For more than two years, artist Erick Meyenberg worked with members of a Mexico City high school marching band to produce a performance that would sweep through some of the city’s most politically charged public sites. The result, The wheel bears no resemblance to a leg, is documented in an ominous 16-minute video, slickly edited to reflect on modern Mexican society as a machine powered by the mechanisms of the state.
Produced during a residency at inSite/Casa Gallina, the film is the centerpiece of Meyenberg’s eponymous solo exhibition currently on view at Americas Society’s Visual Arts Gallery, curated by Gabriela Rangel and Lucía Sanromán. Its name references a section of the prologue to Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1903 surrealist play, Les mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tiresais), which occurs in an imaginary city ruined by war. Also on view are archival materials that were part of the project’s making as well as the band director’s painted trumpet and helmet, perched beneath a mural of a Paris map inspired by an illustration from the 1919 publication La Fin du monde, filmée par l’ange de N.-D. At the exhibition’s entrance, four flags Meyenberg designed bow to each other, each inspired by Francis Picabia and pointedly featuring cogs.
But it’s the video that’s the most arresting, unfolding on three hanging screens that surround the viewer in a triangle-like pen. In it, the marching band, Banda de Guerra Lobos, performs in front of the towering Monumento a la Revolución, which commemorates the Mexican Revolution; its members toot horns on the the Plasa de Tlatelolco, which witnessed the 1968 massacre of hundreds of striking students by military and police; the group rides escalators and swarms the balconies of large Forum Buenavista shopping center, a shiny product of a capitalist machine. As they march — with the camera focusing on individuals’ deliberate strides and precisely choreographed about-faces and hand gestures — orchestral sounds play out of sync with the footage, swelling from the hushed chaos of instruments tuning to a sharp, baroque composition that steadily crescendos.
Through it all, the students resemble a military force, with Meyenberg framing their instruments like weapons: one musician props a horn under his arm like a rifle; another readies her finger on her trumpet as if about to pull a trigger. The group swarms urban sites as a massive, surreal force, but it doesn’t seem to always entirely disrupt the rhythm of reality around them. The band makes visible the power embedded in the histories and culture of its performance venues, and its disciplined members become akin to gears within an enduring, regimented system.
Near the end of the video, the composition is reduced to the beating of drums that intensifies. When you hear the percussion from another room, the rhythms sound like gunshots — rapid, thunderous, and, most of all, chilling.
The wheel bears no resemblance to a leg continues at Americas Society’s Visual Arts Gallery (680 Park Ave, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through July 29.