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When the pandemic caused major lockdowns in March, Guadalupe Rosales had to change her plans for an upcoming live performance commissioned by the Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). Initially conceived as an in-person event, Channel Flip, Meet Me at the Edge of the Sun (curated by Matthew Schum) was pivoted by Rosales to an online-only project. The new iteration of Channel Flip was created to be experienced online—with headphones on, in full screen mode. Eschewing the group viewing dynamic of the theater or gallery, it set up a direct intimacy between viewer and performer. The experience of viewing the film echoes the ways we connect online—especially now—each of us physically isolated but finding community through the screen.
Channel Flip is a collaborative work, for which Rosales invited fellow artists Zackary Drucker, Nao Bustamante, MPA, and rafa esparza to contribute short pieces that she assembled with artist Vishal Jugdeo and editor Chelsea Knight. In this sense, Channel Flip bears resemblance to Rosales’ ongoing collaborative archival projects, Veteranas and Rucas and Map Pointz (both works 2015-present). Each is an open-ended archive of photographs and ephemera documenting underrepresented groups, like Latinas in Southern California or the ’90s Latinx party scene in which Rosales played a part. For both projects, she allows participants to submit their own pictures and stories, thereby giving them autonomy to shape their narratives.
Rosales chose her collaborators for Channel Flip based on their direct use of their bodies in their respective art practices, as each often pushes the boundaries of their own physicality. In her early performance Indigurrito (1992), Bustamante invited white male audience members to eat a burrito strapped phallically to her crotch as penance for centuries of oppression. Meanwhile, esparza’s grueling durational works include the dawn-to-dusk performance RED SUMMER (2016), during which he collapsed every time shots rang out from a nearby LAPD shooting range.
For Channel Flip, each artist worked independently (and remained socially distant) to create a video that reflects the disquieting time we live in, each inevitably framed by the isolation of the pandemic, along with the communal outrage and solidarity of the uprisings for racial justice. Amidst these dual experiences, we are all torn between the extremes of bodily trauma and bodily connection, vulnerability and resilience—our bodies have come to represent agents of infection and contagion, best isolated, masked, and cleaned vigorously for safety. But together, in anxiously assembled groups, our physical presence has the power to upend the status quo and promote radical change.
The overall editing of Channel Flip constructs a poetic and evocative through line rather than a coherent narrative structure. Nao Bustamante’s Breadphones (all works 2020) is a half-ironic, half-sincere ASMR tutorial on the making of sourdough bread, the homespun activity that so many of us turned to in the early days of the pandemic. With a playfully mocking whisper, she kneads, slaps, and scrapes the dough as her microphone amplifies every squish and pop. There is an element of reverence to her play, as she correlates the bread’s yeasty transformation to a form of alchemy, referencing a Native American myth about a weeping woman who created life from her abundance of snot. She noisily cracks an ice tray, tossing the ice cubes into an oven. Clouds of steam are released across the kitchen that soon thicken into a fog-machine fantasy. The gentle tutorial makes way for a disco party, as Bustamante clutches two halves of the freshly baked loaf to her ears like doughy headphones. A remix of Sylvester’s disco anthem You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) provides the uplifting soundtrack to her dance party of one.
For rafa esparza’s contribution, baboso, he wears sad clown makeup as he juggles ice balls made from his frozen saliva. The title of the work translates from Spanish as “slobbery,” although the word is more commonly used as slang for “dumb.” As he puts the ice balls in his mouth, letting the frozen spit melt and drip down over his hands, he pines for a lover he has had to isolate from in a sexually-charged voiceover. Spit is depicted as a charged, intimate fluid (i.e., swapping spit) as well as a vector of disease.
MPA’s contribution, bang.empire, explores the medium of video itself, stripping it down to its audio-visual basics. While focused on her face, the frame flickers between red, black, and green backgrounds as a soundtrack of street noises filters through. The climax comes when a split-second image of a bare ass explodes and shatters, followed by the sound of a blaring car alarm. As the imagery flips from color field to bursting buttocks, the artist sets up an unsettling montage that ends, quite literally, with an absurd bang.
The videos in Channel Flip are loosely held together, each intercut with both nocturnal scenes of L.A.’s Eastside, shot by Rosales, and a sun-bleached spoken-word chorus, filmed by Zackary Drucker. In Drucker’s contribution, Everything We Love is Fleeting, the artist leads a chorus of trans women who collectively recite a poetic call to perseverance and resistance. Speaking individually or in pairs, each chorus member recites lines that soon build into a synchronized declaration of liberation directed at the viewer. “Repairing masculinity is a full-time job for billions of people and centuries to come,” Drucker and Mz Neon say together. “Are you doing your part?” asks Rain Valdez.
In the scenes of Rosales driving around at night—an extension of her recent series of nocturnal photographs—she narrates to an unnamed passenger. They share stories as they pass by personal landmarks: the alley where one first saw a porn magazine, how the grief over witnessing the death of a loved one led the other on a drinking binge. As Rosales and her companion cross the First Street Bridge from Boyle Heights into Downtown Los Angeles, they are abruptly stopped by a line of police officers who have assembled in response to this summer’s protests. This inclusion snaps the viewer back from Rosales’ personal stories of the past into the harsh realities of the present.
Channel Flip is not a coherent response to the pandemic or the current social justice uprising. As in her archival work, Rosales doesn’t try to fit her collaborators’ contributions into any overarching structure or adapt their narratives to fit into her own. Instead, she lets them speak for themselves, providing a fractured vision that bounces between longing, memory, trauma, violence, solidarity, and resistance. For months, we have been locked up in quarantine, craving community while also trying to find ways to put our bodies to collective, meaningful use. As with each of these artists, we are all searching for a way to navigate these uncertain times, and each video offers a very different, personal window onto our collective struggle. Meant for isolated virtual consumption, Channel Flip offers an intimate, embodied sense of the connection for which we long.
Matt Stromberg is a freelance arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Carla, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, KCET Artbound, The Guardian, The Art Newspaper, Hyperallergic, Terremoto, Artsy, Frieze, and Daily Serving.
This review was originally published in Carla issue 21.