Between what resists to disappear and the premonitory dream of a future that has already been, Tania Candiani explores the revolutionary poetics of the anachronism and the universal curiosity that moves the world.
She herself embodies that interdisciplinary curiosity that today seems relegated to art, given the drastic separation between fields of knowledge that once went hand in hand.
We sense the same sensitivity and poetic emphasis in the way Tania gives new life and function, through sound, to old mechanical looms and the way in which she makes visionary desires of the past come true using contemporary technologies (such as when in a parabolic flight to experience microgravity, in 2015, she used a winged device as it was invented by the locksmith Mr. Besnier in the 17th century).
One of her most celebrated installations, winner of the Prix Arts Electronica in 2013, included an organ that transforms writing into voice and interprets scores of texts referring to automata becoming aware of themselves; a machine that listens to secrets and embroiders them in the language of graffiti (Embroidery), and, between these and other variations of phonic circumstances, a Pause: a writer tells a story to an escribano (a public notary, a profession almost extinct but still surviving in plaza de Santo Domingo in Mexico City), and he first write a first draft and then types it using his own words.
Tania understands language as a living entity that says as much as keeps silent, that encrypts and deciphers, mutates the sense and enriches it, deviates, interprets, practices creative transferences between orality, writing, music, and even light.
Q- Once you explained how the idea of making the piece Pianolas came about: in your studio you used old piano rolls as curtains. One day, listening to welders working outside, you noticed how light and noise seeped through the perforated notes… producing a kind of synesthesia. Could this “discovery” be extended to your way of conceiving art, creation, invention … as serendipity and intuition?
There is a lot of serendipity in the creative act, and also in the investigation, when there are accidents that show an unexpected nook that triggers us towards other searches. Just as that day that light transformed the perforations of pianola roll into a matrix of information in motion, everything has other ways of being watched.
I guess it connects with the ability of observation and amazement, which I’ve always thought comes from the way my dad taught me to see. Being a girl I sometimes accompanied him to visit construction works (he is an architect) and often he parked the car on the edge of the road to stop and see a puddle, to observe the way in which the light affected and caused the exterior to be reflected inside: the sky inside the puddle, the long grass, tree foliage. I think that the training of the attentive look makes me always be in alert of what is not seen at first sight, in an empirical way. The importance of finding, more than the experiment.
A few years ago, being in a residence in Scotland, I could somehow “see from afar” the process of connection between ideas and thoughts, the way in which I establish visual, conceptual and emotional connections. That is, the way I was organizing ideas with others resulted in a creative process. A combinatorial ars that detonates in a series of pieces. Combination, reorganization, with a lot of serendipity itself, as a vehicle or artifact of invention.
Q- In Vimana tale (2017) you bring patterns of thoughts together, linking times and spaces, laminating mythical substrates with open contemporary interpretations, revelations of gods with science fiction, and even Chinese handicrafts (paper lanterns or sky lanterns) with the Hindu worldview. From the charriot of the gods to the flying saucers… Is beautifully exemplified your repeated effort to combine allegory, craftsmanship and engineering, faith and science.
The relationships and connections that can be established by researching a topic are opportunities to make history sandwiches. The investigation on the Vimanas starts from learning about the Besnier piece and the whole project On the Flight. The desire of man to fly is connected with both science and the divine, artisanal and more advanced technologies.
In the last three years I have worked on projects that involve craftsmanship, tradition, sustainability, synesthesia, rhythm and translation, producing installations and pieces that are reflections about our relationship with the history of knowledge production. Working with traditional artisan crafts in their work environment has also given me the possibility of direct approach to these crafts, understanding that any skill, even the most abstract, begins with body practice, and that technical understanding expands the power of the imagination.
I am interested in a deep exploration of the moment of invention, understanding it as one episode of an extraordinary story, which has been evolving in language, approaches, philosophical intentions, meanings. I am additionally interested in how visions of scientiﬁc and technological progress carry with them implicit ideas about public purposes, collective futures, and the common good; and how these ideas are in constant evolution not just in technological processes, but in conceptual meanings.
Q- Time is another of your subjects, that you dealt in La Magdalena, Campanario, Plataforma sonora, in the installation of alarm clocks in the middle of the desert … Cyclical and linear time, sacred and profane time, mechanical and digital time … overlap. Could we see in it, as an underlying aspect, an interest in recovering the time experience as something intrinsic, biological…, beyond those imposed from the outside, alienating ones?
I feel the notion of time in a poetic way, the time of things that have a very different duration from what we can fix. In Scotland I was touched to live in a medieval tower, in Saint Cirq Lapopie, a village built on a mountain formation with caves that preserve the earliest paintings made by man. I think about the immeasurable time of the Earth that makes we aware of our smallness.
My intention is to rescue (in the sense of ﬁnding) inventions and technologies that were forgotten because of their absurdity, impracticality, or their lack of relevance in the particular historic moment in which they were realized. Many of these technologies reveal past concepts of future that never came to be. The negotiation between the past and the future acceding to the present moment becomes a form of cultural archeology. . .
Q- Before your projects we discover that everything speaks to us (the walls of an old cloister, the bowels of the city …) The language linked to the memory of a place but also to the needs of the present through urban interventions? I think of those that involve different groups: from graffiti artists to women playing in unison a pre-hispanic musical instrument that was traditionally reserved for men, in different metro stations (Pulse 2016).
Everything is sound. Everything sounds. The seconds of my watches, the guttural noises of my cat Felini -which is dumb-, the electronic bird that I have on my desk, planes flying over my house in the afternoons, the rain on the roof of my workshop, the morning birds and also the moms behind the wheel whistling their hurry without shyness… the mosquitoes buzz. My fingers sound on the computer keyboard, my desk chair creaks, and also things that I am thinking sound, with caution first, and at times screaming when they become clearer.
Music is something else. It has the power to quiet everything else that sounds to impose, as floating: on, under, around, from within. In my life music has always been there, since I was a child, with my uncles and cousins, all them musicians, my dad who played the guitar and sang with me old songs. With the smell of tapes running on their big reel recorder, it smelled of music and the house was filled with a party feeling. When I chose my first album it was On the Radio, by Donna Summer. It was a purple album cover and she with a floral dress was sitting on an antique radio. I always thought that the city skyline behind her was N.Y. I was 5 years old when I placed the disc upon the turnable console, standing on tiptoes to reach the needle arm. And I was dancing in front of the speakers out loud.
I would dance in front of the loudspeakers with the same enthusiasm many years later, living in Tijuana, when Tijuana’s electronic scene began to gain great relevance.
Music is not always to dance. It is intertwined with the music one chooses to wake up, to prepare to go out in the morning, which is not the same one you listen to go out at night. What you hear has to do with the moment you are living. The city that one hears every day, the pulse of the one who sleeps next to you, the mood, the noise of friends. There are seasons of hearing aids and favorite discs, there are seasons of deep silence.
Now the sound comes out of all the things I think, from my sketches of projects, from future projections. Long live to the sound waves!
Q- These days you are doing a residency in Casa Wabi, on Oaxaca coast. What activities are you doing there and what other ongoing projects can you tell us about?
Here, free from the internet, I took to read The Invention of Nature. Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf, and The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. I’m with a project in progress that consists on a series of pictograms; and a community project with a group of cooks and fisherwomen who will percuss with their hands on the water to make a sound action (inspired by a Tahitian ritual).
I have a project that excites me that will take place at the Museo del Chopo in February. It is the captive flight of a hot air balloon that we will build on the site and fly inside the museum. It connects with the investigation on the Mexican aeronautical industry and the first person who flew in a balloon in Mexico (Joaquín de la Cantolla, hence the name of Cantoya balloon), and also with the museum architecture history, that once functioned as a pavilion for a world fair, and it was at these fairs that the captive balloon show was the preferred one.
There is another project of great encouragement, For the Animals, in which I have worked together with Julio Morales, curator of the Arizona State University Museum. It consists of turning a mountain into a sound amplifier with the use of piezoelectric crystals, and playing eight sound compositions produced for 8 animals native to the area that live in the zoo at the foot of the mountain. These animals are under the thread of extinction due to the border wall. Eight sound artists will be invited to work with biologists and specialists in the listening skills of each species, so the composition will sound in the specific range in which these animals hear. Then there will be a translation process where I will make a series of artifacts whose function will be to allow humans to perceive these murmurs that were created for animals.
I am also working on the postproduction of Pulso (the sound action which you mentioned earlier), in addition to a series of investigations for the Smithsonian about failed inventions, disappearing languages, the relationship between a color and the word that names it, the moment of invention, and a few other things…
Interviewed by Anna Adell