Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music


Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music

Author: Diana Flatto

Over the past two years, I have worked on the exhibition “Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music” at Americas Society in New York, which opened on January 20, 2021. Prior to joining the History of Art and Architecture department at Pitt, I worked as Assistant Curator at the institution, where the exhibition was meant to open in Spring 2020. Like many projects, the opening was put on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis. In the midst of this, we finalized the details of the exhibition, emphasizing the musician’s relationship with visual art and literature through including archival materials and contemporary artworks. I also wrote a curatorial essay placing Orellana’s work within a lineage of interdisciplinary culture in Guatemala, as the exhibition highlights. The show presents Orellana’s útiles sonoros (sound tools—instruments he invented based on the marimba and other references) in the context of visual art, including four contemporary artists who have worked with or have been inspired by the musician. This connection speaks to the importance of interdisciplinary engagement, both for cultural producers and the people who study them.

Last February, just before the pandemic prevented travel, I was lucky to meet and work with Orellana in his studio in Guatemala City, along with the exhibition’s co-curator and Director of Music at Americas Society, Sebastián Zubieta. El maestro showed us how the instruments were conceived and constructed and regaled us with tales of his education at the Instituto Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires in the late 1960s, and his experience over the past half-century working between the fields of music, literature, and visual art. I was also able to spend several afternoons with his archive to select drawings, scores, and archival documents for display, and learned more about Guatemalan music by visiting a small-town marimba school and attending a recital at the national theater.

More information, including a PDF of the exhibition catalogue and a video about the show, is available here.

Photo credit: Alexander Perrelli

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