How would you Prefer your Interpretation Sir: Nonexistent or False?

In watching the video and doing the readings for class this week, I found myself constantly comparing the 1990 LA Festival of the Arts as related in Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s Destination Culture with Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s performance piece entitled The Year of the White Bear and Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West.

A particular point is how the organizers of the LA event went to great lengths to organize and promote the event very carefully, with a particular point of emphasis being the avoidance supplying “gratuitous meaning” to the performances. In so doing, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett claims that audiences were better able to appreciate the “pleasure of the unfamiliar and the incomprehensible” and did not try to assign their own western meanings and values to the performances. It seems to me that a big part of the removing of “gratuitous meaning,” in this case, is positioning the Festival outside of the academy and the museum in public places and community organizations.

In contrast, the effectiveness of The Year of the White Bear and Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West was based on the various meanings ascribed to it by its audiences, due in large part to it being performed in authoritative venues such as the National Museum of Natural History. Also, the artists made a conscious decision not to promote it and to interpret it in a way that was not just “gratuitous,” but completely fictional in the form of interpretive text indicating  that they were natives of a nonexistent island. These choices had much to do with the audiences thinking that the performance was “real” and creating meaning accordingly

A final point is how wonderfully “90’s” both these artistic endeavors were. They were conceived and executed in a world that was globalized and wrestling with western cultural hegemony, but not interconnected like it is now. Today, the smart phone would have challanged both events. In the case of The Year of the White Bear and Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West, people would be looking up the exhibit, discovering that it was a “hoax.” In the case of the L.A. Festival of the Arts, people would be looking up acts before, after, and during performances, inundating themselves with a flood of “gratuitous meaning.” They would also be livestreaming with their phones, which presents a layer of complication beyond the scope of this blog post.


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