New York-based artist Ernesto Pujol is nailing down the final details of his group performance Speaking in Silence, taking place this Saturday at 12 locations around Honolulu, including right here at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. The work, Speaking in Silence, is the result. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to experience a site-specific performance piece by an internationally recognized artist in Honolulu—don’t miss it. Here is the schedule—lots of places and times to choose from.
To put this milestone performance into context, I highly recommend you see Pujol’s exhibition Walking Ground at The Contemporary Museum beforehand. For the past decade, Pujol has been “claiming public space away from clutter, noise, speed and distractions” through his “walking practice,” and the show is a fascinating overview of this work through photographs, video, drawings and objects.
With his focus on sacred places, I asked Pujol if he felt any special resonance from our ‘aina. “When I first came to Hawai‘i in 2007, I stayed on Waikiki Beach and I immediately told Jay [Jensen, Curator at The Contemporary Museum] that I wanted to really touch ground, that I didn’t feel I was really touching ground yet,” says Pujol. “So he took me around. I think the site that was the deciding site for me was the Manoa Cemetery. I felt that I arrived at a truly psychic space. It was at sunset and I felt I was in a vessel. The graves, the offerings to the graves and the ecology of the cemetery and the light and the ladder-like landscaping of the place—I was just finally grounded. It was what I was looking for. And from there, there were other sites, like we went to that park that has many temples, and I love the Pali lookout point. It was foggy and very mystical.”
How does walking back and forth at a specific site claim it from urban distractions?
“By having the body be present there, walking that space, over and over again, ritualistically you start creating a space wtihin the space,” explains Pujol. “In so doing, you carve out a place for reflection, meditation, memory—individual and collective. It’s a very humble practice, it’s very unheroic, unmonumental. People come expecting some drama or narrative or climax and nothing happens really. And but that is the beauty of it. We are a society of thrillers and science fiction and like Susan Sontag said, science fiction is not science, it’s exciting disasters. So I’m the countercultural opposite of that.”
While here, Pujol is training the performer, writing documents, doing research, speaking with University of Hawai‘i art students, and co-leading a class on researching, visiting sites, writing and reading. “I have been here for two and a half weeks—I’m not here to be a tourist. I’m here to listen and learn and stage something that will be sincere, that will be very flawed. No one artwork can tell the history of a place and its people, but if it can be honest then even if it is incomplete it is real.”