About the album
Paola has explored the signs of Quipus beyond the pre-Columbian era, not only as part of Andean traditions that prevail, but as found in the work of Contemporary artists, most notably, Jorge Eduardo Eielson, searching for the traces left by what Frank Salomon called "the half-life" or "afterlife" of media. Codes and speech intertwine in an algorithmic narrative that ultimately resurrects the unspoken.
Leafing a rather brief book called “The Short Story of Art” inevitably leads to wonder not only about visual history of art, but about written history: all artworks shown and described in its two hundred and twenty three pages refer exclusively to European or North American artistic manifestations, with the notable exception of Frida Kahlo, and a small, picture-less mention of the Guitarrero cave-art in Peru. Undoubtedly, if it would have been a book about pre-Historic or Ancient art, access to more information about the art of the Native Americas, Africa, China, or Oceanía would have been more readily available. Regarding Peru in particular, my country of origin, what immediately comes to mind when one thinks about it are the ruins left by long-gone civilizations, archaeological remnants such as ceramic vases or colorful textiles: the leftovers of a grandiose past that lays in stark contrast with the country's current condition –one that is not recognized first hand for outstanding innovations in art nor advances in science or technology.Going back to the Short Story of Artbook, it is understandable that, if we are going to compress the History of Art in a few pages, a big portion of this is going to be omitted. Even more, if we use the traditional marker for separating pre-History and “proper” History, that is, writing, most American pre-Hispanic cultures won't cross the threshold for consideration.
Maybe this is the reason why many scholars are interested in proving that the Quipu, the pre-Columbian coding-by-knots-in-cords system, was indeed a type of writing system. Not only because it would be a great way to access the mental framework of the inhabitans from that time, but it will also serve to strengthen a linear view of “cultural evolution” where it doesn ́t make sense to have complex Empires such as the Inca working efficiently without the expected characteristics of a Kingdom of its kind, that is, without writing, as orallity alone just does not seem to “cut it” for managing the vast lands once under Incan rule.The Quipu, is, indeed, a captivating device that seems to indicate a unique branching of human Information Technology: one that did not used stone, nor clay tablets, or paper as support, but organic cord fibers, seemingly a textile-based coding system that, just as cuneiform writing, would have originated from numerical data. In these times of smart textiles and soft, wearable computers, one wonders what this technology could have evolved into, if it would have not been cut short (albeit gradually) after the Spanish invasion. In any case, the particularity of the quipu, the fact that it is not completely understood nor fully decoded, has captivated not only anthropologists or archaeologists, but creators. Indeed, one could draw a timeline with the name of diverse artists that have used the Quipu as reference or inspiration, including well-known names as Sheila Hicks or Cecilia Vicuña, but also more obscure poet/painter Jorge Eduardo Eielson, somewhat forgotten by the international art scene whereas locally (that is, in Peru) it is having a rather intense revival, his works being a trendy subject nowadays.
Reviewing Eielson is a way to approach the afterlife of Quipus for me. The former enjoyed working the subject both conceptually and physically: textiles are present in his visual works as much as he experimented with text in his written pieces. Ofthe latter (the Quipus) some speculate that they contained voice materialized: songs, chansons de geste, and lyrical texts. In this line, Eielson's obsession with knots seemed to go hand by hand with his poetry: “I want to get to the point of untying” he used to say when referring to his later explorations, where the term untying in Spanish is desanudar, a word that is similar to desnudo, that means “nude,” where nudoalso signifies “knot”. The act of getting rid of clothing-as-textile, cloth here meaning skin, became his motto in the later years of life, a goal, one could say, he reached finally. Recently though, his experiments with voice have been published in an album called “Audiopaintings” (Audiopinturas) that includes the recording of a sound poem composed of the repetition of the names of the three primary colors in Spanish, plus green (“azul”, “amarillo”, “verde” and “rojo” in a clear synaesthetic recollection) which has currently re-ignited an interest in the looking back into his less well-knownworks. Among these works there are a series of conceptual works from the sixties, with seemingly surreal influences, called “Esculturas Subterráneas”, that consisted of instructions to create what apparently are impossible land artworks meant to be buriedin different cities of the world.
"These sculptures are intended, first, to be invisible, since they are underground; second, they can never be built: they have been studied so that they can never be made. The one in Lima is an electronic doll, with ramifications on all sides, that does nothing but repeat and accumulate all the memory of universal poetry. Once it's done, which will happen in 2010 will explode. The result will therefore be catastrophic. I have called it 'Horrifying Sculpture".Jorge Eduardo Eielson, 1987-8
The text (instructions) he wrote for this piece that was never made is the following: "Horrifying sculpture”1967 Working only 27 minutes each night (I was not present until the last 6 months of the operation when I arrived in the city carrying my terrifying invention disassembled into an apparently unimportant thousand pieces) it took more than two and a half years or exactly 915 nights from the strenuous efforts of my closest collaborators to place the following object 17 meters from the surface: 1.materials: a) a compound based on synthetic medullary liquid used as an (field) electronic and placed inside the sculpture a way of vital fluid b) a methane gas pipeline coming from the city c) a complete television circuit between the (eye) of the sculpture and the outside world d) thousands of screws nuts hooks hinges etc e) a winchester machine gun f) a talking doll head g) two adult chimpanzee arms h) stool i) a complete radio installation j) frozen food k) a 1920 model RCA phonograph megaphone l) 14 l human blood m) 15,000 meters of tape recorded with the most important poetic texts of all time including the bible n) toilet paper 2.operation: a) The sculpture really has no limits considering its radio system of ultra-short waves b) Whoever wants to make a copy must take into account two factors of primary importance: I.-the sculpture regenerates uninterruptedly at the constant speed of 75 grams of matter at the second II.-its absolutely irreversible residues accumulate at a variable rate from 57 to 65.7 grams of dead matter per second which means a real increase of the object from 18 to 10.3 grams per second with a total volume of growth of 0.10 cube meters per day c) The sculpture -who will continually recite through the doll's mouth the most beautiful poems conceived by man -he will behave as such, that is, he will satisfy his primordial needs by repeating the same human gestures of food procreation breathing defecation etc although such needs in this case are nothing but an artifice to better recite the poems (rather than a repulsive simulation of the human being -as one might think -sculpture will rather be the result of thousands and thousands of years of civilization)d) Only in very rare occasions, despite his inevitable contact with the outside world, will he seize the machine gun or will he shed a single drop of his precious human blood in defense of a just causee) Possessing a lyrical soul, the creature will emerge many times from the center from the earth and with its furry arms-indispensable in the art of recitation -it will choose a rose or a lily of the fieldf) The creature will explode with frightful results the same day that it finishes reciting all the poems recorded on the magnetic tape."
In his insistence to hide these sculptures from sight by burying them, one can read an allusion to the very Peruvian custom of knowing about our history through unearthing and restoration, disregarding words-as-text as there were none left (if there were ever). Us Peruvians learn about our origins by, literally, digging it out of the ground: this is the main way we have found Quipus as well. In an attempt to reach the portion of this history that still lives in the Andes, I visited Tupicocha, a small town three hours from Lima city, that still use Quipus as part of their annual “Huayrona” ceremony. From this experience, the “Beyond History: The Quipus of Tupicocha” documentary was born.The way I see it, Eielson intended to leave a huge Huaco (pre-Columbian pottery) for future generations to find. At least for the Lima sculpture, this never came to be. In any case, the whole conceptual piece does bring back the idea of the artist-as-medium; the act of burying, a sepulcral ritual of sorts.And ritual has indeed been connected to my own work, especially in the 2003 action in the Central Park in NYC; where I tied ropes to a tree, imitating its branches, and just like in a Quipu, I encoded the word “Vessel” by knots following the Braille system. Since then, I questioned the role of the artist, while also wondering about my own role as a Peruvian artist when potentially part of an international art scene that knew nothing about the historical references I used in my works, as these not belonged, apparently, to the mainstream History of Art.
My residency (part of Google's Artists + Machine Intelligence program) consisted of studying the Quipu and reviewing the possibilities of Machine Learning for furthering its comprehension. I wanted Quipus to talk again. But, for that, I needed a voice, but not any voice: one that would come from beyond life, from the afterlife that audiovisual media allows by leaving sound or video recordings of people that already passed away, for posterity, allowing people to, in a way, “live forever” but that came also from what it feels like the margins of the “Official History of Art”, emphazising this other history, the Peruvian art History that might never be mainstream within the Contemporary History of Art.In the text above, Eielson speaks of a “doll that will be fed with the most important poetry in the world” and that “will continually recite through the doll's mouth the most beautiful poems conceived by man.” Fact is, I had already come up with a system that would do something really similar, without initially linking it to his “Horrifying Sculpture”: using a Generative pre-trained model retrained to Spanish poetry and finetuned to the poetry of Jorge Eduardo Eielson, Cecilia Vicuña, and myself. I was intrigued by the possibility of picking up stylistic qualities that could be seen as characteristic of the South American region in this case, united by the appreciation for Quipus, referencing, as well, an alternative history of art. As I was investigating voice, a deep Learning system consisting of the Tacotron 2 + Waveglow speech synthesis pair was trained, first, with Argentinean speech + text, and then with the voice of Jorge Eduardo Eielson, in a way, bringing him back from the dead. The recording of the voices is not particularly modulated, unlike what we are used to today, as synthetic voices tend to pronounce extremely clear phrases: not all the words are perfectly understandable, something that, for our ears trained in the linguistic perfection of the machines, feels familiar and human. This sound art poems are not intended to be passed as if they were his, on the contrary –this is presented as a third entity, “Aielson” that does speak like an old Peruvian man with a Peruvian accent (although sometimes dilucidating its originally Argentinean background.)The story of the Voyager 1 probe is known, sending an easy-to-play disc into space in 1977, with a recording of human voices greeting in 55 different languages, targed to a space and / or future culture. I here I do something similar: wanting to move away from the digital, I decided (at this point, already fully aware of the connection with the “Horrifying Sculpture” and working based on this) to go back to an analog format, that is, vinyl: to turn electric impulses onto grooves grazed into a plastic surface so, like the hand that once counted the Quipu's threads and knots by contact with it, the needle will brush the curves of the vinyl to reproduce sound. Just as ceramics was once the main material used by inhabitants of these lands, nowadays, undoubtedly, is plastic: we can imagine future intelligent life forms finding abundance of plastic "huacos" from our time, one of this being the album entitled “El Tiempo Del Hombre” (In the Time of Men, one of the verses that the Aielson system came up with). Having an analog support will allow a rather easy reproduction of its contents, which will appear as an old man from the early 21stcentury reciting poetry in Spanish.