A set of performances Saturday evening at Artpace will meld spoken word with sound in exploration and commemoration of diasporic experiences and identities.

Titled recalibrate, the performances will take place within and interact with the exhibition space for Artpace Summer 2019 International Artist-in-Residence Francis Almendárez’s installation rhythm and (p)leisure.

For rhythm and (p)leisure, on view until Sept. 8, the Los Angeles-born and Houston-based Almendárez returned to his familial homelands of El Salvador and Honduras to capture video and sound that focuses on labor and cultural performances. The resulting installation poignantly juxtaposes the sights and sounds of people at work with those of creative endeavors like making music, singing, and dancing.

Piles of well-worn and well-traveled clothes on wooden pallets in the center of the exhibit are meant to bring to mind the manner in which immigrant and migrant populations offer up their labor and their bodies on a rotating basis, facilitating the transmission of culture as a byproduct of global capitalism. 

The one-off event on Saturday,  a companion to and extension of the exhibit, will include a performance by Almendárez and his brother Anthony as well as individual and collective performances by Xavier Gilmore, Nick Long, and Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson.

Almendárez invited these performers to participate, gave them the essay he wrote to accompany the exhibit and instructed them to think of the performances as an opportunity to “celebrate and commemorate diasporic identities and experiences – in particular the laboring im/migrant body.”

“Beyond that,” Almendárez said, “it’s pretty structureless as I want them all to have the freedom to interpret the physical work in the space, the essay, and the description of the performance event on their own without further influence from me.”

The group of performers will rehearse only once before the show.

Almendárez said the idea for the performances came from looking at music and improvisation through the lens of history and looking at the roles they each play in culture.

For him, “music and improvisation are of particular importance because they function as archival and living forms of history that hold within them inherited histories, experiences, traditions, and wisdom. 

“… Essentially, we ourselves as artists/musicians/laborers become historians of our own experiences that are otherwise not recorded and simultaneously blur this line between work and leisure as a radical gesture of autonomy, endurance, and pleasure.”

Sanderson – a poet, singer-songwriter, and member of local indie soul fusion band The Foreign Arm – said that she will add singing and spoken-word performances, some improvised and some written, to the mix on Saturday.

“All of it will be a prayer for me and a spiritual offering,” she said.

“We are at a critical impasse regarding asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees. … Laws are changing, it seems on a daily basis, in ways that lend themselves to classicism, exclusivity, and the hotbed ongoing topics of racism and xenophobia with regard to immigration reform and citizenship,” Sanderson said, explaining some of the notions that her performance will address.

The themes of Almendárez’s exhibition resonate strongly with her. “I use entertainment for activism and ceremony and spiritual practices,” she said. “Art is ministry for me but it is a toiling process as well.”

Long, formerly of the popular local desert blues rock band Lonely Horse, said that he was immediately compelled by the opportunity to perform for this show, feeling that “it’s necessary to honor my ancestors.” 

Almendárez said that he hopes the performance “opens new doors of opportunity for [the participating performers] and most importantly that they enjoy it, get pleasure out of it, and possibly even learn something new and unexpected.”

“As for the audience members,” he said, “I want them to see and listen to things that are recognizable and familiar, and then as it becomes distorted somehow, I hope it makes them think, pose questions, and see the familiar in unfamiliar ways – a recalibration of sorts.” 

The free performance of recalibrate is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17, at Artpace.  

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.