Elia Arce’s First Woman on the Moon

“it was fate”

by Tanya Mote

NPN Re-Creation: Elia Arce’s “First Woman on the Moon” from NPN on Vimeo.

The NPN community knew that performance artist Elia Arce and Fred Salas, Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americano (MACLA) Performance and Literary Arts Coordinator, were destined to work together.

“People kept introducing us over and over….You should know each other…. You should work together,” Salas said.

The mutual regard that Arce and Salas hold for each other was nurtured slowly at first, but surely, by a shared aesthetic sensibility and a deep mutual understanding of the politics of identity. The culmination of this relationship is the current recreation of Arce’s performance piece, First Woman on the Moon, which will be remounted and toured in honor of NPN’s 25th anniversary.

Arce (in Houston TX), MACLA (in San Jose CA), DiverseWorks (Houston), and Links Hall (Chicago) are collaborating to make the project possible. According to Rhiannon Beltran, MACLA’s marketing coordinator, Originally commissioned in 1991 by Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, First Woman is historically important as one of the earliest performance pieces to give a different voice to the Latino identity movement, focusing more on issues of class and spirituality rather than race and ethnicity. In First Woman, Elia Arce leads the audience through a series of places both physical and emotional, from the dark, lush jungles of her Costa Rican roots to the barren, lunar landscape of her adopted desert home, using body, language, sound and visual images.

“I was interested in thinking about the whole identity issue by asking what would be considered identity if we were to strip ourselves of all the visual characteristics that we are grabbing onto to identify ourselves. Whether it is the color of our skin, our accents, our language or how we dress or how we look…what is the core, what actually makes us who we are,” Arce said.

Salas, too, has reflected deeply on the nuances and complicated dimensions of identity: “I think we still have to claim an identity, but what is that identity? Is it just heritage? Is it cultural practices? Who are we?”

Even though NPN Partners long poked and prodded Salas and Arce to work together, their relationship evolved over time. Arce’s piece, The Fifth Commandment, a collaboration with veterans returning from the Iraq war, made a lasting impression on Salas. “It just spoke to me because it was so sensual,” Salas said. Subsequently, Arce approached MACLA about putting together a retrospective of her work over a 25-year period to coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012. Just as the creative brainstorming was coming to a boil, NPN announced the opportunity for partner organizations to remount and tour significant work, and destiny seemingly intervened again.

The remounting of First Woman on the Moon will give Arce and her collaborators an opportunity to explore both intimate and vast space, to reach new audiences, and to document and archive a seminal piece, a process that does not occur often enough in the field.

In terms of the archival importance of the project, Arce states, “this is a very important gesture that we all have to take seriously.” Arce laments not being able to reference important performance art pieces to pass on to a new generation of artists.“

It is so important to have these works live, and be able to be either remounted or reinterpreted or restaged,” Salas agreed.

Most important and exciting to Salas, though, is marking the significance of the work. “It is a celebration of the work and a celebration of Elia — giving it worth in our culture, in the history of performance, and politics as performance. All those things that have really built up community arts organizations all over the country.”

First Woman on the Moon will have its premiere at MACLA in October 2011, followed by performances at DiverseWorks (Houston) in March 2012 and Links Hall (Chicago) in October 2012.




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