Camara Lambdoma

Artist: Ariel Guzik
Location: Cárcamo de Chapultepec, Mexico City, Mexico
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Leon Tan

Cámara Lambdoma, or Lambdoma Chamber, by Mexico’s recent representative artist to the 55th Venice Biennale, Ariel Guzik, is a permanent artwork installed in Cárcamo de Chapultepec. The Lambdoma Chamber consists of a complex set of painstakingly crafted sonic machinery. The most visible component is an organ made up of two sets of pipes, producing harmonies and sub-harmonies. The work is essentially a sound installation; feedback from a submersible water sensor and a meteorological tower produces sounds by the organ based on the Chamber’s namesake, the Lambdoma Matrix, a mathematical grid developed by the ancient philosopher Pythagoras. Pythagoras’ grid plots whole-number ratios and inverse fractions. In the context of music, the grid specifies ratios, represented by notes, relating to a fundamental tone.

The Museum of Natural History and the Ministry of Environment of Mexico City commissioned Cámara Lambdoma as part of coordinated efforts involving civil society groups, to revitalize Mexico City’s largest and most popular park, Bosque de Chapultepec, and to restore and conserve two iconic works: the Tlaloc Fountain (Tlaloc is the Aztec God of rain, fertility and water) and Diego Rivera’s fresco Agua, el origin de la vida (Water, origin of life). The Tlaloc Fountain and the fresco were originally commissioned in 1951 by the architect Ricardo Rivas to accompany the hydraulic engineering system Cárcamo del Sistema Lerma, (Lerma System Water Buffer), which delivers water to Mexico City. Rivera’s mural was eroded by the passage of water over decades, and the building that housed it had been closed to the public for 20 years.

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As a public project, Guzik’s chamber stands out as one of only a few permanent sound installations in Mexico, relative to the large number of permanent visual and sculptural public monuments. It is remarkable for both its complexity and the harmonization of that complexity with the specificities of the site. The resonance machinery is the culmination of more than two decades of research by the artist. As part of the restoration of an architectural complex whose function was the passage of a vital substance—water—it directly taps into sources of water to produce its sounds, and it does so while resurrecting a 2,500-year-old mathematical matrix. The ancient Greek source of the matrix also finds an echo in the architecture, whose portico and dome recall the Pantheon of ancient civilization.

According to the artist, the hypnotic music produced in the chamber “seeks to create in listeners a state of introspection,” to evoke awareness of the movement of water through Mexico City, and indeed, the earth. Its purpose is to preserve “the original motifs of [the] enclosure: contemplation and awareness.” It is an appropriately complex and aesthetically sensitive homage to water, and to Diego Rivera, whose 272 square-meter mural was itself a technical and artistic innovation, since it was to remain permanently submerged and viewed through the substance it celebrated and whose story it told.

According to an OECD report, by 2030, the number of people affected by “severe water stress” will exceed 3.9 billion. In an era of increasing water scarcity due to unsustainable use and management, and the unchecked commodification of this vital resource, Cámara Lambdoma, sited in a popularly frequented public space, is commendable for its intervention in living cultural memory. Official statistics report that 72,400 have visited the chamber to date. Through music, it reminds its audiences of the importance of water to life on earth via uniquely resonant means. The project won first prize in the International Festival of New Media Arts Transitio_MX 04 (2011).

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency