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Immersive Installation by Anri Sala

Immersive Installation by Anri Sala
in the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern

March 12 – December 12, 2021

Houston, TX – November 19, 2020 – Buffalo Bayou Partnership is pleased to announce a newly commissioned artwork for the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern by the internationally renowned multi-media artist, Anri Sala.  This immersive new film and sound installation, titled Time No Longer, will occupy the Cistern for a period of nine months, transporting visitors into an other-worldly environment within this vast, subterranean reservoir.

Time No Longer will incorporate film projected onto a translucent, 22 by 150-foot (7 by 45-meter) screen with a soundtrack emanating throughout the space, its reverberations creating ripples on the surface of the water. Visitors will encounter the work in 360 degrees by making their way around the full perimeter of the 87,500-square-foot Cistern, hearing, feeling, and watching it through the Cistern’s 221 supporting columns.

The film depicts a weathered turntable floating in a space station. It is tethered only by its electric cord, which allows it to keep playing a vinyl record. There appears to be no human presence to listen to it, and an uneasy quiescence around it suggests it may be spinning in the aftermath of a catastrophe – a custodian of that absent humanity. With its own acrobatic intelligence, the tonearm moves from place to place on the record, the needle’s touch and rise resuming and ceasing its music. In a manner that seems not entirely at the mercies of gravity or chance, it continuously conducts itself. From its position in space, it observes 16 earthly sunrises and sunsets each day.

The turntable plays a new arrangement of French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time that draws on the unique history of the quartet’s composition. During the Second World War, Messiaen (1908–1992) was captured at Verdun and incarcerated at a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. While imprisoned he wrote Quartet for the End of Time, premiering it in 1941 – with three fellow musician prisoners – to an audience of captives and guards. Scored only for instruments they could each play and find, this extraordinary piece of chamber music remains the most searingly haunting and memorable work composed through incarceration. Sala recognized in Messiaen’s elegiac piece not only a sense of overwhelming loneliness at a time when the world’s crises seemed insurmountable, but also the need to bring something – however fragile and soft-spoken – into that numbness. For Time No Longer, Sala was particularly drawn to the only solo movement of the quartet, ‘The Abyss of the Birds’, which was written for clarinet and played by Messiaen’s fellow prisoner of war, Algerian musician Henri Akoka. As Messiaen put it, “The abyss is Time with its sadness, its weariness. The birds [clarinet] are the opposite to Time; they are our desire for light…”

Sala found a natural complement to this isolated clarinet in another remarkable musical event, the story of Ronald McNair’s saxophone. In 1986 McNair, one of the world’s first Black astronauts to have reached space, was also a professional saxophone player who had planned to play and record a saxophone solo on board the Space Shuttle Challenger. This would have been the first original piece of music recorded in space had not that journey been suddenly and tragically curtailed; the spacecraft disintegrated seconds after take-off, killing everyone on board. Sala felt that composing a saxophone part for ‘The Abyss of the Birds’ would subtly re-envisage a piece that was never played where it was intended, and also form a duet between two instrumental voices – empathetic and interdependent through what they have endured. The saxophone is introduced in Time No Longer only when the needle leaves the vinyl, granting McNair a ghostly presence, refracted into space via Akoka’s clarinet. The powerful acoustics of the cavernous Cistern also indicate the vastness and loneliness of what connects McNair and Akoka, respectively outer space and incarceration.

“We are in awe of what Anri Sala has created for the Cistern and cannot wait to share this poetic project with the public,” said Karen Farber, Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s Vice President of External Affairs. “From the moment he saw the space, Sala was taken with it, and he has created an artwork that truly responds to both the Cistern’s uniqueness, and the story of the City of Houston. We are so fortunate to play host to this exciting work.”

Houston provides an appropriate setting for Time No Longer, Sala’s most ambitious project to date. It is both the origin and fulcrum of two endeavors at the extent of our vertical frontiers: one boring deep into the earth to extract its riches, another venturing upwards into improbable space exploration. For nine months, the Cistern’s underground chamber will become the dwelling place for a symbiosis steeped in suffering, but never bound by it.

The sound arrangement for Time No Longer is made in partnership with two of Sala’s long-term collaborators, Hungarian-American musician André Vida, and French sound designer Olivier Goinard. The saxophone is performed by Vida himself, while the clarinet is performed by French clarinetist Raphaël Sévère. Time No Longer is curated in collaboration with Weingarten Art Group.

This project is organized by Buffalo Bayou Partnership with lead underwriting provided by Suzanne Deal Booth Cultural Trust, John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation, and Marian Goodman Gallery.  Free Thursdays at the Cistern sponsored by KBR. Major support provided by Radoff Family Foundation, Scott and Judy Nyquist, and [N.A!] Project, with additional support from Weingarten Art Group.  Buffalo Bayou Partnership is funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.  (as of November 19, 2020)