Carlos Amorales 
We’ll see how all reverberates 2012

You don’t necessarily have to see the pieces … just as they are … but as what they could be, for their potential to become something else.

Carlos Amorales1Carlos Amorales, ‘Without asking for permission’, interview with Michel Blancsubé in Carlos Amorales: Germinal, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, and JP Ringier, Zurich, 2013, p. 190.

Three large mobile sculptures are suspended from the ceiling, gently swaying with the air currents and the movements of visitors to the Gallery. Comprised of curved steel rods and balanced by more than thirty Zildjian copper cymbals, the free-moving forms occupy the open space of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Federation Court. Armed with percussive mallets, visitors are invited to play the installation, freely inventing new sounds and choreographies, unhindered by rules or instructions. As active participants in the work of art, they are transformed into musicians and performers who collectively create new and experimental compositions and send harmonious, discordant, percussive and cacophonous sounds throughout the open space.

We’ll see how all reverberates, 2012, by Mexican contemporary artist Carlos Amorales, is the latest in a series of installations presented by the NGV that invite audience participation. It sits within a lineage that includes a rich vein of works associated with relational aesthetics, as well as the mid-century kinetic mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder.2 Relational aesthetics is a term coined by the French critic and philosopher Nicolas Bourriaud in the 1990s to describe a socially conscious type of art in which audience participation is crucial. Works in the NGV Collection associated with this term include Carsten Höller’s Golden mirror carousel, 2014; Ernesto Neto’s The island bird, 2012; and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled (Lunch box), 1996. For further information on the term relational aesthetics see ‘Relational aesthetics’, Oxford Art Online, <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T2093934?q=relational+aesthetics&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit>. Amorales developed the work in 2012 while artist in residence at the Atelier Calder in Saché, central France, and it deliberately echoes the cascading forms and free-moving structures of the American artist’s abstract mobiles. Functioning as both elegant modernist sculpture and large-scale communal musical instrument, We’ll all see how all reverberates evokes a democratic, playful and anarchic spirit. As suggested by Amorales himself, his mobiles ‘are there for their potential to be played by the audience and produce chaos within the institution’.3 Amorales, ‘Without asking for permission’, p. 190.

The rebellious impulse implied by Amorales’s installation connects it to several other twentieth-century reference points, including the early avant-garde artistic and literary Dada movement which promoted anti-authoritarian activities and delighted in chance poetics. The influence of Fluxus – whose socially oriented practices, ephemeral events and interdisciplinary happenings sought to break down divisions between art and everyday life – can also be seen. The related activities of avant-garde experimental composers such as John Cage, who advocated chance and indeterminacy in music, are an equally important reference point, as is the Duchampian idea of the readymade.4 Marcel Duchamp radically altered art history with the invention of the ‘readymade’ which entailed elevating ordinary objects that pre-exist in the everyday world to the status of art objects. This important development pre-empted the development of Conceptual Art. Certain strategies of the Situationists also come into play, such as the technique of détournement, whereby pre-existing elements are distorted or reorganised into new contexts or arrangements.5 See Guy Debord, ‘Détournement as negation and prelude’, International Situationiste, no. 3, Dec. 1959, reproduced in Charles Harrison & Paul Wood, Art in Theory 1900–1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, p. 697.

Amorales is perhaps best known for his ongoing Liquid Archive project, begun in the late 1990s, which, to date, has involved collaboration with graphic artists, musicians, researchers, designers, animators and filmmakers. Taking the form of a vast digital database of thousands of abstracted vector graphics sourced from books, magazines and the internet, the archive is a distinctive catalogue of black silhouettes including animals, birds and human forms, trees, skulls, spider webs, aeroplanes, typefaces and abstract Rorscharch test–like blots. Forming the basis of a new visual language, the archive has fed into numerous works by Amorales, including films, paper cut-out installations, drawings and even a deck of tarot cards.

The Liquid Archive highlights Amorales’s interest in collaboration and collective activity, as art historian Raphaela Platow has observed:

While Amorales is the creator of his archive, he invites others to play an integral role in its creation, use, and interpretation. In so doing, he acknowledges that any language is a collective tool, and shows his desire that the items in his archive be recognised and understood by others.6 Raphaela Platow, ‘Liquid Archive’, in Carlos Amorales: Discarded Spider, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati and Veenman Publishers, Rotterdam, 2008, reproduced in ‘Carlos Amorales: Work Documentation 1996–2012’, Carlos Amorales, <http://estudioamorales.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/films-and-animations/Carlos-Amorales-2012.pdf>, accessed 21 Aug. 2015.

Importantly, the archive also demonstrates the artist’s interest in the relationships between image and language, a characteristic that has become an increasing feature of his work, as noted by Mexican curator Magnolia De La Garza:

The intention of Amorales is to create a language that allows us to communicate with the beyond, but which also helps us understand that which we cannot rationalise, opening the possibility of speculating about the origins and the why of writing from a different viewpoint than the historical or linguistic.7 Magnolia De La Garza, ‘The image is text and vice-versa’, in Carlos Amorales: Germinal, p. 16.

Unorthodox forms of communication have manifested in different ways across Amorales’s oeuvre, which to date has included drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, performance, animation, film and music. His earliest performative works explored fantasy and horror, political and pop-cultural iconography with a particular focus on Mexican cultural identity. Amorales v. Amorales, 2003, for example, was inspired by the Mexican lucha libre professional wrestling phenomenon featuring masked superhero wrestlers in staged matches. Amorales created a fictitious identity for this work by fabricating a mask moulded to his facial features in collaboration with former Mexican wrestler Ray Rosas. Amorales v. Amorales culminated in a dialogue between the artist’s two ‘selves’ in a series of performances that theatrically explored psychosocial aspects of identity.

More recently, the avant-garde writings of the late Chilean poet and novelist Roberto Bolaño have formed the basis of several works by Amorales, including the dreamlike film The man who did all things forbidden, 2014, in which the main protagonist acts against accepted conventions of social interaction. Language in this film is replaced by experimental music, the narrative is propelled non-verbally and the actions of the actors are conveyed through a beguiling percussive soundscape. In the earlier work Vagabond in France and Belgium, 2011, Amorales translated a text by Bolaño into calligraphic drawings based on images drawn from the Liquid Archive.

The potential for one thing to stand in for another is a recurring feature of Amorales’s art, expressed through his ongoing experimentation with non-verbal forms of language. Underscored by an anarchic spirit, We’ll all see how all reverberates transforms the iconic abstract forms of Alexander Calder while channelling the chance poetics of Dada, avant-garde experimental music and the democratic impulse of Fluxus to open up new and unexpected possibilities for communication.

Notes

1

Carlos Amorales, ‘Without asking for permission’, interview with Michel Blancsubé in Carlos Amorales: Germinal, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, and JP Ringier, Zurich, 2013, p. 190.

2

Relational aesthetics is a term coined by the French critic and philosopher Nicolas Bourriaud in the 1990s to describe a socially conscious type of art in which audience participation is crucial. Works in the NGV Collection associated with this term include Carsten Höller’s Golden mirror carousel, 2014; Ernesto Neto’s The island bird, 2012; and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled (Lunch box), 1996. For further information on the term relational aesthetics see ‘Relational aesthetics’, Oxford Art Online <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T2093934?q=relational+aesthetics&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit>

3

Amorales, ‘Without asking for permission’, p. 190.

4

Marcel Duchamp radically altered art history with the invention of the ‘readymade’ which entailed elevating ordinary objects that pre-exist in the everyday world to the status of art objects. This important development pre-empted the development of Conceptual Art.

5

See Guy Debord, ‘Détournement as negation and prelude’, International Situationiste, no. 3, Dec. 1959, reproduced in Charles Harrison & Paul Wood, Art in Theory 1900–1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, p. 697.

6

Raphaela Platow, ‘Liquid Archive’, in Carlos Amorales: Discarded Spider, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati and Veenman Publishers, Rotterdam, 2008, reproduced in ‘Carlos Amorales: Work Documentation 1996–2012’, Carlos Amorales, <http://estudioamorales.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/films-and-animations/Carlos-Amorales-2012.pdf>, accessed 21 Aug. 2015.

7

Magnolia De La Garza, ‘The image is text and vice-versa’, in Carlos Amorales: Germinal, p. 16.