This July the museum presents Sonic Blossom (2013), an interactive performance created by artist Lee Mingwei that imparts the gift of song to visitors. Lee developed this project while providing postoperative care for his mother; they found comfort in listening to Franz Schubert’s Lieder, poems set to classical music with romantic or pastoral themes written for a single vocalist. “Seeing my own mother weak and ill made her (and my) mortality suddenly very real,” Lee explains. “Aging, disease, and death were no longer abstractions to me but immediate and present. One day she—and I—will be gone. Like Schubert’s Lieder, our own lives are brief but all the more beautiful because of this.” As the artist contemplated the fleeting beauty of life, the notion of a folding and unfolding blossom, a sonic blossom, became the foundation for this immersive musical experience.
The performances take place in the CMA’s Reinberger Gallery (212) surrounded by bold Baroque paintings and sculptures. Visitors will encounter a vocalist from the Cleveland Institute of Music wearing what which the artist calls a transformation cloak, an elegant custom-made garment inspired by origami that incorporates two 1940s Japanese maru obi kimono sashes. The vocalist wanders through the gallery approaching one visitor at a time and asks, “May I give you the gift of song?” If the gift is accepted, the visitor is led to a special chair, and the vocalist performs one of five of Schubert’s Lieder directly to that individual. The intimacy of this experience endows the work with an unexpected drama.
Sonic Blossom was created for the inaugural exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, in 2013. After having been performed at museums around the world, the work comes to Cleveland as part of the exhibition Lee Mingwei: You Are Not a Stranger, on view at moCa Cleveland through August 11.
Cleveland Art, July/August 2019