John Jota Leaños, Imperial Silence. Photo: Gordon Huang.

John Jota Leaños, Imperial Silence. Photo: Gordon Huang.

In the Middle of Imperial Silence the Mariachi Beat Goes On

John Jota Leaños, Imperial Silence. Photo: Gordon Huang.

John Jota Leaños, Imperial Silence. Photo: Gordon Huang.


Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Avenue
John Jota Leaña
Imperial Silence: Un Opera Muerta

September 14-16, 2012

John Jota Leaña's multimedia music and dance work Imperial Silence: Un Opera Muerta, is an exploration of culural taboos around silence, death and dissent in a performance that fuses dark humored animation with Mexican neo-folkloric dance, Mariachi, hip-hop, bossa nova, and blues. This work is created by San Francisco-based animated film artist and director John Jota Leaños along with Chicago-based choreographer Joel Valentin-Martinez; New Mexico-based DJ/composer Cristobal Martinez, and the Tucson-based Mariachi ensemble Los Custro Vientos.

In conjunction with the performance, the MCA is exhibiting a customized 1968 Chevy Impala, El Muertorider on the MCA Plaza from August 31-September 16. The lowrider, designed by artist Artemio Rodriguez and Leaños, pays homage to the history of cruising and lowriding in California. In the tradition of the Day of the Dead celebration, the paintings commemorate victims of Hurricane Katrina and lives lost in war.

Leaños is known for his work as a social critic as well as his multidisciplinary art. For Imperial Silence, he involved dozens of artists, writers, and community members for this reimagining of historical and current events. The performance is conceived as an opera in four acts that feature live music and dance with video animations.

Act 1 addresses war and empire with a five minute docu-animation. Los ABCs, presenting the testimony of skeletons who have returned to tell their stories of life and death at war. The film is created in the fashion of the Children's ABC song and was featured in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

Act 2 is a reexamination of Mother Goose nursery rhymes told in Spanglish. •Deadtime Stories with Mariachi Goose and Friends• shares animated film stories of the fall of the Humpty Mariachi Dumpty, Jack and Jill, So White and the Seven Deadly Dwarves, Rapunzel, and the Diva Big Bad Wolf.

Act 3 follows a skeleton traveling the open road in a large lowrider car to Mictlan, the mythic Aztec underworld. The animated car was modeled after Muertorider.

Act 4 features an animated "dead" newscast called DNN: Dead News Network that includes news from recent international and national headline events along with reports about border control, Hurrican Katrina, and the weather, a special report from Juarez, and global chillin'.

John Jota Leaños utilizes media to engage diverse cultural arenas with social and cultural ideas. His practice includes a range of new media, public art, installation, and performance focusing on the convergence of memory, social space, and decolonization. Originally from Pomona, California, he identifies as part of the mainly hybrid tribe of Mexitaliano Xicangringo Güeros called “Los Mixtupos.” He is a 2012 recipient of the United States Artist Rockefeller Fellowship and a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship for the creative arts. Leaños' work has been shown at the 2006 and 2010 Sundance Film Festival, the 2002 Whitney Biennial in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is an assistant professor of film and digital media at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Joel Valentín-Martínez was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He studied theater and dance at the university and dance company levels. Since 2003, Valentín-Martínez has focused on teaching at the university level and developing his own choreography projects in the Chicago area. His work with Fulcrum Point-New Music Project, Misplaced Flowers (2010) and Tlatelolco Revisited (2008) were commissioned by Luna Negra Dance Theater. He choreographed the musical adaptation of Sandra Cisneros’The House on Mango Street (2009) at the Steppenwolf Theatre. Valentín-Martínez is also the Artistic Director of Valentín Projects and a senior lecturer in dance and choreography at Northwestern University.

Cristóbal Martínez was born and raised in New Mexico. He expresses Chicano metaphors and stories through his visual art and “techno-folkorica” music by drawing from his cultural roots including indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, and axiologies. Cristóbal is a member of a Chicano and Native American artist collective and the director of the music and dance performance, Radio Healer, and a composer for Burning Wagon Productions. Martínez is a octoral student at Arizona State University.

Los Cuatro Vientos is an international, bilingual, four-piece musical ensemble based in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona. Los Cuatro Vientos strips the traditional twelve-piece mariachi ensemble down to its bare essentials, much like the mariachi ensembles of the early 1900s. The musicians only play harp, guitar, and violins. The group often uses its music to address current events, especially those pertinent to the border-regions and is known for their unique vocal styles.

The members of Los Cuatros Vientos. Photo: John Jota Leaños.