Guadalupe Maravilla, Luz y fuerza Installation at MoMA, Photograph by Virginia Wagner

I attended Guadalupe Maravilla’s exhibitions of sculptures and sound baths in Socrates Sculpture Park this September and at MoMA in November. MoMA’s exhibit Luz y fuerza is up through September 2022.

Maravilla’s sculptures are sentinels. It’s a funny thing when a piece of visual art, built to be looked at, ends up watching you. (Mutu’s The NewOnes at the MET were this way.) Visit them as you would an oracle. They are still and waiting. They will receive you and your questions. Their patience is awesome like a mangrove forest. It is clear their timeline is not our frenetic own. They have had lives before: as marine and plant life, cast body parts, and scrap metal. Some invite you to climb onto their backs like beasts in ancient stories. Some invite you to kneel at their altar of corals and hanging wax hides. The gong at their center opens as a mouth, eye, nose, and ear.

Maravilla, who is Salvadorian-American, draws on ancestral and indigenous healing practices. At rest, these sculptures, called Disease Throwers, are both animate and inanimate. They’re in a state of suspended animation. I was reminded of how nouns, in many indigenous languages of the Americas, are grammatically split between animate and inanimate, rather than between masculine and feminine. Instead of using “it,” as we do in English to describe anything non-human, this allows plants, animals, and natural objects to join humans in the inclusive category of “alive.”  

When played, Maravilla’s sound sculptures wake up. You lie on the ground for this part, eyes closed. The sound pours in from all sides. It weaves through the air around you. It vibrates the ground beneath you, then it works its way into your bones and blood. Maravilla calls the activated sculptures “healing machines.” 

Rarely do you get to inhabit an artwork. Usually, you are on the outside. You can see it or you can think about it. This work engulfs you. 

Guadalupe Maravilla, Planeta Abuelx Installation at Socrates Sculpture Park

The first bath I attended was outdoors, at the close of the summer. It was a hot day in Queens. We sloughed off our shoes and lay on beach blankets in the Socrates Sculpture Garden. It smelled like park grass and sunscreen. When the ritual fire began, it smelled of smoke, sage, and burning grasses. Eyes closed, we tuned in to the gongs and cymbals that threaded our horizontal bodies. The sounds were mixed with city sounds: sirens, cars, and children squealing. I was exposed to the sun and encircled in the small community of bathers, the larger park, the neighborhood, borough, city. I felt the sound waves move out in concentric circles.  

Guadalupe Maravilla, Luz y fuerza Installation at MoMA, Photograph by Virginia Wagner

The next month, I attended a bath for cancer survivors at MoMA. There was no sage, and the temperature was museum-cold. I lay on a yoga mat, cocooned in my scarf and jacket. When the sound began here, it was like drowning. The gongs, crafted and designed by Maravilla, spun out a vast landscape of noise. They threw their voices with abandon off the glass and the walls of the white box gallery seemed to expand to cathedral scale. I knew that what I was hearing was coming only from the gongs and cymbals I’d seen resting as the faces of the beasts. But it seemed like an impossible amount of sound. They must have snuck speakers into the corners of the room. I peeked, opening one eye. No speakers. I let it go and let the sound do its work on me.

As much as the outdoor sound bath made me aware of my external surroundings, this bath mapped inner circles. The macro micro scale shifts are intentional. Maravilla tunes the gongs to both celestial bodies and to organs in the human body. I don’t pretend to know how. A cancer survivor himself, Maravilla developed this process for self-healing first and then calibrated and grew it to a scale that could be shared. 

When the last notes drained from the room – I felt as though I had traveled a great distance and returned. Maravilla and his Disease Throwers use sound to open something. It’s as if you’ve been wading in the shallows of a stream when a swimming hole yawns beneath you and your feet no longer touch the ground. When you open your eyes, everything is as it was. The creatures’ metal discs are lidless and unblinking. But you’ve heard them howl and heard the howl that rose in you to greet them.

Guadalupe Maravilla’s ‘Luz y fuerza’ exhibition at MoMA runs through September. Sign up for a Sound Bath HERE.

Virginia Wagner, The Bard, 2021, Ink and oil on canvas, 62 x 78 inches

Virginia Wagner is a visual artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn NY and teaches at Pratt Institute. She is currently working on commissions for Guggenheim Works and Process and National Geographic. She is Co-Founder and Editor of this journal.