Curated by: Candice Hopkins and Raven Chacon, with Stavia Grimani.
Pittsburgh, PA, July 12, 2023—Opening September 30 at the Miller Institute of Contemporary Art, Impossible Music brings together sounds, scores, sculptures, video, and live performances to extend discourses on conceptual and experimental music and explore its intersections across different art forms. Marking the first joint curatorial collaboration of curator Candice Hopkins, artist, composer Raven Chacon, with curator, researcher, Stavia Grimani, the interdisciplinary group exhibition features work by boundary-defying composers, artists, and collectives including Terry Adkins, Black Quantum Futurism, Benvenuto Chavajay, Nikita Gale, Sarah Hennies, Tom Johnson, Conlon Nancarrow, Aki Onda, Christine Sun Kim, and C. Spencer Yeh. Also available for listening is a potlatch record listening station to make audible those songs rendered illegal under the “potlatch bans” which outlawed Native North American ceremonies in the United States and Canada. Shown together, the songs, scores, and artworks in the exhibition address the complexity of music as well as moments in human history that led to the creation of new sounds, including the sound of resistance. On view through December 10, the exhibition is complemented by live performances that will occur throughout its run, beginning with an opening performance by Aki Onda "Spirits Known and Unknown" featuring Eyvind Kang on September 29 from 5:30-6:30 p.m followed by an exhibition reception 6:30-8pm.
“Bridging the gaps between music, art, and history, Impossible Music represents the cross-collaboration, artistic innovation, and open dialogue that we foster here at Miller ICA. It is incredibly exciting to be working with Raven and Candice on this exhibition, which marks their first curatorial collaboration to date,” said Elizabeth Chodos, Director of the Miller ICA.
Featuring works by ten composers and artists from the early 20th century to the present day, and archival material including songs that were illegal at certain moments in time, Impossible Music brings the history of music to the fore, highlighting both the musical and artistic vanguard who pushed the medium forward into new and experimental forms as well as the often-challenging moments that spawned these innovations. These innovators include Conlon Nancarrow—the composer who utilized automatic player pianos to compose scores too complex for the human hand—and Nikita Gale, whose installation DRRRUMMERRRRRR (2019-present) combines water and drums to explore how music can generate commentary on climate change. The exhibition also foregrounds the conceptual approach to sound of artists such as Terry Adkins, whose Darkwater Record (2003-2008) plays with sound and silence, through the inaudibility of sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois’s transformative 1960 address, “Socialism and the American Negro”, and Christine Sun Kim, who, through her use of charcoal, radically challenging modes of listening and transcribing sound.
“By grappling with the limitations of music—those encountered both through creating and receiving—we were also able to examine the solutions and innovations that grow from challenges such as artistic repression and isolation, specifically the possibilities of technique and virtuosity in the increasingly digital world,” said Chacon.
Hopkins added, “We realized that music doesn’t have to center the human. The concept of ‘impossible music’ not only breaks conventions, definitions, or assumptions of music, but also of instrumentation. That’s what people will hear and see in the exhibition. We hope audiences come away with an expanded definition of the idea of music.”
Coinciding with the exhibition are additional live performances by Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo (Amy Williams and Helena Bugallo) performing the compositions of Conlon Nancarrow; composer and percussionist, Sarah Hennies; and the collective Black Quantum Futurism. Conversations between the curators and participating artists will be compiled and printed into free booklets, inspired by Fluxus artist, printer, and composer Dick Higgins’ Great Bear Pamphlets, which will be released at the midpoint of the exhibition. Additional programming and performance details will be unveiled in the coming weeks.
Impossible Music was organized by the Miller Institute of Contemporary Art at Carnegie Mellon University. The exhibition was curated by Candice Hopkins and Raven Chacon, with Stavia Grimani.
Impossible Music is made possible with major support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the College of Fine Arts, Regina and Marlin Miller, and individual donors.
About the Curatorial Team
Raven Chacon, co-curator of Impossible Music, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning composer, performer, and installation artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation. As a solo artist, collaborator, and a member of Postcommodity from 2009 to 2018, Chacon has exhibited, performed, or had works performed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Renaissance Society, Chicago; San Francisco Electronic Music Festival; REDCAT, Los Angeles; Vancouver Art Gallery; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Borealis Festival, Seattle; SITE Santa Fe; Chaco Canyon, New Mexico; Ende Tymes Festival, New York; The Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Biennial, New York; documenta 14, Athens and Kassel; Carnegie International, and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
Since 2004, he has mentored more than three hundred Native high school composers in writing new string quartets for the Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP). Chacon is the recipient of the United States Artists fellowship in Music, The Creative Capital award in Visual Arts, The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation artist fellowship, the American Academy’s Berlin Prize for Music Composition, the Bemis Center’s Ree Kaneko Award, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award (2022) and the Pew Fellow-in-Residence (2022).
Candice Hopkins, co-curator of Impossible Music, is a citizen of Carcross/Tagish First Nation and lives in Red Hook, New York. Her writing and curatorial practice explores the intersections of history, contemporary art, and Indigeneity. She is Executive Director and Chief Curator of Forge Project, Taghkanic, NY and was inaugural Senior Curator for the 2019 and 2022 editions of the Toronto Biennial of Art. Hopkins exhibition, Indian Theater: Native Performance, Art, and Self-Determination since 1969, opened at the Hessel Museum of Art, CCS Bard on June 24th, 2023. She was part of the curatorial team for the Canadian Pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale, featuring the work of the media art collective Isuma, and co-curator of notable exhibitions including Art for New Understanding: Native Voices 1950s to Now; the 2018 SITE Santa Fe biennial, Casa Tomada; documenta 14, Athens, Greece, and Kassel, Germany; and Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Notable essays include “The Gilded Gaze: Wealth and Economies on the Colonial Frontier,” for The documenta 14 Reader; “Outlawed Social Life,” for South as a State of Mind; and “The Appropriation Debates (or The Gallows of History),” for New Museum/MIT Press.
Stavia Grimani, assistant curator of Impossible Music. Born in Athens, Greece, Stavia Grimani studied Fine Arts in the University of Ioannina (UOI) and she holds a master of business administration in museum studies from the University of Leicester, UK. She has worked as an artist, curator, cultural producer, and writer. Her practice draws inspiration from the synthesis of cosmologies, within different socio-political and cultural contexts, and focuses on the interrelation between art, systems of knowledge, models of leadership, feminist thinking and performative, research-based and activist artistic practices. Previously, she worked at the Performance and Live Programs at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York City, and she was a curatorial assistant at documenta 14, in Athens, Greece, and Kassel, Germany. As an independent art professional, she has collaborated with many artists, institutions, festivals, and art galleries in Europe and the USA.
Image credit: Nikita Gale, Marmi, 2022