“Colorbox” and “A Red Show in A”: Jean Pierre Muller’s “7×7″ art project continues at WhiteBox on NYC’s Lower East Side

By on March 21, 2016

“ColorBox” and “A Red Show in A” are the latest works to emerge from Belgian Neo-pop artist Jean Pierre Muller’s innovative 7×7 project, a colorful inter-disciplinary assemblage collaboration between Muller and seven musical luminaries from a variety of contemporary genres: Nile Rodgers, Robert Wyatt, Mulatu Astatke, Archie Shepp, Sean O’Hagan, Kassin and Terry Riley.

On March 29th, there will be a live performance by one of Muller’s collaborative partners — celebrated saxophonist, composer and educator Archie Schepp — at WhiteBox, located on the Lower East Side at 329 Broome Street, New York. NY, 10002.

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Muller’s two original shows, both related to 7×7, represent the next stage in a truly international project of evergrowing artistic ambition and cultural resonance. Both are colorific assemblages represented by seven colors from the color spectrum, as well as a variety of musical pieces from across an equally broad musical spectrum, both of these coming together in order to help the viewer understand how, and why, we need to embrace diversity in a world torn by conflict.

Muller’s works also help us identify our obsession for identity while also showing the complexities of life, and how we can learn from our historical past and apply those lessons to our present by focusing on the origin of words and the meaning of symbols.

They can be seen now at WhiteBox, in a show curated by Lara Pan and Juan Puntes: “ColorBox” is on the main level and “A Red Show in A” on the lower level. The gallery is open between Wednesday through Sunday, 11am to 6pm.

Go here for more details.

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Shepp also recently performed at the opening reception for the exhibition, held on on March 6th at WhiteBox, where Muller’s 7×7 sound altarpieces, housing an original musical composition by each of the seven composers, have been on display for the month of March (February 29th to March 29th). (More about Shepp below).

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Jean Pierre Muller

Muller is the head of the Printmaking Department at La Cambre, one of Belgium’s leading schools of art and design. His work has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Saragossa, the Hanover World Fair, the Royal Festival Hall and, lately, Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Festival. (Check out the video at the top of this post).

Muller’s work combines photography, drawing, silk-screen and painting, which all come together and gestural and mechanical interventions meet. His collaborations with musicians offer an interactivity to his paintings, giving his audience new participatory ways of entering his world.

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Archie Shepp, Jean Pierre Muller and Robert Wyatt

For Muller, the number seven has always held special significance, and in this interview clip we’ve featured here he says he was inspired by our most spiritual integer — which is highly symbolic and inspirational on many creative levels — to create a holistic system through which he then re-imagined and rearranged our world in an explosion of imagery, sound and color.

Muller — whose vibrant assemblages use high and low forms and techniques — sought out seven musical collaborators to explore the number 7’s mysteries with him in seven separate works, assigning each of them one of the seven colors found in a rainbow’s color spectrum to create a piece of music with the seven corresponding notes of the musical scale. These new pieces of music can be heard inside the sound altarpieces.

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Additionally, each work was assigned one of the seven days of the week (which additionally also have significance because of the deities and planets that associated with those days) and one of the seven chakras.

For example, Muller and Robert Wyatt’s piece “A Red Show in A” is centered on Monday, Day of the Moon and the deity Diana. For “B”, Archie Shepp’s color is Orange, and the day given to him was Tuesday, Day of Mars… and so on.

The seven colors are the same ones that Isaac Newton divided his color wheel into: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

Robert Wyatt

“A Red Show in A” is a collaborative piece by Muller and Robert Wyatt, one of the founding members of the Soft Machine, a British progressive rock band who — along with Pink Floyd — helped to transform the late sixties psychedelic rock scene in the UK.

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“A Red Show in A” was conceived and created in Muller’s studio in Molenbeek, in a district of Brussels, Belgium, a part of the world which has been in the news for many months now after it was identified as the community where some of attackers connected to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris had been living (Sint-Jans-Molenbeek or Molenbeek-Saint-Jean is one of 19 municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region).

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For “A Red Show in A,” there are seven gates — including a Gate of the Crusaders, a Gate of Jihad, a Gate of Zion and a Gate of Harmony — which collectively represent the rich historical heritage of the Al-Andalus, also known as Muslim Spain or Islamic Iberia, a Muslim territory under Moorish rule, during which several cultures and religions coexisted peacefully for a period of time (this peaceful period ended in 1492 with the Alhambra Decree and the expulsion of all the Jews from Spain). In Arabic, Al-Hamra means “the red one.” (Al-Andalus — often called “Andalusia” — means “to become green at the end of the summer”).

The most powerful symbol of this period is the Alhambra palace in Granada, which Wyatt calls the “jewel in the crown of the Islamic empire at that time.” The selection of the Alhambra as the site to erect the Palace manifested the triumph of Christianity over Islam.

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For WhiteBox, Muller has built his own Alhambra, a red temple to house the 7×7-Red-A sound altarpiece, with meaningful columns and whispering walls (with voices by Robert Wyatt, but also Terry Riley, Archie Shepp and Nile Rodgers). Wyatt’s voice has a range of 5 to 6 octaves, and each octave is of a totally different character: his is one of the most beautiful voices in all of recorded music for the past fifty years or so.

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As the viewer passes through the gates, they will hear sounds, and pieces of music composed by Robert Wyatt, who talks about Alhambra in this interview. The viewer is invited to reflect on notions like expulsion, coexistence, religion and beauty.

Noteworthy in the general design is the use of the octagonally shaped chapel, a geometrical shape that can be considered the second core structure of the Palace, and which was very popular in the Renaissance.

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Muller also adapts Kazimir Malevich’s emblematic paintings of the Black Square, the Black Circle and the Black Cross into a Red Star of David, a Red Crescent and a Red Cross; these are powerful symbols which allow us to make the connections to the past’s attempts to have religions and cultures coexist side-by-side but also to the conflicts that arise historically when the attempt is made.

Wyatt is the perfect collaborator for this assemblage, and as he explains in the interview that as a former member of the Communist party, he already an affection for the color red. Wyatt’s lyrics are often filled with personal and political references.

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ColorBox – White is in the central part of the diagram, because all colors of light mixed together produce white.

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The 78-year old Shepp is best known for his Afrocentric music of the late 1960s, a unique style of free-form avant-garde jazz blended with African rhythms, and his collaborations with John Coltrane, Horace Parlan, Cecil Taylor, and the New York Contemporary Five ensemble. His long career as an educator has focused on ethnomusicology, looking at the history of African-American music from its origins in Africa to its current state.

Shepp is not only known for his own recordings on the Impulse! jazz label (among others), but he also played on John Coltrane’s seminal work A Love Supreme, released fifty years ago in February 1965 — was one of ten jazz musicians who played on Coltrane’s Ascension sessions, long considered one of the highwater marks in the evolution of free jazz.

Last year, Shepp was honored by the National Endowment of the Arts with their 2016 NEA Jazz Masters award, the highest honor that our nation bestows on living legend jazz musicians.

Shepp received a $25,000 cash award and in recognition of his lifetime achievements and exceptional contributions to the advancement of jazz, Shepp will be one of the four jazz leaders paid tribute to at the celebratory free concert which takes place next month, on April 4, 2016, at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

A live video of the event will be streamed at arts.gov, Kennedy-Center.org, and NPR.org/Music.

Sean O’Hagan

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The programs of WhiteBox are made possible in part by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council for the Arts

WhiteBox: 329 Broome Street / +12127142347 / whiteboxny.org

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.