Review by David Vélez
Among the many concepts and notions that I find basic and even redundant in regard of ‘sound art’ one that I find particularly elementary is that sound art doesn’t necessarily have to actually produce sounds.
During a failed attempt to curate a sound art exhibition a few months ago in Bogotá I learned about the work of Juan Cortés a young artist and composer from Bogotá. A few weeks later, on August of this year, Cortés presented a series of pieces in an exhibition named ‘Transmission’ at the Valenzuela Klenner Gallery in downtown Bogotá. I was intrigued about his work so I went there to see the exhibition and ask him a few questions.
I was first interested in the work of Juan Cortés because I wanted to explore (as curator) the more visual end to sound art and some of his works seems to occur at this end. He is very interested in the visual output of acoustic and electromagnetic processes producing very compelling and pleasant works under the premise.
As I dive deeper in the pieces for the ‘Transmission’ exhibition and as I recall our conversation, I realize that his interest expands over sound, electromagnetism or even their visual representations; he seems largely concerned about ‘forces’.
‘In physics, a force is any influence that causes an object to undergo a certain change, either concerning its movement, direction, or geometrical construction. In other words, a force can cause an object with mass to change its velocity (which includes to begin moving from a state of rest), i.e., to accelerate, or a flexible object to deform, or both.’
We all seem to be in a certain extent obsessed with forms whether they are visual or acoustic. The shapes, textures and volumetrics of things appear as potential subjects of our attention as we tend to find emotional, conceptual and aesthetic content on them.
But what is behind those forms? What has shaped them into the way they appear to us…?
There seems to be a force (or many) behind every form we see. But what is the relation between the forms and the forces that shapes them?
Some of Juan Cortés works such as ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Horizon’ seem to be so aesthetically pleasant and consciously produced that you hardly could believe they are the product of an incidental process. Instead here Cortés creates a complex electronic and electric paraphernalia -based on energy and data reading- in order to bring to the world the kind of images that he is interested in. This pieces are drawings and paintings made without using a pencil or brushes but made by using this paraphernalia as a drawing / painting tool. Sound and electromagnetic waves become a tool in a mixed-media process with very fortunate visual results.
’60 Hz’ is an installation that reads the electromagnetic spectrum of the gallery’s electric and electronic systems and translates them into a series of sounds that are projected on loudspeakers. Working with inaudible electromagnetic waves is something that Christina Kubisch and many other artists has done in the past but what I find interesting here is how Cortés applied it to the notion of self-awareness and location and structure. On ’60 Hz’ an inorganic electronic set up becomes ‘aware’ of its surroundings and responds to that as part of a very poetic excercice that presents a number of meaningful conceptual and emotional lectures.
The ‘Land’ series is probably what impressed me the most from the exhibition. These are individual tiny installations where Cortés takes powder of different metallic material and with a series magnetic montages makes them move in very pleasant ways. He cleverly added a magnifying lens that allows to see in detail all the movement and forms occurring when the metallic powder is activated by the magnetic devices. For some reason this moving masses of powder instead of looking like a high school scientific demonstration, grow to appear as organic entities inhabiting bizarre and unlikely environments. The success of this series – and the reason why they don’t look like like a high school scientific demonstration- is for me the careful and thoughtful way the different powder was selected and put together and also the subtle, slow and paused way in which the movement occurs; the installment set up here is so clever that movement is sometimes imperceptible and this left me wondering about how much of this movement is actually occurring out there. The magnifying lens -the other key element- gives to the observer (and observed subject) central roles as it occurs on every event in the universe that is perceived.
By exploring what he is exploring and by doing it in the way he is doing it Juan Cortés gives to his procedures and installments a compelling and intriguing organic presence that disclose powerful metaphoric means addressing the forces of nature as the ultimate sculptors of what we call reality.
There are forces that shapes forms all across the universe but is the observer who makes them ‘real’.
* Upper image ‘Land’