PonerMickeytarme: Mickey Negrón’s Performative Ritual
Mariela Fullana | Cultural Journalist
“I am inspired by life and pain, ugliness.”
Puerto Rican artist Mickey Negrón’s ritual consists in putting on and taking off, having for the last seven years devoted himself to that act of political cross-dressing called performance.
I first met Mickey Negrón in February 2011, when he presented the Asuntos Efímeros [Ephemeral Issues] series in a space in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. Artists from different generations gathered every week in this space, using their bodies to try to provoke and disturb the audience through live actions resembling the practice that theorist Rose Lee Goldberg (2001) has denominated “performance.”1
At the time, the University of Puerto Rico was in the midst of a student strike that began in 2010 and lasted until 2011. Then-governor Luis Fortuño’s neoliberal policies generated an increase in the cost of education and promoted new codes and rules limiting students’ freedom of expression.
Faced with this repressive scenario, Mickey Negrón responded by acting with his body, aiming to dilute borders, provoke, and question. It was not the first time that the artist undertook these types of actions. In 2009 he began to work with Asuntos Efímeros in different San Juan nightlife establishments, responding to the murder of 19-year-old Puerto Rican Jorge Steven, a victim of a homophobic crime. Steven was murdered as the incumbent government was promoting a closer union between church and state, and groups denounced the homophobic positions of some of the country’s legislative leaders.2
It was precisely one year earlier that Mickey Negrón was violently attacked after participating in the gay pride parade celebrated annually in San Juan. His flesh was exposed to homophobia and his back scarred by scornful laughter.3
Violence is a blow against the word (Aldama and Lockard 2002).4 Things that are not narrated do not exist. Faced with this absence of the verb, Mickey opted to become “flesh to be consumed,” as he relates in his artistic biography. His scenic and academic training led him to “sculpt gestures in non-theatrical and non-conventional spaces,” where he began to speak from and with his body.
Taking off and putting on his own skin, from the standpoint of his own non-conformity, pain and violence, feeling and memory, he began to provoke us to think ourselves from other viewpoints, taking us off and putting us on in other scenarios, in other bodies. Following the tradition of Puerto Rican artists from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s—artists who, moved by contemporary artistic currents in performance, had already begun to question themes such as identity, violence, and gender through their bodies, escaping the rigid and conservative norms of our island’s cultural vernacular—Mickey Negrón gradually developed his own artistic vocabulary.
In Asuntos Efímeros, he elaborated an alphabet of ugliness, positing the body as an incomplete space—undefined, dismantled—as a repository of sometimes-unintelligible texts that vanish as they are being written.
He used this artistic approach to develop Me Ocupo: El Taller [Occupy My Self: The Workshop] in 2012, in which he invited participants to reflect on crossing and erasing borders between art and politics, artistic practice and theory, the spectator and the artist. His purpose was to “dissolve, understand, rationalize, question, and do violence to the myths or the norms related to race, gender, the social and moral spheres, academic and non-academic institutions.”5 This event, which culminated in a series of actions in the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, had several purposes, one of which was to prepare the artist to participate in the Hemispheric Institute’s ninth Encuentro of Performance and Politics in 2014.6
Mickey Negrón presented an initial version of the PonerMickeytarme series in the Sala Rossa in Montreal. The proposal stemmed from the act of abruptly adopting and discarding “a problem, a lover, or an impulse,” allowing himself to be possessed by several beings that colonized his body, such as “Jerónimo,” a butcher who thinks that love is a demon.
This character reappeared in 2015 in the theatrical gathering Enjambre [Swarm], which took place in the Fine Arts Center of San Juan, where the artist presented a new version of PonerMickeytarme. This time, it was a more complete and elaborate multi-disciplinary work than the one he presented in Montreal, in which he gradually cut through layers of his own skin in an act of scenic transformation.
In this proposal, charged with autobiographic references, he worked with affective relationships and memory, presenting the diffuse dividing lines that exist between love and hate, possession and freedom, life and death, man and woman, presence and absence. In short, all the taking off and putting on that constitutes us. What began as an absurd and comical act was transformed into a painful ritual in which the audience was at once accomplice and participant.
Mickey Negrón articulated a postcolonial, malleable body in this piece, a body in which there are no loyalties, in which nothing is what it seems. The artist’s starting point was his place of origin—the town of Aibonito—from which he proceeded to deconstruct himself inside and out, aiming toward a no-place and toward a disidentification (Muñoz 2011).7 The action culminated in the total transformation of the body, in a video showing the artist pouring honey on his skin and covering himself with feathers, resembling a bird flapping its wings, trying to get rid of its emotions.
But the PonerMickeytarme series did not end there. The final act transpired in February 2015, in front of the Capitol in San Juan, during a march convened by religious groups against the implementation of a gender-based curriculum in Puerto Rico’s public schools.
In this performance, a disidentified Mickey Negrón, with foam prosthetics on his buttocks and hips and a bible strapped to his chest, made his way through the crowd of religious demonstrators, provoking a diversity of reactions, ranging from insults to hugs. Amid chants of praise and fervent prayers, the artist poured honey on his skin and started covering himself with white feathers, in an act addressing both the demonstrators and the camera that was filming him. Mickey left a path of feathers in his wake. He also left his mark on the people who decided to erase fault-lines by accepting his hugs. The artist and the demonstrators completed the performance in their shared discomfort.
The action closed in front of the camera when he dived into the sea in a ritual reminiscent of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta’s piece Ocean Bird Washup (1974). In this piece, she covered herself in white feathers, aiming to resemble a bird, as a symbol of sacrifice and a metaphor of regeneration, cleansing, and healing (Viso 2004, 64-65).
In Mickey Negrón’s case, he did not look for redemption or salvation, but for provocation that self-confidently expressed that violence which one does not take off because it is worn and marked on the skin.
Observing this Puerto Rican performer’s work during the past six or seven years, we can affirm that we are dealing with a committed and dissident artist who continues to explore other ways of narrating from and with his body those ephemeral issues that are acts of resistance to the predominant cultural/colonial logic.
Translated from the Spanish by Miguel Winograd.
Mariela Fullana Acosta is a Puerto Rican cultural journalist and researcher with 15 years of experience. She has worked for various news outlets in Puerto Rico, including the journal El Nuevo Día, where she works today. As a journalist, she has placed special emphasis on covering her country’s experimental and alternative art scene. As an academic she has researched the archive of Puerto Rican artistic performance in the ’90s. Part of this research was presented at the first Latin American Meeting of Researchers on Bodies and Embodiment in Culture, held in 2012 in the city of Rosario, Argentina. She obtained her bachelors degree in public communication from the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, and studied at the School of Information Sciences at Universidad Complutense of Madrid. She has a masters in Contemporary Media and Culture from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Puerto Rico. Her journalistic work has been recognized by the Puerto Rican Association of Journalists and the Overseas Press Club.
1 Goldberg defines performance in his book, Performance Art: From Futurism to The Present (2001) as an act that can be carried out by one or more persons; in different spaces; with or without an audience; which can include any kind of combination of artistic elements; last hours, minutes, or seconds; and be scripted or unscripted.
2 On Monday 13 July 2009, the civil rights organization Puerto Rico para Tod@s [Puerto Rico for Everyone] carried out a demonstration in front of the Capitol denouncing “legislative homophobia” in Puerto Rico (Nuevo Día newspaper).
3 Mickey Negrón expresses the wounds inflicted by prejudice in his descriptive text PonerMickeytarme: ritual de pluma y purifación [PonerMickeytarme: Ritual of Feathers and Purification].
4 The editors Arturo Aldama and Joe Lockhard (2002) argue in the introduction of the volume “Aesthetics of Violence” of the journal Bad Subject that the aesthetics of violence emerges as a reaction to the absence and the excess of the word.
5 Information accessed from http://eltaller.de/asuntos-efimeros-te-invita-a-meocupo-el-taller/.
6 See the article “Los residuos: la estructura del arte efímero” [“Residues: the structure of ephemeral art”, published by the journal Entorno, Vol. 1, 2012.
7 José Esteban Muñoz uses the term disidentification to refer to persons who enact an “identity against heteronormativity, misogyny, and white supremacy,” as Marcela Fuentes (2011).
Alexander, R. 17 February 2015. PonerMickeytarme: ritual de pluma y purificación. Video file. Accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZGOkL67z8s.
Aldama, A. and Lockard, J. 2002. Introduction: Aesthetics of Violence-Imagining Realities. Bad Subject 61 (September). Accessed http://bad.eserver.org/issues/2002/61/editors.html.
Bigio, A. and Quintero, L. 16 February 2015. Miles rechazan la perspectiva de género en las escuelas. Noticel. http://www.noticel.com/noticia/172345/miles-rechazan-la-perspectiva-de-genero-en-las-escuelas-galeria.html.
Fuentes, M. and Taylor, D. 2011. Estudios avanzados de performance. New York: Fondo de Cultural Económica.
Fullana, M. 2 March 2011. “Mickey Negrón presenta performance sin censura.” Primera Hora. http://www.primerahora.com/entretenimiento/farandula/nota/mickeynegronpresentaperformancesincensura-469382/.
———. 2012. “Los residuos: la estructura de un arte efímero.” Entorno 7(1), 33-36.
Goldberg, R.L. 2001. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.
Hemispheric Institute. 2014. Mickey Negrón: (Asuntos Efímeros). Recuperado de http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/es/enc14-trasnocheo/item/2458-enc14-trasnocheo-negron-ponermickeytarme.
Muñoz, J.E. 2011. “Introducción a la teoría de la desidentificación.” En Estudios Avanzados de Performance, Eds. Taylor, D. & Fuentes, M., 551-603. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
Negrón, M. 17 February 2015. PonerMickeytarme: ritual de pluma y purificación [Mensaje de archivo de video]. Accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZGOkL67z8s.
Peña, B. 15 February 2015. “Prometen protestas pacíficas a favor y en contra de la perspectiva de género.” El Nuevo Día. Accessed http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/prometenprotestaspacificasafavorycontralaperspectivadegenero-2008222/.
Periódico El Nuevo Día. 13 July 2009. “Protestan contra la ‘homofobia legislativa’.” El Nuevo Día. Accessed http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/politica/nota/protestacontralahomofobialegislativa-591431/.
Radio Universidad de Puerto Rico. 26 January 2012. Desde el taller: Mickey Negrón [Archivo de video]. Accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bG6bMYVal4.
Viso, O. 2004. Ana Mendieta Earth Body. Washington, DC: Hatje Cantz.