photo by Peter Gannushkin

The Unlearning

In 1810 Spanish artist Francisco Goya began a series of 82 aquatint etchings depicting the horrors of war. Published 35 years after his death as Los desastres de la guerra (The Disasters of War), this powerful set of images makes a profound statement on the atrocities of the Peninsular War between Spain and Napoleon’s French Empire. I first saw these images as a printmaking student in 1998 while living abroad in Europe. In 2009, I turned to these haunting images again and began composing The Unlearning to contemplate the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and to question how the kernels of thought, beliefs and attitudes that lie in each of us could have the potential to grow into societies, cultures and countries at war. Composed as a duo performed with the extraordinary violinist and singer Carla Kihlstedt, these songs were released to critical acclaim on Tzadik in 2011. In 2013, I commissioned visual projections by filmmakers Daria Martin and Mao Mollona which combine Goya's etchings with ancient Goddess imagery from the research of Lithuanian-American archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Through extensive excavations in central Europe, Gimbutas proposed that there were matrilineal societies existing for thousands of years without any evidence of warfare.

The imagery from these societies reflect the importance of the life-creating and protecting qualities of the feminine, in forms of animal-human deities (i.e. ram, dear, bear and snakes), exaggerated depictions of the female body (sanctifying the erotic and fertility), and graphic patterns such as the "V", chevron, meanders and spirals, which have links to the vulva, water birds, aquatic symbols and their connection to the regenerative forces in nature. Juxtaposing the art from these supposedly peaceful societies and the art of Goya's violent times, it would be too simplistic to suggest that peace and war are merely reflected by the duality of matriarchy vs. patriarchy. However, the imbalance between the power of the masculine and the power of the feminine in our current times must be examined and continually transformed for a different order to take place. Through imagery and song, this piece calls into question whether war is a cycle that repeats itself or whether it can be broken through deeper fundamental change of individual and collective unlearning and learning.

Performance at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco April 2016. Photos by Lenny Gonzales
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Performance at Roulette, Brooklyn, 2013. Photos by Peter Gannushkin
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The Unlearning - a masterpiece exquisitely realized.
— Fred Frith, Henry Cow, Cosa Brava
It is difficult not to remain enchanted by the 21 miniatures presented by Theresa Wong in her first solo outing.
— Massimo Ricci, Paris Transatlantic Magazine Winter 2011
...this is an album bursting with ideas and moving at a lick
— Clive Bell, The Wire, November 2011
This is a great collection of songs with such original and magical sounds, rhythms and lyrics. They come to life in these performances between two outstanding artists equally at home singing and playing their instruments.
— Joan Jeanrenaud, composer, cellist, former member of the Kronos Quartet