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"Sometimes you just want to be an artist": On the Edge brings Latinx performance art to Seattle

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Katherine Adamenko — Photo by Sonia Aguilar
Katherine Adamenko — Photo by Sonia Aguilar

"I think people are used to a certain kind of look or a certain type of message or certain kind of format for Latino artwork — Day of the Dead, lots of sugar skulls — and we presented something that was completely different. A little more conceptual, a little more articulate," said Xavier Lopez, director of On the Edge: The 2nd International Latinx Performance Art Festival.

Lopez was referring to the first festival, all the way back in 2016. The three-performer event held in a small gallery space was the first of its kind for Seattle, and it caught the attention of Marvin Carlson, a distinguished professor at the City University of New York, in his book Performance: A Critical Introduction.

Since then, Lopez has been trying to put on the second iteration. A call for artists was posted shortly before COVID-19 shut down the country. It took a couple of years more, but the second festival was held in Pioneer Square over three days, starting Oct. 5, with performances by nine artists.

An uncompromising stress on the intersectional
Lopez placed emphasis on creating an unrestrictive definition of "Latinx" while curating the event. The 2023 call for artists asked entrants to include an explanation about how their art represents the finest in Latinx performance, which the post says is defined "in the most inclusive, intersectional, and open terms possible."

Headline performer Katherine Adamenko said that Lopez — and that inclusive philosophy — was the reason she chose to fly from New York to perform.

"I loved it because I was worried, 'Am I Latin enough?' and his aesthetic and his whole identity theory is so inclusive," Adamenko said. "I don't have the Latin last name, so I don't have that immediate identification... Sometimes you just want to be an artist. Your culture will influence you, and certainly there's aspects of my culture that influence the work that I do, but it's not necessarily working in tropes for it."

She wasn't the only one with appreciation for Lopez's definition. Interdisciplinary artist Tatiana Garmendia told the SGN she decided to participate simply because Lopez asked.

"When you come to the Pacific Northwest, the only definition you have of Latinx is Mexican. It's like 'Day of the Dead,'" Garmendia said. "I love the Day of the Dead, but you know, we're not monolithic. We're a huge group of people."

"There is an excitement that is certainly building," Lopez said. "There are a lot of Latino painters, writers, but not so many Latinx performance artists."

Intersectional lineup
That intersectional philosophy was evidenced in the event's nine artists, including feminist pieces, butoh performers, and a goth DJ.

"Too often culture tries to simplify people's stories into one- or two-line statements," Lopez said. "I specifically didn't want to have mariachi music or anything traditional. I wanted it to be something else, something that is unique and tells a different story than people are expecting."

Adamenko said her art focuses on beauty, especially recently. She performed all three days, and pulled from a 20-year project tying together projects with themes of perceived madness in women.

"They're vignettes, and they're tied by a general theme, and they're character-driven. I love to work with characters," Adamenko said. "They're little peeks into a person's life, almost always the women's life."

Garmendia said she's been working on "the alchemical bride": While doing research on alchemy, she stumbled on a collection of bridal magazines in Goodwill. The mix of the two inspired her work.

"I was like, 'These are not ordinary people.' These dresses are enormous [and] extravagant, and they involve the body in a ritual way. You can't move like you normally move," Garmendia said. "There's all this symbolic action with just wearing a wedding dress, and then there's the grossness. It's a really big business."

Though he was directing the event, Lopez also performed. He described his piece as super personal, fun, and touching.