1 Minute of Silence
artists Francis Alÿs and Rafael Ortega
In the beginning there is a situation where many people cross paths. If one person were to ask someone else for silence and someone else to someone else, and so forth, until the whole scene becomes sound still or subdued… then, maybe, one could produce one minute of silence.
With the generous help of a group of 35 young Panamanians and 10 Nicaraguan artists (who came to participate in this project), we repeatedly attempted to silence several densely populated situations (indoors and outdoors), with the intention of materializing/sculpting one minute of silence. The concept was to deliberately operate within a neutral and abstract frame. No specific meaning would be attributed or dedicated to the Minute, its space staying open to multiple readings, as many as the individuals willing to participate. Or even better: no meaning at all but a sensorial experience, subtly expanding and finally regaining its pure material existence.
Behind that simple scheme, another intention was to introduce our team of volunteers—our “silence propagating agents”—to the wide spectrum of attitudes offered by contemporary art practice, and to explore possible ways of operating within a complex urban environment. In other words, a sort of “live exercise" of our praxis. Along the successive attempts, and their eventual failure or success, a
learning process started for us all. We worked together on building a "guerrilla" method for propagating silence; invading, so to speak, each encountered location; reacting anew to each situation and constantly adapting ourselves to the circumstances.
Without any predetermined plan, other than a quick, intuitive reading of the situation, we intervened—over the course of 4 days—in the National Lottery hall; a grand cafe in the old centre of town; a populous street squatted by two soccer teams; part of the inaugural ceremony of ciudadMULTIPLEcity; at rush hour in the middle of a main pedestrian commercial strip; in a live-air radio program, etc.
On the second day of the project, bombs started falling on Baghdad, and the Minute's original vacuum became naturally charged with the urgency of the moment. What was at first a mere case-study, turned overnight into a silent subtle protest, spontaneously canalizing our frustrations with the general official apathy and the outrageous 24-hour media coverage. What had started as a fragile conceptual plot turned into a minimal act of solidarity, in direct response to the tragic absurdity of current events. People on the street began collaborating silently, asking others to turn off their radios or TV, to switch off their air conditioners, to stop their engines… eventually materializing, silently, for one lone minute, a collective sensation.
Francis Alÿs and Rafael Ortega