Rafa Esparza on violence and performance in LA and Mexico

L.A. based artist Rafa Esparza, my dear friend and collaborator in the L.A. River encounter I organized in May 2013, recently published a wonderful piece of writing reflecting on violence, memory, and performance as part of a transnational, transdisciplinary project called The War on Both Sides/La guerra de los dos lados that looks at the impact of drug related violence on the lives of Mexicans and Americans, on both sides of the border.

As part of his reflection, Rafa had this to say about our L.A. River performance:


When I arrived at my apartment I lay down next to my boyfriend and rested briefly. Our friend Allison Wyper had scheduled an encounter in the L.A. River with a group of fellow artists, part of an international project where artists in different countries performed in highly contested sites. Allison invited us all to take part in this through a "site responsive encounter."

The idea was to go to the river, address the space, and respond by performing. The loose format involved some improvisation, spontaneity, and above all sustaining a strong sense of awareness. Allison suggested that we bring objects to experiment with. I waited until the final five minutes before leaving home to grab a couple of items: a five gallon bucket and a large piece of plastic painter's drop cloth.

The L.A. River is a familiar place to me. One of my first performances years ago was on the 6th street bridge connecting Boyle Heights to Downtown L.A. As I unfolded the plastic sheet, a gust of wind came and opened it up like a sail. I played with it for a while before tying each end of it to the handle of the bucket. I walked into the middle of the river and set the bucket down on its side. I sandwiched myself in the crevice of the folding plastic that slowly began to hug my body as the water carried the bucket away. The bucket tugged at me, at times with surprisingly strength and violence; at other times it barely pulled at all.

I shifted my body within the plastic from time to time. Sometimes I faced outwards and rested the full weight of the pull on my face; I could barely make out a milky image of what was on the other side of the less-than-1-millimeter thick sheet of plastic. While tucked in-between the plastic I thought of what the river meant to me, how it acted, what it was and is. In this meditation of meaning, questioning, hypothesizing, imagining, a movement emerged in my body. I started by loosening limbs, letting the current pull them, drag them, and just as I would begin to feel unbalanced I'd straighten back up.

My head, 
a foot, 
an arm, 
a thigh, 
a hand, 
a shoulder.

How many things has this river pulled down to the ocean?


Muchas gracias, querido.