Written by Charlie Hankin, November 2017
It’s unusual at a museum to be invited to lie down on a mattress or in a hammock and listen to Jimi Hendrix. Or to don a mysterious garment—a parangolé—and dance to Brazilian tropicalista singer Caetano Veloso. Or to feel the sand beneath one’s bare feet in the installation that inspired the Tropicália movement of the late 1960s. On Friday, September 29, we took a trip to New York City to experience the Whitney Museum’s exhibition “Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium” with our “Sound and Sense” (POR 304) class.
The exhibit—an appropriate homage to Oiticica’s work—pushes the limits not just of the relationship between visual art, space, and sound, but also of the museum itself. Oiticica’s art asks us to reflect on the symbiotic relationship between the body and physical stimuli, between artist and spectator. At the center is a meditation on sound: What does it mean? What type of work does it perform? Can we “read” it? Does sound have a grammar? Or, to paraphrase Fred Moten, is sound a realm where words don’t go? POR 304, a class I have been fortunate enough to co-teach this semester with Professor Pedro Meira Monteiro, examines these questions in the context of Brazilian literature and music.