Multidisciplinary artists Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere investigate contemporary music and sound, the electromagnetic spectrum, dissent, and public fora.
In Memory of a Time Twice Lived, a multilayered project initiated by Associate Curator Kate Kraczon which will be featured in their 2016 ICA survey exhibition, the artists explore the interwoven histories of immigration and musical performance.
Two days before the associated free public event Prelude to a Memory at the Wagner Free Institute—part concert, part film shoot for Memory of a Time Lived Twice—Nevarez and Tevere spoke with Becky Huff Hunter on their collaborative work.
ICA: What makes the Wagner Free Institute of Science—and more broadly, Philadelphia—such a fitting venue for your in-depth research process, live performances, and the staging of your project Memory of a Time Twice Lived?
Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere: The Wagner Free Institute of Science is a jewel in the city of Philadelphia! Their long tradition of providing free education and public programs in the form of lectures, seminars, and concerts was of interest to us. The Wagner’s Victorian-era collection and display, including their vast array of natural animal specimens and mineral sciences, makes it an extraordinary location to consider concepts in memory, history, and the suspension of time.
ICA: In part, your project traces the history of the accordion as a “migratory instrument,” representing how people and musical expression move and change as they travel across the globe. Why the accordion? Could you give an example of the way it (or its makers, performers) has transformed over time?
AN & VT: We see the accordion, a mobile instrument, as taking us on a journey through geographic spaces and cultural, economic, and political histories.
For us the accordion functions as metaphor for people who have migrated across borders and geographic space. Traditions are never fixed, but certainly transform and adapt through diasporic space.
The accordion, an instrument associated with numerous immigrant histories and musical forms was also part of each of our own individual family histories. Having this shared, yet different, experience provoked further discussions and interest into engaging critically the accordion’s history in relation to industrialization, labor movements, periods of nationalism, folklore, and its current production within post-Fordist globalizing trends.
ICA: Your projects often engage music and sound as social, communal, and political forces: You’ve worked with protest karaoke, deeply ironic cover songs, and cardiovascular biorhythms; you run a record label and often press LPs as parts of exhibition catalogues. How did this evolve? Was it always central to your collaboration?
AN & VT: Since our early practice working with radio transmission, music and sound have been key elements in our work. We’ve always considered the electromagnetic spectrum as a discursive public space and through research and production we began mining the content of radio broadcast and how it is structured, while questioning the executive decision-making and corporate influences behind what is eventually broadcast—i.e., the music and voices we hear over the airwaves. This led to further examination into the particularities and histories of lyrics, musical hybrids, cover songs, and creative dissent. Within our recent work, we’ve selected songs that resonate culturally and politically. These songs play a central role in the concept and texture of each video and work both against and in tandem with the visuals.
The record label for us seems a natural progression in our practice as it is another mode of transmitting and distributing our work and the sounds of artists whose work we appreciate.
ICA: The free concert that you’ve organized at the Wagner features musicians from world music ensemble Jarana Beat performing Victorian Era music. What drew you to these musicians and this tradition?
AN & VT: Prelude to a Memory uses music to express transforming geographies by reflecting upon musical traditions where the accordion is a central instrument. The concert at the Wagner exemplifies our interest in the migratory flows of sound and musical traditions, from Polka to Tex Mex. We became interested in Jarana Beat’s sound as it embodies this sort of musical transformation and fusion of rhythms.
This concert, like much of our work, is comprised of rearrangements of previously produced material. In this case, Victorian-era pieces performed well over a century ago at the Wagner, have been reorganized into a contemporary Latin American folkloric sound.
ICA: You’ll be recording this live event, using the concert as a sort of stage set for the culmination of Memory of a Time Twice Lived—a new film that will screen at the Wagner on November 5. What other facets of your research will merge together in this film?
AN & VT: Without giving too much away, the title of the work comes from a paraphrasing of lines from Chris Marker film, La Jetée (1962). We focus on a short sequence of this film as material. Memory of a Time Twice Lived will include an analysis of an image from La Jetée, moments of reenactment, playful interventions documented across Philadelphia, and our travels through relative locations in Mexico.
Join us at the Wagner Free Institute for Prelude to a Memory on Wednesday, September 2, 7pm.