Currently reading : Asco at Nottingham Contemporary

Asco at Nottingham Contemporary

4 December 2013

Author : reba

Walking Mural, 1972

Currently being exhibited at Nottingham Contemporary is the exciting new exhibition about Asco, a group of performance artists based in Los Angeles in the early 1970s.

Asco (1972–1987) began as a tight-knit core group of artists from East Los Angeles composed of Harry Gamboa Jr., Gronk, Willie Herrón, and Patssi Valdez. Taking their name from the forceful Spanish word for disgust and nausea, Asco used performance, public art, and multimedia to respond to social and political turbulence in Los Angeles and beyond.

They emerged from the Chicano civil rights movement of the late 60s and early 70s, which fought labour exploitation, the Vietnam draft, police brutality, and other forms of discrimination and deprivation.

Their work had a low budget look reflecting their circumstances – Gronk called it aesthetics of poverty. In the 70s, a Chicano artist was expected to paint murals – the Chicano Movement borrowed from the Mexican political mural tradition of the early 20th century. While sharing the Movement’s opposition to racial discrimination, Asco were also determined to free themselves from the straightjacket of muralism. They sometimes did this by parodying it. Examples of this include the pieces Walking Mural and Instant Mural which were outrageous street performances rather than paintings on walls.

Asco’s performances in and around East LA resembled scenes from movies that were never made – or fashion shoots, or promotional images of rock bands. They called some of these No Movies. Made in the shadow of Hollywood, yet in a community ghettoised from the wider metropolis, Harry Gamboa Jr’s photographs of Asco’s performances anticipate the staged photography of Cindy Sherman, Jeff Walls and other major figures in postmodern art working with photography. The imagery they used was linked to fantasy and fiction, Asco retained a dangerous political edge. Their actions were made without notice or permission in a public sphere fraught with political tension and police curfews. Some were made at sites where a violent incident had taken place the previous day – the site of a gang conflict or the fatal shooting of demonstrators by the Los Angeles Police Department.

This exhibition builds on Asco’s acclaimed retrospective, Elite of the Obscure, at Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Williams College Museum of Art in 2011-12, curated by Rita Gonzalez and Ondine Chavoya. It will later travel to de Appel in Amsterdam and CAPC in Bordeaux.

The exhibition will run until the 5th of January. Find out more here


Gores, 1974

Regeneración 2, no. 4, 1974 – 75, p.31, drawing by Patssi Valdez. Courtesy of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library

A fascinating two day symposium to accompany the exhibition discussing the meaning of disgust across a range of practices, including art, literature, film and popular culture, activism, spatial practice and performance, from the twentieth century to the present day took place in November which can be watched on Youtube below. Taking part in the exhibition included Sang Bleu 6 contributor Dominic Johnson, Elizabeth Boa; Wayne Burrows; C. Ondine Chavoya; Harriet Curtis; Kirsten Forkert; Craig Fisher; Andrés David Montenegro Rosero; Marie Thompson and Myfanwyn Ryan.

Nottingham Contemporary

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