MADRID – Puccini’s Crisantemi’s restless and mournful melody fills the Liceu Opera Theater in Barcelona.
But there are no mask-clad audience members sitting in the opulent red velvet seats.
Instead, 2,292 potted plants are serenaded by a string quartet.
Eugenio Ampudia, the artist behind the unusual concerto, tells EFE the concept was inspired by his experience of a nearly three-month, strict lockdown and the need to revise his relationship with nature.
“It is an action charged with symbolism. What I wanted to explain through it was that our relationship with nature needs to change,” he adds.
In Concert for the Biocene man becomes a voyeur of an event that places the natural world center stage while also calling into question our relationship with public spaces.
“What is important is that we used to have an anthropocentric view of the world and that we were the center of the world and things unfolded around us and we changed them and that does not work at all,” the artist explains.
“There has to be a clear and equal interspecies relationship.”
“We cannot think of ourselves as being alone on this planet nor can we think that we can dominate nature.”
He adds: “It is obvious that things are not like that and there are many many species that have a lot to provide and perhaps if we were more humble and had a broader perspective in our dialogue with other species we could achieve a more ethical, responsible position.”
One cannot avoid thinking of Oriental philosophies of nature when enjoying the striking performance.
“It is true that oriental cultures have positions on this matter and it is true that westerners with our quest to generate resources and above all profits are destroying the place that we inhabit and this is very evident now,” Ampudia says.
Public spaces and our relationship with them have been a recurrent theme throughout his work.
Some of his most memorable performances include Around el Prado, a piece that saw four lycra-clad cyclists tour the rooms of one of the world’s finest collections of European art.
In Where to Sleep the artist spends the night in institutions and museums.
The first performance saw Ampudia nestle under Goya’s The Third of May.
He later went on to repeat the piece in the Alhambra in Granada, at ARCO art fair in Madrid and the library in the Ajuda National Palace in Lisbon.
“I think that spaces are important. Space conveys concept to pieces,” Ampudia muses.
“This work, the Concert for the Biocene, if it weren’t in the Liceo which is one the great international opera houses, it has 2,292 seats and an amazing program and an incredible history and it is one of the most important buildings created for opera.”
“If it didn’t take place there the artwork wouldn’t have the same meaning.”
“My idea needs to be understood as unfolding within a space of great symbolic value.”
The pandemic has transformed our perception of many things, not least our relationship with our surroundings.
For Ampudia the pandemic awakened an interest in his relationship with nature and the realization that he was living life at an unrelenting pace.
His practice has not suffered the suffocating impact so many have endured by being locked up for months on end.
Quite the contrary. Because of the type of artist he is, many museums and galleries have called on him to loan video art to share during the e-programming many have turned to.
And although Ampudia has been busy providing visual entertainment for art enthusiasts to ease monotonous experiences of quarantine, it would seem not everyone in the world appreciates the role of art during the pandemic.
When Singaporean newspaper Strait Times published a list of the most essential and most non-essential jobs in the world based on a survey of 1,000 people, there was a social media flurry over the profession topping the non-essential section: artist.
“For me, art is essential for the conservation of human life, not only mine but also everyone else’s,” Ampudia says.
“Art creates relational spaces that are not even physical that amplify all of our possibilities.
“I cannot conceive of life without artists, I cannot conceive of life without art and I cannot conceive of art without culture.”
And perhaps one of his most recent sculptures poignantly illustrates this idea.
A tiny placard with minuscule lettering quoting writer Estrella de Diego reads: “Artistic institutions can be a good tool to unite geographies and types of life when they utilize their power as a platform for thought, the gravest world problems can be understood with honesty and hope.”