Checking out Facebook just makes you feel lonely. The Twitterverse is devouring vast swaths of your time. You have grown so used to navigating via smartphone that you have forgotten how to read a map.
Sure, you could brood and stew over the realities of the Internet age. But you could also channel your reactions into art. That is a path followed by Mariana Rivera, co-curator of the photography exhibit “Contemporary Identities/Invisible Gestures” at the Mexican Cultural Institute. Presented by the Institute in collaboration with the Iberoamerican Cultural Attaches Association, the exhibit showcases photographs by artists from 16 Latin American countries, plus Spain and Portugal, contextualizing the images in such a way as to turn them into a reflection on the dilemmas of our cyber era.
Snippets of text on the pumpkin-colored walls divide the exhibition into four sequences that contemplate — and point to solutions for — the anonymity and isolation fostered by modern technology. The musing is oblique: There are no shots of bleary-eyed e-mail addicts slumped over keyboards, for instance. Instead, there are more evocative angst-filled images: Guatemalan artist Luis Chay’s surreal “Es tiempo de partir,” which depicts a man walking beneath dark clouds in a field dominated by two giant alarm clocks. Or Paraguayan artist Ricardo Migliorisi’s “Flautista03” and “Flautista02,” in which translucent rodents swarm around — and on — the body of a sleeping man.
A final sequence of photographs, collected under the rubric “Freed Gestures,” proffers more upbeat images, suggesting physical experience as an escape from information-age ills. An exotic rock formation looms on a coast. A woman holds a child on a beach. A head seems to float in the sky. Wall-inscribed quotations by writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz offer a further level of commentary.
Rivera says she conceived of the exhibit as progressing in sections “like chapters in a book — you have the problem, and the resolution.” The quotations, she adds, were a “way to make it more grounded. Deeper.”
The exhibit’s central theme was a natural one for her to seize upon, given that she herself has come of age in a period of rapid technological progress: She is currently a junior at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design.
And for the record, Rivera is no Luddite, although she reserves the right to be skeptical about cyber advances. “I use technology all the time,” she says. “I question myself about it — and I bet everyone else does, too.”
The newest member of the King’s Singers, the acclaimed vocal sextet, was far from his native Britain. To be specific: Julian Gregory was in Idaho.
“Hang on: No, I’m not,” the 24-year-old said abruptly, scrutinizing what seemed to be an itinerary next to his Skype-channeling laptop. “I’m in Rexburg.” Another pause. Then all became clear: He was in Rexburg, Idaho. “Idaho’s the state, Rexburg’s the city,” he said diligently, squaring the whole matter away in his mind.
You can hardly blame the young tenor for being momentarily confused: The King’s Singers has been in the midst of a hectic tour across North America. In the 48 hours before Gregory’s Skype conversation with a reporter, the ensemble had visited Omaha and Brookings, S.D.; in the not-so-distant future, they would hit Billings, Mont., and many other locales before a Dec. 21 concert at the Washington National Cathedral.
As if this frenzy of travel were not sufficiently bewildering, Gregory is acclimatizing to the repertoire and methodology of the King’s Singers, a group founded in 1968 by six artists who had met as choral students at King’s College, Cambridge. In subsequent years, the original members passed the baton to replacements: There have been 25 vocalists. The group has recorded more than 150 albums, won two Grammys, and premiered new works by the likes of Krzysztof Penderecki and Luciano Berio. Gregory became the newest King’s Singer in September.
“There’s a lot to keep me going at the moment because I have an unbelievable amount of music to learn,” he said.
Not that Gregory is a singing novice: He has been lending his voice to choirs since the age of 6, when his father, an organist and choir leader, recruited the lad to the Leicester Cathedral Choir. Gregory would sing as a boy chorister and as a university-age choral scholar at St. John’s College, Cambridge.
All that experience provided limited preparation for life with the King’s Singers. “Before, I was doing much more soloistic singing — thinking about trying to make the richest, most beautiful individual singing sound,” he recalled. Now, his emphasis needs to be on fusing with the tonal qualities of the group, which includes two countertenors, two baritones and a bass. The group’s multi-stranded sound “locks in like a jigsaw puzzle,” Gregory said.
Displaying that jigsaw-puzzle precision will be a program at the Dec. 21 concert titled “Christmas With the King’s Singers.” The lineup includes carols from Catalonia, music by Orlandus Lassus and William Byrd, and Francis Poulenc’s cantata “Un soir de neige.”
Gregory is particularly enthusiastic about this last work, whose title can be translated to “A Snowy Evening.” A setting of poetry by Paul Eluard, “Un soir de neige” was composed in 1944. But Gregory associates the music more with a seasonal landscape than with haunting visions of World War II. “It’s stunningly beautiful, because it personifies a very cold, wintry, beautiful night, with the snowflakes falling on the trees,” he said.
He is a longtime fan of Poulenc, whose music he sang as a St. John’s chorister. “When you grow up with something, it somehow stays with you more strongly,” he pointed out. Probably for that reason, he says, Poulenc’s work “is close to my heart.”
“Contemporary Identities/Invisible Gestures.” Through Jan. 31 at the Mexican Cultural Institute, 2829 16th St NW. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday 12-4 p.m. Visit www.instituteofmexicodc.org.
“Christmas with the King’s Singers.” Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Washington National Cathedral. Visit nationalcathedral.org or call 202-537-6200.
Wren is a freelance writer.