PRINT January 2001

Susan Kandel

I’M JUST WILD ABOUT MILENA MUZQUIZ AND Martiniano Lopez Crozet, the brains behind the casually absurdist, morphologically ambiguous entity that is Los Super Elegantes. Consider the Elegantes a theatrical extravaganza-cum-lifestyle, encompassing videos, CDs, backyard concerts—even studio visits, which are virtually indistinguishable from their super-freaky live performances (he’s in recovery from a Rudolph Valentino addiction; she does a Silverlake housewife like nobody’s business). What’s the proper follow-up to “Violé Moi,” their cover of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” intoned like a hymn, in French? Perhaps an evening with the strangely mesmerizing “Angie” and “Eric,” in what feels like a sitcom without the punch lines. Something gets lost in translation every time, and that’s the point.

Milena (originally from Tijuana) and Martiniano (from Buenos Aires) met in San Francisco in 1992, when both were in art school. They eventually made their way to Mexico City, where they recorded Devorame (Devour me), 1997, a quadrilingual, quasipunk, ranchera-influenced album for BMG Latin, and surfaced a year later in Los Angeles, where they are starting to seem somehow emblematic. You can read Mike Davis on LA’s “magical urbanism”—that new-old fantasy of a banda-blasting, sorbet-hued, mestizo wonderland—or you can watch the Elegantes cackle through “Bésame Mucho” while pretending to shoot up in a bathtub (imagine a Factory film dubbed for Telemundo and you’re there). The Elegantes are not celebrating “Latino carnivality” (to quote Davis) but rather the universalizing banality of global pop. When Milena lip-synchs “Queda,” a swoony tune sung in Spanish by the pop star Jeanette, she’s as all-American as a middleaged middle manager playing air guitar to Hendrix.

The Elegantes’ first videos owed much to the fact that Milena and Martiniano like to go crazy in the editing room and press all the buttons; hence the profusion of drips and wipes, and the fantastic, inexplicable sheep in white silhouette floating down the screen. Hollywood, 1997, a video miniseries that pays homage to the telenovela, is more sophisticated but no less frantic. The leads meet when he decapitates the man whose pocket she’s just picked while fleeing jail for Hollywood to build a cathedral. Milena and Martiniano claim the series is loosely based on their lives, and indeed, one gets the sense that they’ve got stars in their eyes, i.e., would be as happy to meet with David E. Kelley as Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Until then, they are working on an abridged version of Miss Saigon—including the helicopter scene.

As editor of artext since 1998, and before that a Los Angeles Times critic for most of the ’90s, native Angeleno SUSAN KANDEL has long been an advocate of new West Coast art. Her own recent writing credits include an essay for artext on the art of Shirley Tse. A member of the graduate faculty in theory and criticism at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Kandel has also taught at NYU, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara. She is currently at work on a compilation that will bring together her widely anthologized essays.