On the 3rd floor of the New Museum there is a sound exhibit that will transport you to the walls of another world. Not just another world, but another time. You’ll travel backwards to the Assyrian empire, an independent state located in northern Mesopotamia, but you’ll only do it with your ears. When you walk into the exhibit space, covered by thick black curtains and walls that are curved inward, like a teepee perhaps, the only illumination will be from a flashlight-bearing guard. On view is Roberto Cuoghi's Šuillakku – corral version (2014), a sound installation designed after an ancient Assyrian lament from 612 BC where the artist performed and recorded on a collection of carefully researched and handmade instruments.
By Larissa Zimberoff
I stood in the center of the room and listened. My eyes slowly adjusted to the absence of light. All around me was a cacophony of sound. Wailing, crying, talking, singing, instruments clanged and banged, tinkled and tinkered. Sometimes I could hear the sounds of actual people next to me, but for most of my time in this world I kept my eyes closed and put my ears on full alert. I felt like I was in a jungle, at a funeral, in a market, at a celebration. Broadcast on forty speakers encircling me, it was a symphony of unseen instruments, disparate noises, and chants. I was everywhere at once, and I was nowhere.
Italian artist Roberto Cuoghi is responsible for your time travel. Born in 1973 in Modena, Italy, Cuoghi studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan. Known for deceptively personal and physical explorations, Cuoghi creates theatrical works that force the viewer to consider how they would feel in the same situation. His most personal piece, produced at the age of 25, was an attempt to accelerate time. Assuming the appearance of his elderly father, the artist made himself over into a gray-haired man, along with his same physical limitations, diet and dress. He lived like this for several years.
The artist has once again pushed the viewer into another transformational place with his newest piece, Šuillakku – corral version (2008–14). When Cuoghi began researching Assyrian culture he chose a period right before their collapse, between 612 and 609 BC. Again the artist took it to the farthest lengths he could, learning their religion, customs and traditions. In an essay by the Hammer Museum, the artist told curator Ali Subotnick that he was drawn to the “dark irrationality, within which the ghosts of death and of total disappearance are the disquieting protagonists.” Cuoghi used the Assyrians music to access their existence more fully. He handcrafted the musical instruments, learned to perform with each one and then created every sound for the installation, a lamentation for the fall of Ninevah, the Assyrian capital.
“Cuoghi speaks in a more metaphorical fashion about our fear of the unknown and about a world gone wrong. The road to Babylon is paved with anguish, despair and death.”
Šuillakku – corral version (2008–14) is on exhibit until this Sunday, June 29th. Don’t miss it, but if you do, here’s 21 seconds of the 8-minute loop.
Šuillakku – corral version (2008–14) through June 29
235 Bowery, LES
Wednesday - Sunday, 11:a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Free on Thursdays from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
General Admission $16