Born in 1972 in Santiago, Iván Navarro grew up under the Pinochet dictatorship. He has lived and worked in New York since 1997. Iván Navarro uses light as his raw material, turning objects into electric sculptures and transforming the exhibition space by means of visual interplay. His work is certainly playful, but is also haunted by questions of power, control and imprisonment. The act of usurping the minimalist aesthetic is an ever-present undercurrent, becoming the pretext for understated political and social criticism.
Music On Walls had the chance to discuss with Ivan Navarro before the opening of his new show "Fanfare" hosted by Daniel Templon in Paris. "Fanfare" is an immersive journey through previously unseen works which question the links between music and power. Playing correspondences between optical and sound effects. With "Fanfare" Iván Navarro plunges the viewer into the dark, amid sculptures of neons which are all instruments of percussion. The artist focuses on the ambiguities of language and the social power of the music. (click here for more informations about "Fanfare")
Hi Ivan, most of your sculptures presented today in this interview are made from instruments of percussion. Could you tell us the reason why you decided to work with such instruments?
Well, in my current show "Fanfare" at Daniel Templon Paris, there is a strong relationship with the sound, the definition of sound. I chose drums because I think everybody has an understanding of what is a drum. Drum is probably the most primitive instrument. I decided to use drums because it has a traditional meaning and obviously it still exists today. There are specific sounds that we have incorporated in our memory through our lives that are connected to drums. In the show "Fanfare" I am using that idea but in a more conceptual definition.
(Below a selection of Ivan Navarro's artwork presented during "Fanfare")
Do you play drums or any instruments?
I am not a musician , I don’t play any instruments.
Nonetheless you are very involved in the music world as you are the founder of a label called Hueso Records that began releasing projects in Brooklyn, US and Santiago, Chile in 2005. Therefore would you say that you understand music but that you are not considering yourself as a musician?
Not being a musician doesn't mean that you’re not allowed to make records. One of our mission with Hueso Records is to work with people who don’t consider themselves musicians, rather they understand their audio practice as an extension of their main body of work as visual artists, architects, graphic designers or just as thinkers such as Nutria, Maestro, Cholita Sound, La Nueva Grafica Chilena, Joe Villablanca, Offending Comand, Montaña Extendida and Mario Navarro. We call this “Undefined Records”.
Yeah and also music is not the only thing that you can record. You can record poetry, you can make noises and record them. You can record many things. Not just music. Music is the most traditional thing. That is why people are expecting to hear music in a record. But you can let a record play empty and it still makes a sound.
So you would consider yourself as a sound maker?
Well… everybody is a sound maker.
Have you ever recorded sounds or music with your label?
Yes if you go on the website of the label there is a piece I made four years ago called "Decomposition I". It’s more like a performance, it’s the recording of a piece of chest being destroyed.
Do you sometimes create sounds or music specifically for your exhibitions?
Yes most of the time I use an assistant recording. For example for “Fanfare” I use a collection of music that is about revolution. I collected songs about revolution that come from all around the world. That is what I would call the soundtrack of the show. And you can listen to it in the Music Room IV (see image below) which is part of an ongoing series of constructed environments for active listening, created in collaboration with artist Courtney Smith. The music played is the music seen, a continuous loop of songs of universal protest and celebration which in sum form a unified voice of human resistance in the face of authoritarian oppression.
How did the idea of making the Music Room IV come up to you?
Because it is connected to the drums and the title of the show is "Fanfare". The idea is to make a big sound, a big noise of presentation of the event. A Fanfare could be organized for a war but also it could be organized for a celebration. Fanfare is a very interesting word cause it works for a negative and a positive connotation. Indeed it has a double meaning. And so has the word revolution! Where revolution is usually an idea of freedom, most of the time revolution has to go through a very violent process. So that is why I was interested in exploring the word Fanfare. In order to express how revolution can be a positive thing although most of the time it goes through very violent process in order to come out good.
So you think that music can play a role in a revolution?
Yes the music and revolution are what makes the masses move, it is what units people. Music makes the moral of the people stay up which is something very important. Basically music brings you energy.
It is a very spiritual moment that you go through when you listen to music or when you create music connected to a social movement.
For you what was the band/musician that reached a social empowerment with music ?
There are many interesting music from Ireland, from their revolution. Which is not only about violence, they also speak about feminism. It touches many topics.
Do you know that the song "La Cucaracha" was originally a song made for the Mexican revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. That is where this song comes from and nobody knows that.
Joan Baez, is also a great example of revolution statements through music. Punk music is still in that topic as well.
I don’t really see much people doing things like that in the Electronic music world. Also Folk music lately is becoming very self indulgent. There is not much about social movement anymore. But I think that the people that make revolutionary music are the people who started music in the 60’s. Not many new people as far I know.
What about bands such as Rage Against The Machine, who have a very strong political and social message for example?
Well it is complicated, because also those bands went mainstream. The same thing happened with rap music. For example, take Public Enemy, if you listen to Public Enemy, it’s all about social movement and social topics. Everything they say in their lyrics is amazing but at the same time they’re also part of a machine, a mainstream system. Therefore, they are not really against a system, they just talk about it.
How many protest songs did you gather in the Music Room IV?
There are 25 records displayed in the music room but I made a selection, a playlist out of the 25 records. I choose two songs per records so I have a two hours playlist that is going to be on a loop.
What is your favorite song of this playlist?
"La Cucaracha" haha. There is also a very cool one, actually Public Enemy uses it, it’s called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by Gill Scott Heron. I took just that song from this artist.
There is another song from Chile that became a very popular thing it’s called "El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido" which means : the people united will never be defeated.
What is also interesting is that on most of the covers there is a machine gun represented. I found a very beautiful one called “Africa In Revolutionary Music” where you can see a black woman holding a baby in her arms and at the same time she’s holding a machine gun.
Do you sometimes think about doing similar installations outside?
Yes, but nothing specifically planned at the moment.
Could you imagine a version of “Fanfare” outside?
Yeah, that would be awesome! To make a parade with a real Fanfare!
Was it the first time you collaborated with Courtney Smith?
No we have been collaborating on many projects, no necessarily related to music. Our collaborations are mostly inspired by participation. We always try to create different situations, different environments where people can be connected to it in a very direct way.
Is Music Room IV an evolution since Music Room I ? (see image on the right)
It's not an evolution, it's just a different version. We have done four different ones and each one is a very particular piece. In the first one I was presenting a collection of music made by artists that were not necessarily musicians.
Another one was an embodiment inside a shipping container and I was playing a specific record by this musician Uwe Schmidt (like a tropical version of Kraftwerk).
THANK YOU SO MUCH IVAN NAVARRO
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