San Gimignano

Carlos Garaicoa, Partitura (Score), 2017/2021, sound, video, music stands, tablets, paper, ink. Installation view.

Carlos Garaicoa, Partitura (Score), 2017/2021, sound, video, music stands, tablets, paper, ink. Installation view.

Carlos Garaicoa

“This is one of the happiest works I’ve ever made,” Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa commented in passing as we paused in front of the video—a hybrid mixing filmed footage with playful animation—that ties together the discrete parts of his installation Partitura (Score), 2017/2021. First shown at Bilbao’s Azkuna Zentroa, which commissioned it, this collaborative piece draws on the input of some forty street musicians filmed in Bilbao and Madrid. Here in San Gimignano, snippets of their wide-ranging performances can be heard on headphones and viewed on tablets neatly placed over hand-drawn sheet music in the lower right-hand corner of the music stands filling the stalls area of the 1950s movie theater that houses Galleria Continua.

A familiar presence in any urban landscape, buskers are by no means unambivalently joyous figures. The effect produced by this ghost orchestra, whose absent musicians were all, as it were, confined to their stations, is somewhat chilling. The sense of alienation and lack of communication is compounded by the fact that the conductor’s music stand, which comes with its own sheet music covered in whimsical notations vaguely reminiscent of Paul Klee’s drawings, is placed behind rather than in front of the orchestra. The stands themselves face the back of the video-animation component of the work, projected across a triptych of screens. These rest on a wrought-iron railing affixed to a stepped, circular platform, which is also fitted with cubical benches for visitors to sit on. Touted as Garaicoa’s “first interactive work,” Partitura does not in fact engage its audience other than in a passive way. If there is any interaction to speak of, it involves the street players and Garaicoa’s longtime collaborator and fellow countryman Esteban Puebla, who composed a score based on their varied musical offerings. This score was then interpreted by a handful of the musicians—including Garaicoa’s wife, clarinet player Mahé Marty—who are featured in the video triptych.

Other more recent works displayed on the stage above the stalls and in two contiguous spaces also explore the fractured nature of urban environments—an ongoing preoccupation for the artist—encapsulated in the flotilla of broken car mirrors in Soñamos en la superficie rayada de un cristal (We Dream on the Scratched Surface of a Crystal), 2021. Of different shapes and sizes, each mirror bears its own aphoristic inscription—for instance, A CONTINOUS RUPTURE IS A CONTINOUS [sic], or SOMOS DE UNA NATURALEZA INCONCLUSA (We are an unfinished nature).

Although hardly a metropolis, San Gimignano is a city of towers, whose silhouettes together form an urban skyline. Of the seventy-two such structures that the medieval fortified town once boasted, fourteen survive. Displayed around the former theater’s stage, Garaicoa’s “Ciudad archivo” (Archive City) series, 2020–21, with its lit-up neon signs resting atop cabinets full of drawers made to conjure apartment buildings, thus resonates with the show’s context. The same can be said of the nine elongated, mostly monochrome paintings on birchwood from the “Vertical” series accompanying Encuentro vertical (Vertical Encounter), both 2021, the latter a sculpture in marble, alabaster, wood, and other materials, nodding to Vladimir Tatlin’s unbuilt tower. Referencing Russian utopian architecture and Brazilian Neo-Concretism alike, the six exquisite cutout drawings in the “S/T (Bend Building)” series, 2021, are presented, almost as an afterthought, on opposite sides of the upper balcony in a venue that speaks to the retrofuturism at the heart of the show.