Critics’ Picks

Mauricio Rocha, Pabellón Fonográfico (Phonographic Pavilion) (detail), 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Mauricio Rocha, Pabellón Fonográfico (Phonographic Pavilion) (detail), 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Mexico City

“Modos de Oír”

Laboratorio Arte Alameda
Dr. Mora 7 Col. Centro
June 29, 2018–March 31, 2019

Ex Teresa Arte Actual
Licenciado Verdad 8, Centro
June 29, 2018–March 31, 2019

Marcel Duchamp’s early-twentieth-century plaint about the deeply retinal nature of art doesn’t seem to resonate in present-day Mexico, whose art scene can feel awash in visuality. Attempting to counter the situation, Laboratorio Arte Alameda and Ex Teresa Arte Actual have conducted a joint survey that engages entirely with sonic phenomena.

“Modos de Oír” (Ways to Listen), which maps the national production of art-and-sound couplings, is vast, embracing sound art, electroacoustic music, sound-activated sculptures and low-tech devices, radio art, historical voice recordings, and more. At Ex Teresa Arte Actual, viewers are welcomed by Pabellón Fonográfico (Phonographic Pavilion), 2018, an architectural installation by Mauricio Rocha located in the main nave (both venues are former churches). The scaffold structure rightly conveys a sense of incompleteness: It’s an ascending wooden, spiral ramp with seventeen speakers embedded more or less randomly. María Sabina’s mushroom ceremony, philosopher Luis Villoro’s musings on silence, Felipe Ehrenberg’s and Juan José Gurrola’s experimental music, and Tito Rivas’s phonographic reconstruction of a student massacre were sourced from archives, artistic or otherwise. Altogether, the recordings generate a soundscape whose plurality hints at the dissonant array of voices provided by the show’s curatorial team.

At Laboratorio Arte Alameda, several works employ obsolete media to reflect on the cultural implications of material conservation—how the survival of an entire language and its history, for example, might rely on a flimsy wax cylinder. The politics of sound is capital to Minerva Cuevas’s The Battle of Kalliope, 2004, in which she curses the US administration using an antique music box that simultaneously plays a German melody and the rhythm of a vodun ritual. As an overall project, “Modos de Oír” is a welcome addition to the charting of new genealogies in Mexican art, and it joyously leaves the door open to further readings, and hearings.