The first U.S. survey of the work of Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere (2009 Emerging Fields) opens this week at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), University of Pennsylvania, with an opening reception on February 3 from 6:30-9:00pm. The exhibition, organized by Associate Curator Kate Kraczon, includes the premiere of their Creative Capital-supported project, Memory of a Time Twice Lived (2015), along with seven other projects and installations.
Memory of Time Twice Lived is a journey through musical tempo, cinematic time and the excavation of an image. The film builds a field of relations tying together 20th-century mythic heroes, the collection of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, the Mexican luchador El Santo and the accordion as a nomadic instrument. Shot on location in Philadelphia and Mexico, the film references Chris Marker’s science fiction piece La Jetée (1962), features a concert arranged for film, and an accordionist performing throughout Philadelphia. The roots of the film go back to Nevarez and Tevere’s years-long research on the history of the accordion, an instrument they see as a poetic representation of how music and people move through space.
I connected with Angel and Valerie to learn more about the new film and the exhibition in Philadelphia.
Jenny Gill: In this project, you use the accordion as a metaphor or focal point to look at cultural and musical migration. When did you first become interested in the accordion and begin to view it in that way?
Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere: The accordion, an instrument associated with numerous immigrant histories and musical forms, was also part of each of our own individual family histories. Having the shared yet varied experience between us provoked further discussions and interest in critically engaging the accordion’s history in relation to industrialization, labor movements, periods of nationalism, folklore, and its current production within post-Fordist globalizing trends.
In October of 2009 we traveled to Castelfidardo, Italy, a town that historically was considered to be the world’s accordion capital—in a sense, a town that the accordion built. While there we attended the Festival Internazionale Fisarmonica, visited many accordion workshops/factories, interviewed accordion fabricators and specialists, and documented performances of master accordion players participating in the festival.
We see the accordion, a mobile instrument, as taking us on a journey through geographic spaces and cultural, economic and political histories. With these ideas in mind, we foresee further research, projects and collaborations.
Jenny: How did the collaboration with the Wagner Free Institute of Science come to be? Why did you choose to stage the concert there and film in the museum space?
Angel and Valerie: The project initiated with an invitation from Kate Kraczon, Associate Curator of ICA (Philadelphia), who approached us about developing an independent project in Philadelphia, specifically with the Wagner Free Institute of Science. We were inspired by its mission of providing free scientific education to the public, its history, and the preservation of its displays. The Wagner’s gallery and lecture hall provoke the feeling of stepping back into the nineteenth century. It was this notion of time or time travel that we wanted to activate in our film.
Researching through the Wagner’s archives we came across late-19th century programs that highlighted musical and vocal performances in the Wagner’s lecture hall. This discovery became the peg that connected our practice to the Wagner. We chose to stage the concert in the Wagner’s lecture hall as a way of reviving its history of musical performance and connecting the past with the present, yet in the contemporary cultural form of Norteño music, a style that was not previously heard at the Wagner.
Jenny: Aside from Memory of a Time Twice Lived, what other work will be included in the ICA exhibition?
Angel and Valerie: To be brief, as we’d like you to see the show, seven projects and installations will be featured in the second floor galleries, and we will stage one public event on February 24th at the ICA.
The exhibition, curated by Kate Kraczon, will include a number of video works that look to music as a catalyst for dissent, situating performance and lyrics in public spaces. Two audio installations consist of a science fiction radio drama that locates its narrative on the fringes of biometrics and voice recognition technology sometime in the future, and a two-channel sound piece that uses the musical framework of call-and-response to form a multilingual dialogue between two voices.
Jenny: Do you see a through-line between this current body of work and your past work? What themes do you keep coming back to?
Angel and Valerie: In certain ways, our new film encapsulates strands of thought present in a number of our previous works. For example, we evoke the aspect of chance so prevalent in “live” performance, the instantaneity of the event, the temporal and spatial markers, as well as the labor of performance.
Another thread would be the use and working through of musical codes, either historical, political or imagined. For some time now, we’ve been interested in how the cover song precipitates memory, recalling and reconsidering earlier forms. Quite a few video works in the ICA show incorporate our versions (in collaboration with musicians) of covers from post-punk and new wave. The performances and song choices within the film, Memory of a Time Twice Lived, follow similar patterns of music transgressing and traveling through time, yet this new work expands into ‘fields of relations’ that tie together cinematic time, music, museum collections, mythic figures and Chris Marker’s film La Jetée.
Jenny: I’m not familiar with La Jetée. Can you describe it? Why did you use it as a point of reference for your film?
Angel and Valerie: Chris Marker’s film La Jetée (1962) is a French science fiction piece made almost entirely of black-and-white photographs, one moving image and soundtrack. We have always been interested in Chris Marker’s work, particularly this piece which takes viewers through a post-nuclear war society sometime in the future. Marker’s protagonist travels through time transfixed on a memory, a distinct image from before the war. We became interested in another image or illustration from the film, that of the figure silk-screened on the t-shirt of Marker’s protagonist. This was where the journey of Memory of a Time Twice Lived began.
Jenny: I know that you both teach. What advice do you give your students about being an artist and making their way in this world?
Angel and Valerie: Some advice we both might share with our students:
Be tenacious yet curious.
Being an artist is a lifestyle choice. Recognize that it is a long road full of successes and failures in which we learn and grow from both.
Do not become complacent or comfortable in what you do.
Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia from February 3 – March 27, 2016.