LASER/DISC/SCRATCH/DESTRUCTION by Raphael Montañez Ortiz Curated by Pedro Reyes at Labor, Mexico City (05.04 to 27.05.2011) by Natalia Valencia

Henny Penny Piano Destruction (1967)


Unconscious integrity 

In this exhibition, artist Pedro Reyes stages a moving and coherent homage to Raphael Montañez Ortiz (Born in NYC in 1934, of Puerto Rican, Yaqui and Irish descent), artist, educator and writer, creator of the Destructivist Manifesto (1957) and founder of El Museo del Barrio, who originally became known for his outrageous piano destruction concerts in the ’60s New York avant-garde art scene. Reyes selected documentation and press from these performances as well as original hand-written early versions of the manifesto. These are presented along with five of RMO’s pieces of experimental video from the 1980’s.

The curatorial statement intends to explore a portion of the artist’s interests, those that focus on the educational and ethical potential of the dissection of physical destruction. The exhibition then acts as an allegorical reflection on the increasing presence of violence in the current political condition of Mexico, as this situation stirs, in the curator’s opinion, an urgency to rethink alternate modes of “committed practice” from the arts. It begins with the attempt to explore violence as a natural phenomenon, in what Pedro Reyes terms a “counter-anthropology”.

The approach towards the nature of destruction is informed in RMO’s intellectual inquiries by a predominant interest in ritual and shamanistic symbolic methods of dealing with the presence of death and regeneration in a cosmic logic. His performances engaged with the tension of natural forces in their raw and amoral expression, as embodied in the artist, in a state before language and discursiveness. These visceral processes were physically experimented in his piano and furniture destructions, taking the form of rituals. They were then rigorously rationalized in his writings. The artistic realm acted then as a laboratory for learning from and transforming the unnameable and uncontrollable in nature.





Installation view of “Laser/Disc/Scratch/Destruction”. Photo: Paul Rivera / arch photo inc.

This is clearly developed in the concept of “unconscious integrity”, an overall instruction in the artist’s performances and practice. The idea deals with the processing of the raw, amoral quality of existence where forces of nature are constantly acting upon our bodies. The artist’s goal is to internalize these forces in a “lucid introspective intellectual involvement”, assumed with emotional detachment towards practical, humanist causes: namely, to neutralize (instead of denying) the natural presence of violence in our everyday life, by means of the symbolic, embedded in specific objects. These reflections go along with most of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s theory of psychomagic, which states that the subconscious will assume and process symbolic actions (such as the simple destruction of an object instead of a person) as legitimately as if they were real.

An analogy to this humanist processing of natural forces can be illuminated by Maya Deren’s impressive research into Voudoun culture in Haiti in the 1950s: “The Haitian conceives of goodness or morality as a function of man’s consciousness, experience, information, understanding and discipline; and he conceives of ritual as being a means by which men induce the essentially amoral forces of the universe towards moral ends. In the final analysis, human consciousness, with all its attendant powers and potentials, holds the highest position in Voudoun metaphysics”. 1

Raphael Montañez Ortíz (1934) The Kiss 1985


The second part of the exhibition deals with RMO’s experiments with the first Apple software in 1982 and a now obsolete technology, the laser disc. The artist worked along with the designers of the technologies at Rutgers University to find a way of manipulating time in the videos in a sculptural sense, by literally moving back and forth within the video (also called “scratching”), without cutting and pasting. The images were appropriated footage from mainstream films showcasing cultural clichés, such as Disney’s “The Three Amigos” animation. With this technique, the artist created hypnotic compositions that revealed a pulsion in images through deconstruction, much in the tradition of Jack Goldstein and Dara Birnbaum. This sculptural intention in a sense recreated the creative destruction of the piano performances. As Pedro Reyes puts it, the image manipulation can be assimilated to that of a shaman’s rattle, a trance-inducing, energy transforming maneuver. A mystical action whose aims are to transform the wider political context. Such description applies in my opinion to all of RMO’s oeuvre. It appears as a particularly relevant approach towards the much debated intersections of art, imagination and politics.




1Deren, Maya, “Divine Horsemen: the living gods of Haiti”, Thames and Hudson, New York, 1953.



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