From violence to music

From August 26th to September 25th the Hardenbergzaal at Puchri houses Disarm (2013), an installation by the Mexican artist Pedro Reyes (1972). The installation is part of TodaysArt Festival 2016, which will take place in the center of The Hague this year.

Disarm consists of several mechanized musical instruments which play different compositions aided by computer software. Every instrument is made out of weapon parts. Hereby the weapons, confiscated and dismantled at Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, get a new and peace-loving function. Where they were previously used for murder and violence, they now speak the universal language of music. In various cultures sound is being used to scare demons away. Therefore we could interpret Disarm as the shooing of the violent history of the guns. At the same time the music offers some kind of solace, like a requiem for the deceased.

Pedro Reyes, Disarm, 2013, instruments made out of dismantled guns. © Dave Morgan

For Reyes the transformation of weapons into objects with a positive use started with his project Palas por pistolas (Shovels for guns, 2007-present). Under commission of the Botanical garden of Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, Reyes had 1.527 guns melted into the same amount of shovels. Thereafter these shovels were spread among art institutions and schools, where both adults and children were involved with the planting of 1.527 trees. Reyes said:

“… if the violent potential of a gun can be diverted to yield positive effects on communities and the environment, so too can other aspects of society be transformed from destructive to constructive.”

Elaborating on this message Reyes created the project Imagine in 2012. The Mexican government provided Reyes with 6.700 impounded weapons, which he then turned into fifty instruments with the help of six musicians. In order for the instruments to generate good tones each component was examined to find the best way of producing sound. During several performances musicians and their audience made music together.

Then in 2013 the installation Disarm succeeded. In collaboration with a media studio eight instruments have been mechanized, so they can be controlled by computer. Thus the instruments can play previously determined compositions.

PR Disarm (Mechanized) Canonofono @ Dave Morgan (1)
Pedro Reyes, Disarm (Cañonofono), 2013, instrument made out of dismantled guns. © Dave Morgan

Reyes is a socially involved artist and a pragmatic idealist. In his artworks he critically analyzes present day problems. With Disarm he focuses on gun laws in the United States and by extension in other places of the world.

In the United States it is quite easy to get a gun, more than half of all weapons in this country are in possession of civilians. However a vast amount of these weapons end – legally or illegally – in Mexico, where they are used to commit violence, without much repercussions. Reyes relates extreme poverty, a weak judicial system and a growing amount of guns in the country, which combination leads to a surge of violence.

In the prosecution of criminality where weapons are involved blame is generally put on the person wielding the gun. According to Reyes this is not enough, he thinks we should also look at gun manufacturers. They are the ones who generate profit in times of war and violence.

Focusing on weapons in an artwork could bring about glorification of it, to prevent this from happening Reyes has given his installation a clear message. The title Disarm has several definitions. The most obvious one is putting down the weapons, but it can also be explained as taking somebody’s hostility away.

Pedro Reyes_22 (1)
Pedro Reyes, Disarm (Trigger Puller), 2013, instrument made out of dismantled guns. © Dave Morgan

Reyes tries to find solutions, sometimes in an almost absurd way, for present day issues. In Sanatorium (2011) for example visitors were invited to check in at a clinic to get treated for stress and loneliness. By taking up these problems in society Reyes’ work has an unabated relevancy today.

Disarm – Turning weapons into music
More information at:

Puchri Studio
Lange Voorhout 15
2514 EA Den Haag

Photo courtesy of the Artist and Lisson Gallery.© Dave Morgan

This article is a translation of one which appeared in the September edition of Pulchri Magazine.

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