on two stunning archival releases by simone forti

Simone Forti – Molimo, Linz, Austria, 1976. Photo by Robert Fleck, courtesy of Simone Forti and The Box LA Gallery

There are inevitable periods of upheaval in life. The ground falls out. Chaos takes hold. An inescapable brush fire, leaving its victims tender and scorched – a potent reminder of the cycle of life, offering necessary foundation for new things to grow and take hold. For these long months, this has been this writer’s life – first the fire, followed the black clouds and storm – all the furry which would rot the ruins. It became nearly impossible to write, but, within the ever darkening depths, two words rang out – a beacon of hope, a north star, a reminder of the spirit which had encouraged me to take this path. Those words were a name – Simone Forti, an artist’s whose work I have loved for countless years, but, because of circumstance and that work’s relationship to time, played against my own geographic drift, I have never been allowed to return to it enough. In the hands of the two releases before us – flowers growing from the ashes of history, this has begun to change. This is not about about two records. They are vessels of glass. This is not about music – organizations of sound. It is about the towering heights and potential of art.

Fire isn’t an accidental metaphor – the chaos and fury which brings new life. It is the potential which forms my love for the art of others. It is what drew me to art school. But it has greater scope. It runs across the entire century which came to a close 18 years ago. A smouldering ember which began in the leaves of the Industrial Revolution, flashing to a blaze between 1914 and 1918. Beaten back but not put out – ultimately becoming one of the most destructive forces in history, between 1939 and 1945. The 20th century, with nearly all which occurred within it – the good and bad, was caught in a cycle of fire and regrowth. There is no better pathway toward this understanding, than the life and work of Simone Forti. She is a flower which grew from the ashes and the rot which followed the storm.

Within the arts, it’s hard to escape the tangle of taste – to be objective when one’s enthusiasm for a body of work – resonating so closely with our sense of self, tips the scales. Despite my own taste, against the fact that her name has rarely been allowed to pace the upper rooms of history’s hallowed halls, it’s safe to say that Simone Forti is among the most important voices to have graced the last sixty or so years. She is a quiet revolution which has never calmed – not only one of the most remarkable figures in the history of radical performance and dance, but the creator of a multi-practice body of work, built from image, object, sound, and text. Bridging Fluxus and Happenings, resembling a one woman movement ever since, she is the unheralded voice from which so much sprang – unthinkably elegant and mater of fact, breaking the boundaries between the notions of art and self.

Forti was born in Florence in 1935, but was forced to cross the Swiss border with her parents at the age of 3, moving through a then dangerous France to the United States, arriving in 1939. Like so many others, they had fled the anti-semitism enveloping their former home. For this alone, Forti’s body – its movement, will forever remain a marker in history. A passage through its most sinister and destructive force – taking over 60 million lives in war, and another 11, 6 million of whom were Jewish, through genocide. Forti is a seed cast into the world. She is among the flowers which grew. In so being, since the tender age of 3, her life has never been simply a life. It is a double – an illumination of life’s towering potential, standing against the wound left by the loss of millions of lives.

 

Peter Van Riper & Simone Forti – Seeing Hearing (1992)

Given the character of Forti’s work, the astounding life which flows through and from it, it’s easy forget her passage into the world. It’s easy to assume that it never wore her down, and I doubt it did. It is our task to remember, not hers. She looks forward. We look at her. We look back. But, to truly understand the art and ideas of Forti and her generation, we must remember the soil from which they sprang – the ashes of genocide and war, and that, as they flowered and entered sun, filled with hope, their breaths drew from a society – that of postwar America and beyond, rotten to the core.

 

Simone Forti – Crescent Roll, 1979. Photo by Nathaniel Tileston, courtesy of Simone Forti and The Box LA Gallery

Simone Forti initially emerged during the 1950’s in the creative ferment of San Francisco, where she studied under the legendary dancer/choreographer and Anna Halprin – who, beyond the remarkable contributions made with her body and ideas, is noted for having commissioned some of the earliest works by La Monte Young and Terry Riley. In 1959, with her then husband, the artist Robert Morris, Forti moved to New York, where she met and began working with a fellow pioneers in Postmodern dance, Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, and Steve Paxton, forming a small group of artists who, imbued with a profound sense of optimism and hope, would push how the body, movement, and their medium has since been understood.

Simone Forti – Crawl (1970’s)

While Brown, Rainer, and Paxton have all retained something of a legendary status since the 1960s, Forti has been less lucky. There is, to a certain degree, a probable reason for this. Her practice, for all its subtle elegance, beauty, and focused intellectual rigor, took on remarkable breadth. History likes it simple and neat. This is one thing she is not – never simply a dancer or choreographer alone. The body of work which Forti assembled is not only one of the great emblems of her generation – an entire rethinking of what an artist could be and a work of art is, dismissing longstanding divisions imposed on practice and output, but, when addressing each nuanced discipline within her practice on its own – dance, performance, image, object, sound, text, she can be seen a visionary in each of those respective fields.

 

Simone Forti – Face Tunes, Cornell School of Architecture, New York, 1969. Photo by Peter Moore, courtesy of Simone Forti and The Box LA Gallery

Of course, part of the difficulty in historicizing Forti – to give her the due she deserves, is an inevitable byproduct of the nature of her work. As was the case with her peers within Happening and Fluxus, access has been lost to the limitations of temporality. The vast majority of what she has made existed in a moment, and then was gone. While her sound musical work has never been completely lost to time – first appearing on recordings made with Pandit Pran Nath and Peter Van Riper during the 1970s and 80’s, and later on Illuminations, her collaboration with Charlemagne Palestine, begun in the early 70’s and issued by Alga Marghen in 2010, what has remained almost entirely unheard until now, are the recording of Forti’s solo efforts. This is why the two releases before us are so important. They a great reveal, defiant sounds standing against temporality, obscurity, and loss. The first, Hippie Gospel Songs, is a body of songs begun in 1969, issued by Box editions as a beautiful 10”, while the second, Al Di Là, issued by Saltern, is the first object of its kind in Forti’s long career – an sprawling survey of overwhelming quality, bridging a stunning range of sound practice, stretching from 1960 to 1984. If you read no further. Know that both are as essential as they come.

 

Simone Forti – Hippie Gospel Songs (2018)

The body of work which Forti calls Hippie Gospel Songs, begun in 1969, grew from a transitional period in the artist’s life and career. She had spent the 60’s in New York City, rapidly becoming one of the key voices of her generation – a central figure in development of the multidisciplinary efforts of Fluxus and Happenings. Her work changed the perception and possibilities within the field of dance, performance, and creative action, laying the groundwork for so much of what has come – collaborating with figures as diverse as Robert Morris, Robert Whitman, Nam June Paik, and La Monte Young, and building a rigorous personal practice which bridged nearly every creative field.

In 1969, she found herself living away from it all in Upstate NY, often stoned and singing to herself, wandering alone in the woods. It was this simple gesture, with all of its natural and intuitive elegance, which which flowered into the body of Hippie Gospel Songs. Drawing on inner self and the Italian folksongs of her youth, as much as her study of Tai Chi and the I Ching, the fact that they appear as songs seems like a secondary truth. They are quiet meanderings of a brilliant mind – creative hybrids – like everything which Forti has created, contributed to, and touch, they represent radical rethinking of definition, expectation, and practice, in this case experimental music. They foreshadow the coming of spirit and sound of figures like of Richard Youngs, who, like Forti, stand off somewhere on their own.

The release of Hippie Gospel Songs represents a strange axis in the life and career of Simone Forti – an opening upon the intimate radicalism of her life. These songs have traveled with her, holding place in her inner world, offering insight and comfort over the years since. They are hers. They have purpose which is entirely personal, and yet, as they stretch out into the world, they stand as radical intervention with the standing notions of creative practice, and the entire broad history within which they sit. They are songs which are simply songs, and they are songs which pull the rug from beneath everything we know and expect – where the experiment is pushed inward, and the notion of tradition, song, and purpose comes to the fore.

The single sided / etched 10”, issued now by Box Editions, features seven, beautiful songs, sung a capella, across the duration of which we are given a wonderful gift – an opening into Forti’s many thoughts, ideas, relative diversity and sensitivity. It is astounding object of deep historical importance, which, like so much of Forti’s work, defies standing conceptions of time, movement, and creative possibly and proximity. Absolutely essential on every count. Issued with a 16-page color book with sheet music scored by Charlemagne Palestine and download card, in a tiny edition of 500. You can check out a couple of samples below and pick it up from SoundOhm, Forced Exposure, or a record store near you.

 

 

 

 

Simone Forti – Al Di Là (2018)

Drawn from material stretching from 1960 to 1984, Al Di Là, Saltern’s overwhelming survey of Simone Forti’s lifelong work in sound, is unquestionably one of the most startling, beautiful, and inspiring objects which we will encounter this year. Like the artist who birthed them, these works represent an axis between what is and what is implied – the wonderful and inspiring possibilities presented by curiosity and inquiry within the arts. The era in which Forti emerged was marked by remarkable experimentation, and the breaking the boundaries long imposed upon art. Not only did her generation bring multiple disciplines into a single work or practice, but, perhaps even more importantly, placed value upon, and invited in, the seemingly incidental aspects of being and daily life. If approached in the proper spirit, in their hands, nearly anything or anyone could be part of, or contribute to, a work of art.

Today, the last vestiges of the proposals made by Forti’s generation – its spirit and ideas, have found themselves consolidated into the world of experimental music, among the few creative fields to remain largely free from the temptations of commerce, patronage, and fame.  They are the root for much of this world – our thinking, hopes, diversity, and willingness explore. They showed us the way, incorporating an array of approach, action, source and material, bridging a range practices which we have since applied to sound. Here rests the seminal importance of Al Di Là. Not only is it a remarkable body of work for what it does and is, but it opens a window onto the beginnings of how much of experimental music has come to be conceptualized. Ideas which came from beyond its borders. Rather than a narrow focus, it is an exploded view, helping us regain a vision of sound as something other than its own primary source.

Simone Forti – Score for Face Tunes, 1967, courtesy of Simone Forti and The Box LA Gallery

Al Di Là’s material, nine individual works ranging from under one minute to over twenty, where initially gathered for Simone Forti’s exhibition, Sounding, at The Box LA Gallery in 2012, later complied for release by Saltern with the assistance of Tashi Wada. With documents ranging from the very beginning of the 1960s, to the middle of the 80’s, we encounter a vast array of ideas, practices and approaches – a foreshadowing of experiment sound and music as it was to become. There’s Forti playing her molimo, an adapted piece of flexible tubing, across a work of the same name begun in 1970, working through captured environmental ambiences, and Censor, conceived for Forit’s performance evening, Five Dance Constructions and Some Other Things, at Yoko Ono’s loft in 1961, which features two performers, one to sing very loudly a song of her choice, and the other to vigorously shake a pan full of nails. There’s the droning, conceptual harmonics of of Face Tunes from 1968, and Bottom, which consists of four, five-minute blocks of sound – a vacuum cleaner, monotonous loud drumming, three voices holding a chord, in this incarnation featuring none other than Forti, La Monte Young, and Marian Zazeela, with Forti repeatedly whistling notes of a popular love song. And that’s just the beginning, moving on to captured happenings, field recordings, song, and invented instrumentation. It’s like hearing history unfold from a single voice.

Al Di Là is stunning and not to be missed. It’s hard to express how exciting it is.  Issued in a limited edition of 550, featuring a 28-page color booklet of writings, drawings, and photos by Forti, it’s a uniquely personal and intimate portrait of one of the truly visionary artists of our time. You can check out a couple of samples below, and pick it up from Saltern, SoundOhm, Forced Exposure, or a record store near you.

Simone Forti – Al Di Là (2018)

 

Simone Forti, 2012. Photo by Jason Underhill, courtesy of Simone Forti and The Box LA Gallery

Across the decades – sparked in the 1950’s, still burning today, Simone Forti has stoked a fire. Through visionary, poetic efforts of profound humanity and sensitively, she has attempted to burn the world down, and with it the entire notion of art – offering an endless cycle rebirth, so it could be a truly positive and revolutionary force. Spanning seven decades, she has never stopped working and pushing her field and the notions of collaboration and multidisciplinary practice. She has sought true freedom – Kant’s very notion of the sublime – those things which tell us of the freedoms we are capable of, but perhaps have not yet found. She is an artist of endlessly shifting scale – a body and marker of towering historical and global importance, working intimately in a single space and moment in time. There is nothing about her which isn’t inspiring – which doesn’t fill the heart with hope, or raise the bar for anyone who encounters her work or enters her orbit. But, lest we forget that the true path and revolution can have a high cost. Forti, one of the most important voices of the last century, has never come close to entirely receiving her due. While the creative countercultures of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s fall into ever greater fashion – historians, critics, museums, and galleries now clamoring for material, it’s worth remembering what artists like Forti set out to do – where this work was made, why it was made, and for whom it was made. It wasn’t created for institutions, nor the grand surveys of history. It is a living art, born of fire – by the people, and for people. It was is revolution, made for each each, which we must stoke, and carry in our hearts. As Simone recently expressed, when I met with her earlier this week, her work carries the legacies of those who inspired her, and the legacies of her own work should ideally exist, whether seen, heard, or recognized, in the work of those who follow her path. Forti is a flower which grew from the ashes and the rot which followed the storm.  It is not about records or photos on the wall. It is about a spirit – a way of making and being in the world. What we give, share, and attempt to change. It is about the towering heights and potential of art.

-Bradford Bailey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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