The Work of Allora & Calzadilla

Allora & Calzadilla, Hope Hippo, 2005 Mud, Whistle, Daily Newspaper, Reader.
Installation View: “Always a Little Further” 51st International Art Exhibition, la Bienal di Venezia
Photo:  Giorgio Boata
Allora & Calzadilla, Hope Hippo, 2005 Mud, Whistle, Daily Newspaper, Reader. Installation View: “Always a Little Further” 51st International Art Exhibition, la Bienal di Venezia Photo: Giorgio Boata

Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla have a collaborative practice that spans video, photography, sculpture, music, and performance. Allora is from Philadelphia and Calzadilla is from Puerto Rico. They both served as a unique and non-conventional choice to represent America in the 54th Venice Biennial in 2011. Generally selecting an individual artists to represent America, it was an interesting time to consider collaborative work, as well as showcasing one member who is technically not American. Issues of immigration and a true reflection of what America is was beautifully presented through their body of works which often take advantage of a wide variety of mediums.

Allora & Calzadilla
Clamor 2006
Installation image
(c) 2007 Serpentine Gallery Photo Credit: Serpentine Gallery

 

Much of Allora & Calzadilla’s work explores the dynamic between music and power, often with traces of militaristic displays and political power dynamics. In one piece from 2006 titled Clamor, a military styled barracks, looks like a concrete poured brutalist structure embedded into a folly of rock and earth, punctured with thin openings. The design is used to safely stick guns out to aim at approaching enemies, while protecting the soldiers inside. In Allora & Calzadilla’s version, soldiers are replaced with musicians, pointing trumpets and other brass instruments playing military songs. A schedule of performers with a rotating playlist of an originally scored 45-minute piece reminiscent of military drill pieces would be played for visitors each day. At first, there is almost a Dada-esque impression of what’s happening. There is a sense of humor of seeing trumpets stick out of these holes, but there is also a sad and deep appropriation of a seeming art form (music) used as propaganda, control, border declarations, and military drill instructions. The history of horns and military goes back ages, spanning many cultures, making a piece like this timeless.

Allora & Calzadilla, “Body in Flight (Delta),” 2011. Performance by Sadie Wilhelmi at the U.S. Pavilion, 54th International Art Exhibition, presented by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo by Andrew Bordwin

One of their pieces presented in the 54th Venice Biennial was Body in Flight (Delta), a state-of-the-art elite business class airline seat. The chair was activated by a female U.S. gymnast in a red, white, and blue competitive leotard. The airline seat becomes a gymnastic apparatus like a balance beam. The female gymnasts perform a routine developed by Olympic gymnasts, Allora & Calzadilla, and choreographer Rebecca Davis. This piece can take a few different directions of how to interpret. Visually, the gymnast acts as a flag waving in the wind, proposing victory or colonial power over an international transportation platform. Airlines also make it hard for us not to think about the planes hijacked on 9/11, in conjunction with the battle for international safety metaphored through a world-wide event like the Olympics distorts the idea of nations, or even class within nations. Though there may be a sad, imprisoning factor displayed by the hyper security end result of this battle, there is a subtle beauty in allowing something as interpretive and graceful as a focus on the dancer. Again, a surreal almost humorous display is conflicted with deeply rooted political cues and topics.