The New Barbarians X-Treme Fashion Show: A Review by Travis Martin

As part of the Free Culture Award 2012, performance artist and Free Culture awardee Guillermo Gómez Peña and Michele Michele Ceballos-Michot (another founding member of the performance troop La Pocha Nostra) came to Providence to collaborate with 12 local Rhode Island artists, including our local Free Culture awardee Joan Wyand, for a three-day performance workshop that culminated in a radical and bizarre performance art fashion show. Check out this review by Travis Martin!

The warped, collaborative runway fashion show/performance art social commentary, THE NEW BARBARIANS: X-TREME FASHION SHOW, was a spectacle the likes of which I have never seen before. Literally. I have never been to a fashion show, much less an X-TREME one. During the show itself, I didn’t even quite know how to feel about it. It took some time for things to begin to sink in, for themes to emerge in my mind. But the show left an imprint on me before I quite understood intellectually what was going on. It was like colliding with an alien race that I would have invented years ago in my head. This all took place at AS220’s 95 Empire Black Box on August 10, 2012, as a prelude to Foo Fest 2012 and part of AS220’s Free Culture Award 2012.

The show dropped us into a world which sort of looked like ours, but wasn’t. The encoded stereotypes were overblown, the runway models’ personas a little too close to the truth to be Truth. Guillermo Gómez Peña -recipient of AS220’s Free culture Award 2012- and Michele Ceballos, both founding  members of the performence troop La Pocha Nostra, brought to the runway a vibrant set of characters utilizing a cast of local (and international) artists that shrieked, gyrated, danced, and -I guess- catwalked. Gómez Peña and Ceballos developed the “model-things” through a collaborative three-day workshop with twelve RI-based artists: Joan Wyand (our local Free culture Awardee!), Shey Rivera, Marleny Luna, Sussy Santana, Richard Goulis, Ian Cozzens, Xander Marro, Kufa Castro, JD Fontanella, Jesse Heffler, Miguel Elizalde, and Elizabeth Keiser.

Through an untranslated blend of Spanish and English and laced with transgressive sexuality, the cumulative effect of the show was a grotesque caricaturization of the caricaturization of people in our contemporary society. Placed in the context of a fashion runway, the body of the Other was decontextualized, commodified,, and transformed into a biological product. The audience was also directly implicated, as Peña asked spectators to get up and move around the space, allowing different perspectives on the action on display. Audience members, many dressed in outlandish costumes, were also asked to dance down the runway in impromptu performances. I did nothing but gape in stunned silence.

Later, talking about the event with one of my roommates, she remarked how anxious she felt when she realized that she may be called called on to dance down the runway. I had felt the same anxiety, maybe because it triggered memories of being a self-conscious middle schooler who tried to float through life unnoticed but continually felt put on display.  Or maybe just because I am a self-conscious adult. I had sexualized (that is to say, commodified) these New Barbarians, and I didn’t even want to think about what they would do to me.  The body of the Other is the abject, but then again, so am I.