Fernando Ortega

Music for a Small Boat Crossing a Medium Size River


Not on display

Fernando Ortega born 1971
9 photographs, colour, and 2 printed letters
Support, each: 630 × 900 mm
Presented by the artist, kurimanzutto and Outset England as part of the International Production Fund 2014


Music for a Small Boat Crossing a Medium Size River 2012 is a multimedia work by the Mexican artist Fernando Ortega. It comprises eight colour photographs, two printed letters and a photograph of a compact disc. It is the result of a work that Ortega made in direct collaboration with British musician and composer Brian Eno. A book was also published by Koenig Books, London to accompany this project. Ortega commissioned Eno to write a musical piece for a boatman of Veracruz, on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, whose daily job is to ferry passengers across the small Bobos River. During the short journeys the boatman entertains his passengers with a varied range of musical themes of his choice. Brian Eno’s piece was given to him by Ortega to be added to this repertoire. It was part of Ortega’s intention that only the ferryman’s passengers would have the chance opportunity to listen to Eno’s one-minute-long composition.

Although the work was conceived as a site-specific project, Ortega allowed for its extension or continuation in the gallery context by selecting a series of elements which now comprise the work. The eight photographs document the boat crossing the river at different moments in time. These shots were taken at a distance, from the same spot. A photograph of the CD of Eno’s musical theme, Verbatim, is the only proof of the one existing copy of the recording which Ortega gave to the boatman. Lastly, the two letters summarise the creative exchange between Ortega and Eno in realising the project.

Despite being a work about music – as the title emphasises – in this piece Ortega confronts the viewer with a sense of frustration and confusion at not being able to hear any sound. He has commented, ‘After seeing the story, you are not able to listen to the composition and you will not be able to do so unless you travel to Veracruz; at that moment, the spectator feels the void of an unfinished story.’ (Quoted in Avila 2012, accessed 17 September 2013). Curiosity, on the other hand, forces the viewer to use their imagination to envision what the real experience might be like.

Music for a Small Boat Crossing a Medium Size River questions the nature of the art object as a mediated experience. ‘In the moment you enter the exhibition space’, Ortega has said, ‘you know you are leaving behind a certain part of life and its spontaneity.’ (Quoted in Hernandez 2013, accessed 17 September 2013.) In Ortega’s thinking, this light touch in producing inconclusive situations, rather than saturating the gallery space with an aesthetic presence, creates a space or ‘void’ that allows the spectator to complete the work. Much of the artist’s work centres around sound, and the relationship between the visible and the audible or inaudible. For instance, For Those who Do not Listen to Me 2005 was a book in which Ortega documented the tuning of the piano that belonged to the composer Ludwig van Beethoven towards the end of his life when he was already deaf and could not hear the actual notes other than in his head.

Further reading
Fernando Ortega and Brian Eno, Music for a Small Boat Crossing a Medium Size River, London 2012.
Sonia Avila, ‘Ortega lleva el vacío al Palais de Tokyo’, Excelsior, 10 June 2012, online edition, www.excelsior.com.mx/2012/06/10/comunidad/840215, accessed 17 September 2013.
Aline Hernández, ‘Entrevista a Fernando Ortega’, Código, 18 January 2013, online edition, http://www.revistacodigo.com/entrevista-fernando-ortega/, accessed 17 September 2013.

Iria Candela
September 2013

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