“””Strummingsssss per i Misteri dell’Infinito”””
Chiesa di San Giovanni del Toro, Ravello, 2019
Photo Valeria Laureano, Giuseppe Riccardi for Magazzini Fotografici
Charlemagne Palestine and Lionel Hubert
unnnaaa matttinaaa, 2021
Courtesy the Artists
Charlemagne Palestine’s artistic practice comprehends behavioural, sonic and visual components. He has been described as being one of the founders of New York school of minimalist music initiated by La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Phil Niblock, although he prefers to call himself a “Maximalist Minimalist.” After studying accordion, piano, Sacred Jewish Singing, Indian Kirana Singing and the Gamelan musics from Java and Bali, and since the early 1970s Palestine has created installations and performances which dialogue with holy sites, historical architectures and cultural venues to increase and intensify their magical mysteries and sacredness. His contribution to Pompeii Commitment, titled unnnaaa matttinaaa and realised together with his long-time collaborator Lionel Hubert, is a sound and video continuum closely inspired by the volcanic eruption of 79 A.D. that at once destroyed Pompeii whilst also freezing it in time. A newly edited thirty-minute sound continuum – “a hypnotic trancelike deadly lullaby drone dance,” in the artist’s words – accompanies a carousel of archival images of Pompeian plaster casts of human bodies in sleep position – a haptic image of their “petrification” – juxtaposed with their stuffed animal companions, one of Palestine’s recurring and most distinctive material essences. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s, Palestine used his teddy bears as protective bodyguards and comrades. The teddy bear was invented in Brooklyn in 1902 by a Jewish immigrant couple Rose and Morris Michtom who immigrated from the same region in eastern Europe as Charlemagne’s maternal family. Now in his works, Palestine calls them “divinities”, referring to them as “sacred secular beings”. Palestine’s animal divinities are thus an actualisation of life-long relationships: “It’s something sacred and something continuous. It’s not just a childish, childlike, young persons, baby-growing-up, transitional object… Your animal spirit stays with you.” The divine, for Palestine, does not identify with a supreme being, but everything that contributes to forming our personal identity and which therefore becomes the subject of mutual care, something as venerable as any God but much closer to us. As in a fresco that is both realistic and abstract, or as in a poetic digital epicedium dedicated to the people of ancient Pompeii – torn from their individual “divinities” at the moment of death and, thanks to the technology of the cast, transformed into witnesses of the eternal moment of that separation – Palestine evokes them using these words: “One early morning suddenly we were petrified / then witnessed forever / As sleepy sleeping reliquaries with our little dears / Pompeii”. SB-AV
We are grateful to Silvia Macchetto for her friendly help on developing this project.
Home page image: Charlemagne Palestine, “””Strummingsssss per i Misteri dell’Infinito”””, Chiesa di San Giovanni del Toro, Ravello, 2019. Photo Valeria Laureano, Giuseppe Riccardi for Magazzini Fotografici
Charlemagne Palestine (born Charles Martin Palestine or Chaim Moshe Tzadik Palestine, 1947, in Brooklyn, New York) is an American sound artist, performer, and visual artist. Palestine studied at New York University, Columbia University, Mannes College of Music, and the California Institute of the Arts. After several collaborations with other artists and personal experiments (from playing conga and bongo for Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Kenneth Anger, and Tiny Tim to playing the carillon at the Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan, from studying vocal interpretation with Pandit Pran Nath to testing kinetic light with Len Lye, from creating the music for Tony and Beverly Conrad’s film Coming Attractions and the sound and movement for his and Simone Forti’s duet Illuminations to his own Spectral Continuum Drone Machine synthesizer), from the early 1970s Palestine wrote intense, ritualistic music intended by its creator to rub against Western audiences’ expectations of what is beautiful and meaningful in music. A composer-performer originally trained to be a cantor, he almost always performs his own works as soloist, as for example in his Tribeca loft on North Moore Street. His earliest works were compositions for carillon and electronic drones, and he is perhaps best known – alongside his other works that merge the recording, video, and sculptural elements – for his intensely performed piano concerts. Palestine’s Strumming Music (1974) remains one of his best-known works: it features over 45 minutes of Palestine forcefully playing two notes in rapid alternation that slowly expand into clusters. Palestine’s performance style is ritualistic: he generally surrounds himself (and his piano) with magical textiles and stuffed animal divinities, and drinks alcoholic elixirs from crystal snifters. He is the founder as well of the Ethnology Cinema Project in New York, dedicated to preserving documentation of disappearing cultures. The prestigious venues that have hosted works by Palestine, include: Cathedral Sé, Lisbon; Church of Saint-Eustache, Paris; Santa Maria in Chiesa Rossa, Milan; Cathedral of Saint-Pierre, Geneva; Cathedral Saints-Michel-et-Gudule, Brussels; Basilica of San Martino Maggiore, Bologna; the Pyramid of the Louvre, Paris; Villa Medicea, Artimino; Villa Borghese, Rome, Italy; Chiesa di San Giovanni del Toro, Ravello. Palestine’s works have also been performed and presented at the Venice Biennale and Documenta, Kassel, and in many international contemporary art institutions, such as: Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Torino; Kunsthalle, Vienna; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, MoMA-Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Triennale, Milan.
Lionel Hubert (aka the K, born in 1967 in Le Blanc-Mesnil, France), for more than 35 years has explored all genres of music, sounds, and visuals arts, being very comfortable with technologies and computers and thinks about art with an ever-evolving vision. For over eighteen years he’s been a close collaborator of Palestine on many of his projects.