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Pedro Reyes Disarm: Turning Weapons Into Instruments

The Mexico City-based artist uses detritus from the region's violent drug wars to create art.
September 13, 2013, 2:35pm

Pedro Reyes frequently travels through dangerous territories. Not just creatively: pushing the boundaries of how we appropriate materials for use in artistic works, but also literally. Frequently working in places like the notoriously dangerous Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the site of numerous gang murders and the "disappearing women" unsolved mysteries, Reyes has set out to make his homeland a better place through art. In an area of the world where journalists routinely vanish and civilians are gunned down in broad daylight, Reyes hopes to reclaim the tools of violence and turn them into a force for good.


Inspired by a trip he took to the recycling plants where government officials turn seized weapons into raw materials, taken as part of his project "Shovels for Guns," Reyes decided to turn these instruments of hate into literal instruments. Only these ones could help provide life and music, rather than take it away. As part of his most recent project "Disarm,"  with the help of his team Reyes was able to utilize programs like Ableton Live, MIDI, and Max MSP to transform guns into self-playing musical instruments.

Disarm is actually the second generation of instruments, built after his 2012 project Imaginethat uses remnants of  weapons seized by the Mexican army from drug cartels. This series, however, was made in collaboration with a team of musicians and Cocolab, a media studio in Mexico City. These new pieces can be programmed and operated via computer, making them capable of performing music concerts with compositions prepared beforehand.

As if this wasn't impressive enough, Reyes is also a creative polyglot, involving himself in several mediums including sculpture, music, performance and painting. Recognized for his talents in his native country, Reyes has also received international acclaim, showing at prestigious galleries and high profile art events such as the Venice Biennial and Art Basel Miami.

Recently we met with Reyes to discuss his work, and how his life and art has been impacted by Mexico's ongoing struggles. "I believe that the purpose of art is to come up with ways to transform the most negative instincts into creative instincts…I want my work to be useful for social and psychological transformation," Says Reyes.


And Reyes' work has certainly been useful, both on a creative and practical level-- using the vast weapons junkyards to provide fodder and material for his work, making something tangible and positive come out of the wasteful detritus of Mexico's drug wars.

Having witnessed firsthand the many ways that technology has been used to cause war, destruction and misery, Reyes is still hopeful about its redemptive qualities: "Technology is neither good nor bad. It all depends on how you use it."

Below Reyes demonstrates how he has used modern equipment for positive aims:

"It is… The redemption of this metal, that could have taken your life or mine. So, they are better as musical instruments."

"I think the other complicated but amazing part of the process was to bring out the sounds of the weapons."

"It was a great experience because I realized weapons don't only make rough sounds. They were able to make subtle sounds like a lullaby."

For more info on Pedro Reyes' work you can visit .

© Pedro Reyes; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London.