I experience the pleasure of watching Arce'sperformance from her superb montage of specificity, ambiguity, complexity, and iconoclastic inventiveness. She introduces a high degree of aesthetic rigor by pairing precise visual emblems with richly layered themes. She further conveys such conceptual precision with a visceral intensity that perforates the entire performance space. Take, for example, my favorite scene from Stitches, in which she stands naked, holding a
Adding to this metaphysical context is a socioeconomic one: the mystical reverberations are simultaneously disturbed by Arce's scripture of transnational commerce refrained on “souvenir.” The word foregrounds her specific background as a Latina and her own possible status as a pawn within the dominant form of cultural exchange between North and South America: tourism. The souvenirs that Arce insists the viewers take away are their memories of the artist's body turned into a visual sacrifice, an imago that urges them to think about the underside of tourism—prostitution, economic colonization, and exoticized/eroticized racism. This specific reference to her cultural traumas is reinforced by the next segment of herself as an immigrant maid who has to thank her employer for her bleeding fingers. Arce then quickly reclaims her self-agency by performing the rite of a milk ablution, a curative ritual that substitutes the grace of Christ's sacred blood with the power of women's regenerative care, symbolized by the milk.
Arce's solo performances investigate the emancipatory potential of individual determination, which transforms her victimhood into the veryimpetus for selfrenewal. Her art advocates a survival ethos, attempting to turn the performance process into a healing venture. As Arce mentioned, the most important goal for her when performing solo is to undergo “a real-time experience, right there, in front of and with the audience.” Without this experience of “transcendence and catharsis,” Arce emphasizes, she considers her performance a failure even if she has recited every line and hit every cue. If I may interpret Arce's desired “experience” as the actual rush of emotional intensity triggered by her actions, then her performative objective may be understood as the perception of transformation and purgation associated with catharsis. She attempts
Arce's take on catharsis, resembling her other transculturated performance concepts and strategies, at once appropriates and modifies Aristotle's audience-centered theory of catharsis. She brings to the fore the performer's inner psychosomatic changes as a crucial function in undertaking a dramatic action. We may of course criticize Arce's proclaimed goal of catharsis as the measure for a satisfactory performance. After all, Aristotle's theory, including his concept of katharsis, has been subject to intense critique from a Third World perspective by the Brazilian theater artist Augusto Boal. Still, I find it more stimulating to heed the diversity of aesthetic judgment, conceptual standard, and individual aspirations that the artist brings to bear on her performances than to judge her theoretical presumptions by prevalent discourses, whether progressive or conservative. Arce's art exceeds what can be theorized properly.
Arce's feminist performances cannot be separated from her purpose of cultural validation. In an era when multiethnic and transcultural existence has become increasingly a given for many, if not all, L.A. inhabitants, Arce's art practice exemplifies the potential efficacy of performance as a rooting discourse. It speaks to the desire for a performative closure of (self) cure, even when it maintains the suspense of cultural protest and individual rebellion.