Juan Muñoz, a tribute
Juan Muñoz (died August 28th 2001)
I was extremely shocked and upset when I learned of Juan’s sudden death, which happened when he was on holiday with his family on Ibiza. I was on the west coast of Canada, where we live in the summer, and a friend called me to let me know the news.
Juan and I first met when Artangel asked me to speak with him about a possible collaboration. He was in England for an exhibition at the Hayward gallery and, simultaneously, he was undertaking projects outside the gallery confines, this being Artangel’s principle area of interest. One of the projects he realised was his Monument on the South Bank of the Thames, which gives the sense of being some kind of memorial but, in reality, (like many ‘monuments’) is a bogus testament to nothing at all. As such it provides the kind of double-take that was so much the key to many Fluxus pieces from the 1950’s onwards (though I suppose a monument can hardly be said to be in ‘flux’). This particular piece performed a similar function to Juan’s spurious anthropology with his Posa in the elegantly presented pamphlet entitled Segment.
The project which we developed, however, was for a sound piece and I was initially curious that a sculptor should be interested in working with a musician, especially on a project for radio. We met and found inevitably that we had many things in common – he had studied at Croydon Art College with Bruce Maclean at about the time I was teaching in the Environmental Design department; there were details in his iconography which mirrored my passion for Twin Peaks (the recurring dwarf, the patterned floors) and so on. Coincidentally in 1992 I found myself devising a project for the Chateau d’Oiron in France only to find that Juan had a piece in a collective work already installed there, the Jardin Bestarium – his “siffleur” (theatrical prompter) yet another example of the dwarf, and in the same year we both, along with Cristina Iglesias (his wife) contributed to the Seville exhibition Los Ultimos Dias, designed as a counterbalance to the potentially excessive millennium celebrations already in the offing.
The idea that Juan had in mind for our collaboration was for us to create a series of pieces for radio. Naturally the idea of working with a sculptor in a non-visual medium was interesting and challenging, especially when it emerged that what we would be dealing with was the idea of describing actions which themselves cause visual illusion and trickery, and placing them in some kind of broadcasting framework.
Our discussion about radio resurrected my long-standing interest in the work of Glenn Gould, whose highly original approach to recording techniques in record production was paralleled by a vision of radio as a creative medium (“Radio as Music”). I would place the piece that we made together – A Man in a Room, Gambling – as one of the most highly enjoyable projects that I have worked on, and for both of us it represented a mature and clearly thought through collaboration.
The original version gave us a series of short recorded pieces, ten in all, designed for radio broadcast. Juan read short texts, though each was expanded to fit a five-minute format, and I wrote string quartet accompaniments. Five of these programmes, in revised orchestrations for my ensemble, were eventually released on CD (A Man in a Room, Gambling, Point Music). We also started to perform them with Juan reading the texts live, and this was a new departure for him, and was something that made him extremely nervous but which he did with great professionalism and style. When we filmed one of these 5-minute pieces for the profile that German TV was making about me we also spoke about my idea for a chamber opera based on the life, and especially the dramatic last days, of the author of the book on card manipulation, S.W.Erdnase, which Juan used as the source for his texts. Juan was very interested in being involved with the design of this opera, which would feature live card manipulation among other things.
It makes me unbelievably sad to think now of his death. It is doubly sad because Juan was such a vitally alive person and the last occasions when I met with Juan and Cristina in June – first when they both came to the concert at the Purcell Room with my Tozai piece, and then again at the special dinner for Juan at the Tate Modern prior to the opening – were such great occasions. At the time Juan had been working incredibly hard on Double Bind, the Tate installation, as well as on the retrospective exhibition of his work to open in Washington in October 2001 and continue on to other US cities (Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago) over the next year or so.
After all the pressure that Juan had been under to complete the piece for Tate Modern, it was good to be able to spend time together in a relaxed environment. Juan was on good form and we talked about meeting up, after we would both have been away for the summer, to talk about my plan to issue all 10 of the original versions of A Man in a Room, Gambling, and also to develop the ideas we had spoken about for a chamber opera based on the last days of S.W. Erdnase (provisionally called Erdnase? Who was Erdnase?). His death put an end to this, but I will now go ahead with the release of the full set of A Man in a Room, Gambling on GB Records, of course working closely with his family and with James Lingwood from Artangel. I will also make the chamber opera at some time in the future.
Juan was an amazing person – probably the most generous and quixotic person I have ever met – and a wonderful artist. I think about him a lot and will miss him dreadfully.
It was some small consolation to be able to take an active part in the memorial event at the Tate Modern on September 30th, where many people spoke about Juan. Bill Hawkes and I played a version of The North Shore (viola and piano) as well as the piece which Alberto Iglesias – Cristina’s brother and a fine composer – had written after Juan’s death Lacrimae for Juan. This was originally for viola solo, but Alberto added a piano part when he knew that I would be playing piano that evening. Bill also played the adagio from Bach’s G minor violin sonata (transcribed for viola, in C minor). I add the full programme below.
Memorial Evening for Juan Muñoz (Turbine Hall, Tate Modern)
Sunday September 30 2001
6.30 PM Doors open Guests arrive through Main Entrance
Monteverdi Fourth Book of Madrigals (recorded)
7.00 PM Tribute begins
Sir Nicholas Serota
Gavin Bryars: The North Shore
(Piano: Gavin Bryars Viola: Bill Hawkes)
Bach: Adagio from G minor Violin Sonata (transcribed for viola)
(Bill Hawkes Viola)
Alberto Iglesias: Lacrimae for Juan
Piano: Gavin Bryars
Viola: Bill Hawkes
END OF TRIBUTE