Carlos Amorales (Mexico City, 1970) presents Words of Mouth and Hands for his first solo exhibition at kurimanzutto, New York. For the fifth iteration of From the Archive, kurimanzutto looks back at a selection of Amorales’s projects over the past two decades that led to the current exhibition. Arriving in Amsterdam in 1992 to study at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten with Joan Jonas, Amorales drew on his experience as a foreigner in another country, which led to a continuous exploration of interstices. The artist changed his name to Amorales and created a conceptual identity of a masked figure inspired by Mexican wrestlers to confront ideas surrounding individual identity and the “other” in performative works such as Los Amorales (1996–2001).
The mask, as an object that both obscures and reveals, became a tool to undertake an artistic exploration of liminal spaces, those that are neither one thing nor the other, but the in-between. These projects instigated a new chapter in Amorales's work where he employs graphic and eventually typographic techniques that work in the same way as masking: sign systems that present themselves as illegible codes that conceal literal meanings, but allow for a multiplicity of interpretations. Amorales’s work investigates how images and words shape the way people translate the world. Whether translating a musical score, a novel, exhibition wall labels, or his own studio, Amorales’s work considers how meaning can be derived from the conversion of one thing into another.
El estudio por la ventana, 2010
For his first solo show at kurimanzutto, Mexico City, El estudio por la ventana (Throwing the studio out the window, 2010), Amorales exhibited a 1:1 reproduction of his first studio in Mexico City. Established five years prior, the studio was where Amorales and his team created video animations, installations, and designs sourced from his Liquid Archive (1999–2010). The archive was a collection of digital images dating back to 1998 that Amorales used to form a figurative alphabet and visually abstract language composed of shapes, lines, and nodes instead of words. The graphics that comprised the alphabet transformed over the years from identifiable forms, such as birds and airplanes, to organic shapes that resemble east asian calligraphy.
To close the Liquid Archive as an artistic resource and the studio that nurtured it, Amorales and twenty other artists drew over the architectural reproduction at kurimanzutto, reconstructing fragments of digital information from the archive into a physical environment. The ambulatory experience of encountering the projected drawings that defined the collaborative space for so many years exhibits the artist’s studio as another malleable material that warrants translation. In El estudio por la ventana, Amorales opens his archive to new understandings and interventions, an aspect that will be reflected in future projects.
Vagabond in France and Belgium, 2011
A year later, Amorales participated in the group exhibition Distant Start/Estrella distante organized by kurimanzutto, Mexico City and Regen Projects, Los Angeles. The works on view were all inspired by the writings of Chilean born writer Roberto Bolaño (1953–2003), who was considered the most important Latin American writer to emerge in English translation in the 2000s. Amorales took Bolaño’s short story “Vagabond in France and Belgium” (2001) as his point of departure. In the narrative, the protagonist wanders through France and Belgium, immersed in a French magazine despite having only a limited grasp of the language. Amorales exhibited six silkscreen posters and an accompanying booklet of a translated version of Bolaño’s text into his own graphic, non-semantic language. The suggestion of language remains, but the linguistic order is encrypted.
In transforming a book into an art object, and a readable text into indecipherable visual imagery, the work explores the commonalities and disparities between different systems of communication. Vagabond in France and Belgium continues the artist’s inquiry into the relationship between art and different cultural practices, and marks his first engagement with abstract typography.
We’ll See How All Reverberates, 2012
If Amorales transforms a book into an art object in Vagabond in France and Belgium, in We’ll See How All Reverberates, a sculpture transforms into a musical instrument. The installation, which Amorales developed during a residency at the Atelier Calder in Saché, France, directly responds to the balance and cadence of American artist Alexander Calder’s (1898–1976) celebrated mobiles. Instead of the suspension of abstract wooden forms in color, thirty-five copper cymbals hang from a mass of curved rods. The large-scale mobile provokes observation as well as participation as audiences and invited musicians are encouraged to play the cymbals with drumsticks. Amorales’s abstract forms become multisensory as the cymbals reverberate sound.
Orellana's Fantasia, 2013
Amorales proceeded to explore the relationship between sculpture and sound after discovering the instrumental work of Guatemalan composer Joaquín Orellana. Passionate about electronic music yet lacking access to the technology to produce it in Guatemala, Orellana created a series of analogue instruments, which he called útiles sonoros, or sound tools. The pieces were inspired by xylophones and marimbas and were designed to mimic electronic music, following a score composed of original symbols invented by Orellana.
Amorales and Mexican electronic guitarist Julián Lede commissioned Orellana to create his own score for a segment of Walt Disney’s classic animated film Fantasia (1940): the first movie screened with surround sound with multiple stereo recordings. The short film Orellana’s Fantasia (2013) becomes a translation of translations as projected shadows of Orellana performing the score through his útiles sonoros present a new animation of the film.
El Esplendor Geométrico, 2015
Amorales presented his second solo exhibition El Esplendor Geométrico (Geometric Splendor) at kurimanzutto, Mexico City in 2015. On view was a series of twelve large-scale collages whose loose colorful, geometric forms consisted of 74 elements of a new abstract alphabet. Amorales used the language as the foundation for future projects, including the following year for the group exhibition Gravedad (Severity) at Casa del Lago in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park. All signage of artist names, titles, artwork descriptions, sponsors, and even the writing on garbage cans and online materials were translated into the indecipherable language: their abstract visual systems now paralleling those established in other works on view. The illegibility, albeit frustrating, spurred committed audiences to consider the weight didactic information carries in the understanding of art and find other means for interpretation.
Life in the Folds, 2017
Life in the Folds was first shown at the Mexican Pavilion during the 57th Venice Biennale. Notably, Amorales participated in the Dutch Pavilion in 2003 that focused on Holland’s cross-cultural identity from the perspective of five artists: two Dutch-born artists and three artists temporarily living in the Netherlands. Leaning into his propensity for the in-between, the show’s title is taken from the eponymous book by French-Belgium writer Henri Michaux. Amorales describes Life in the Folds as that which, “evokes an image that is about being between things: between the pages of a book or a newspaper, between countries and cultures, between opposed ideologies, between oneself and the other.”
Hanging on the walls were 92 xerographic compositions of the abstract language first seen in El Esplendor Geométrico. The forms of the typography were three-dimensionally rendered into a thousand ceramic wind instruments, or ocarinas, that were arranged into poems on tables. Citing the influence of Orellana, the prints became musical scores to play the ocarinas whose shapes emit unique sounds when played. In connecting image and music, Amorales transitions from the typographic to the phonetic, encouraging audiences to use sound as a response to their inability to read the illegible typography.
The black-and-white short film The Cursed Village integrates these components. The cut-out, cardboard figures—taking the shape of the abstract alphabet and controlled by a master puppeteer—intact the story of a migrant family that is lynched upon arriving in a town. The film is accompanied by the Liminar ensemble that musically interprets the narrative through the ocarinas. Metaphors for violence materialize through music and signs in the work. “A strategy to preserve contents,” states Amorales, “that would be silenced if they were in legible form.”
I Speak No Dutch, 2022
For the performance I Speak No Dutch, Amorales collaborated with choir singers from Utrecht to convey his personal experience of being a foreigner in a another country. At the invitation of Stichting Kunst in het Stationsgebied and commissioned by the Municipality of Utrecht, the work developed over the course of five years and sought to create a musical notation that joined the alphabet and the human voice to connect cultural and creative disciplines through a universal language.
Approaching the role of the conductor as a visual artist, Amorales scored the lyrics to four songs in collaboration with Julián Lede and the choir. The scores manifested as a series of hand drawings, which also materialize in a book currently on view in Words of Mouth and Hands. The drawings were made after seeing the choir director Wilma Ten Wolde conduct the Nationaal Vrouwen Jeugdkoor festival in Utrecht. Amorales likened the movement of her body and hands to drawing in air, locating the material in the vocal.
Unveiled during three performances at the Neude Library in October 2022, Amorales conducted the choir with the help of Mexican percussionist and composer Diego Espinosa through the drawings and his own body and hand gestures. Inspired by one another, the singers by the drawings and Amorales by their musical acumen, one language shapes another to create a language entirely anew.
Words of Mouth and Hands, 2023
Amorales builds off of I Speak No Dutch in the exhibition Words of Mouth and Hands, continuing to forego instruments to examine the performer as the sole producer of sound. As part of the six-channel video installation Fragmented States (2023), the Mexican composer and musician Sarmen Almond performs a song she composed based off of Amorales’s original lyrics. To complement the ethereal vocals, Diego Espinosa performs a series of rhythms using his hands as drumsticks and his body as his percussion. The voice and body are the source of the instrumental in Words of Mouth and Hands.
The exhibition chronicles the transformation of written language into choral music and the ensuing translation of music into graphic typography. A large-format installation of paper banners fills the gallery walls. In a dynamic exchange of translations, hands, profiles, colors, dots, and lines collide with voices, and claps to provide a pathway for the artist to enter the musicians’ language and construct a harmonious whole.
Language and the ability, or rather the inability, to communicate through sounds, gestures, and symbols remains at the core of Amorales’s practice. “My works function as a barrier to legibility,” the artist states, “an obstruction, which in turn allows for another level of meaning to be revealed, as an implicit communicative potential is insinuated.” When access to language is obstructed, audiences are asked to locate meaning through practices of translation. Communication is always conditional, always in the folds.