Disarming weapons for music



Mexican-born artist Pedro Reyes’ latest installation, Disarm, is as endearing and whimsical as it is stark and scary. Disarm is a group of instruments constructed from pieces of dismantled weapons seized by the Mexican government. A piano-like instrument has the familiar hammers tapping out notes on the barrels of old rifles. An instrument that looks like a stand-up bass is partially composed of discarded clips that once held deadly ammunition. Yet in Reyes’ hands, they become something more. They make their own music, because they are capable of being electronically programmed to play themselves. No musicians necessary.

The compositions for Reyes’ robotic band were programmed in collaboration with the people at Cocolab, a Mexican media production company, using their software. Reyes also brought live musicians in on the project, because he wanted to use some of the sounds of the weapons as part of the music. Reyes wanted their creative input to make the music sound like, well, music that incorporated sounds like the rhythmical clicking of triggers.

In 2011, Reyes’ installation Sanatorium at New York’s Guggenheim Museum was part art, and part community clinic. Temporary psychotherapists were stationed at each exhibit, and all the stations were designed to help the participants with their emotional issues. One exhibit had people blow up a balloon, attach it to a dummy, then beat the dummy up as if it were the person that had caused them the most pain in their life. Another station had people write personal secrets in glass bottles, seal them, and submerge them in a tank of water. Yet another had people write their own epitaphs.

Disarm isn’t the first time Reyes has used guns in his art. Back in 2008 his project Palas por Pistolas, or “Shovels for Guns,” used voluntarily donated firearms from the citizenry of Culiacan. The coupons given to people in return for their guns could be used for home appliances and the like, and the guns were melted down and reformed into shovels used to plant trees. In fact, for every weapon melted (1,527, to be exact) a new tree was planted.

A huge portion of his work, especially the pieces using repurposed weapons, reflects Reyes’ feelings on gun violence, and violence in general. He wants people to eventually view funding arms as something as dirty and twisted as child pornography and is gradually trying to bring that change about through his art.

Thirteen years worth of sculptures, installations and more can be perused on Reyes’ website which has the simple headline, “Pedro Reyes - Artist”. Images and short descriptions accompany the works, which are categorized by year from his first sculptures in 2000 to Disarm in 2013.

Disarm resided at the Lisson Gallery in London until May. The Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pa., will welcome many of the instruments starting October 5.

Though those outside the art world are just beginning to hear of Reyes, to say he’s an artist “on the rise” would  be a mistake. He's been there for quite a while.