectified electricity but it was good electricity.

I put it in a little electrical handi-box which I keep for mementoes---moments I’ve stolen from The Banality Gang, and carefully screwed the cover plate back on, a faint smile flickering across what few pixels were left of my sunbronzed face and walked away feeling a pittance of satisfaction from having stolen just a little touch of human feeling from all that self absorbed surrealism.

I walked away toward my humdrum broken life and my trusty old service truck.

I didn’t look back because I knew that within the parameters of our pluralities and the singularities of our rapidly shrinking event horizon, we could never be that beautiful to each other again.

Dennis Williams
1323 Hualapai Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85745-2051


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