Pictures at an Installation

George Cisneros

Exhibition: Mar 11 – Apr 18, 1999


In Matisse’s famous phrase, an artwork should be like a comfortable armchair, allowing the viewer a moment of rest and consolation. George Cisneros’ installation Pictures at an Installation goes one step further. He has placed a set of actual armchairs in conversational arrangements in the center of his space. As a computer programmed piano plays hypnotic music, viewers are invited to let their eyes linger over the mysterious concrete reliefs which line the walls. The effect is to induce a state of meditative contemplation.

The title of this work is, of course, a play on Moussorgsky’s famous musical composition Pictures at an Exhibition. There is a twist, however. While Moussorgsky created a musical composition inspired by a set of paintings, here Cisneros started with his own musical compositions and created visual objects that relate to them. Cisneros ability to move between artistic disciplines is a function of his refusal to accept hard and fast distinctions between music, art and technology.

This is clear from his biography. Cisneros was trained as a musician and studied music composition, percussion, computer music and imaging. He currently runs a business as an Internet provider and website creator, while maintaining a multimedia production company. Meanwhile, he performs with Carnaval de San Anto, a dance and batucada ensemble and directs La Flecha de Tiempo, an electronic and traditional percussion trio. He has also taught, worked as an arts administrator and created public art works, including a huge video wall for San Antonio’s International Center.

Pictures at an Installation is a study in the reconciliation of supposed opposites. On one hand, the musical compositions here are exemplars of the most advanced audio technology. On another, the concrete reliefs on the wall employ a form of casting that is a millennia-old tradition. There is another contrast as well. The music is ethereal and immaterial, while the reliefs are massive and heavy. Yet as Cisneros points out that, on a more basic level, these distinctions are illusory. At the root of both the electronically created music and the concrete casts is a pair of crystalline materials – the computer silicon and the concrete’s feldspar. Surprisingly, given their apparently antithetical effects, these raw materials share an essential structure.

There is another parallelism in the structures of the compositions Cisneros has created in music and concrete. Both are composed of arrangements of positive and negative elements. The music is made up of units of sound and silence. And the reliefs come in two varieties. On one side of the room the concrete has been created from a mold, filling in the empty spaces to create a negative cast. On the other, the process has been reversed. Three-dimensional impressions are created by building forms on wood covered with cheesecloth and burlap. Then the concrete is sprayed over the forms – creating a positive relief.

One of Cisneros’ early inspirations was John Cage, the innovative musical rebel whose ideas about chance and randomness deeply influenced the course of postwar music and art. Cisneros was particularly taken by Cage’s insistence that art and life are one. His own work is dedicated to the idea of making art and music part of everyday life. This is clear here in the armchair arrangement which mimics a familiar living room. It is also an element in the forms which appear in the reliefs themselves.

The imagery varies greatly. The negative concrete casts include a work which Cisneros has titled A sudden and sever gash in the face of the earth. The only overtly political work here, it contains an incision which matches the outlines of the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Above these lines floats the Morse code for the words “liberty” and “justice.” Other works have more ambiguous imagery. A representation of the movements of electrons also suggests sperm and egg. One sculpture was based on an aerial view of a garden plan, another contains a relief of a wrench. Yet others are more purely abstract. Cisneros has also included a plaster relief salvaged from his past which presents an impression of the hands of the artist and his siblings made when he was three years old. Lined up on the wall, the concrete sculptures seem to send mysterious messages. This is intentional, as their shape and stylized forms make reference to Mayan glyphs, a form of communication so ancient it begins to seem futuristic.

John Cage also emphasized the important role of chance in the creation of art. While Cisneros has moved away from that in his music, which has a tight architectural structure employing both cycles and repetition, the reliefs show evidence of the productive effects of happy accidents. When casting the concrete, Cisneros mixed in a chemical additive to accelerate the drying process. But it also created unexpected effects in the finished work in the form of unplanned textures and discolorations. Cisneros has welcomed these as visible evidence of the process by which the works were created.

Taken as a whole, Pictures at an Installation offers an engaging advance in Cisneros’ ongoing effort to meld art forms, historical moments and the body and mind. He likes to quote a Tibetan description of the goal of enlightenment. It goes “In all company, happy.” This work is dedicated to furthering that elusive goal.

-Eleanor Heartney

Eleanor Heartney is a Contributing Editor of Art in America and author of Critical Condition: American Culture at the Crossroads.

Artist

George Cisneros

San Antonio, Texas, USA

George Cisneros is a multi-faceted artist, a practicing composer, video artist, sculptor and technophile. His work explores an artistic language that combines performance, technology, education and community involvement. Works range from orchestral music pieces to sound sculptures and installations that employ electronic devices, video and computer graphics. Throughout his career, he has concentrated on using art and the creative process as elements for community expression. As a percussionist, performer, clinician and educator, he has worked throughout the U.S. and Latin America in schools, social centers, corporations and research labs.

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Curators

Amada Cruz

Los Angeles, CA
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Kellie Jones

New York, NY
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Nancy Rubins

Topanga, California, USA

Born in 1952 in Naples, Texas, Californian Nancy Rubins received her MFA from the University of California, Davis. She has had numerous solo exhibitions, including shows at Paul Kasmin Gallery, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Venice Biennale Aperto. Rubins’ work was included in the 1995 Whitney Biennial and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’ Helter Skelter exhibit in 1992. Rubins teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Art Department. She has received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Tiffany Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Annette DiMeo Carlozzi

Austin, TX
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Dan Cameron

Newport Beach, California

From 2012 to 2015 he was Chief Curator at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California. In 2006, Dan Cameron founded the Biennial Prospect New Orleans, where he worked at until 2011. From 1995 to 2005 he was Senior Curator at the New Museum, New York, where he developed numerous group exhibitions, such as East Village USA and Living inside the Grid, and several individual shows dedicated to the artists Martin Wong, William Kentridge, Carolee Schneemann, Carroll Dunham, Doris Salcedo, José Antonio Hernández Diez, among others.
As independent curator he has organized many exhibitions that brought him international attention, such as El arte y su doble (Fundación Caixa, Madrid, 1987); El jardín salvaje (Fundación Caixa, Barcelona, 1991); Cocido y crudo (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 1995), among many others. In 2003, he was the Artistic Director of the 8th Istanbul Biennial, and in 2006, Co-curator of the 5th Taipei Biennial.
He has published hundreds of texts in books, catalogues and magazines, and has given numerous talks and conferences at museums and universities around the world, also carrying out an important teaching activity in New York.

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Hans Ulrich Obrist

London, England

Hans Ulrich-Obrist is the Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programs and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery in London, positions created for Ulrich-Obrist in April 2006. As a curator at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France since 2000, among many other exhibitions he organized solo shows with Jonas Mekas (2003), Anri Sala (2004), and Cerith Wyn Evans (2006). Before this position Ulrich-Obrist was an independent curator for a decade, organizing the group show Take Me I’m Yours at the Serpentine (1995) and Retrace Your Steps: Remember at the John Soane Museum (1999), also in London, England. Ulrich-Obrist was a panelist in 1998 for the 1999-2000 year of artists, and was invited to be a speaker at the 2003 symposium, but was unable to come due to illness.
Photo by Dominik Gigler

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