Pedro Albornoz

Ponder this: if a string quartet such as UceLi performs Giacomo Puccini’s Crisantemi (Italian for
chrysanthemums) in a forest, does it make a sound? The answer is yes – and a beautiful one at that. On the evening of June 22, Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu held its first concert to commemorate the end of the lockdown.

The forest in question wasn’t so much a place as it was a crowd of 2,292 palms, ficus trees and Swiss cheese plants that filled the hall’s velvet seats and balconies. The concert was the brainchild of artist Eugenio Ampudia, an iconoclast who has never been afraid to challenge the idea of art, public space and control.

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One of his most memorable exhibitions was the book burnings of Reina Sofia Museum’s libraries in Madrid in 2004. This work was showcased at the National Library of Singapore two years later. He’s also crafted a plague of faux insects from surplus exhibit invitations, so he’s no neophyte when it comes to making bold, brash statements about complex relationships.

Since mid-March, the iconic Gran Teatre del Liceu had been left eerily silent. With only dust and echoes occupying the once-busy halls, Ampudia imagined a hostile takeover by nature. After all, flora and fauna have been around practically forever – and will still be here – long after we humans have moved on.

Rather than waiting for them to sprout legs and barge in themselves, Ampudia invited them in to the space. Said the artist: “In a moment of constrained confinement and absence of mobility for a significant part of humanity, nature has taken a step forward and reclaimed the spaces we seized from it.

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It happened on its own cadence, barely surfacing and with a patient biological cycle. Is it possible to extend empathy in relation to other species? Let’s start with art and music in a great theatre, and invite nature in.” Dubbed Concert for the Biocene, the eight-minute performance by UceLi was streamed live on the theatre’s website, so listeners – and other potted begonias – could be serenaded wherever they were.

This wasn’t just performance art for its own sake but a collaboration between Ampudia, Max Estrella Gallery and the opera house that used the ephemeral value of art, music and nature to guide us back to the outdoors.

After the performance, the plants – with commemorative certificates signed by Ampudia – were presented to health workers in Barcelona in appreciation of their contributions while facing an unprecedented crisis during the Covid-19 outbreak. While reviews of the performance are still coming in, initial reports indicate that the audience were transfixed by the performance. They were so still that you could only hear the rustling of the leaves.

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