NGV FRIDAY NIGHT IN WITH LUCRECCIA QUINTANILLA
One of the few releases of dopamine I’ve experienced in this time of the pandemic was Lucreccia Quintanilla’s DJ set for the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) programme Friday Night In (2020). NGV’s Friday Night In was a series of streams set up by the museum that are hard to explain, despite their success and high profile, because they seemed to have ‘just happened’ online, as an implicit emergency response to COVID-19. Someone, somewhere, in the Zoom-sphere, decided it was a good idea to invite DJs to play in the museum, and stream it to a large audience during lockdown, and they were incredibly right. They also excelled by inviting Quintanilla, otherwise known as DJ General Feelings, to perform. She is at once an artist, researcher and DJ who draws from her El Salvadorean heritage, to create sonic experiences that incorporate different mediums, cultural acoustics, and temporal realities.
For Friday Night In, the NGV recorded the artist playing a 30-minute set inspired by reggaeton in front of a gigantic chandelier by Ai Weiwei, titled Chandelier with restored Han Dynasty lamps for the Emperor (2015). In this high production video, now available on YouTube, Quintanilla is dancing to the beat, with a mask, in front of Ai’s exceedingly luscious chandelier, mounted in an empty room. For us in Narrm (the Aboriginal name for Melbourne), this bombast is a familiar sight, for Quintanilla is the madrina (godmother) of Cumbia, Spanish memes and Reguetón in the local arts scene. However, unlike her crowded live performances, she is now dislocated—or rather, relocated—to the vaults of an empty museum, next to a royal Ai Weiwei sculpture, to create an eerily thrilling experience. This uncanny moment of mishmash captures the spirit of remix but it also feels like a very Latinx thing to do: to enter a pompous alcove, and play loud music.
Quintanilla, along with Maria Fernanda Cardoso and Juan Davila, is in fact one of the few Latinxs with an active profile in contemporary Australian art. Beginning her career in the early naughties, she precedes a younger generation of millennial artists such as Nadia Hernández, Gonzalo Ceballos, Claudia Nicholson, Emmanuel Rodriguez, Pamela Arce, and myself. She is a perfect example for us on how to behave in the art world, for her practice has resisted the ongoing temptation to become an exotic caricature for the white cube.
Her work A Ripple and an Echo (2019), where she sculpted alien vessels with black clay to host remixed sounds of the environment, prove the complexity of her work. These amorphous objects stand somewhere in between a seashell and a virus, hiding iPhones that imitate sonic entrails to play sound from within, like the echoes of a conch. Quintanilla captured this audio in her immediate environment but she has remixed her tracks to endow them with a rhythmic quality. This approach to sound as remix echoes her practice as a DJ, where she routinely combines pre-existent sounds to create new ripples.
Quintanilla is also a writer and a hilarious public speaker, an influential quality of hers that I met as a young student at Monash University, and one that has surely informed some of my most indiscrete moments (perdón). It was during the book launch and presentation at Monash of Mapping South in 2013, a publication she managed, that I heard her say with a casual tone to the audience that she was not interested in performing her identity for an audience (the crowd obviously wanted her to performer her identity, so bad). This nonchalant humour left a big impression on me as an undergraduate—it contradicted the ‘urgent’ and unbelievably dry tone taught in the Fine Arts department while still expressing a powerful sentiment. Now that I must endure tedious events such as this—where a hoard of elite spectators gather to hear ‘multicultural voices’ have ‘important conversations’—I look back at this moment as a formative experience, to remember we must bring some laughter and disorder to these stale forums. It is also an important lesson on being oneself, rather than obeying public demand. Her performance for NGV’s Friday Night In captures this irreverent spirit, by turning up the volume, inside the quietude of the museum.