THE PORTAL IS REAL AND SHE IS CROSSING IT
Brazilian artist Vivian Caccuri creates objects, installations and performances that rethink the everyday experience and disrupt traditional narratives. Her work focuses especially on sound as a physical phenomenon and its social, historical and political context. Her latest exhibition The Shadow of Spring, together with Miles Greenberg, which was inaugurated last month at the New Museum and is on view until February 5 2023, investigates the phenomenon of vibration and its capacity to generate transformative collective experiences.
The show is inspired by how different rhythms and sound frequencies affect individuals and groups in places such as dance floors, sex clubs, religious temples and art spaces. With new installations, sculptures, embroidery pieces and sound works developed separately and collaboratively, this exhibition offers an immersive environment created to provoke alternative ways of experiencing the sonic dimension.
The presentation, that furthers themes explored in Miles’s durational performances and Vivian’s mosquito allegories invite the public to experience how sound waves affect our bodies and to consider the multiple ideological, mechanical, spiritual and symbolic aspects that sound expresses. With works that point to the invisible dimensions of life and subjectivity, this installation draws attention to the invisible ties that connect us to one another, challenging ideas of separation and individuality and reflecting on how sound can integrate communities and dismantle preconceived ideas of what bodies can be, do and become. We speak to Caccuri about it.
First of all, I would like to ask you about your attraction to sound. How and when it came and how it has evolved in your artistic materialisations?
My first attraction to sound happened very early in the '90s when I used to listen to vinyl and record mixtapes of songs I liked on the radio. My mixtapes used to be absolutely diverse and I until today kept this trait in my music taste and the way I DJ. As a teenager, I bounced back and forth between being a goth metalhead and being a rave kid. Music is in my family too, as my grandpa was an amateur percussionist and my grandma a classical pianist, so I really always felt that music connected me to a global scene and to a broader cultural knowledge than the one that was available to me back then, in my little industrial low middle-class life. I learned the guitar and the synth, and as soon as I started creating as a visual artist, my ideas were naturally or partly musical. I feel now that I had no choice, as music, especially pop music, electronic, rock and experimental has always been a very strong force in me. 10 years ago I concluded my Master's in Sound Studies, as a complimentary formal education to Visual Arts, which also broadened my repertoire quite a lot.
You have opened The Shadows of Spring at the New Museum, together with Miles Greenberg. The exhibition explores the phenomenon of vibration and how it is capable of generating transformative collective experiences. How was the process of exchange between the two of you and how did you integrate your previous work into these conclusions?
For The Shadow of Spring, I created a semi-danceable experimental beat inspired by techno. The particularity of the making is the sound source, as I recorded sounds of my own internal organs and Miles' using a variety of contact microphones (I also went to the doctor to get some more audio recordings of my stomach) and used the loudest noises as the sound source for synthesising bass-lines, creating a drum kit and creating a textural atmosphere that would embrace the sound of the dripping water that Miles' sculptures have. The collaboration with Miles happened through the involuntary noises that his body makes as well as his sharp instincts of how certain sounds change the way he feels. We agreed that tuned musical notes, and Western musical notes were forbidden, so I investigated many methods of achieving ‘atonality,’ which is the absence of traditional harmonies and notes.
The night scenes of your two cities (Rio de Janeiro and New York) play an important role in the exhibition. How do you think raves have a ritualistic function today, just as temples or other collective situations did before or today to a lesser extent?
I believe nowadays rave culture is a mixture of ritual and consumer experience. Raves and clubs have a certain brand, a certain set of aesthetic and attitude concerns that are incredibly effective to create micro-cultures. In a nutshell, they work pretty well as religions to the extent that they also have regularity, the ‘clerk’ of organisers and resident DJs, their traditional substances and drugs and a debatable sense of collectivity. The consumer aspect of it is that clubs and rave parties promise a specific experience to the audience and the audience expects to have that experience delivered in the best way possible. This is not my own opinion. The proliferation of ‘party reviews,’ just like restaurants and retail, rates the club or rave party from zero to ten on many online platforms and confirms that it is impossible to separate most of nowadays rave culture from consumer culture.
I've heard you talk about the strangeness and the state of disorientation in clubs. Tell me what relationship you find between these and beauty.
In my view, a good party has to seduce the audience and be at the same time mysterious and in your face. The ‘mazy’ feeling we might have at some parties only make them better, building tension and relief when we finally understand what is going on, or when we find a good crowd of bodies to rely on, to lose that sense of safety five seconds later. The beauty in clubs is more connected to sublime beauty, it is beautiful but scary.
A lot is said about the vibrations we humans emit and what we attract according to our frequencies. What do you think about it?
I have been very inspired by Marcus Boon, the author of The Politics of Vibration: Music as a Cosmopolitical Practice. This book is simply fantastic. It shows music through a different lens, music as an ancestral art form, alchemy or knowledge of vibration modulation. Vibration and rhythm have the power to change the way we experience time collectively, so it is the working ground for rituals, festivities and language itself. Without the rhythms of music, we probably wouldn't write, talk or even believe in anything other than an immediate reality. Music is the expression of our belief in ghosts, in spiritual life, in the zeitgeist but also in the culture itself, whose expression and existence are inevitably ‘immaterial.’ It is all very philosophical, but every human being already knows what this is about because it is very ancestral what vibration does.
I would like to share with you two opinions that came to me when I was thinking about your field of study and this interview. I would be interested to know your point of view on both of them. One is from the Argentinean filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, who constructs her films from sound as a way of shaking off her own stupidity. Stupidity, she says, is something that our societies cultivate with dedication and devotion: “I propose to think sound in order to break the reference that the image has.” The other is by Pascal Quignard who states: “All sound is the invisible in the form of a perforator of coverings. Immaterial, it crosses all barriers. Sound ignores the skin. It does not know what a limit is: it is neither internal nor external. Unlimited, it cannot be located.”
I agree very much with Lucrecia Martel, as I also think that there is no way of building knowledge without listening. A purely visual culture is for sure a very stupid one because it hasn't found a way to time travel or to conquer time, and conquering time is what music does. Quignard's statement is a bit more reductive to me. I suspect that some sounds never make their way to human ears. They are destroyed or silenced before coming to social existence, or those sounds decide not to reach us. Not every sound is unbeatable, many are lost before having the chance of expressing their perforating nature.
What are your top three concerns, beyond sound?
Nature, the future of the body and the reinvention of the Global South.
To finish and going back to The Shadows of Spring, tell us what this exhibition means to you and what you would like the spectator to take away, although of course it never depends entirely on the artist, or can it?
This exhibition means a lot to me, I am a hard worker and I wanted the audience to feel my transpiration. I hope the work communicates the amount of life it contains because good art does that. Also, having two huge works in a major museum in New York can not be taken for granted by artists of the Global South, it is incredibly challenging for us South Americans to have that quality of visibility in major cities of the North. In a way, this show is me trying to talk to one of the shiniest cities of the North in a cryptic language that I hope the audience's body can understand. I really feel like an alien trying to talk to humans in an invented method that involves art and music, or the other way round: I may be the human and New York, the aliens. So, this show opened a portal and made me understand that the portal exists and that I am crossing it.
Words: Delfina Martinez Mendiberry
Photos: Dario Lasagni. Courtesy New Museum