THE MUSICAL BRAIN - GROUP EXHIBITION AT NEW YORK’S HIGH LINE
The Musical Brain is a group exhibition that reflects on the power music has to bring us together. The exhibition is named after a short story by the Argentine contemporary writer César Aira, and explores the ways that artists use music as a tool to inhabit and understand the world. The featured artists approach music through different lenses—historical, political, performative, and playful—to create new installations and soundscapes throughout the park. Organized by High Line Art and Cecilia Alemani.
Traditionally, music is thought of as an art form we construct ourselves. With different organizing rules, instruments, and traditions across cultures, music has underpinned essential collective moments in societies for as long as we know. But music is also the way that we hear the world around us. Often used to described nature (wind whistling through trees), the cosmos (in the Music of the Spheres, or musica universalis), and even the built industrial environment (the rhythmic lull of a train car), music is the order we project onto a cacophonous world. Humans seek order and patterns but also relish chaos and noise; in many ways, music becomes the way that we can experience both at the same time.
The artists in this exhibition listen closely to the sonic world and explore the different temporal, sculptural, social, and historical dimensions of the ways we make music, and the ways we listen. They wonder what stories discarded objects tell when played, what happens when a railway spike becomes a bell, and how the youth of our generation sing out warnings to save our planet. They remind us that music is a powerful tool for communication, especially in times when spoken language fails us. The sonic brings us together to celebrate, protest, mark the passage of time, and simply be together.
Rebecca Belmore (b. Upsala, Ontario, Canada, a member of Lac Seul First Nation (Anishinaabe)) and Osvaldo Yero (b. Camaguey, Cuba) collaborate on projects rooted in the material nature of art and its relationship to the body, land, and language. Belmore and Yero’s cast concrete and found object sculpture I Heard a Singing Siren references two carved marble statues of sirens from the National Archeological Museum, Athens, Greece. The siren is a mythological female figure rumored to lure sailors to their death with song. Belmore and Yero’s siren represents youth, who sing to warn of the accelerating devastation of the planet.
Vivian Caccuri (b. 1986, São Paulo, Brazil) is interested in the physicality of music—the bass that shakes a room and the wall of speakers it comes from—and the importance of music in people’s daily lives. Caccuri has collaborated with musicians from around the world, including Brazil, where she lives and works. On the High Line, Caccuri installs a baile funk sound system (also called a paredão or equipe de som in Portuguese), a stack of speakers covered with reflective glass that mimics the new buildings in the neighborhood and hosts a variety of music and dance performances throughout the year. The soundtrack for the artwork is composed by Caccuri with Mulú.
Raúl de Nieves (b. 1983, Michoacán, Mexico) makes colorful beaded sculptures and elaborately costumed performances. Having learned to sew and crochet as a child, de Nieves collages found beaded fabrics onto mannequins and canvas coveralls to create fantastical figures that he displays as sculptures and wears in musical performances. De Nieves installs three of these figures sitting on benches on the High Line. The sculptures reference the costumes musicians wear to become their larger-than-life personas and interrupt the crowds with their magical splendor.
Guillermo Galindo (b. 1960, Mexico City, Mexico) and photographer Richard Misrach collaborate on the project Border Cantos, for which Misrach photographs materials along the Mexico-US border that Galindo, in turn, transforms into sculptures and sonic devices. From this series, Galindo shows Fuente de Lagrimas (Fountain of Tears), a fountain made from the water stations that volunteers leave near the US-Mexico border to serve those attempting the crossing. The stations are often shot through with bullets; Galindo’s fountain drips through these holes to a tin floor and amplifies the resulting sounds.
David Horvitz’s (b. Los Angeles, California) artworks meander playfully among material forms such as performance, artist books, mail art, plants, and photography, as well as immaterial forms such as memes, walks, and rumors. For The Musical Brain, Horvitz forges steel spikes from the original High Line train tracks into a string of small bells. The piece references how bells of churches and civic buildings ring, and thus standardize, time. By installing a series of bells under the High Line offices, Horvitz turns the park itself into a musical instrument.
Mai-Thu Perret (b. 1976, Geneva, Switzerland) creates paintings, sculptures, installations, and films that reference historical feminist and utopian movements, as well as her own fictional all-female commune The Crystal Frontier, begun in the late 1990s. Perret presents Eventail des caresses (Coeur, Poumons, Utérus), or Fan of Caresses (Heart, Lungs, Uterus), a hanging chime of cast bronze bells in the shape of human organs. The sculpture was originally made for an installation titled Garden of Nothingness, and references Zen Buddhist principles of emptiness and fullness.
Naama Tsabar (b. 1982, Tel Aviv, Israel) works at the intersection of architecture and music, showing us how sound moves both through and beyond walls and buildings. Tsabar makes large-scale collaborative performances, sculptures, and installations that can be played by musicians and visitors. For the High Line, Tsabar makes a metronome installed on a stone pedestal. The work was inspired by contemporary conversations around the removal of confederate monuments, but goes further to explore the shifting relationship between history and time. In her work, Tsabar ignites the push-and-pull between static sculptures and the time-based performances and experiences that bring them alive.
Antonio Vega Macotela (b. 1980, Mexico City, Mexico) makes sculptures and installations, in collaboration with others, where relationships and labor become the artwork. For One Second, Vega Macotela worked with hackers to embed the data from an mp3 file of one second of recorded silence into a large acrylic lens, thus distorting the image seen through it. The silence is taken from a video recorded on top of “La Bestia” (The Beast), one of the freight trains that many migrants from Central America use to traverse Mexico on their journey north.