It’s such a crazy, wonderful thing to be able to say that your friends inspire you. Although each of my friends live in different corners of the globe, I feel so connected to them through this inspiration and through a deep, profound respect for what they are doing and their work. My friends are creating new art and music, asking new questions, re-inventing answers to old ones, revealing new paths and I absolutely love and value these things, besides the wonderful people that they are!
One old school friend of mine – violinist and artist, Sara Cubarsi – came to visit me in Germany last year (she is originally from Barcelona and is currently living in California). She was then right in the middle of a huge project that she had created and developed – actually, the project is still not finished! The other day I got to catch up with her and asked all about how the project was progressing. As she told me about it, I found the ideas behind it and everything she has achieved thus far so AMAZING and so COOL, that I decided I just had to write a blog post about it and share it! This is the story of the ‘Wax Painting Project’, by Sara Cubarsi.
Something to know about Sara, right from the beginning, is that she is not only a clever and talented violinist, but she is also an artist. Remember in my post about Picasso’s Mad Man (read it here), I mentioned that I had a friend who drew her own mad man on her bedroom wall – that was Sara! She has done some really wonderful paintings (I’m still waiting for one that she promised to make for me one day) and her style of art and emotion is really present in all of her work, whether its through music – her own compositions or more classical pieces – paint or any other art form. So, Sara had the idea that she wanted to create a painting to go in one of her performances, and that’s where the origin of this project stemmed from.
The next step of the project came about purely as a joke. Someone said to Sara, what would happen, though, if your painting would accidentally melt under the heat of the stage lights?? In the moment, Sara laughed, but then realised that that was a fantastic idea and EXACTLY what she wanted! So she began to research what would make the best material for a painting that needed to melt, and wax became clear as the most ideal option. Another thing to know about Sara, is that she adores the work of Francis Bacon – you can probably see this in a LOT of her work! She absolutely loves his organic and raw style and wanted to capture this in her own painting and wax seemed the best, most fleshy and human-like material for her to use.
The first wax painting that Sara created was called ‘The Blind Cow’ and the performance of it took place late one night in February of 2016. It was a small painting of a cow with a bloody eye that hung from the ceiling of a dark classroom. To accompany it was a white noise track,made by one of Sara’s friends, with Sara speaking on top of it into a microphone, with distortion; she was reading poems by T.S. Elliot and a Catalan poem about a blind cow. Sara used candlelight to melt the painting and it worked! The painting melted completely. Although, the funny thing was that Sara was facing a wall and unable to see the painting while she was performing the poems, so she had no idea if it was working or not! This was also what made it so exciting, though, as she just had to have hope that it was all going to plan. And so went the ‘first public melting’.
After this success, Sara thought – OK, this works, now let’s make it big. She decided she wanted to make a new wax painting, big enough that a string quartet could hide behind it, and melt it using electric heaters. The painting that resulted, which Sara called ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, was 12 x 8 feet and the performance was planned to take place in a bigger concert hall in March 2016. Sara composed a string quartet to go with the painting, which was very much related to it; she told me that her music emanated the feeling of wax melting, its pace and it’s colours. Now, here is where is starts to get really exciting. The night before the performance, the heaters broke – smoke came out when she tested them! Running out of time, Sara went out to buy six irons and planned to have people standing behind the painting, ironing it to get it to melt! However, during the performance, there was SO much electricity being used (six irons, speakers, heaters etc.) that the electrical circuit broke! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), at the end of the performance, when Sara stepped out from behind the painting, she saw that it had barely melted at all and the public reaction was extremely awkward – here were all these people who had come to see this monster wax painting melt… and nothing happened! But isn’t this the nature of experimenting?! We have to try stuff out to see what works and what doesn’t. Sara called her ‘second public melting’ a “successful un-happening”!
Sara was nowhere near finished. We have to remember that, while all of these wax adventures were going on, Sara was still trying to live her life, as a musician and an artist dealing with all of her own insecurities. At around about this time she was playing a LOT of contemporary music and was feeling really anxious about her classical playing – she felt that she had lost touch with Bach and with the violin and was trying to find herself as a violinist again. She decided that she had to force herself to put on a concert and perform some Bach, as this would simply MAKE her practice it. Connecting all of her work together, she created a new abstract painting for a performance at Art Share, L.A., to which she would play Bach’s Second Partita. This piece is made up of four smaller dance movements and a monumental Chaconne final movement. The day before the concert, Sara freaked out – she was feeling so uncomfortable with her playing that she decided to cancel the four shorter movements and just perform the Chaconne. The very last note of this movement ends on a very powerful ‘D’ chord and at that point in the performance, Sara held this ‘D’ note as a drone, on top of which she sang microtonal intervals, all reflecting the huge Chaconne movement, in a kind of slow motion, while her little painting melted. I see this concert as a sort of interlude from the main project, but nevertheless very important and relevant to Sara’s personal development and also to show her own personality in relation to the rest of the project.
And now back to the main wax project. What came next was a painting that Sara called ‘Concerto For A Painting’ which was composed to 9 string instruments and piano and performed in April 2016. Sara’s music was somehow Wagnerian, but with no rhythmic gestures, and the painting was ambiguous – it could have been a womb or even a woman’s breast (I guess it depended on one’s own personal interpretation). What I find really cool about this painting is that Sara really made the wax look like flesh, so that when it melted, it left the painting red. She told me that this made it look like a baby had been born, almost like there was now no baby left in the womb. Only two heaters were needed to melt this painting and it worked beautifully – the painting melted.
But remember that huge painting, ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, that didn’t melt? Sara had no idea what to do with it. This was the point at which she visited me and we discussed what she could possibly do. She had the idea that she wanted to burn the painting somehow (an idea that also stemmed from a joke comment made by a friend!) and had a vision of doing this in a desert space where there is nothing, no life, around. My boyfriend, who knows California pretty well, suggested Salton Sea. It is right in the middle of the desert, it’s not very populated so she could find a space to be alone, and it’s not a ‘nice’ place – she didn’t have to worry about being too careful there. So when she went back to the States, in October 2016, she took her monster painting to the desert and set it on fire by throwing gasoline all over it. Of course it was impossible to make music to go with it in this context; the desert was too hot, this escapade far too dangerous and extreme. While she was burning the painting she was also filming it all and I think the silence aspect and having no music will come across amazingly well on film. She described to me that by the end she was so light-headed and hot, worried about what she was doing and if she would get caught, heavy from so much physical work… she actually couldn’t finish and had to leave her painting burning there in the desert (it was found and some reports of it turned up on social media and the internet by people wondering what it was!).
Sara’s final wax painting performance, titled ‘Exvoto Study’, happened in November 2016. On a trip home to Barcelona, she went to visit the gothic cathedral at St. James’s Square, Cereria. This area is really, really old and very religious. When someone is suffering some kind of ailment or wound, here they can offer an ex-voto – a votive offering – of the wounded body part, made of wax, to the deities, hoping that they may be cured. Sara found a little wax ear and took it home, where she decided to film herself melting it. Her new idea was to project this little film onto a screen for her performance. However, this wasn’t to be a normal screen – she planned to make a screen of wax! She got hold of a canvas, which she covered in black paint with white wax on top of it, and this became her screen. The score that Sara wrote to go with her film, which she performed with two colleagues, reflected what the ear hears; bubbling, gurgling, coughing. It wasn’t a totally smooth concert; smoke started to come out of the heaters that were melting the wax screen and somehow, because of the light and darkness in the concert hall, this became very visible to the stage managers – they turned off the heaters! This was a bit of a disaster because Sara needed the screen to melt to achieve her effect, so she got up herself during the performance to turn the heaters back on. Because of this, the screen only melted partially, but the overall effect of the video of the melting ear being projected onto a screen that was melting LIVE definitely came across – I WISH I could have seen this!
The thing that I find really interesting about the whole project and in all of the performances, is that there are two elements going on all the time; the music and the melting painting. The process of composing and performing the music is very calculated – there’s a score and a system and musicians know what they do, it’s very organised and clean. But the painting is always a total risk. For one, the musicians can’t ever see it, so there is no way to ever know if it is melting or not and if the performance is working. And secondly, it’s always unpredictable – Sara can never know if the heaters will work, if the wax will melt. These two art forms are continually working together and against each other during her performances, and this is what makes it so truly exciting.
Another thing to think about is that these are performances that are ephemeral; they can only ever be done ONE time, because the painting can only melt once. It really is amazing, because Sara then puts absolutely everything into this one performance, but there is also a sad quality to this; the painting melts and will never again be what it was, it gets lost to the moment of the performance. This is performance art at its most real, most meaningful, most alive!
And now? I don’t think Sara is quite finished with her wax painting project yet! She told me that she wants to master it so that it can be done anywhere. She also wants to make a film of the Salton Sea experiment, of which she has many hours of footage. I can’t wait for the next melting episode!