ASCO, Asco (1975)

© 1975 Harry Gamboa Jr
© 1975 Harry Gamboa Jr

Patti Smith, writing in her memoir Just Kids, says that by walking a city you can come to own the very streets. She and lover Robert Mapplethorpe attempted and achieved as much in New York City.

But that was Manhattan and, to point out by way of a cliché, nobody sane walks anywhere in urban sprawl Los Angeles, home of East Coast art ensemble Asco.

Here you see a daring alternative strategy for owning a boulevard. Put bodies on the line, spell out your collective identity, and shoot the entire scene with a cinematic gloss.

Of all the photos shot by Asco in the 1970s, and 1975 is a peak of sorts, the one above is perhaps exhibits the most exemplary mix of horseplay and bad attitude.

And in the same way we project ourselves into certain movies, an Asco photo can make you want to be there. Oh to be young, glamorous, and at large among the bright lights.

But at the time of making, Harry Gamboa Jr., Patssi Valdez, Gronk and Wilie F. Herrón III and their associates were anything but superstars. In Hollywood, Chicano superstars did not exist.

In response Asco made promotional stills for movies that did not exist. The photos, dubbed No Movies, press the same buttons as the real thing. This is conceptual art with magic dust.

Yet the word spelled out above, Spanish for nausea and disgust, becomes a real spell. Here where they own the city, where they own the night, who can say what reconfigurations are taking place?

We now have Chicano A-listers. Uma Thurman, Jessica Alba and Salma Hayek are all of Mexican descent according to IMDB. Say, they would really be great in an Asco No Movie.

ASCO can be seen in Asco: No Movies at Nottingham Contemporary until January 5 2014.

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