French conceptualist Davide Balula’s multi-media practice bears the weight of Yoko Ono’s instruction pieces while drawing on a variety of both historical and contemporary sources from the radically succinct Lawrence Weiner to the varied oeuvre of Piero Manzoni and the greater Fluxus canon. Paddle8 was fortunate enough to gain some insight into Balula’s latest project that revolves around the physical and psychological sensations generated by Niagra Falls:
The Niagara project originated while I was doing a series called the River Paintings (as I traveled around the world, I tried to bring along empty canvases along and submerge them into various rivers, letting them soak and cook so their own sediments stain the canvas). I have always been interested in river volumes, speed, weather, and how those features effect riverbeds and other surroundings. I wondered about the potential freeze of the most powerful waterfalls and how they lose an extremely large quantity of the water while falling into snow and mist, evaporating. (When you are visiting the city, you are actually breathing some Niagara Falls Water Drops without noticing it).
In the past, I printed images of frozen waterfalls onto thermal fax paper and exposed them in the light. Within a couple months their image would melt and vanish. For an other event, I made an ice sculpture that gave the illusion of backsplash generated when the cascading water impacted the pool below. I let the piece float and melt in a river, creating the impression of a silent explosion in slow motion. The piece was accompanied by a sonic cocktail with drinkable chemicals that completed the missing sound of the frozen visual by popping loudly in the glass.
Last year, in the dead of winter, I visited Niagara Falls and saw them almost frozen. The ice narrowed the path of the water creating tremendous pressure.
My first mission was to repeat the simple gesture of manually transporting water to skip the freeze and the fall: I would fill my jug with some water right before the falls, then I would go down the hill to reach the lower extension of the river and would pour the water out at the bottom.
After I did this exercise a couple times, I decided to collect some extra water to bring back to New York and pour it in the city. We thoroughly purified the water through many different electro-chemical processes so that we could invite friends to drink authentic Niagara Falls water, and continue our own exploration of the falls.
Because I wanted to focus more on the time the water would take to travel within the body, diuretic herbs seemed to be a good way to highlight the body’s biological clock, emphasizing the duration of digestion and excretion (and obviously recalling a reduced height version of the falls).
Among a large variety of the diuretic herbs, we selected several roots and leaves to carefully infuse into the beverage so as to urge the urine to manifest its journey. We primarily chose the roots that would make the beverage look, feel and taste like a wild river: minerals, wind, underwater grass, trout skin, mud…
We tried many different variations and proportions, different techniques of extracting the flavors and finalized the version we would share. (I set aside another part to become a liquor that is currently aging in a small barrel).
Once the drink was set, I listed 9 stages representing the different steps of the swallowing and ingestion process, the different steps a liquid encounters inside the body.
The 9 parts became 9 different musical acts:
1. The lips
2. The mouth
3. The pharinx
4. The esophagus
5. The stomach
6. The Intestines
7. The Blood Stream
8. The Kidneys
9. The bladder
These acts were translated into music through a text-based score with descriptions of sound related to activities of the body.
A group of musicians (Jonathan Bailey, Shelley Burgon, Saunder Jurrians and myself) used various instruments (Violin, harp, drums and percussion, guitars, accordions, horns, flutes…) and improvised some melodies interpreting in real time the text which was being shown on a TV screen. The audience who had just drank the Niagara cocktail, followed the text while listening. Everyone was experiencing the passage of the Niagara water through their own body, and they were all on their way to create the last act on their own, their own performance finale in private.
NIAGARA FALLS & CRANBERRY LEAVES is a drink made of natural water harvested by Davide Balula on the site of Niagara Falls.
NIAGARA FALLS & CRANBERRY LEAVES is also a musical experience in which musicians are asked to interpret the different steps of the swallowing process, interpreting in real time the inner travel of the liquid.
Performed March 5th 2011