The project Representation of a Piano (2010 – currently in process) by Oscar Abraham Pabón (1984, Venezuela) stems from the intention to construct a piano in a context of precariousness. From materials found in the nearby environment and without any relevant experience in constructing musical instruments, the artist tries to represent a piano – not by chance a perfect symbol of Western civilization – returning to its essence, its main objective, which is to make music. The limitations implied by this working method are of vital importance, as they enforce a reconsideration of a given form and logic while stimulating the emergence of alternative and potentially new appearances.
Representation of a Piano reflects the way modernity has been inserted outside the West and provides an understanding of how repetition, representation or the act of copying, instigated by local interpretations, needs and possibilities, can lead to alternative and new forms. Or, in short; how a copy can become something original.
During the production process in MAC Quinta Normal Representation of a Piano obtained a new form of presentation, one that focuses on the act of copying and reproducing together with the transmission of music.
For this occasion Pabón developed a sound installation constructed exclusively with objects and materials found in the museum’s warehouse. Wandering through a variety of pavilions, characterized by a clear modernist appearance, one can hear reproductions of minimalist musical pieces, titled Intentos de Copias, executed by Pabón between the edges of his knowledge and ignorance. Following this line of thought a series of musical scores, El Canto de los Pájaros, is on show, referring to the composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992, France).
Pabón never learned to write scores. He thus created his own musical notation – which surprisingly shows much resemblance to the first known notation system created by monks in the Middle Ages. Like the sound installation, the scores and the reproductions of existing pieces of music offer a thinking model that fosters differences and therefore possible new findings.
The artistic practice of Pabón departs from ostensibly everyday objects that gradually unfold into multi-layered conceptual sculptures, installations, performance- and sound art that reach far beyond the artistic realm and touch upon more philosophical and social-political issues. His primary sources of inspiration are the socio-political implications of modernity and the development of modern thought. Aware of the fact that cornerstones of Western modernity such as rationalism, progress thinking, euro-centrism and the emancipatory project have undeniably shaped social and political structures worldwide, Pabón also knows how the project of modernity, and later modernist (artistic) developments, have been adapted to the particular circumstances of their environment, and thus have managed to reinterpret modern(ist) norms.
In the visual arts this was the case with Brazilian anthropophagism in the sixties for example, the artistic movement that encouraged to incorporate Western artistic influences and to combine them with local traditions, concepts and needs in order to create a new, authentic form. A similar process can be identified, although to a lesser extent, within the concrete movement in Argentina in the 40s in which artists created an alternative visual lexicon, deriving from the one employed by European artists. It is in these moments of repetition, adaptation or appropriation that Pabón has perceived an intriguing phenomenon; the possibility of the emergence of an alternative, of something new, and along these lines the expansion of knowledge.
Pabón’s oeuvre revolves around questions such as “How can we stretch our current domain of knowledge? “What are the conditions for such a phenomenon?” “What are the conditions for the appearance of something new?” More specifically he wonders what kind of knowledge can be gained from the arts. These epistemological questions lead to speculations that form an important core of Pabón’s work and have lead to a conceptually intriguing and visually attractive body of work, of which Representation of a Piano can be regarded as the pièce de résistance until today.
Photos by Oscar Abraham Pabón
Representation of a Piano was generously supported by the Mondriaan Fund