Invigilating ‘Disarm’: Pedro Reyes at The Lisson Gallery
‘Give me Jagger. That’s it! Look like you’re enjoying yourself’
I’m watching Reyes hold aloft his guitar made of reclaimed guns, but through his awkward photo shoot it’s obvious he values instrument above persona. Artists shouldn't be orchestrated on how to pose with their work, but he’s managing it fine now and beginning to take the lead.
‘Yeah... You’re a rock star’
He may obligingly pose like a rock star but the Mexican is no Jagger, anymore than he is Zapata.
On display are more guns formed softly into instruments. It’s a call to eradicate them and the violence which follows; given to him by the Mexican government after being confiscated and destroyed. To turn these war machines into music machines, an identifiable rallying weapon. These objects are easily decoded and rightly emasculated, retaining coolness for necessary appeal.
But I prefer the main performance, which isn't quite so literal and doesn’t sit on the display shelves. Eight metal assemblages all welded and wired up, lattice towers variously dressed in artillery. Only an inclusion of the odd conventional instrument gives away true intent. A pair of drumsticks poised above, amps ominously near or strings taught across row of pistols. Wire leads separate them into territories, flowing from view towards an automaton. Each celebrate their individual existence, fractured, sporadically strumming up, as if a musician had walked in and thinking they were alone, decided to let loose. Grumbling and ricocheting. Reyes compares the noise to an exorcism of the lives taken by these guns and there’s definitely a hollow conversation happening. But they can never truly escape because it’s these very guns which express their cries.
There seem to be further readings but they are fragmented and disappear beyond the immediate display. Closer inspection of a revolver gives the inscription, ‘Made in Spain’ hinting at a grander history of embedded struggles. I am pleased with myself for noticing this, but cannot read any further. The affects of this exhibition becomes a pure symbol. A representation of ‘Art’ as sublime ethics and Kantian duty, but I’m lost beyond this white walled vacuum and the sounds produced give no bearing to their content without their image.
‘Where are these guns from?’ An American lady asks. But my voice is weak, (from a recent attack of laryngitis). The drums kick in and my explanation is lost; ‘....................’
She smiles and walks off.
Diego Rivera’s ‘Arsenal’ mural was also government backed. Here progress is frozen in time where firearms escort communist empowerment and class concatenation. Guns are both an extension and potential threat to the body politic, which cannot function with missing limbs. Does that mean no guns means no revolt against the State, who would have no intention of disarming their own army? Reyes deftly touches on this in the adjacent canvases where tanks receive musical makeovers. But provides no concrete answer.
Apparently the performances and carnivalesque activities in the streets saw a pacification of gun crime taking place in his home Country during the time frame that these took place and this was a catalystic influence behind the work and its motives.
"The first stage of a revolution, is always theatrical... a gigantic fiesta" Lebel
The only trouble is the lure of a spectacle always ends at some point and is held together by a tightly controlled friendly chaos of strict participation guidelines.
Of course music and song have eternally been viewed as an idealised call to change social divisions and we have seen countless band aids attempting this. This in itself is also open to degrees of subversion, weakness to economy and treachery. Music's fluidity and medial relativism lends itself inevitably towards an aural aesthetic which becomes enclosed and manipulated through politicised signifiers in the formulation of its multifaceted potential identities.(Phew!) Essentially, this personifies the genre-fication of art evident long ago in music, highlighting the fact that this cannot possibly be anything more-on a pragmatic sense than communicating to a certain art crowd. Then there is something like the Peter Brotzmann Octet, describing machine guns and its chaos through jazz, which in a sense this work follows on from as the machinery interacts with instruments, taking upon itself a kind of functioning freedom that you might associate with jazz. Nevertheless, we are still left with a belief in its moral properties to persuade, dream and imagine. Though I hate that song and all it stands for.
The weakness of the exhibition then is also its strength, human universality. The call to direct action is still here, but against action itself exercised through violence and death. This requires no political party. If there’s a collective it’s in the band that helped construct the sounds, credited on the accompanying posters. But no one is painting themselves as heroic. Perhaps this revolutionary call is merely the struggle to relate. Interesting that the Mexican government initiated swapping firearms for domestic goods and appliances (apparently people don’t really want class struggle, they just want toasters). Likewise I find connections to Reyes’‘Palas por Pistolas’, where more donations were transformed into spades for the planting of trees. This at least aims towards alternative economic collaborations and visualised futures even if it can only borrow from and past histories, ala 'social sculpture'. Of course all this is only gamesmanship where the ultimate decisions seem to always lay elsewhere, and what can someone who has never even been to Mexico sitting in a London gallery possibly add to this in which it feels as though a criminalisation of Mexico is reinforced ahead of a self criticism regarding Western post-Colonial assistance. The gun is an extension of the human food chain imposed against itself. The only truly disruption of its creation will be the disruption of our dog-eat-dog economy.
The bass is foreboding... and relentless. I’ve been in this room for hours and it’s killing me!
One day these instruments revolt themselves, failing to play due to a malfunction of the automaton. Thank god, some peace at last. I apologise to visitors and show them footage on my laptop and I find myself reading up on schemes offering computers for armaments.
This silence isn’t peaceful but just as piercing (a noise of imminence) because silence is loaded too and waiting to exist through voice. I look into the violence of Mexican drug cartels and the armies desperate to destroy them, something called the ‘Meridia Initiative’, declarations of government corruption, a Mozambique artist called Gonçalo Mabunda who undertakes similar aesthetic strategies, blames on US gun trades and a beheaded 14 year old ‘hitman’ on wikipedia.
It is only when the automaton is fixed that I will appreciate its reverberations.