Allora & Calzadilla’s works have always featured a strange, fluid sentiment accompanied by an elemental sound.
Those familiar with their work – remember the American Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale – know that the two Puerto Rican artists trace a perimeter and an alienating measure to which they joyfully and rigorously adhere. That same energy is currently being applied to the start of the “Festival d’Automne à Paris”.
In a complex strategy from which they tease out the threads of narrations and sounds, Allora & Calzadilla have compacted splendid materials and icy, exquisite metaphors into two new films, 3 and Apotome, being shown at the Galerie Chantal Crousel.
Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla take an eclectic array of materials – elephant bone, protohistoric Venuses, whistles and newspaper pages – and make them speak, vibrate, sing and play. By reworking what are everyday and, at first glance, incongruous materials, they are, crucially, continuing their series of encounters with worlds, situations and scenarios to which they apply social criticism and their own aesthetic – as they turn the raw element of anthropological observation into poetry.
When addressing the Paris Autumn Festival programme, we could start from the viral effect of a poster reproducing a photograph of an old work, Hope Hippo, from the artistic duo’s first participation in the Venice Biennale in 2005. It consists in a young man sitting on a mud hippopotamus and reading a newspaper. Much was written about the whistle blown every time a phrase concerning social injustice came up in the text: a thermometer, an alarm or a warning? No, it was a specific signal to alert humankind.
Created back then with mud from the Venetian lagoon, that particular work is long gone but has now reappeared in a splendid location: Hope Hippo now makes a fine show of itself strategically positioned in the Grand Galerie de l’Evolution in the Museum of Natural History in Paris, looking like a custodian at the top of a special observatory and able to continue its sophisticated mission. The fact that the reading of the newspaper along Heidegger lines forms part of man’s religious aimlessness in the modern world probably only adds credit to the use of metaphors that permeates the work of Allora & Calzadilla.
So, they make us aware that this is not simply a re-edition of an old work but the start of a new fairytale, with new works produced for the occasion that were prompted by the time they spent here. The artists suggest that not only are we in a silent Wunderkammer of post-Enlightened thought but this place is filled with sensitive substances and exhibits waiting to be reactivated. A custodian told them the incredible and bizarre story of two elephants called Hans and Parkie whose skeletons are stored in the Zooteque. This served as input for Apotome, a film and score lasting 23 minutes and 5 seconds executed by Tim Storms, the man who can emit the lowest frequencies in the world.
This grotesque jewel could only be activated thanks to his incredible vocal skill. A concert was improvised exclusively for the two animals in May 1798, the first known music performance for animal species alone. A perfect example of metalinguistic connection between species and an effective experiment of communication based on evolution. The American singer now reinterprets the pieces – ranging from Gluck’s Ipyhigenia in Tauris to the revolution song Ça ira. The music really is inaudible and exactly as per the film’s title, a difficult Pythagorean measure of musical sound.
The feat lies in describing the act of going beyond the possibilities of our hearing and Tim Storms’ performance – in the intentions of Allora & Calzadilla – strives to bring out what is often lost in the act of communication and interpretation. Immersed in an incredible bio-musicological trip, they end their Parisian triptych with 3, a highly enjoyable film lasting 18 minutes and 13 seconds constructed around the Palaeolithic Venus of Lespugue.
The performance of cellist Maya Beiser seems to sculpt a musical form on the sinuously disproportionate form of this abnormal figurine shaped out of a mammoth tusk. Formal parallels, conflict between proportion and disproportion and an exacerbated love of imbalance are the very best of Allora & Calzadilla’s ongoing reinventions, also in this perfect Parisian exploit.