DE LAMA LAMINA, 50 minutes
Matthew Barney and Arto Lindsay
Carnaval de Salvador, Bahia
This year’s Carnaval de Salvador comes with the participation of American artist Matthew Barney and American-Brazilian musician Arto Lindsay, who will parade with their own trio-elétrico on the night of February 22nd. Together, they have devised a project where both sound and architecture are intimately linked, thematically as well as structurally.
By invitation of the local afro-Brazilian carnival bloco Cortejo Afro, their trio, entitled De Lama Lâmina (“of mud a blade”), occupies one of their three parade evenings and integrates the Cortejo Afro percussion group and dancers as well as other guest percussionists and carnival singers. The parade will take place along the beach circuit close to the old centre of town, Barra Ondina.
Several local cultural sources have inspired their interest in this project. Barney experienced the Salvador carnival for the first time in 2000, and Lindsay has been participating in it as a guest musician for almost ten years. Arto Lindsay has also produced several Brazilian albums among which feature artists such as Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte, Gal Costa and Carlinhos Brown. He also produced the last album by local Carnaval group Ilê Ayê.
Barney has recently completed his renowned Cremaster Cycle (five films, 1994-2003, sculpture, photography, and drawing), which toured in its entirety in Europe (Ludwig Museum, Cologne and Musée d’ Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) and had its final retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City last year.
Lindsay and Barney are inspired by Carnaval in Bahia, where they interpret sharp social contrasts and aspiring social paradigms. As artists, Barney and Lindsay are moved by the inter-blending of culture, as internal Brazilian traditions embrace and respect the influences of Africa and other nations. In this xeno-celebration, Lindsay and Barney hope to bring their language into the context of the Bahia tradition.
The musical framework proposed by Lindsay and his band in conjunction with their guest percussionists and singers will combine, in an actively improvisational form, songs and music they have composed especially for the occasion as well as Brazilian songs chosen from a more traditional local repertoire, among which are bloco Afro songs, a few popular sambas, and some rock songs. These provide a basis onto which Lindsay’s distinctive practice as an experimental/noise musician will be superimposed and performed, often in direct articulation with the trio’s architectural and structural elements. In this context, the dispersed configuration of the speaker towers will provide a spatial dimension to the sound that is as lucid as it is sculptural.
The ecological implications conveyed through symbols and metaphors are intended to be speculative, to raise questions and awareness, as porous abstractions rather than solutions. They are a result of the artists’ passions and respect for the duality implicit in nature as found in Candomble. The Candomble orixá (deity), Ogun, has become the organizing principle of this project, referenced under the juxtaposition of Ossain, one of his mentors. Ogun is the deity of war and iron, while Ossain, patron of leaves, knows all the secrets and medicinal properties of plants. Ogun lives in the flames of the blacksmith’s forge, on the battlefield, and more particularly on the cutting edge of iron. His nature is ambivalent, possessed with the power to destroy as well as to construct.
In this context, the architectural design of the trio is structured around the image of a tree. An enormous forestry truck, covered with fresh mud, leads the trio ensemble with an uprooted tree held vertically in its front mandible. A lone figure stands at the top of the tree - this is the character of Julia Butterfly Hill, an ecological activist who spent two years (1997-1999) living at the top of a two hundred foot Great Redwood Tree in California in efforts to save the tree and its neighboring forest from clear cutting. Over time, her exposed hands and feet slowly became part of the skin of the tree, splitting and peeling, forming a bark of human flesh. This fusion of human and hardwood provides the image of Ogun’s creative will for the trio beneath her.
Her character is echoed by another human presence that inhabits a darker, more oblique existence. This is the “Greenman”, a hybrid man and plant that undergoes a biomorphic transformation which springs from and unfolds along with his love for machines. The Greenman and the iron chassis he inhabits provide the image of Ogun’s destructive sword within this constellation of metaphors.
Counteracting the destructive forces are those that recreate and reconstruct. The tree trunk is braced at the bottom where an attempt was made to chop the tree Julia Butterfly Hill lived on after her parting. Similarly, two smaller auger-headed tractors providing the support for Lindsay’s speaker towers have their front perforators encrusted with seeds. A cyclical relationship underlines all mythological and metaphoric elements that compose the trio, establishing an intimate dialogue with the antagonistic drives inherent in the orixás of Ossain and Ogun.
The forestry truck pulls a large block of dirt that represents a cross-section of the earth underneath the ground, on top of which lies the stage for Arto Lindsay’s band. The monumental vehicle is also a musical instrument: Ogun’s seven iron tools are attached onto its tires creating a clacking samba beat. In the same way that Lindsay’s guitar is used by the musician as an expression of electricity itself, of sound exceeding music, Ogun’s tools around the tires make literal what is already evident, the power and sound of iron.
Barney’s abadás (costumes worn by dancers in the trio) were designed within the conceptual framework where nature and technology meet to achieve a unique balance: the study of the tree’s “skin” has been translated onto a laser-cut piece of paper made from synthetic fibers, resulting in a thin, delicate outfit composed of white tops and kilts which will dress the bodies of approximately one thousand members.
The physical and thematic attributes of technology and nature are continuously explored through an interlaced dialogue between candomblé myth, environmental and political history and allegory, music and technology. These diverse sources and elements compose a narrative ground that unfolds and builds up throughout the course of the parade. The dualistic content inherent in candomblé imagery provides a lens through which central aspects of the contemporary political climate can be understood.