Artist Matthew Ritchie kicked off his one-and-a-half-year-long residency at the Institute of Contemporary Art by painting a huge, monochrome public mural on the side of a building along Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway. Since then he's been on a crusade to engage the public with site-specific performances and parades.
On Friday night he wraps it all up by taking over the ICA's building — with the help of a number of rock musicians.
The main event in Ritchie’s swansong is a multimedia performance called "The Long Count/The Long Game." He's staged the elaborate composition that's inspired by the Mayan creation myth at other venues, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But for the show at the ICA the action actually starts before audiences enter the second-floor theater. On the way there you can meander through every part of the museum to experience a series of installations that play on themes Ritchie has been exploring in his projects over the past 18 months.
"But this was a big reach to be in the lobby, to be in the gift store, to be in the director’s office, to be in the staircases, to be in the theater," Ritchie said. "That’s quite a step for a museum to use all of its spaces as well as the galleries at once."
The installations are sonic experiments conducted by musicians enlisted by Ritchie. He's been working with them on "The Long Count" for a few years. When asked why he wants to collaborate with rockers, the artist offered up a pretty mythic explanation.
"We have a very secular world, we’ve lost a lot of our icons and angels and gods, and we’ve put a lot of that energy into performers," he said. "They become the angels and gods for us."
The musicians include Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond; Evan Ziporyn of MIT; twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National (who will be hitting electric guitars back and forth); and Kelley Deal, who formed The Breeders with her identical twin sister Kim in 1990.
"Coming from a rock world and stuff, a lot of times I’m like, 'Uh, the framework is so empty.' On the one hand that’s thrilling and exhilarating. On the other hand it’s just not how I think," Deal said, when reflecting on the challenges of working on "The Long Count."
Ritchie asked Deal to concoct an installation using elements plucked from the main performance's composition. Essentially it's a deconstruction.
Deal popped a cassette into a boombox and said Ritchie gave her some music by the Dessner brothers when they first started this project back in 2009. As part of her new experiment she remixed it.
“There was a lot of ideas of playing with time going back on itself, and so the song is played the right way, and also backwards at the same time, mixed together,” she said.
Ritchie's museum-wide piece, and his residency, are all about the passage of time, and he and the musicians hope audiences will ponder that as they experience the installations and final performance. His stint at the ICA ends officially when the multi-sensory wall mural he painted in the museum’s lobby comes down in the spring. Before then, though, Ritchie hints he might have one more surprise for Boston.
"It's a secret," he said, "but it definitely won't be a secret if it works out."