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Michael Nyman: Aztecs in Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery

unnamedWords and images by Leanne Cunningham

Whilst making my way to see the John Moores Painting Prize 2014, I am stopped in my tracks – situated behind the tall black curtain in the centre of the room, is something generating noise. I can hear the sounds of a city; traffic, conversation, movement, all accompanied by music. Unaware of what is creating these sounds, or where the mystery place being depicted is, I read the information presented before entering. This is Michael Nyman’s newest piece of work, and being a great fan his, I enter the space elated and curious.

Michael Nyman’s new creation is a film work for Liverpool Biennial 2014 entitled Aztecs in Liverpool. The two-screen video installation includes footage collected by Nyman over the past twenty years in his adopted home, Mexico. The title refers to one of the Aztec codices, the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, which is where the title of this work derives from. The Codex, states the exhibition text, is an example of a tonalamatl – books of days and destinies, which have been ‘arranged in accordance with the 260-day Aztec astrological count’, introducing life, time and motion into the world.

Aztecs in Liverpool (60’) consists of 7 individual films entitled Piano Moves, Slow Birth Slow Death, Fountains of Desire, Under The Shadow Of The Tortilla, Mexico City Walkers, From The Wedding To The Ex Voto, and The Photographer And The Photographer.

As I enter the darkened gallery space, I see children playing in the fountain under The Monument to the Revolution, located in Republic Square, which explains the title: Fountains Of Desire. As I watch, the powerful bass of the music pervades throughout the room, instantly reminding me of my recent visit to Mexico City. Hums of slightly varying tones reverberate gently as the moving imagery on screen dances in slow motion, presenting the ‘delighted’ and ‘unexpected’ (Nyman, 2014) discovery of the book (Codex Fejérváry-Mayer) at the World Museum in 2013.

unnamed-1Observational episodes through the medium of film present Nyman’s years in Mexico, as he visually portrays his nostalgia. Time, image and music together explore the Mexican culture using a visual, non verbal language. The portrayal of physical time connects to a musical time – with a sense of something becoming lost in the process as the two cross accordingly. Music and image appear in sync, however, images are played chronologically, whilst the musical aspects seem out of time. As dissonant chords and clusters of piano notes clash, the latter creates a suggested narrative for the viewer as a physical time reference, enabling the unstructured musical timing to speak of Nyman’s past experiences within the given gallery space – a possible longing / confusion of reminiscence?

The busy Mexican streets are presented at a stand-still, due to the way the camera is positioned, enabling only one viewing aspect as the camera is sternly focussed on a single point. Accompanied by various  sounds drowning and returning in waves,  field recordings dominate the soundtrack. Noises that do not belong within the visual aspect of the piece contribute beautifully to the film externally, as a structured story evolves creating a delightful experience.

Michael Nyman’s Aztecs in Liverpool will be on display at the Walker Art Gallery until 26 October, 2014.