For anybody who didn’t know what to expect, or was casually hunting for some chill new tunes to put on their workout playlist, the recent Diamanda Galás virtual event, “Broken Gargoyles,” may have been a bit of a surprise. Galás is a multi-faceted musical artist, a 60-something soprano sfogato, composer and pianist, with a reputation for creating provocative work.
On Thursday July 23, New York space Fridman Gallery unveiled Galás’ latest oeuvre as part of its Solos offering (its tagline is ‘a space of limit as possibility’). The performance, as it turns out, was very well suited to an online platform. Utilizing quadraphonic sound to gain surround sound, “Broken Gargoyles” was filled with visual projections and contained matter from Galás’ Fas Fieberspital, all while both natural and processed voices as well as natural sounds and excerpts from De-formation could be heard throughout. This live stream came about from a faraway collaboration between Galás and Daniel Neumann (artist and sound engineer). It was more visually focused than might have been expected from an artist whose vocal ability and musical style are so unique and showcase-worthy. Nonetheless, Galás managed to infuse the event with quite a lot of her own distinctive energy.
Perhaps the best description of the performance is as a plotless art film with prominent musical accompaniment. It was enigmatic: black shapes on a white background, undulating, swirling, coalescing, forming strange patterns and then abruptly diffusing. Perhaps they were meant to represent crows fighting over carrion, or the last autumn leaves being yanked from their trees in a fearsome gale. The exact meaning of the scene was left to the audience’s imagination.
It seemed, though, that gothic horror and fantasy had inspired this film quite significantly. There were black and white images that vaguely suggested architecture, maybe even a cathedral or two. And other jarring moments that suggested TV static, or hundreds of barcodes melting into each other. All the colorless visuals made the transition to color all the more striking: about midway through, an unusually coherent shot appears. It is of a plant, swaying slightly, with a pale sun hovering in the background. Galás makes sure to never get too predictable though-the plant is blue and the sun is bright red.
Underscoring this disturbed dream is an eerie chanting score that penetrates the mayhem like a prayer to some dark god. The gothic, Middle-Ages vibes are apparent in the music as well, much of it sounds as if sung by a very discordant choir.
Pulsing synth notes, bells and low-register piano were frequently heard. Galás’ vocal part was even creepier, if that’s possible. Her and artist Robert Knoke could be heard screeching the words of German poetry by George Heym, their voices somehow simultaneously rhythmic and totally unbound. My German comprehension skills are by no means perfect, but I picked up phrases involving dead children, dark nights and a red devil.
By far the most frightening moment of a frightening performance was when the animation ceased, to be replaced by gruesome photos of disfigured soldiers—the broken gargoyles referenced in the exhibition title.
So although a recognizable melody or logical sequence of images was nowhere to be found, it must be admitted that this performance was pretty freaky—the artistic equivalent of shock-inducing clickbait, probably just as Galás intended.