9-10 October 2009
Oh who cares who was at the Burchfield opening at the Hammer? Annie Philbin, Cathy Opie, Marlene Picard, Mitch Handsone, Lydia Szamraj, television producers (Hey – I just wrote a treatment – have ya got a minute? I think I have a copy in the car.), models, investment bankers – all the usual suspects. (Never did fetch that treatment.) But let me tell you what I was doing (almost a week later!) before. First of all, there was a truckload of GREAT work at Bergamot Station, where I went to do a bit of reconnaissance. The Francesca Gabbiani show (the second part of a two-part show) at Patrick Painter was extraordinary. I’ve been a fan of hers practically from my first exposure to her work (which, speaking of the Hammer, I believe was through a Hammer Project space (or maybe it was in the main galleries, I don’t remember – but the Hammer gave her the exposure). But her work just keeps getting richer, denser – more elaborate, exquisite, too, of course – but always to a very controlled, specific end – the whole of the conceit, the composition, at the service of the unified effect. (Though it is impossible not to be drawn into the rich details of these ‘black mirror’ collage-tableaux.) In the work on view here, the artistic and decorative fashions of 18th century rococo pastoral are re-worked into a kind of swirling ecological cacophony ‘framing’ a black ‘mirror’ lagoon-negative space. But here the foliated and filigreed shells, flora and fauna of the benign 18th century pastoral-boiserie is given a more forbidding cast, veering into the depths of jungle or forest – barn owls looming over chameleons, reptiles and dense foliage.assembled into a slightly tempestuous froth. The effect is simultaneously haunting and enchanting. Trick-or-treat – Patrick: would you mind putting one of these in my candy sack? I could spend hours with any one of these singular pieces.
I’m jumping ahead a bit here, though (yeah, on a certain level, that makes no sense) – because on the prior Wednesday evening (that’s 30 September), I had the privilege of attending Ana Cervantes’ extraordinary piano recital – really a recital/recitation – a unique music, literary, and arguably even visual experience, almost entirely curated, commissioned and performed – I want to say breathed or launched upon the airwaves – by this marvelous pianist-performer. In the past, I’ve tended (a bit irrationally to be honest about it) to militate a bit against ‘program’ music – as a kind of coloration, literary or narrative, that the music doesn’t really need or support; that may indeed veer sharply from what the purely musical character delivers on its own abstractly. At the same time, I’m completely mad about film soundtrack music – as sensitive to score and sonic tapestry woven behind, through and surrounding film image, action and dialogue – the astonishing capacity a great score has to underscore, heighten or emphasize mood, prefigurations, undercurrents, suspense, climax – as I am to any other aspect of the film: script, dialogue, performance, direction, editing. I’m full of contradictions, I fully realize. Then of course we routinely, almost unconsciously, deal with the ‘literary’ bridges of popular and folk song, commercial music that bombard us daily, to say nothing of the heavy lyric and literary content of musical theatre (or could we stretch that to simply say theatre, period?) and, uh (GASP!) OPERA!
In other words, I guess I’m getting over such irrational biases. A good thing, too – because Ana Cervantes’s magnetic performance, which she titled Rumor de Páramo: Murmurs From the Wasteland effectively put to rest whatever reservations I might have had left about this nexus. (Which are really merely the reflection of my own interior tug-of-war between my literary and purely musical sensibilities.) To be introduced to great bodies of musical and literary work on the same evening for me is practically a formula ready-made for an ecstatic experience. By far the great literary inspiration of Rumor de Páramo is the work of Mexican writer, Juan Rulfo, one of whose principal works is the novel, Pedro Páramo. And as if he needed any endorsement beyond the genius (I think I can take the word of Cervantes, et al. here) of his work, Octavio Paz (a titanic literary hero for me, whose work alas I have only read in English and French), perhaps Mexico’s greatest man of letters, wrote that Juan Rulfo was “the only Mexican novelist to have provided us an image – rather than a mere description – of our physical surroundings.” (meaning Mexico itself). The only composer on the program with whom I was familiar was Arturo Márquez – who might simplistically be described as a Mexican impressionist, TKTKTK