Gala Porras-Kim

Columbian, based in Los Angeles, USA

Since 2010, Zapotec languages, a group of Indigenous dialects spoken in Oaxaca, in Southwestern Mexico, have been a stimulating field of research for Gala Porras-Kim. While learning one of its regional variations at the university UCLA in Los Angeles, the artist developed a set of epistemological tools that enabled her to translate the tonal qualities of the language. She was particularly interested in the possibility to communicate most of the content of the words through intonation and, consequently, whistling.

The exhibition includes Whistling and Language Transfiguration, a vinyl recording which translates spoken words into whistling, and some tools made to accompany the audio such as drawings of whistling postures (Notes after G.M. Cowan) and standardized musical scores of the speech (Whistling Score). Both aesthetic and utilitarian, Porras-Kim’s objects serve as alternative resources to transmit and archive the Zapotec languages in the present day.

The exhibition presents three other objects by Porras-Kim – Sequence for a Landscape Revival, Towards Huautla, OX and Score for a Ritual Healing (placed on the corridor wall, next to the exhibition vinyl) – which refers to an Oaxacan healing ritual administrated by María Sabina in the town of Huautla de Jiménez in the 1960s. Wooden boxes contain various documents related to this ancestral practice: recording and scores of Sabina’s chantings, local stones used as healing tools, wood pieces from the land, and a Google Maps’ Street View of the walks taken during the ritual. Porras-Kim gives the visitor a fragmented and distanced experience of the ritual, suggesting that our access to foreign knowledge is always mediated. In this series of interdisciplinary pieces, Porras-Kim proposes a dynamic and open-ended system of translation, an artistic method of understanding cultures that takes liberty from linguistic and anthropological approaches.

Image: Gala Porras-Kim, installation view Bonniers Konsthall, The World Is Gone, I Must Carry You, 2020. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger