I call the living, mourn the dead, shatter lightning

After long-term negotiations with the Civil Protection Department of Mexico City regarding the use of high voltage, frequency ranges below human register and electric current amplification, SIN opened to the public on the 20th of June 2013. The access to the exhibition is restricted. Prior to enter the museum, the visitor must sign a responsive letter, which specifies that the institution (INBA), the museum, and the artist are not responsible for any possible physical or psychological damage provoked by acoustic pressure amplified through technological media inside the exhibition space.

Walls made of glass -usually dividing the entrance area from the main nave of the building-, have been removed in order to increase the acoustic properties of the church. Entering the building the visitor is confronted with an empty hall in its original state. Depending on the location of the visitor acoustic pressure changes and electric current increases or decreases, creating a hostile and ambiguous situation that exposes physical and psychological vulnerability.

SIN simulates natural vibration phenomena utilizing the resonance frequency of the exhibition space as a basis, to research the relation between living systems and acoustic feedback.

Curated by Carsten Seiffarth (Berlin, 1963), SIN was commissioned by Laboratorio Arte Alameda in Mexico City, a location in which violence and the sins of the past denote the history of the former convent of San Diego that used to be the headquarters of the Spanish inquisition between 1571 and 1820, a spot where so-called heretics were put on trial and many of them burned alive.

SIN remains open to the public until September 1st, 2013. The exhibition is accompanied by a printed catalog and a bell casted in bronze to be buried in the yard of the museum after the exhibition running time.

On the 12.12.12, the entrance of the main exhibition hall of Meinblau Gallery in Berlin, was blocked with a wall of speakers, a sound system 5.5 meters high and 4.5 meters wide, plugged into the main power lines and switched on.
Sound System Facing An Empty Area cut off the exhibition space through a radical and hermetic gesture, precluding the audience from the supposed internal space behind the installation. Confronted with this massive wall, the visitors of the exhibition, moreover, found themselves in a situation of permanent uncertainty as to whether the softly hissing sound system would turn into a deafening sound box in the next minute. This latent threat and subliminal aggression was an intrinsic part of the site-specific intervention.

This project in Berlin, where the artist has lived and worked since 2008, was a remote prelude of Mario de Vega’s big solo show SIN, taking place at the Laboratorio Arte Alameda in his native Mexico City from June till the beginning of September 2013.

Born in 1979 in Mexico City, he has been working in the fields of sound art, conceptual art and visual art since 1999; he has given concerts, conceived and realized performances and implemented a wide range of exhibition projects, usually in an interventionist mode and using ephemeral media. In the course of his career, de Vega has published various sound carriers and multiples and exhibited in galleries, museums and project spaces all over the world.

The starting point for all the individual projects or works realized at the Laboratorio Arte Alameda, the baroque church of the former convent of San Diego, now turned into a venue for contemporary art, is the exhibition space itself, including all its historical, social, and architectonic qualities. SIN arises out of the exhibition’s site and in fact puts NOTHING into it. Mario de Vega does not show ostensive artifacts to look at, but installations and installed objects that work through their appearance, or its absence.

His projects always also reflect the realities outside of the exhibition space: violence, threat, aggression, and pain can be found in many of de Vega’s works. His art is unsettling, rather than overtly empathizing or descriptive. It operates at a deeper and more elementary level — the visitor is confronted with pure appearances that powerfully modify perception and that can result in physically palpable effects. In the end, de Vega does not only shape an environment, but also the perception of it.

SIN simply means “without”, in Latin “if” or “but”. In English the word stands for transgression and sacrilege. Violence and the sins of the past denote the history of the former church of the convent of San Diego, which used to be the headquarters of the Mexican inquisition between 1571 and 1820, the place where so-called heretics were put on trial and many of them burned alive on the spot. The central work ABSENTIA is conceptually connects the venue’s history with the present. In the run-up to the exhibition, touring manufacturers will found a bell of one meter height and 600 kilograms, an artifact also referring to the missing main bell in the steeple of the exhibition space. Shortly before the opening of SIN, the bell will be brought to the courtyard of the Laboratorio Arte Alameda and be presented in a glass case. During the period of the exhibition, a 1.5 m deep hole will be dug on site by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH). At the same time, archeological examinations of the different layers of soil exposed in the process will be conducted. Once the exhibition ends, the bell will be inserted in exactly this hole. The dig site will remain open for the duration of the exhibition and be turned back into its original condition after the bell’s “burial”. Thus, the location of the buried bell, which will not be allowed to ring during its terrestrial lifetime, will not be visible anymore. Only a text will give proof of its existence — installed close to the plaque that marks the church as a site of the inquisition.

But SIN stands also for sinus, or sinusoidal tone. A sinusoidal tone is an audible tone whose underlying oscillation can be described by a mathematical function. To produce a pure sinusoidal tone is not possible, though electronically generated tones can come very close to it. The frequency spectrum ranges from very deep, mainly inaudible sounds through a relatively narrow range of audible sounds to very high, inaudible ones. In SIN, Mario de Vega leads the audience through the different sections of this spectrum and their effects and manifestations. In doing so he confronts the visitor with the limits of his or her perception as well as with human vulnerability to what is invisible — in this case, sound.

NODO, located in the former church’s empty nave, is a gigantic feedback sound system, using the room’s own resonance frequency as a basis. Due to the architectonic measures, the room’s volume and the materials used (stone, wood, glass), filling the room with its own resonance frequency causes an endless amount of spatially localizable oscillation activities that are permanently fed back into the room in real-time via a hidden speaker system, consisting of 16 subwoofers. What ensues is a perpetuum mobile of acoustic feedback, which takes visitors to their physical limits and puts the room in a state of permanent vibration. For this site specific work the artist had a dividing wall made of glass removed from the entrance area of the church’s main nave, with the result that now the main nave can be experienced in its original state.

Two other installations in the two lateral rooms of the main nave work with ultrasound, that is, within the ultra high, mostly inaudible sonic frequency range—often a byproduct of electric installations or electromagnetic waves.

In the left side wing of the building Mario de Vega installs a plane of dazzlingly bright luminaries. The installation’s hurting and unsettling brightness is amplified through the room-filling inaudible sound produced by the luminaries themselves, as light waves are frequencies belonging to the range of ultrasound.

In the Capilla de las Animas on the opposite side, vertical current-carrying wires stretching right up to the roof are blocking the entrance to the chapel like a security fence and allow the visitor to watch the recently uncovered mural only at a distance. The electricity running through the wires can rather be felt than heard; now and then there are rhythmic sounds of the switches, which show that this impermeable wall has a life of its own.

In hall E, situated outside of the exhibition space’s cross-shaped main building, Mario de Vega confronts the audience with CREDO — a wall made of subwoofers that project the harmonic scale of the frequency of 17 Hertz into the room. According to various studies, infrasound in this frequency range with its partially audible overtones can have certain momentary mind-altering effects such as visual hallucinations, physical malaise or problems with the sense of balance. In CREDO Mario de Vega manipulates individual perception through acoustic means and at the same time reflects on the human vulnerability to the growing number of infrasound systems (air conditioning systems, generators, etc.) and their powerful oscillation activities, pervading and imperceptibly penetrating the urban space.

In addition to the site-specific works, photographs, documents and relics of past projects by Mario de Vega, selected by Michel Blancsubé, are on view in a separate exhibition space. Ultimately, this archive is all that remains of the artist’s ephemeral interventions and actions. Since all of his works evolve around sound in the widest sense of the word, this silent visualization of the “residual” materials is the best way of imagining these sound worlds.

This demonstrates also that one of the characteristic features of the artist’s work is the processual. Mario de Vega started the vast project SIN as early as at the end of 2011 in Berlin, mapping out the first ideas and working on the conceptual elaboration of each planned work. Process forming an important aspect of the artist’s practice, these preparations are just as much part of the artworks that can now be experienced in the exhibition. All of it is about individual human presence and self-assertion vis-à-vis the world. Both as a whole and in its parts, SIN now fully discloses the radicalness and rigor of Mario de Vega’s artistic world.

Berlin, June 2013
Carsten Seiffarth, Curator