Carlos Amorales’s Fragmented States Envisions a Hopeful Future

MEXICO CITY — In the beginning, there was darkness. So unfurled Carlos Amorales’s performance Fragmented States, which brought together a dizzying host of singers, dancers, and percussionists to compose an alternate creation story. On February 7, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Mexico City’s Feria Material, visitors streamed into the cavernous main hall of the Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros, the space illuminated only by narrow beams of light that emanated from performers’ pocket flashlights. Crouched around metal clothing racks holding white paper suits intricately airbrushed with colored stripes, performers used the light to trace the garments’ contours, leaving the auditorium and audience in the dark. 

In Fragmented States, Amorales pieces together a new cosmovision in his interpretation of a myth, generated with the help of artificial intelligence, about Naga, a serpent deity who creates the universe through its vocal sculpting. As the story goes, Naga experiences a transformation every 25 million years, shedding its skin and, in doing so, ushering forth an unknown present. The collection of suits gesture to this ritual shedding, representing worlds both past and yet to come. 

Silence slipped into cacophony as various singers around the perimeter of the hall launched into piercing shrieks and calls, layered over the more traditional harmonies of a choral ensemble. The resulting sonic landscape, at once harsh and grandiose in its otherworldliness, evoked that of a new order clawing into existence. Flashlights turned toward the singers cast the performers’ long shadows across the whorls of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s iconic murals.

With the help of Amorales’s collaborators — experimental singer Sarmen Almond, percussionist and sound artist Diego Espinosa, and choreographer Priscila Hernández — Fragmented States grew out of of a six-channel video installation of the same name, first presented in the artist’s 2023 solo show at kurimanzutto gallery’s New York location. Rhythms established in the videos through the repetition of actions, such as a man clapping or slapping his own face, swelled to an orchestral scale on the performance stage, where a congregation of percussionists used their own bodies as instruments. It was from this primordial percussive swamp that Naga emerged. A vocalist donning a magenta-and-tangerine-striped suit materialized from a futuristic pod opposite the percussionists before traversing the hall, accompanied by haunting melody. Meanwhile, Amorales and another performer read the story of Naga aloud, grounding the performance in the oral traditions so essential to the survival of cosmogonies. 

What is most striking about Fragmented States is the dialogue it establishes with its setting. The performance is enveloped by Siqueiros’s “La Marcha de la Humanidad,” the world’s largest mural. A culmination of the Mexican mural movement, which Siqueiros helmed alongside Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, its subject matter was meant to be a celebration of Mexico’s past and of the Mexican Revolution and the future it promised. Instead, it was conceptualized and completed amid great political turmoil. Much of it was designed in prison, where Siqueiros was being held for both criticizing the President of Mexico and participating in protests against the arrests of striking workers and teachers. In Fragmented States, Amorales collapses these historical timelines, reconciling the hopes and disappointments of generations past with our present reality through his playful observations on endings and rebirth.

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