Has it ever occurred to you that we can listen to a painting?
A starting point: Picasso’s 1897 painting Science and Charity. A sound intervention. This is the proposal developed by playwright Victòria Szpunberg and sound engineer Lucas Ariel as part of the programme Seen by… Visions of the Museum’s Collection this October, putting forward a new critical vision and personal appreciation of Picasso and his work. Far removed from conventional readings and art-historical interpretations of the artist, this fresh, unusual, daring, experimental proposal presented itself as the starting point for a possible investigation into the ‘sound painting’. It has proved interesting for many reasons.
Szpunberg and Ariel start with a picture from the artist’s early academic period, a religious subject that is perhaps not one of his most outstanding works, and by means of a peripheral figure, an invalid, a model, a woman of little significance in Picasso’s life and work, and establish a narrative discourse in sound.
“Science and Charity”, P. Picasso. Barcelona, 1897. Oli on canvas, 197 x 249’5 cm. MPB 110.046
An apparent contradiction, being the painting essentially image, is that the discourse here is not visual but aural. The work thus becomes the pretext through which to address contemporary issues of society and culture, from the human condition or the difficulty leaving the space we inhabit to the meaning of immortality in art, the art market, cultural consumption or typologies of the spectator.
They engage with and reflect on the concepts by way of a subtle play with sound in which the voices fluctuate to the accompaniment of classical music, and this is then interrupted by a rapid sequence of intense notes, changing the atmosphere of the darkened space. The public responds, commenting, discussing, disagreeing with one another. No one is passive or indifferent: whether positively or negatively, the proposal has reached people, and this is a key objective of the Visions – the perceptions and reactions of the public.
These young artists are not interested in academic discourse and theorizing, they want to go further – identifying with the character in the painting, giving her a voice, bringing her to life. She asks to be looked at, and we are encouraged to go beyond the surface to transform the material, reality, not just with our eyes but with all five senses, so that she can become immortal once again thanks to the artist and the spectator.