“In my vision, sound is space”. This was one of the first things Paulo Vivacqua told me when I visited his studio/home at the first floor of a typical `carioca` building, in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. Music seemed to be iminent is this silent living room with large windows and several speakers hanging on the walls or lying over tables ready to start making sounds at any moment. Behind a table, covered by boxes, a forgotten piano could be a good illustration of Vivacqua’s road from Music into the Contemporary Art field.
Having studied piano and being a composer, Vivacqua has always been interested in both Classical and Contemporary Music, including Electro-Acoustic. At first he was fascinated by instruments, musical language and the emotional states that music is able to bring upon the listener. After working as a composer for choirs, dance groups, films and theater, there was a moment that Vivacqua, as a musician, started to question the limits that traditional music presentation imposes: “I consider the forms of presentation in the music field too conditioned, attached to narratives and the logic of stage and audience. My idea was to de-conditionate this kind of space through a different context”` - and that’s how he started exploring new possibilities of sound to step into the so called Visual Arts world.
Vivacqua realised that recorded music could become part of an object and didn’t need to be performed live, which would free its presentation from the stage-audience logic. His interest, then, was focused on trying to reduce music to its minimal state: “I was less interested in the narrative of the music than the emotional states that this music could bring up. So the idea was not to have a linear story with it but to create atmospheres and images stimulated by sounds. I was interested in finding out which associations a certain kind of sound could gather in a listener”.
From the moment Vivacqua found himself disconnected of the traditional way of composing music he started understanding sound as space: “for me sound became an ambience where people can transit, stay for the time they want, a place in which sound can be transformed in a kind of ambient art”. So he started to create sound installations, objects, sound sculptures and sound interventions exploring the spaces sound can generate, imaginary places that one could cross over, as if they were physically crossing a music through their own personal path.
His first installation is quite recent - from 2002. The piece, called Sound Field, was installed in an open air Sculpture Park in Hudson, NY and it was made of small speakers located on the top of transparent cylinders and installed along a grass field. Each one of these 60 speakers produced different abstract sounds that recalled nature sounds - like crickets - and since the cylinders were digged in the soil, the impression was that the sounds were coming out directly from the earth itself. Being the speakers small, it was only possible to hear the sounds properly by physically approaching them - and this made what Vivacqua wanted possible: “to create a relation between the sounds and the movement in space, every interlocutor in the installation would create its own movement, narrative and experience in this sound field, because it was open and didn’t imposed a beginning nor an end”.
After the creation of this first piece, Vivacqua expanded his interests within the sound and visual field and produced other artworks exploring musical language and the visuality of instruments and gadgets in more sculptural works. This was clear in Triple Ohm, created for the 30th Bienal de Sao Paulo (2012), in which large dimension stainless steel cylinders made with speakers at their extremities facing inside, made metal sounds that reminded the ohm sound. The sculptural work, that also had metal plates with speakers on the wall, mixed heavy industrial elements with the universal meditation sound, being what Vivacqua calls of “industrial mantra - these two separates worlds encounter each other in this mixed visual and sound ambient”.
At Interpretations, also presented at the 30th Sao Paulo Bienal, we see the interest Vivacqua has in the relation between sound and language. In a dark room, 48 audio channels on 48 music strands with speakers on top and cards with drawings of objects or situations make low volume sound. The small speakers made the noises of objects - the sound of a chair, a flower, a hammer, a violin and so on. The viewer had to walk through them and gently get closer to the speakers to distinguish the sounds, creating his own path and narratives to connect the sounds and the drawings, that laid there as musical scores.
Paulo Vivacqua is an artist in constant change, his works are site specific experiments in which different languages are weaved, generating a third subjective element to be discovered by his interlocutors. The impression I had after chatting with him is that he is an investigative artist who is currently caught in the process of researching and testing what sound and visuality can bring up on us. And in his many researches new “sound spaces” are created, where we can let go of our classificatory understanding of the arts fields and find out what can come up beyond it.
*Note: As part of the Germany+ Brazil year 2013/2014, Vivacqua was invited to be part of Land der Zukunft, an exhibition curated by Alfons Hug at the Foreign Office in Berlin. Eight iron bars lay on trees inside the high ceiling modern atrium of the building in central Berlin. Wrapped with cotton vests and with speakers on the top, these bars become mysterious tall beings. The so called Shepherds make wind sounds, creating a suspension of the space where the visitor can be completely apart from the building and its daily bureaucrats happenings.
If you are in Berlin, Land der Zukunf opens from July 1st to August 25th - Mon to Fri from 10am to 6pm @ the Auswärtiges Amt - Werderscher Markt 1, 10117, Berlin. Free entry.