Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents work of John Jota Leaños

UCSC assisitant professor John Jota Leaños
John Jota Leaños, UCSC assistant professor of Film and Digital Media (Photo: Kim Harrington)
image of dancer from opera by UCSC faculty member John Jota Leaños
Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta--a bilingual multi-media opera by John Jota Leaños--will be presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, September 14-16. (Photo: Gordon Huang)

Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta--a bilingual multi-media opera by UCSC assistant professor of film and digital media John Jota Leaños--will be presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, September 14-16.

Fusing dark-humored animation with Mexican folkloric dance, Mariachi music, hip-hop, bossa nova, and blues, the opera is being staged by Leaños in collaboration with Chicago-based choreographer Joel Valentin-Martinez, DJ/composer Cristóbal Martinez, and the Tucson Mariachi ensemble, Los Cuatro Vientos.

Focusing on cultural taboos revolving around silence, death, and dissent, the opera’s four acts include:

• Act I: Los ABCs ¡Que Vivan los Muertos!--an animated primer on war and empire;

• Act II: Deadtime Stories with Mariachi Goose and Friends--an animation that re-examines Mother Goose children’s rhymes and culminates with the great fall of Humpty Mariachi Dumpty

• Act III: ¡Radio Muerto!--a live performance and animation of a skeleton traveling the road to Mictlan (the Aztec underworld)

• Act IV: DNN: Dead News Network--a dead animated newscast exploring the silencing of dissent and “spin” in the corporate news media.

Leaños is an interdisciplinary artist in UCSC’s social documentation program who works in animation, installation, public art, and performance. He addresses social issues by merging traditional Chicano and mestizo cultural expressions, such as Day of the Dead imagery, with contemporary media and technology.

Through humor and popular music, he confronts topics such as how war, border violence, and globalization intersect with class, gender, and race.

Leaños is the recipient of a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts; the United States Artist Fellowship (2011), which annually recognizes 50 of the country’s most innovative and influential artists in their fields; and the National Association for Latino Arts and Culture Artist Award (2012).

His animated films have been shown internationally at festivals including the Sundance 2010 Film Festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival 07, and Cannes Short Corner 07.

His installation work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2002 Whitney Biennial, Art in General in New York City, the Oakland Museum, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

In conjunction with the presentation of his opera at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Leaños is also collaborating with woodcut artist/printmaker Artemio Rodriguez for an exhibition of a fully-functioning, artfully customized 1968 Chevy Impala low-rider.

In the tradition of the Day of the Dead celebration, El Muertorider is designed to commemorate the victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as those lives lost at war. It is also a tribute to cruising culture, “in modern times heavily policed, yet part of our shared colonial past and kept alive by America’s distinctive routes—from El Camino Real (US 101) to Route 66.”

For more information, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago web site.