Pedro Reyes. Return to Sender

For his works, Pedro Reyes (b. 1972, lives and works in Mexico City) uses architecture, sculpture, video, performance, and participation to promote collective and individual power of action in political, social, ecological, and educational situations. His projects take place in the research field between a socially shaped understanding of architecture, the sensual and symbolic dimension of sculpture, and a decidedly political stance that adopts a radically humanist and Marxist position. At documenta 13 in 2012, for example, he presented the work Sanatorium, a first-aid pavilion for lifestyle diseases, such as stress or anxiety, which offered a variety of therapies based on shamanism, cognition research, and relationship counselling in a playful yet socially binding and unifying way. He was already represented at Museum Tinguely in 2016 in the exhibition «Prière de toucher – The Touch of Art» with the work Cuerpomático II (2015), a toolbox that presented sensual objects of touch.

Pedro Reyes, Palas por pistolas [Guns into Shovels], 2007
Originally trained as an architect, Reyes ran the project space «Torre de los Vientos» in Mexico City from 1996 to 2002. He attracted international attention in 2008 with his project Palas por Pistolas, for which he worked with the local authorities of Culiacán, Mexico, to exchange weapons from the local population for coupons to purchase domestic appliances and electronics, melt these weapons down, and recast them into 1,527 shovels to plant trees. Since then, these actions have continued both in the local environment and with international cultural institutions. In connection with Reyes’ exhibition «Return to Sender» at Museum Tinguely, this project is being continued with the planting of a new chestnut tree directly in front of the museum entrance.

The invitation to Reyes to develop a new work for Museum Tinguely follows on from an earlier work from 2012. For the work group Disarm, he was able to use 6,700 weapons confiscated in the Mexican drug war and transform these into musical instruments. In a first version (Disarm), he created instruments that could be played live by musicians who were friends of his. This was followed by the conception of an multi-part weapon-instrument ensemble Disarm (Mechanized), I 2012-13, which plays percussive music pieces in a mechanized and automated way.

El pase de diapositivas requiere JavaScript.

Both projects Palas por Pistolas and Disarm emerged from the specific situation of the Mexican drug war. However, the commercialization and proliferation of weapons is a worldwide problem that Reyes addresses with his new body of work Disarm Music Box (2020). With these works, he criticizes the ever-increasing accumulation of weapons throughout the world from a pacifist perspective. In this newly created group of works, weapons are acquired from specific manufacturers—they can be found in almost every country in the world—and then destroyed in order to create resonating bodies from their barrels to be used in newly created music boxes. They play well-known, classical music pieces from the respective manufacturer’s country of origin. A musical box made with Glock pistol parts plays Mozart, Beretta barrels Vivaldi, while Reyes’s weapon of choice for Swiss songwriter Mani Matter is the Carabine. Reyes is concerned with «upcycling» – transforming an instrument of death into a musical instrument that stands for dialog and exchange. He undertakes this transformation process with the conviction that the physical act is always accompanied by an idealistic one and appeals to the spiritual dimension of this quasi-alchemical operation towards the good.

The exhibition «Pedro Reyes. Return to Sender» is the fifth in a series, in which each exhibition focuses on one particular aspect of Tinguely’s work Mengele-Dance of Death. Jérôme Zonder’s exhibition in 2017 focused on the criticism of totalitarianism that unites the work of both artists; Gauri Gill’s exhibition in 2018 focused on the vanitas concept of the memento mori between birth and death; Lois Weinberger’s exhibition in 2019 initiated a dialog revolving around the two different farmhouse biographies of the artists, relating superstition and Catholicism; and Tadeusz Kantor’s Dance of Death and Theater of Death enabled an exchange between the two works.

The second of the two existing versions of Disarm (Mechanized) (II, 2014) will enter into dialog with Tinguely’s Mengele-Dance of Death (1986) as part of the exhibition. In the dialog between the two works presented in adjacent rooms, Tinguely’s criticism of totalitarianism and Reyes’ critical examination of the society-destroying exchange processes of drugs and weapons meet in a gruesome dance of death.

Jean Tinguely, Dance of Death, 1986 © 2020 ProLitteris Zurich ​​​​​​​Photo: Museum Tinguely Basel, Serge Hasenböhler