Alibi V.29 No.8 • Feb 20-26, 2020 

Arts Interview

The Sweet Sound of Color

Tania Candiani’s Cromática

Tania Candiani among the carded wool at 516 ARTS
Tania Candiani among the carded wool at 516 ARTS
Photo by Clarke Condé
Cromática, on exhibit now at 516 ARTS, started with Mexico City artist Tania Candiani’s investigations into traditional Mexican modes of textile and ceramic production. Her interest deepened as she learned about pigment extraction from plants, animals and minerals. As she began working with traditional weavers to create the textiles for the exhibit, the sounds of their work became part of the exhibit itself. It is the sounds of their labor that demonstrates what is at the heart of what Candiani is trying to express through her artwork: the concept of synesthesia.

Synesthesia is the involuntary, concurrent correlation of independent senses or cognitive pathways. Synesthetes experience the phenomena in a variety of ways such as the perception of colors as numbers, words as tastes or as is Candiani’s case, colors as sounds. Weekly Alibi sat down with Candiani to talk about synesthesia, the sound of work and her new exhibit. The following is an edited version of that conversation.

courtesy of the artist

Weekly Alibi: Can you describe how synesthesia works for you?

Tania Candiani: I have this feeling of understanding colors as sound. It isn't music. They just have a tone. So, sometimes I'm seeing a color, like very bright blue let's say, and I'm able to hear a tone. I don't know if it comes from my imagination or if I'm actually hearing it. It's the way I always experience the senses. I don't know if the rest of the people experienced [the senses] the same. I know that they may not, but they may have another way of translating these sensations.

courtesy of the artist
We know that people perceive colors differently, but it is hard to quantify that difference.

Exactly, yes. We both are looking at this beautiful sunset and for me, it's going to be an amazingly pink and red and you say, yes pink and red, but who knows that our pink is the same? We will never know. It's about our individual ways of feeling the perception. I believe that is not just about a connection between the optic system and our brain, but as well it passes through our memories and all of these more sensitive parts of ourselves.

Animals, plants and minerals. Do you perceive sounds related to them specifically? In other words, do all plants make one kind of sound?

No. Doing my work in Oaxaca during the time that I was producing the exhibition, I was very interested in learning how to make different pigments from natural processes. I decided to go for the red, yellow and blue because [they are] primordial colors. I visited Mr. Octaviano. Octaviano is like the guardian of the blue in Oaxaca. I said Octaviano, I really want to make the process of extracting the blue from the plant. We opened the exhibition without the blue, and then after a month, he called me and says, you need to come now because the plant is ready to give you the color. That idea of a plant will give you the color [when it is ready] is just the most amazing and exciting thing.

courtesy of the artist
Related is the red. There's a very precious pigment, which is called cochineal and it comes from a bug that lives as a parasite in cactus. That pigment was very precious, more precious than gold in pre-Spanish times. Many of the European paintings and all the tunics of the popes were dyed with it. It's just a sacrifice, the process of extracting the pigment, because the bugs need to die.

In your process, what is lost in the translation?

I don't think it's a loss. I think it's the contrary. You are adding meaning to things. All my work is just translating things. Let's say, from an instruction in a perforated card that becomes a score [or] maybe an instruction for a Jacquard loom. You are adding meaning, not losing meaning and it can be many things. It can be a choreography. It can be a drawing.

The writer William Burroughs said that sound can be a painkiller. What would that look like?

Sound can cure you. Absolutely. Frequencies are physical massage. The low frequencies can just go through your body and cure you. I believe he's right.

courtesy of the artist
What else do we need to know about sound?

I visited an artisan, he was the owner of one of the looms that is upstairs, as well as this loom that is here. I was looking for a very old loom to transform it into a musical instrument. It had to be a loom that didn't work anymore because I didn't want just to destroy one. He was like, “Why do you want this very bad loom?” “Well,” [I said] “because I want to make a musical instrument.” “Oh,” [he said] “I'm interested in sound very much. There are many things in the process of my work that I like to do with the light turned off because I can hear when a thread breaks.” That completely changed my perception about the whole exhibition and many of my works after that. Every labor, every word, has a sound as a product of the process of working.

Cromática

On exhibit through May 9
516 ARTS
516 Central Ave. SW
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