CINCINNATI’S CONTEMPORARY ARTS CENTER PRESENTS SOUNDING LABOR, SILENT BODIES BY MEXICAN ARTIST TANIA CANDIANI
This solo exhibition highlights women as a corrective to dominant historical narratives that excluded their role as factory workers, and suggests parallels with current struggles against gender inequality. Available until January 17, 2021, itwas organized by guest curator Kate Bonansinga in collaboration with Amara Antilla, Senior Curator at Contemporary Arts Center.
Tania Candiani’s artistic practice spans sculpture, sound, film and performance to examine innovations of the past and present. Often responding to specific sites and local histories, she reanimates forgotten narratives, protagonists and material traditions that poetically call for a more just and inclusive future. For the past two decades, she has examined the breakthroughs and failures of dominant economic, scientific and technological structures. Whether commenting on US-Mexico border law, gender inequality or workers’ rights, she creates objects and actions that provoke critical reflection on the commodification of time, land and labor.
Produced over the course of two years and several visits to Cincinnati, Sounding Labor, Silent Bodies features historical visual ephemera alongside a new suite of work that examines the contradictions present in the rhetoric of progress that accompanied America’s industrial past. Often mediated through the body, Candiani’s work recognizes the politics of voice and insists on the expressive potential of repetitive movement, forming what the artist calls “a choreography of labor.”
Four Industries is a three-channel film wherein an all-female choir recites sounds associated with Cincinnati’s major industries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: metal casting, meatpacking, printing and woodworking. Filmed in a historic brewery in Over-the-Rhine, the resulting a cappella chorus is rhythmic and repetitive, recalling the pouring, pounding, cutting and hammering associated with the manufacturing of goods. By using the human voice to emulate mechanized sounds, Candiani reminds us of the corporeal impact of labor—the bodies that were required to support the processing of raw materials during America’s Industrial Revolution. The film further demonstrates the mechanization imposed upon workers through the movement of the camera, which poetically mirrors machine trajectories, assuming the methodical up and down movement of the printing press, or the side to side sway of milling and sanding in the woodworking industry.
Filmed in Cincinnati’s Music Hall, Speech for an Empty Theater features a woman reciting a composite of phrases from the opening addresses of Cincinnati’s Industrial Expositions to an empty auditorium. The content of these speeches was highly patriarchal and dismissive of pre-settlement populations: “… [Our] State is proud as … she has reclaimed our territory from the barbarism of a wilderness, made it to bloom and blossom like a rose, and beautified it with all the adornments of civilization.” Following the ancient Roman model, 19th century American art sometimes used female personifications of concepts and places.
Score of Four Industries consists of four movements, each dedicated to a particular trade, including metal casting, meatpacking, printing and woodworking. Those who read music will note that the score makes use of conventional musical symbols and marks used to indicate tempo, duration and pitch, such as staff lines, notes and rests. In addition, the artists have added vocal guidelines and descriptors related to each industry: it offers insights into the historical industrial processes and the sources for the sounds that one hears during the film.
Divided We Fall features a cast fragment of a molding detail depicting a winged eagle taken from an interior wall at Cincinnati’s Music Hall. Originally positioned over a stage door intended for performers, the molding detail demonstrates the care given even to the rarely visible areas of the building. Characteristic of the building’s renowned 19th Century revivalist Gothic Architecture, the eagle is framed by a swirling vine pattern reminiscent of a coat of arms. An emblem of European nobility that can be traced back to ancient Rome, the heraldic eagle was appropriated as the seal of the United States, and is a symbol of national freedom. Rendered in raw fiberglass and displayed here with its rubber and plaster shell, the motif appears devoid of its prior grandeur and is exposed as a fabricated duplicate. Like Speech for an Empty Theater, Candiani’s cast is an allusion to the hollow rhetoric and contradictory symbolism that accompanied America's Industrial period.
The inspiration for Candiani’s Working Women are two 1929-32 photographs attributed to the artist Winold Reiss that feature offset presses. These two scenes form the basis for one of the 16 mosaic murals celebrating Cincinnati’s industries that Reiss produced for the city’s Union Terminal, which was completed in 1933. Whereas Reiss chose to remove the female figure in his mosaic, Candiani honors her, correcting Reiss’ erasure. The photograph and Candiani’s ceramic composition capture the woman standing at the upper right-hand corner of the machine, engrossed in her work. Working Women was fabricated in Cincinnati at Rookwood Pottery, a company founded in 1880 by a woman, and recognized internationally as the preeminent art pottery producer in the United States. Rendered in flat geometric sections of colorfully glazed ceramic tile, Working Women encapsulates this exhibition’s focus on historic manufacturing and on under-recognized women laborers everywhere, historically and today.
Procession depicts Cincinnati Industrial Expositions that were launched with opening-day processions that featured floats created by local manufacturing companies to celebrate their products and capabilities. The 1883 procession focused instead on the Roman roots of the city’s name--Cincinnatus--by replicating the military parades of Roman times. Cincinnatus’ idyllic concept of civic virtue is here connected with the civic improvements inherent to industrial innovation. This book, a product of Cincinnati’s booming printing industry in the 1880s, connects Cincinnati to ancient Rome, and, by extension, industry to civility and progress. Candiani questions the validity of these connections in her reinterpretation of the book, Procession, which features omissions, obstructions and abstractions of the original floats pictured in its pages. By redacting these ornate depictions, Candiani presents an alternative lexicon of symbols, reminding us that utopian propaganda was often employed to obscure the reality of the experience of working people.
Tania Candiani was born in Mexico City in 1974. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2004); Sala Alcalá 31, Madrid (2005); Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2007); Cairo Biennial (2008); University Museum of Contemporary Art MUAC, Mexico City (2010); Cuenca Biennial (2011); Prix Ars Electronica, Linz (2013); Museum Boijmans Van Beauningen, Rotterdam (2014); Jewish Museum, New York (2015); Polytechnic Museum, Moscow (2016); National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan (2017); Kochi-Muziris Biennial (2018), Havana Biennial (2019); ASU Art Museum, Phoenix (2020). In 2015, she represented Mexico at the Venice Biennale with Luis Felipe Ortega. Candiani has received awards from the National Fund for Culture and the Arts, Mexico City (1999; 2006–07; 2012–15; 2016–19); John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, New York (2011); and the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, Washington D. C. (2017–18). Candiani lives and works in Mexico City.
Contemporary Arts Center
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Cincinnati, OH 45202