Awilda Rodríguez Lora recently told me that there is no Spanish word for "performer." It seemed unbelievable, so I looked it up. There’s artista, actor, intérprete—but no direct translation for "someone who performs," in the broadest sense.
"I named myself La Performera as a way of finding a word that could describe me," said the Puerto Rican artist. "I was like, I'm gonna make it up myself."
Like Rodríguez Lora, many artists featured in this year’s CounterCurrent19 Festival have claimed their own space among disciplines where they might traditionally operate in the margins. Several of the artists identify as queer. Many of the works literally involve reclaiming physical spaces, such as Ganzeer’s Perpetuwar, an installation near what was once a military tank manufacturing warehouse along Buffalo Bayou. There’s also Ellen Fullman’s The Watch, in which the composer turns the Hines College of Architecture and Design building at UH into a giant stringed instrument.
The festival, now in its sixth year, is starting to find its own place in Houston’s art scene. Founded in 2014, it’s a way to bring together the programming offered by the UH Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center under one umbrella.
“We were developing this site-specific and interactive programming with artists, but we were doing it piecemeal,” said Mitchell Center Executive Director Karen Farber, who also serves as festival director. “Each time we had to build the audience from the ground up. We began to think, what if we could put these things into one container, where people would trust us enough to come out and experience something new?”
As a result, the festival focuses on creating live art events in publicly accessible spaces. The events are also free.
Faber said Houston’s contemporary art scenes has grown since the first iteration, making room for the festival to collaborate with other organizations in the city. Last year there was a CounterCurrent vehicle in the annual Art Car Parade. This year, the festival has partnered with DiverseWorks to present the performance by Rodríguez Lora.
“In talking with CounterCurrent, we came up with this concept of a hybrid lecture/performance,” she said. “It's not going be what lectures normally are, where the audience is in there, and I'm in front. I come from dance, I use my body a lot, so there's a lot of dancing and movement.”
That work, Sustento: from La Performera to La Mujer Maravilla (the Spanish name for Wonder Woman), talks about Rodríguez Lora’s evolution since she first started performing solo a decade ago. It also deals with the ways artists and activists, especially marginalized people, must refuel in order to continue their work.
“I share my story around the concept of sustento,” she said. "I ask, ‘What sustains us?’”
For Farber, the main goal of CounterCurrent is to give people an experience they can’t get on Facebook or by watching a TV show. For that to happen, she said, the audience has to do their part, even if they choose to observe and not participate.
“We want to keep the festival free, and one challenge that people don’t think about is getting people to make a commitment” when they haven’t spent money, she said. “It’s about the business of being in a space together. We really want people to show up and be a part of the experience.”
CounterCurrent19, April 9–14. Free. MATCH, 3400 Main St. More info and tickets at countercurrentfestival.org.