In Displacement
and Parallel:
aphael Montañez
Ortiz in Mexico 

Introspection: Raphael Montañez Ortiz
LABOR, Mexico City
22.11.14 – 10.01.15

In the afternoon of November 24, 2014, artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz destroyed a 1987 Kimball baby grand piano at the Mexico City’s gallery LABOR. Titled Dada con Mama, this intimate yet violent public ritual began by encircling the work’s central object with a granular border of kosher salt. The simple gesture delineated a stage for Ortiz’s subsequent performance: a guttural incantation informed by decades of research into his Yaqui heritage and transcendental sound. This cathartic ambiance sonically underscored the following, increasingly aggressive, action. Using a hatchet, an axe, and an electric chainsaw, Ortiz methodically disembowelled the piano as microphones within the instrument resonated a free noise concert of this disaggregating: strings suspended in unforeseen configurations as they unearthed the instrument’s resonance via its death.

The most recent in an evolving series of Piano Destruction Concerts that date from 1965, Dada con Mama builds upon half a century of theoretical and material experimentation by the artist. The solo exhibition ʻIntrospectionʼ ( November 22, 2014 – January 10, 2015 ), of which this concert forms one part, examines the multimodal manifestations of this exploration via performance, archive, and object.

In the late 1950s, Ortiz started to create ‘destructivist’ or ‘deconstructed’ cinema by reworking found footage pertaining to Hollywood stereotypes, American social inequity, and the threat of technological warfare. Chanting Native American war songs he would hack apart 16mm images with a tomahawk to ‘release their evil’ – sometimes recombining the fragmented celluloid as discordant visual narrative. This ritualistic purging via destructive processes directly prefigures Arqueological Finds ( 1961 – 1967 ) : a sculptural series composed of destroyed sofas, mattresses, cushions, and chairs. In similarly private actions, Ortiz would attack these commonplace domestic objects, calcifying their residue by combining the split wood, cotton, and wire using vegetable fibre, soluble resin, and wax. Lingering odours of salt and sea air speak to the ocean in which the sculptures would often be submerged in aid of oxidisation. A series of three photos taken by a solitary and accidental spectator, for instance, show Ortiz dismantling a chair on a Massachusetts beach, the rhythmic accretions of sand recalling a sacrificial territory of transcendence and death the artist likens to Aztec rituals. The work is titled Sacrifice a Truro.

The mangled and material artifacts of these early ( private ) performances – which most often adhere to fine art conventions of painting and sculpture – is represented at LABOR by Sunburst ( 1960 ) : a canvas made of paper towels burnished golden shades of rust and blood, transformed via oils and stapled on cardboard. Placed at the far end of the L-shaped space, a linear progression blown like Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus from the present into the future as it faces a catastrophic past, the canvas presents itself as origin from which the other works radiate. This abstract illumination gazes upon two facing rows of framed photographs, handwritten manifestos, political cartoons, and newspaper clippings that narrate the evolution of Ortiz’s practice alongside – and inseparable from – its sensationalist rendering in popular media.

Such sensationalism derives, in part, from the increasingly public nature of Ortiz’s rituals. Beginning with Destruction Realizations – ceremonial works that also include sacrifices of chickens and other neo-Dadaist theatricalities, of which the Piano Destruction Concerts were complicit – Ortiz’s practice dramatically shifted in themid-’60s through the inclusion and subsequent implication of an audience. In manifestos and interviews, Ortiz links these action-sculptures to an increasing apprehension of growing violence in the world as well as to a personal sense of dislocation ( of Puerto Rican descent, he was born and raised in New York ). He concludes his seminal 1962 manifesto ‘Destructivism’ with the following affirmation:

A displacement and parallel process exist between man and the objects he makes. Man, like the objects he makes, is himself a result of transforming processes. It is therefore not difficult to comprehend how as a mattress or any other man-made object is released from and transcends its logically determined form through destruction, an artist, led by associations and experiences resulting from his destruction of the man-made objects, is also released from and transcends his logical self.

In such writing, Ortiz frames his experience as a cultural immigrant by default as a form of shackling. This highly personal motivation soon found both compatriots and theoretical context in the politically charged atmosphere of avant-garde art in the 1960s; this opening up of his practice through both interlocutors and observers is detailed in Introspection via a selection of framed photographs. In 1966, Ortiz travelled from New York City to London to participate in the first Destruction in Art Symposium ( DIAS ). Based at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden and organized primarily by Polish émigré, artist, and political activist Gustav Metzger, DIAS brought together an international group of artists, poets, musicians, and psychologists from Europe, the United States, Japan, and industrialised countries in Latin America to explore the potentialities of destruction in art. Participants included Viennese Actionists Gunter Brus, Otto Muehl, and Hermann Nitsch, Fluxus affiliates like Yoko Ono, Henri Chopin, and Wolf Vostell and outliers like the little-known Brazilian explosive artist Guy Pro-Diaz.

As art historian Kristine Stiles has made clear with her foundational historiography of this event, published in a 1992 issue of Discourse journal under the title ‘Survival Ethos and Destruction Art’, the month-long DIAS was never intended to signify a ‘movement’ or an ‘ism’. Rather, it ‘represented a special moment in which a small body of international artists shared a discriminating attitude about the use of destruction as an element in the creation of art, as a conceptual frame, as an attitude to the world, and as a way of relating subject matter in art to events and conditions in society.’ These shared attitudes developed in the aftermath of the Second World War via a consideration of such atrocities as the Holocaust and atomic bomb technology. Consumed with the tangible social and psychic effects of industrialised warfare as well as the spread of institutionally sanctified violence, artists sought a means of both understanding and displacement. How do the mechanisms of brutality operate within an increasingly post-industrial society driven by optimisation and anesthetisation? And can the work of art somehow mitigate this drive towards destruction by displacing it through ritual and performance, thereby transfiguring actual power to one that is purely symbolic?

The manifold responses to these two central questions do not cohere into a single, identifiable, approach. In the essay cited previously, Stiles writes that works shown at DIAS signalled an ‘answer or countercharge that is cross-cultural, postindustrial, interdisciplinary, and multinational, and which shares no unified aesthetic, method, or technique.’ This diversity of rhetorical and performed violence, however, does share unifying strategies that remain relevant for a consideration of Ortiz´s work today, all of which are at play throughout ʻIntrospectionʼ: the use of destruction to critique the object as cultural commodity or collectible artwork; a localisation of violence in the body, presented as object or actor of destruction; an unravelling of distinction between genre, cultural register, and media; and an emphasis on the distinction between art and life via a consideration of symbolism.

By navigating a practice that is at once political and symbolic, psychological and social, the legacy of destructivism in art thus exceeds both responsive critique and historical ghettoisation. As Ortiz states in a 2011 interview with artist Pedro Reyes, it approaches destruction ‘within that scary context of the history of human beings on this planet… digging into the psyche.’ The Piano Destruction Concerts in particular evade art-historical contingencies via a process wherein psychic preoccupations are made reiteratively manifest in dialogue with specific political and cultural events. Ortiz has continued to revisit and reconfigure this concert series since the ‘60s, examples of which include: Piano Destructive Sacrifice Concert ( 1986 )in the Italian Alps, an open-air destruction preceded by a mountain procession; Soul Release Piano Destruction: Homage to Huelsenbeck ( 1988 ) in Cologne, Germany, in which two pianos were destroyed in celebration of the German Dada artist whose influence on Ortiz´s practice and career was imperative; and The Sacrifice and the Resurrection / Soul Release Performance ( 1992 ) at the Museum Moderner Kunst in Vienna, Austria, where audience members were instructed to gather their evil thoughts into hand-held eggs that were then smashed on the piano.

When heard in Mexico City in 2014, the dying piano becomes an anguished cry for the forty-three missing student teachers kidnapped in the state of Guerrero by local police working with the cartels that are emboldened by the apparent absence of local and federal government, a trauma that both recalls and resonates with the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre of students in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. At LABOR gallery on that early winter day, one child sitting in the front row covered her ears, tears streaming silently, while another leaned forward gleefully, seemingly entranced by the artist’s iconoclastic destruction of an object he had been told to respect. Such divergent reactions are just two of countless others. Bringing forward past trauma onto present reality and internal desires onto the social haemorrhaging of a predatory government, this destruction concert registers its indexicality with waves of indeterminate and aching sound.





《钢琴破坏协奏曲》这个逐渐展开的系列可以追溯到1965年,其中最新的《爸爸和妈妈》是艺术家建立在半个世纪的理论和材料试验基础上的。在个展《内省》( 2014年11月22日至2015年1月10日 )中,这次音乐会就构成了其中一部分,审视了对这次通过行为、档案和物品进行探索的多模式呈现。

50年代末,欧特兹开始创作‘破坏性的’或‘解构’电影,改造了与好莱坞陈词滥调、美国社会不平等以及高科技战争的威胁有关的现成电影片段。他吟唱着美国土著居民的战歌,用一把战斧把十六毫米影像劈开,‘释放出它们的罪恶’—有时又把这些破碎的胶片重新组合,成为不和谐的视觉叙事。通过破坏过程进行的这种仪式性的净化,直接预示了《考古发现》( 1961–1967 ):一个由破坏的沙发、床垫、靠垫和椅子组成的雕塑系列。欧特兹以类似的私下举动,攻击了这些常见的家用物品,用植物纤维、可溶性松香和蜡把劈开的木头、棉花和电线组合起来,让被破坏物的残留部分凝固下来。盐和海风挥之不去的气味,让人想到了大海,雕塑往往会被沉入海中以助于氧化。例如一位孤独的、偶然经过的观众拍到的三幅照片,展现了欧特兹在马萨诸塞的海滩上拆卸一把椅子,沙子有节奏的堆积让人想到艺术家同阿兹特克人的仪式联系起来的超自然和死亡的献祭之地。作品标题为《祭献特鲁洛号》。

这些早期( 私下的 )行为艺术损坏的、物质的人造物—往往固守绘画和雕塑的纯美术传统—在LABOR艺廊以《阳光突现》( 1960 )为代表:纸巾制成的画布擦拭了金色的锈迹和血迹的形状,因为油而发生变化,钉在了卡纸上。摆放在L型空间的末端,一个像保罗·克里的《新天使》面对着悲惨的过去,从现在发展到未来那样,支离破碎的线性发展,画布把自己呈现为其他作品延伸出来的原点。这个抽象的启示凝视着两排面对面并装框的照片、手写宣言、政治漫画和剪报,叙述了欧特兹创作实践的一路发展,以及与之不可分割的在大众媒体中的感觉论式的渲染。

这样一种感觉论部分来自于欧特兹的仪式越发公共化的本质。从《破坏的实现》开始,仪式性的作品也包括了把鸡作为祭品,还有其他新达达主义的戏剧风格,《钢琴破坏协奏曲》恰恰是其中的同谋—欧特兹的创作实践在60年代中叶透过纳入并最终涉及到一位观众,而发生了戏剧性的变化。在宣言和访谈中,欧特兹把这些行为雕塑同对世界上暴力日盛以及个人对错位的感觉日益深刻的理解( 他身为波多黎各裔,在纽约出生并长大 )联系起来。他总结自己在1962年具开创性的宣言‘破坏主义’中提出了如下主张:


在这类写作中,欧特斯把自己作为默认的文化移民的体验框定为一种阻挠。这种高度个人化的动机很快就在50年代先锋艺术那种充满政治紧张感的氛围中找到了同僚和理论的背景;他的创作实践通过对话者和观察者而逐渐开放,在《内省》中通过一系列带框的照片中展示得非常详细。1966年,欧特兹从纽约来到伦敦,参与了第一次‘艺术论坛上的破坏’( DIAS )。DIAS坐落在科芬园中的非洲文化中心,最初由波兰裔流亡者、艺术家和政治活动家古斯塔夫·梅茨格尔组织创办,从欧洲、美国、日本和拉丁美洲的工业化国家聚集起一批艺术家、诗人、音乐家和心理学家,探讨破坏在艺术中的可能性。参与者包括维也纳行动主义者君特·布鲁斯、奥图·梅厄以及赫尔曼·尼奇;激浪派成员如小野洋子、亨利·肖邦和沃尔夫·福斯特尔;一些局外人,例如不太知名巴西爆发性的艺术家盖伊·普罗–迪亚兹。




Raphael Montañez Ortiz Dada con Mama, 2014. Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist and LABOR, Photo ©Ramiro Chaves. 拉斐尔·蒙塔内兹·欧特兹 爸爸和妈妈, 2014, 装置 承蒙艺术家和LABOR艺廊惠允使用。图片©拉米罗 · 查韦斯

Raphael Montañez Ortiz Dada con Mama, 2014. Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist and LABOR, Photo ©Ramiro Chaves. 拉斐尔·蒙塔内兹·欧特兹 爸爸和妈妈, 2014, 装置承蒙艺术家和LABOR艺廊惠允使用。图片©拉米罗 · 查韦斯

Raphael Montañez Ortiz, Dada con Mama, 2014. Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist and LABOR, Photo ©Ramiro Chaves. 拉斐尔·蒙塔内兹·欧特兹《爸爸和妈妈》,2014,装置承蒙艺术家和LABOR艺廊惠允使用。图片©拉米罗·查韦斯

通过驾驭一种曾经是政治性和象征性的、心理的和社会性的实践,艺术中的破坏主义这一传统由此超越了应答式的批判和历史上的隔离化。正如欧特兹2011年与艺术家佩德罗·雷耶斯的访谈中所说,它‘在这个星球上人类历史的可怕背景下’来着手破坏,‘深入其灵魂’。《钢琴破坏协奏曲》尤其规避了艺术史上的偶然性,通过与特定政治和文化事件的对话,精神上的关注被反复呈现出来的过程。从60年代以来,欧特兹一直不断地重拾并重新改造这个协奏曲系列,典型例证包括在意大利阿尔卑斯山的《钢琴破坏祭奠协奏曲》( 1986 ),这是在山间列队行进后进行的一次露天破坏;在德国科隆的《灵魂释放钢琴破坏:向胡森贝克致敬》( 1988 ),两架钢琴被破坏,以便颂扬这位德国达达主义艺术家,因为这位艺术家对欧特兹的创作事件和艺术生涯带来的影响非常重要;在奥地利维也纳现代艺术博物馆的《牺牲与复活/灵魂释放行为表演》( 1992 ),观众被指导着把自己的恶念集中在手中握着的鸡蛋中,然后把它们在钢琴上摔碎。