Sum of Days was initially exhibited at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo between August and November 2010. The invitation from MoMA to make a new version of the piece in the Marron Atrium was a great honor and a chance to reflect on the way the work exists independently of its setting, by seeing what would remain the same and what would be transformed in the new location. Put another way, Sum of Days deals with, among other things, a loss of scale and of sense of place; I saw this move from São Paulo to New York as analogous to the way the precise geometric form of the work at its top transforms itself as it falls toward the floor, which is also a metaphor for the entire piece. It is a quasi-sculpture that flows in the air and whose volume changes as people pass inside. The transformation of the piece in time almost asked for a transposition in space.
The interior of MoMA’s building and its atrium are interconnected, with openings into the atrium from all directions and vantage points from the entrance lobby, the sixth-floor mezzanine, bridges on the various floors, and windows in the galleries. This space defies our common definition of a place as a point where two lines meet, as a volume enclosed by four walls and a ceiling, or as an open landscape we remember from our wandering memories. It is as if the idea of the building hovers over the atrium, floating on top of it. I imagined a piece that would fill the whole volume of the atrium without being monumental, a moving work that could transform these interconnecting spaces into something other and, in a way, transform the flow of space.
The work is composed of two spirals of translucent fabric that hang from the ceiling surrounded by columns of fluorescent lights, microphones, and speakers. It filled, hid, and veiled the atrium, constantly moving and giving form to air, wind, and the movement of people inside.
The work’s elements—speakers, fabric, microphones, and fluorescent lights—are all common, everyday fixtures. Nothing is hidden, and yet there is a constant transformation of the space and of the components of the work. Everything becomes something else. The piece has a unique lift that makes it behave almost against gravity, giving the feeling that it is some kind of breathing lung or aquatic animal. It varied wildly during the day at MoMA, sometimes occupying the whole atrium, sometimes contracting and lifting itself, as if it were lighter than air.
Everyday sound was recorded and layered inside the work, newer recordings gradually transforming older ones into whispers. The quality of what one experiences is not static: volume, light, transparency, and sound are not fixed and are treated equally as matter. Inside the work, visitors feel as if they have lost their ground.
Regular musical performances have been programmed inside the piece, and sometimes around it, during regular Museum hours. Musicians, including Lisa Bielawa, David Crowell, Jon Gibson, Philip Glass, Carla Kihlstedt, Michael Riesman, Mick Rossi, and Andrew Sterman, are performing on a weekly basis between September 8 and November 10. The music is recorded, and it accumulates along with other noise and sound and is exposed to layering and erasure. In this sense it was one more material, unique when it happened (one had to be there) and gradually becoming opaque with the passing of time.
Carlito Carvalhosa: Sum of Days is on view at MoMA through November 14.